Songwriting Exercise: Twisting Clichés

When we’re writing a new song, it’s common to start with the title, which may later become the hook line in the Chorus. If you’re trying a songwriting challenge, just not feeling the idea or looking for something new, try twisting a cliché title. This is a great way to put a fresh perspective on a song or to come up with a title that’s just different enough to pique a listener’s interest.

Step One: Identify a Cliché

First, find a cliché. There are several different kinds:

For a cliché song title that’s overused, search your music library alphabetically for repeat titles.
Search for relevant idioms or browse this list of idioms.
Browse through this list of clichés.
Use Urban Dictionary to twist a slang phrase.

Step Two: Twist the Cliché into Something New

Typically, you do one of two things:

1. Flip the actual words around to create a new idea, or to make it sound less cliché.
2. Twist the actual meaning of the cliché, so you are using the cliché in a new way or the opposite way.

For each title or phrase, ask these questions:

1. What do people expect when they hear this title?
2. How can I say this differently?
3. Can I just flip the words around?
4. What is the opposite of what people expect when they hear this title (and can I write a song around that)?

Example 1:

Let’s try this out with this cliché title: Back to You

1. What do people expect when they hear this title?

Typically, when a song title is “Back to You”, we expect to hear about how a character wants to go back to someone.

2. How can I say this differently?

We can rephrase “Back to You” to “I’m Going Back to You” to make it sound a little fresh.

3. Can I just flip the words around?

In this case, we probably can’t flip the words around exactly, but we could flip it to say, “You’re Coming Back”, which also changes the meaning.

4. What is the opposite of what people expect when they hear this title (and can I write a song around that)?

The opposite of what we expect to hear from “Back to You” would be that the love interest of the main character wants to come back, but the main character has moved on. We could use the title “Back to You” but the song uses the opposite story of “I’m never going back to you.”

Example 2:

Let’s try the same exercise with a phrase: every cloud has a silver lining    

1. What do people expect when they hear this title?

When we hear this phrase, we think of how something good will come after something bad. A typical title for this phrase would probably be “Silver Lining.”

2. How can I say this differently?

Phrases are easier to say differently since we have more to work with. We could decide not to use the actual words and rephrase to “Good Things” or “Better Days Will Come”.

3. Can I just flip the words around?

We could flip this to say, “Silver linings on every cloud” as a line in the song. As a title, we could flip it around to, “Linings on silver clouds” which would change the meaning to something interesting. Another option is “Linings on clouds.”

4. What is the opposite of what people expect when they hear this title (and can I write a song around that)?

The opposite meaning of “Every cloud has a silver lining” is more along the lines of pessimism. If we use the cliché title “Silver Lining”, we could write a song that describes how there is “no silver lining this time”. If we want to use the phrase as a line, we could say, “The missing clouds with silver linings” for the opposite effect of a typically positive phrase.

There are no wrong answers

No idea is truly original, so try not to get frustrated with that goal. Remember that the point of this exercise is to try to take an overused idea, twist it and make it exciting to write for us. As long as you’re trying something new, that’s the best outcome!

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