When we are talking about ‘ideas’ in songs, it’s helpful to draw this distinction:
There is the ‘big idea’ – the broad story, experience, or concept we want to write about.
What Jimmy Webb is talking about here is when the BIG IDEA becomes a SONG IDEA. What’s the difference?
A SONG IDEA isn’t just what we have to say; it’s HOW we are going to say it.
It’s the specific angle we are going to approach it from. It’s not the house of the song; it’s the door we are going to walk through to get into it.
A big idea becomes a SONG IDEA when we give it a TITLE.
Deciding on a title gives you direction; it helps your song have an anchor, or a central point of gravity, and then indicates to you what lines and ideas you have already sketched really serve THIS SONG, and which lines were simply the stepping stones to get you there, but really need to now be edited out.
Every line of lyric in your song should ultimately clearly serve to set up the HOOK/TITLE.
Look at Ed Sheeran’s song ‘First Times’.
Let’s pick out a few Verse lines, and see how they clearly connect back to the hook:
Have a listen to Taylor Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’. Links to an external site. Let’s do the same thing with Verse lyrics and the hook:
The best advice I ever received
“Find the title at your earliest possible convenience.”
This advice came from Pat Pattison, author of Writing Better Lyrics. This was drummed into me again, and again, and it’s something I think about at every moment in a song’s development. You don’t need to START with a title, but be constantly on the lookout for it! By turning that searchlight on in your brain, titles will start popping out at you, inviting you into the house of the song, but showing you the special entry that is going to give your song a strong centre.
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