In an era of significantly shorter attention spans and increasingly distracted listeners, we, as songwriters, have an even greater responsibility to grab our audience as quickly as possible. The first place to do this is the song’s intro. The following tips will help hook your listeners into your song right away.
1. Keep your intro short and to the point
I was backstage at a music conference a few years ago listening to two panelists chatting before going on stage. One of the panelists was a seasoned conference veteran and the other was relatively new to the process. The new panelist, who had never done a critiquing session before, asked the other panelist what he should do. The more experienced panelist said, “If you can’t think of anything to say, tell them to cut their intros in half.”
In other words, one of the most common mistakes is to make your song’s intro longer than it needs to be. As writers, it’s our job to make every note count, and the best way to do this is to use only as much runway as is essential to set the right mood and get your listener’s ear tuned into the key, so they’ll be interested and ready for the verse.
2. Find a good riff
Think of the intro to Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” You can immediately recognize the song from the first notes of the opening riff. This is the perfect way to not only grab your listener’s attention, but also make your song memorable so that it can be recognized almost instantly when it begins to play. Creating a memorable intro lick is as difficult as writing a great melody or a meaningful lyric. A few ways to help you along is to start the song with a great groove or feel and to use your chorus melody for direction. The trick here, though, is to make sure that while the riff is catchy, it’s not too repetitive. One way to avoid this is by modifying the riff by a note or two when it comes back around so that it’s recognizable while not overdoing it. Another way to avoid repetition is to leave the riff out of the body of your verses and choruses and save it for the turnarounds.
It’s also important to note that intro riffs sit in that murky area between songwriting and production, where they’re not melody and lyric but they are an integral part of your song’s identity. That being said, it’s well worth your while to keep them in mind when demoing your songs and using session players who are experienced with getting the sound you want, both in feel and effects.
3. Use dynamics
The hallmark of a polished and professional song demo is not only the great recording quality and performances of the musicians and vocalist, but the dynamics. The way a song expands and contracts with volume and intensity does wonders when it comes to getting - and keeping - a listener’s attention. Often, coming out of the gate with a big, splashy intro is a great way to catch your listener’s ear, but it’s also the subsequent dip of volume into the verse that serves to highlight just how dramatic/memorable the intro actually is. Carefully consider which instrument(s) you’re going to use to convey your intro. Depending on the song, it can be effective to have multiple lead instruments or even just one. The best way to find out is to experiment with instruments on separate tracks that you can pull in and take out.
When it comes to your song’s intro, you only have a precious few seconds to make an immediate and lasting impression on your listeners. This is important both for pitching your song to music industry decision makers and for playing it for anyone who you may be bouncing your ideas off of before pitching, so that they get the whole picture. Keep your intros meaningful and you’ll have gone a long way toward achieving your goal of making your song memorable.
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. Go to http://www.educatedsongwriter.com/webinar/ for the latest schedule.
Cliff’s company, http://www.nashvillestudiolive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.
You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook.
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