There are many catch-phrases bandied about in the world of songwriting, and you’ll often see the term “fresh” used when discussing the staying power of a song. Songs that make you feel bored by the second minute need an injection of freshness. But what are we really talking about when we use this word “fresh”?
Any time we do something to a song that in some small measure changes the direction or does something innovative is said to be keeping the song fresh. If your song is comprised of several verses, all of which are accompanied by the same strumming guitar, your song will need something to keep it fresh. And the innovation can (and perhaps should) be small. Think of the analogy of going on vacation: you’ll want to do little things every day that keep your vacation feeling “fresh” so that you don’t spend each day doing the same thing. So while you’re doing basically the same thing each day (relaxing by the pool), you’ll also want to do something different each day: visit a museum on one day, go to the beach the next, see a show the next, etc.
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So what are these “little things” we can do to inject freshness into a song? Here are some ideas:
- A well-placed key change. Changing key is a great way to keep a song from getting stale, and will go a long way to keeping a listener’s attention.
- Add a bridge. Songs that are verse-chorus forms can get predictable easily. Adding a bridge allows you to expand on the lyric of the chorus, and to heighten the overall energy of the song.
- Change tempo. You’ll want to be careful with this one, because it won’t work in every situation. And if it’s dance music, changing tempo can be very tricky. If you consider this one, be sure to experiment first.
- Add instruments. If you have several verses, adding instruments with each incarnation will keep things feeling fresh.
- Add an instrumental solo. They’ll work well between chorus and verse, or as an instrumental bridge.
- Add vocal harmonies. Adding harmonies later in a song where they didn’t exist earlier will create something interesting for the listener to focus on. Be careful where you do this. Try this: select key words from your lyric that have a poignancy that you want to highlight. Create 2- or 3-part harmony for that word alone, and you will give it special attention that will really work.
When we talk about freshness, we’re really talking about ways to keep the energy of the song in a generally upward-moving direction. When energy levels off, that’s when staleness becomes a problem. Use one of the suggestions from above to create something unique and fresh for your song.