This Article Originally Published March 2007


by Sam Horn, Author of POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd

part one  |  part two

POP! Technique #6: Turn "So What?" into "Say What?!"

"Something's boring me. I think it's me." — Dylan Thomas

I meet many people who naively think that if their message is important, people will want to hear it.

Not so. Important isn't enough; it must be innovative. Just because you're passionate about your subject doesn't mean others will be. Remember, people these days are perpetually preoccupied. If they already agree with what you're saying, why should they spend their valuable time and money to listen to it?

From now on, remember the prerequisite for intrigue isn't whether it's true; it's whether it's new.

A secret to engaging people is to startle them by disputing their assumptions. Now they're engaged.

Ask yourself, "What is a norm in my industry? What do people commonly believe to be true? How can my idea be the antithesis of that? How can my lyrics fly in the face of current wisdom? How can I introduce a style that is the opposite of what people are accustomed to? How can I boldly introduce a politically incorrect title that stops people in their tracks and causes them to blink and say "What?!?"

Saying the same thing as everyone else is guaranteed to keep you one of many. How can you rile emotion and create a debate so people are motivated to check you out?

The Dixie Chicks' Grammy-award winning song "Not Ready to Make Nice" is an example of how having the courage of your (controversial) convictions can create water-cooler conversation and get your work noticed... for all the right reasons.

POP! Technique #7: Ink It When You Think It

"A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something." — Frank Capra

I had the pleasure of seeing Billy Joel interviewed on the TV program CBS Sunday Morning. The host asked Billy how he thought up his songs, and Billy told about the time the words "In the middle of the night, I was walking through my dreams"... came into his head while he was working on his boat (a hobby of his.)

He immediately dismissed it as not making much sense and went about his business. Later on, in the shower, he couldn't keep that lyric out of his head, so he got out of the shower and wrote it down. You probably know those words eventually turned into a memorable riff in one of his forty #1 hits, River of Dreams.

If there's anything I've learned in ten years of researching, writing, and speaking about the topic of creativity, it's that THIS is how ideas occur to us. They come into our head. And if we don't write them down, they're gone, never to return again.

I was walking with former National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones along a Maui beach several years ago. We both had keynote presentations for large groups the following week and were brainstorming our content.

A few minutes into our walk Dewitt suddenly stopped, whipped out a pen and scribbled something down. We went a few more paces and he pulled out his pad again and made a note. After doing this a couple more times, I finally asked, "Dewitt, what are you doing?"

He said, "I used to get a good idea and think, 'I've got to remember that,' and then I'd promptly forget it. Now, I take a notepad everywhere I go. It doesn't mater where I am or who I'm with, the second an idea occurs to me, I jot it down. Then I can relax because I know it'll be there waiting for me when I'm ready for it, even if that's days, weeks, or months later."

Hot thoughts are inspirations that occur in the heat of the moment. You've been given a gift. Disparate thoughts in your mind have suddenly coalesced into a mini-epiphany. You have just connected something you saw, heard, smelled, tasted or felt with something you already know. Synapses have fired in a new way that have produced a first-time insight. Creative lightning has just struck. And if you don't jot those hot thoughts, they disappear. It is as if you've thrown away a present.

What's worse is the muse gets annoyed. The muse, or whatever you call your source of inspiration, only asks three things of us, that we:

Are Alert — As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A man should learn to watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within." They don't call them fleeting thoughts for nothing. If we don't stop what we're doing and pay attention to our flashes of inspiration, they're gone.

Are Appreciative — Author Anne Lamott said, "Writers get to live life twice." Every person you meet, every place you go, every moment you experience is a source of material. You interact on the conscious level and then step back and immediately ask yourself, "How can I use that? Is that snippet of overhead conversation a lyric? Is that laugh-out-loud line a title? Can that emotion I just felt be put to music?"

Act — Carry a notepad or recording device with you everywhere you go. Your earning power is directly proportionate to your creativity which is directly proportionate to your discipline of capturing insights as they occur to you. You are literally and figuratively living by your wits. Most importantly, by being alert to, appreciating, and acting on insights as they occur, the muse feels honored and recognized and keeps coming around.

POP! Technique #8: Be Creative Without Being Too Clever for Your Own Good

"An abiding tenet of TV is that viewers don't want new shows, they want new shows that remind them of old shows." — Fred Allen

Look at Fred Allen's quote above and substitute the word "songs" for "shows."

Remember, a prerequisite of POP! is that your communication needs to be Purposeful. It's important to be different, but not so different no one wants you. Being controversial can create buzz for your work, yet if you're TOO controversial, you may alienate people and create a backlash that undermines your success. Strategic balance is the key.

POP! Technique #9: Words That Roll Off The Tongue Stay in the Brain

"It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got that Swing." — Duke Ellington song title

If you want your lyrics to stand the test of time, they need to be AIR-tight. The following three criteria can help you craft memorable lines that brand your song into the public's collective consciousness.

A = Alliteration. Say the following words out loud.

Dunkin' Croissants.
Rolls Jaguar.
Bed, Toilet, and Shower.

Ugh. Clunky, aren't they?

Now say these words out loud.

Dunkin' Donuts.
Rolls Royce.
Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Musical, aren't they? Words that start with the same sound are pleasing to the mind and ear. Alliteration makes our language lyrical.

Now, I'm not trying to teach song-writing, but I do believe these three criteria can give any message an appealing harmony. As Doris Lessing said, "At first it's a bit jagged, awkward; then there's a point where there's a click and you suddenly become quite fluent."

Take a draft of a song you've written and play with key words to see if you can make them alliterative. The goal is to maintain the meaning of the song while making the phrasing "fall into place," You know you've come up with a POP! lyric when you wouldn't change a word. It feels right as soon as you hear it. It "clicks" into place and you have no compulsion to fiddle with it. It's perfect the way it is.

And yes, too much alliteration can become annoying. (Sorry.) If alliteration becomes too self-conscious, it veers into being cutesy or cheesy. If it feels forced or false, toss it. Simply express what you want to say as clearly and compellingly as possible.

I = Iambic meter. "If you put it in a beat, you make it easy to repeat." — Sam Horn

Think back to kindergarten. Do you remember learning such childhood verses as "Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown... ?"

Were you given a string of 26 letters and told to remember them all in the proper order? No, you were probably taught a sing-song cadence of A, B.c.D, e, f, G, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, P... That's because teachers know that the easier something is to repeat, the easier it is to remember.

If you were born in the 1950's or 1960's, you can probably fill in this once-popular jingle, "Mmm, mmm, good. Mmm, mmm, good. That's what ______ soup is, mmm, mmm good." Did you say Campbells? Another timeless jingle (so to speak) is for Timex: "It takes a lickin' and keeps on ______." Did you say ticking?

You probably haven't heard those jingles for years (decades?) yet you were able to repeat them, word for word, probably in their original beat. Those are called "ear worms," catchy jingles or lyrics that people can't get out of their mind.

If you want people repeating and remembering your lyrics years from now, follow Fran Liebowitz's advice. She said, "When I write, I read everything out loud to get the right rhythm." Test your chorus line by saying it out loud to a metronome's beat. Tap your foot and sing your lyrics to a specific cadence. If the phrasing doesn't fall into an easy-to-repeat beat, replace some of your key words until they have the right synchronicity.

R = Rhyme. Rhyme is sublime. Abby Marks Beale, one of America's experts on speed-reading, asked me for help with her book title: "Read More, Faster: Increase Your Productivity Online While Saving Paper, Time, and Frustration. Ugh.

She knew it didn't resonate or ring. All we had to do was move around the exact same words in the sub-title until they rhymed. Say this out loud, Increase Your Productivity ONLINE while Saving Paper, Frustration, and TIME, and hear how the near rhyme of ONLINE and TIME made it POP!

No, that's not jazzy, but it is purposeful. Abby's target audience is corporate executives who will bring her in to speak for their organization or who will buy her book in bulk for their employees. A "touchy, feely" title might turn them off. This pragmatic title was more likely to appeal to them because it promised to deliver bottom-line results.

Truman Capote said, "I've known all my life that I could take a bunch of words and throw them up in the air and they would come down just right."

Good for Capote. For most of us, coming up with the "just right" song title, lyric, and chorus takes longer. It's worth the effort though because when we invest the time to compose songs that feature alliteration, iambic meter or rhyme, it's more likely they'll be remembered over time.

POP! Technique #10: The More Singular You Are, The More You'll Get Paid for Doing What You Love

"It's not enough to be the best at what you do, you must be perceived to be the only one who does what you do." — Jerry Garcia

Are you a Starbucks fan? Do you use one of those cardboard holders for your hot latte' so you don't burn your fingers? Did you know those little coffee sleeves are a multimillion dollar business?

How can that be? There doesn't seem to be anything special about them. Tell that to Jay Sorenson who cornered the market on those "standard" items by giving them a "singular" name — Java Jacket. Jay says, "Java Jacket has such a dominating market awareness that food and beverage operations who meant to call our competitors often call us instead."

That's what I call Idea Equity. If people can't (or don't) refer to your work by its name, it doesn't have an identity. It's perceived as a stock or standard item that doesn't belong to anyone. Only when you attach a Purposeful, Original, Pithy Proper Name to something does it turn into Idea Equity, an identifiable brand you can register, own, and profit from for years to come.

You can turn generic into genius by using these ten techniques to create lyrics, song titles, and melodies that are one-of-a-kind instead of one-of-many. Invest the time to apply the suggestions in this article and in my book POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd so you can coin singular names and phrases that didn't exist before you created them.

Why is this important? Simply stated, you can charge more money for something that has a singular identity. More money means you've got more time and freedom to do work you love. Your music will have a greater chance of getting noticed, remembered, and bought. That means you'll be able to relate to best-selling author Stephen King who says, "I have the world's best job. I get paid to hang out in my imagination all day."

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Sam Horn helps individuals and organizations develop innovative titles, taglines and identities so they are one-of-a-kind instead of one-of-many. Through her convention keynotes, one-on-one consulting, CD series and books, and weekend Brand Camps, she has helped thousands of people catapult their creativity and income.

Visit www.SamHorn.com for free articles, to purchase Sam's products, to schedule one-on-one consulting, to find out when Sam will be speaking in your area, or to register for an upcoming weekend retreat. Her work has been praised by Seth Godin, Stephen Covey, Jeffrey Gitomer, Ken Blanchard, and Edelman Sr. VP Marilynn Mobley who said, "If you liked Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, you'll love Sam Horn's POP!"




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