Music By Any Other Name

The method by which musicians name their creations is often quite haphazard, and I suspect that many of the song and album titles we know and love are entirely serendipitous. For example, the Pink Floyd album ‘Atom Heart Mother’ was named after a headline in a newspaper. In his blog, Kourosh Dini describes his own approach to naming musical compositions – that is, he simply uses “the first words that come to mind”. Although this might seem an arbitrary approach, in fact it probably enables a more honest and evocative title, brought about by an instinctive, perhaps subconscious, translation of the song itself into a crude verbal signifier. Assuming that one is naming the song after it is complete, then an instinct-based nomenclature provides a new layer to the creation, a subliminal leap from music to words, which may be based more on sounds, structure and feel than semantics.

Personally, this is an approach that I also have adopted, although since I moved to using computers as my primary recording tool, I now tend to name a song much earlier in the process of its creation. Due to the nature of digital composition, it is vital to save your work on a regular basis, which means that a song should be saved before it is fully complete. The choice then is to save the song with a generic name (song10-4) and then rename it later, or to give it a name at this early stage of its life. I usually choose the latter option – after all, aren’t we all named before it becomes clear what our true character is?

Of course, if you are writing a song (on a guitar, for example) that has lyrics and is actually about something in particular, then your title will probably be derived from that – and the issue of saving doesn’t really come up. However, with electronic songs, particularly those without lyrics, the name will be the the only word(s) used to define or refer to it. In this case, it makes perfect sense to let your wordsmithing instincts respond to the music directly when creating a title, and not to worry too much about crafting a title that accurately describes the mood/structure/rhythm of the song. Words and music are too different for such deliberate translation.


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