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The Title Game

by Erin Barra, iZotope Contributor July 18, 2019
So many titles to choose from!

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Co-writing can be a lot like dating. Everyone wants it to go well, but depending on a million variables, it may or may not. Many people shy away from collaborating all together because of fear, bad experiences, or myriad other reasons. But once you’ve been in that moment where you and another writer came together and created something larger than either of you were capable of creating on your own, it’s like a drug. Give me more of that! 

Anytime you’re writing with a person you’ve never collaborated with before—or even if you’re with a longtime writing partner and the energy is low—getting from “How's it going?” to writing a banger is usually the hardest part. Questions like, “What should we write about?” or “What's been going on with you lately?” can really kill a vibe, or prevent one from happening in the first place. 

Optimally, everyone would fall right into easy and flowing conversation as if they’d been working together for years and the songs would follow shortly after. So how do we get from point A to point B with the least amount of effort? Enter, the title game.  

Is this a game to you?

There are so many elements and ideas that need to come together in order to write great songs. The title game is a quick exercise that you and your writing partners can do in order to get ideas flowing and the conversation going in a way that’s non-threatening and judgment-free. The basic gist of it is that you and your collaborator(s) will quickly generate a number of titles that will spark dialogue and ideas. At the end of your game you should have several titles that everyone finds interesting and all you have to do is agree on which one you like and then write to it.       

First, let’s give credit where credit’s due—this game was taught to me by Pat Pattison who learned it from Chris Dubois, author of 17 number one songs. Apparently he plays it before co-writing sessions and it’s a tool I’ve been using in the writers’ room and my classroom for years. I’m here to tell you that it works—pretty much without exception. 

Putting pen to paper

The Rules 

Starting from a current title, each co-writer puts it at the top of his/her own page, then, picking one word from it, creates (without too much thought) another title below it:

Today’s number one song is ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, so we’ll use this as a jumping-off point. 

Old Town Road

Road to Somewhere

Then pick a word (any word) from the second title and write another one:

Old Town Road

Road to Somewhere

Somewhere Safe

Then again and again:

Old Town Road

Road to Somewhere 

Somewhere Safe

Safe and Sorry

Sorry for Nothing In Particular 

There’s Nothing like Nothing 

There’s No Place like Here

Here We Go Again

Then trade. When you get your co-writer’s sheet, put a check next to any titles that pique your interest or spark an idea you think would be a good song. The key here is to exercise discriminating tastes—only choose the titles which are REALLY good. To use the words of Marie Kondo, if it doesn’t, ‘spark joy’, let it go.  

If you’ve got three or more writers, you trade again. Now you’re looking at a list of titles that someone has already gone through and checkmarked. Only considering the titles that already have checkmarks, go through the same process and put a second checkmark next to the titles that create movement on your joy sparking meter. Keep trading papers around and following the same rules until you’re looking at your original list of checked titles.   

Now what? 

At this point there should be a list of titles everyone in the room was excited by. These are the titles that are up for discussion as a springboard for your writing session. What sort of a story goes along with each title? How many different ways can you interpret a title? Which titles seem to get people the most excited when they start talking about their perspective? Which titles make people laugh?  

Dialogue should begin happening without much effort and all that ice that needed breaking at the beginning of your session should have melted away by now and the river of ideas should be flowing. Go forth and write your best songs and have fun with the people you’re doing it with.

Writing songs with other people can be hard. Let’s change that.

Conclusion

Accessing your points of inspiration can be difficult sometimes, but as writers, we need to be able to open those doors when the time is right. Use the title game as a key to open and walk through them with your collaborators, no matter the circumstances. 

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