Shakespeare once wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
It’s an interesting idea on the surface, but does it apply to songs as well?
Would Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” sound just as sweet by any other name?
Maybe, maybe not.
But there’s no doubt that song titles can play a HUGE part in communicating an artist’s creative vision, not to mention helping draw attention to the artist. That’s why you need to know how to come up with a song title!
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Why a Song Name Matters
Song names are important because they’re a shortcut for how our minds think about a song – and how we communicate to others.
Humans can’t help but make important connections between a name and the thing itself, which is why the most successful songs become practically synonymous with their topics, from “Yellow Submarine” to “Get Low.”
Even “bad” songs do this: there was a good half-decade there where anyone who mentioned the word “Friday” got a friend singing Rebecca Black in reply.
Now, here’s the question: what if someone else’s song already has the same title as YOUR perfect idea for a song? Can you still choose it?
As we talk about in our article on whether two songs can share the same name, the answer is yes… You CAN call your new song “Happy,” or “Crazy,” or even “The Long and Winding Road.”
On the other hand, if you’re capable of coming up with a more creative name, uniqueness is usually better. You’re not going to dominate a topic with your song if it’s just another in a pack of songs with the same name competing for your listeners’ attention.
If a new title isn’t coming to you right away, let me help you out. In this article, I’ll share 5 tips for writing song titles – but first, let’s go over a few GREAT song titles from famous artists for inspiration!
6 Examples of Good Song Titles (And Why They Work!)
1) The Sound of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel
The sound of silence is such a compelling idea. What does that sound like? Even before you’ve listened to the song, this four-word paradox is already intriguing enough to capture our attention.
Then, once you HAVE heard the song, you realize that the phrase is actually a haunting hook that’s repeated several times in a song with no other repetition. There’s no question: for this song, no other title would work as well as “The Sound of Silence.”
2) A Hard Day’s Night – Beatles
The Beatles have a lot of great titles, but this one was so good they used it for the title of a song, an album, and even a movie! Like “The Sound of Silence,” it has a paradox in it.
I have a theory that just like how we anticipate the resolution to a suspended chord, so too do we anticipate the resolution to a written contradiction. Our minds almost force us to decipher what could be meant by the concept of “a hard day’s night.” Whether or not we get a satisfying answer is irrelevant – we DO get a catchy and thought-provoking song, and that’s good enough for me.
3) Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
A great title for a great song. It’s such an evocative phrase that means something different to everyone who hears it. For starters, smell is one of the least utilized senses in lyrics (probably for obvious reasons), but when used correctly, it can make one of the strongest connections in our minds.
Also note that this is an example of a title that doesn’t show up in the lyrics. In this case, the success of that decision speaks for itself. But think of the alternatives:
- “Here We Are Now?”
- “Entertain Us?”
- Or maybe “A Denial?”
It’s hard to pick a phrase out of the song that would have anywhere near the impact that the phrase “smells like teen spirit” does. If you ever write a song like that, consider an abstract song title to go with it.
4) Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang – Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg
Imagine you’re scrolling through a Spotify playlist looking for something to catch your eye. I’d be willing to bet that “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” would stand out to you. It’s got two different types of punctuation, two non-standard spellings, and a big ol’ G just sitting in the middle of it. It looks and – most importantly – sounds different!
I’m not saying all your songs should be titled like you’re speaking with a strong accent or like you fell asleep on your keyboard, but I am saying that if you have a couple that do, they’re a lot more likely to stand out. Even something as simple as what Olivia Rodrigo did with “drivers license” (stylizing it all in lowercase) can help you catch the attention of potential fans.
5) White & Nerdy – “Weird Al” Yankovic
Weird Al is well-known for his parodies of famous songs, and one of his most popular is his parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’.” The title White & Nerdy immediately brings to mind the words of the original song, ridin’ dirty. If you’re writing a parody or making a reference to another recognizable phrase, title your song in a way that evokes it and really stands out.
6) All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
Many of the best songs are about feelings. In a lot of ways, the songwriter’s main job is to come up with a unique way to express a universal emotion. But sometimes, the direct approach is best. Few songs make this point clearer than Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
This checks off almost every box for what makes a commercially-viable song title. To name three, the title: (1) has simple words; (2) reflects the most memorable line of the song, and (3) has a self-contained piece of lyrical interest (in this case, some misdirection: usually people want gifts for Christmas, not other people).
5 Tips for Song Titles
Now that we’ve looked at a few examples of memorable names for songs, here are my tips for coming up with great titles for your own songs.
Tip 1: Know Your Genre
Genre is a huge consideration, whether you want to make money with songwriting or just have memorable songs that an audience will week out.
The idea of genre includes your existing or potential audience, other competing artists, and similar successful songs that came before yours. Like it or not, you have to consider where your song exists in the music landscape.
If you’re aiming to hit the top of the pop charts, you’re probably going to want your song title to be the line most repeated in your song. But if you’re in a more niche genre with existing fans or a good distribution network, you might be able to get away with more creative titles. In fact, creative titles can help you stand out from the crowd.
Take Led Zeppelin. About a third of the band’s songs have titles that don’t appear in their lyrics. That’s a huge percentage! I don’t want to conflate correlation with causation, but it’s hard not to notice that a band famous for its part in the counter-culture ALSO rebelled in how it titled its songs.
Take a look at your peers, know your audience, and decide how best to stand out while fitting in with your song name. No pressure!
Tip 2: Use Your Main Lyrical Hook for the Song Title
Let’s not beat around the bush: using your main lyrical hook should be your default.
But don’t think that just because it’s common, it’s somehow bad. People use their hooks as the title because it makes natural sense. In creative terms, your hook is likely the central message of your song, with the title another key place to emphasize it.
And from the business perspective, you want people to immediately recognize and remember your song in the moment and then be able to find it later. Most people will only remember the hook, so that’s your best bet to get found online (in search or on social).
In fact, when Lil Nas X was looking to promote his viral “Old Town Road” hit song, he discovered that the clips people shared had the words “I got the horses in the back.” So, he deliberately changed the song title on SoundCloud and YouTube to match the lyrics people were actually looking for.
While “Old Town Road” seemed like the right choice of song name at first, he pivoted when he discovered it wasn’t the most memorable phrase from the song.
In cases like this where the main hook doesn’t work, you can always use another phrase from the song as your title, including a catchy lyric from your verse, pre-chorus, or even bridge!
One more takeaway here: if your title doesn’t include ANY lyrics from your song, you’re taking a risk that a listener won’t be able to find it. So, if your heart is set on using a title that doesn’t appear anywhere in your song, consider adding the hook to the song title in parentheses, like in Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”
Tip 3: Encapsulate the Song Theme or Message
It’s always nice if your title consists of lyrics from your song, but it doesn’t have to include ANY lyrics from your song. This isn’t a universal rule!
For example, the phrase “Sympathy for the Devil” doesn’t appear at all in the iconic Rolling Stones song, but it perfectly encapsulates what the song is all about – and none of the lyrics in the song would have conveyed this message as well.
And yet, to play devil’s advocate (ha!), consider that Sympathy for the Devil appeared on the ninth studio album for the Stones in the United States. They were already successful (and didn’t have to worry about SEO back then). All they needed was a compelling title listed on the track list on the back of the album. This title works perfectly for that, but it may not serve your purposes today.
Wherever your song title comes from – whether it’s in your lyrics or not – the goal is to capture your song’s essence. What makes your song unique?
The worst song titles are generic and forgettable, even if they are in the hook. For instance, how many songs are about “tonight?” Too many. Do you think anyone will be able to find your song if they search for “tonight song”? Do you think they’ll remember how the song goes if they read the title in a list on Spotify?
Stay away from common phrases that don’t cut to what makes your song truly unique!
Tip 4: Go With a Cut Lyric
So, you’ve written a lot of lyrics to your new masterpiece. This is a big part of the creative process.
In fact, if you’re like MOST artists, then you probably wrote way more than you can actually use!
Maybe you even started with a lyric that stood out to you, wrote a song around it, but ultimately decided that the phrase no longer fits with your melody. Should you just delete those unused lyrics?
Bring those lyrics back and put them to work for you! If you have a phrase that wasn’t quite musical enough but stands out and conveys the essence of your song, that could make the perfect title.
It’s worth taking bits and pieces from cut lyrics to see if something stands out for the name of your song. (And if it doesn’t, keep those lyrics handy – you might need them for another song in the future!)
Tip 5: Get Creative With Your Titles
Titles should be memorable. A lot of the usual words and phrases in the English language are overused in artistic works.
To get around this and create something that stands out, turn to metaphors (such as colors), a play on common cliches, the use of numbers, mixing in phrases from other languages, and more. You can also find inspiration from other songs, books, famous speech from history, movies, and even everyday conversations.
For example, the lead singer of Cage the Elephant, Matt Schultz, first heard the phrase “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” when he asked his drug dealer co-worker why he did what he did. The co-worker replied, “There ain’t no rest for the wicked.”
Whoa! Both the song title and idea for this band’s future hit song came from a chance conversation.
A little weirdness can take you far. Some of the most famous bands of all time have some very strange titles. Have you heard “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey” by the Beatles?
Bonus Tip: How to Name an Instrumental Song
So far, we’ve only talked about titles for songs with lyrics.
And it’s true that the typical singer-songwriter is all about the lyrics, but what if you create an amazing classical, EDM, or rock instrumental track that feels totally complete without words? How do you name an instrumental song?
Again, the point is to get to the essence! What were you thinking of when you wrote it? What does the song evoke now that it’s over?
Side note: There’s no point in picking a song title that’s already popular if you’re writing an instrumental – after all, you don’t even have lyrics you’re trying to match!
Come up with something memorable and evocative, like Eric Johnson did with his guitar masterpiece, “Cliffs of Dover.”
How to Come Up With a Song Title Wrap-up
I hope these tips will help you come up with the perfect idea for your next song title!
But if you’re still having trouble titling your song, you might need to take a step back. Play the song for some trusted friends and ask them what comes to mind. Or write down a dozen a ideas and pretend you’re about to introduce the song before a performance. Do you feel like any seem more appropriate than others?
The worst thing you can do is choose a title you’ll end up regretting. You want to be proud to tell people about your songs, so choose the name that makes you excited to shout the name from the rooftops. If you find one that feels like a good match for your song, it probably is!
If you want to get better at writing memorable music that resonates, I recommend that you get familiar with an instrument like piano. The more you know about how great songs are constructed sonically, the easier it will be for you to create a masterpiece yourself. Check out Piano for All below to get started!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.