I did a little survey on the BMI website (of which I am a member), just to see how many people used certain words in their titles. The fact is that you can’t copyright a title, so if you wanted to write a song called (gag) “I Love You”, you could certainly do that, provided you don’t plagiarize someone else’s song. Now don’t get mad at me if you’ve actually written a song called “I Love You” 🙂
Do you want to guess how many songs are listed in the BMI catalog with just that title? 2,304. I’m asking myself, do people think that this is an original title?!?! There are probably many others in the ASCAP catalog, even more in other countries, and probably ten times that many that have never even been registered! I picked two other titles I thought were obvious…well, these weren’t quite as common. The title “I’m Alright” had 70 entries, but “You’re The One” had 619!
Next, I decided just to use single words…I picked some random ones, and here’s what I came up with:
You (or) I – so many titles I had a runtime error!
Love – 31,404
Me – 25,014
Don’t – 23,943
When – 19,176
Why – 7,291
Life – 5835
Time – 7778
And then I picked some odd words…even they had entries!
Dog – 1302
Spoon – 101
There are 101 registered titles with “spoon” in them???? 🙂
Try it yourself…go to the BMI website (link above) and type in a few of your most recent titles 🙂 Think they were pretty original? Ha! I found one of mine that was all by its lonesome…”Fusion and Fire”. I thought that was pretty unique and I was right, at least in BMI’s database.
So let’s talk about titles for a moment. What’s so important about a title? Well, I guess in some ways that’s up to you. Sometimes you write lyrics where the title jumps out and you and seems pretty obvious. A lot of people use the “hook” line as a title. Sometimes, there is no obvious title…recently someone asked a question on my forum about the importance of titles in instrumental songs. What do you think? I occasionally use less obvious words or phrases for my titles because I like the sound of them…I will never use something that isn’t actually in the song somewhere. As far as I’m concerned, I want people to remember the names of the songs I play. You improve your chances of that when the title is actually in the song!
But this article is meant to be about topics. I would venture to guess that the most common topic is love, or some aspect of it. Most of the songs I review tend to involve this topic. So if you don’t want to be like everyone else, what else can you write about?
I was watching a series on Mark Twain the other night, and one thing that was mentioned was that he was most successful when he drew from his childhood experiences to come up with some of his stories. Do your songs have to be about you? Of course not. When we’re first starting out, the majority of us tend to write about ourselves…songwriting CAN be a rather self-indulgent form of expression. But you can use your past experiences, which are “truths”, to embellish your lyrics in a more universal way. Remember, “truths” in songwriting are very powerful. When you express something that is a common truth, people pick up on that. I once wrote a song called “One More”, which was really about a personal experience I had with the death of a friend. I get a lot of response from that song when I perform it, or when people hear it on my CD. I must have found a few universal truths when I was writing it that people can relate to.
Where can you find new and interesting topics? Well, if your past or your own experiences are not full of potential songs, what about the people around you? Their experiences may also be a source of ideas for you. Just make sure you discuss it with them, or at least make it anonymous enough so they don’t know it’s about them!! Beyond that, there are stories in newspapers, books and magazines. I wrote a song based on a true story that was on a television magazine-type of show…I didn’t write it immediately after, the but the story moved me so much that it stuck with me.
From the sounds of it, I’m trying to encourage you to write “story” songs. You can use the emotional impact of a story, or isolate small parts of it and only write about that. I have explained this in other articles, but the best songs require a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes people think I mean they have to be stories, but that’s not what I mean! I mean that the song has to feel like it makes sense, that it has a beginning, and one verse (one thought) leads to another and then it resolves itself, even if just to say nothing is ever going to be resolved. Does this make sense? In many song lyrics I read, the verses could be all swapped around and it wouldn’t make any difference to the song…whereas a song lyric that is well-written has every verse exactly where it makes sense, and would be ruined if any of them were changed around. THAT’S what I mean. Recently, a fellow who’s song I actually PRAISED for having a beginning, middle and end, told me to read it again! He didn’t get what I meant, and I probably didn’t explain myself well enough 🙂
Beyond this, you can write about places, spiritual things, or how much your job is a pain in the ass…hell, you could write a song about dancing! Of course it’s been done before…they ALL have, but not with your voice. The fact is that song topics are everywhere around you, and only you can express them in a certain way. And that is the most important point. If we sat down and listened to every single one of those 2,304 songs called “I Love You”…I wonder how many of them would use exactly the same phrases?? So even if you choose to write a love song, remember to write it with your unique songwriting “voice” and stay away from those old, worn out lines and expressions that we’ve all heard a thousand times before.