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Songwriters who write me for help usually send me an MP3 of their latest creation, and ask the question, “What do you think I’m doing wrong?” The biggest problem, by far, is that there’s not enough in the song to make it interesting. At least, not interesting enough for a listener to stick with it. And related to that problem is this one: by the time anything interesting has happened, the song is way past the point where anyone would want to keep listening. In my estimation, if something doesn’t reach out and grab the listener within the first seven seconds, you’ve lost most of your target audience.
Just check any of the songs that are in the Top-10 of the Billboard Hot 100 this week, and you’ll find that without exception, each song presents something interesting at or near the beginning that grabs the interest of anyone listening, and keeps them listening. And it doesn’t have to be a killer hook – just something moderately catchy, and definitely not simply a guitar strumming away on a chord:
- “Just the Way You Are” (Bruno Mars)- Great vocal hook in 3rds, with a building percussive background.
- “Like a G6” (Far East Movement)- Captivating drone-like vocal over a synth opening sound effect.
- “Teenage Dream” (Katy Perry)- Catchy repetitive guitar hook.
- “Just a Dream” (Nelly)- This one starts with nothing hooky at all – a risky start, so the song starts with a high-energy chorus instead of the verse. It’s 22 seconds to the chorus, and as I say, a bit risky. Another way to start this song is to consider jumping right into the chorus, no intro.
- “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” (Usher featuring Pitbull)- Synth with a distinctive rhythmic hook.
- “Dynamite” (Taio Cruz)- Great percussion pattern/hook that lays a rhythmic foundation for the song that gets going at the 8-second mark.
- “Love the Way You Lie”- Jumps right in with a melody featuring a rising 6th. (i.e., when in doubt, forget the intro and get going!)
- “Only Girl (in the World)” (Rihanna)- Great double-note backing synth hook with voice syncopating in and around it.
- “I Like It” (Enrique Iglesias)- Strongly rhythmic synth with vocal effects, all contributing to a super high-energy start.
- “Club Can’t Handle Me” – Another strongly rhythmic synth start. Verse starts over the synth, and the whole song keeps building.
Obviously, the fact that a song is at the top of the hit list doesn’t mean that it’s a great song, but we do know one thing for sure: that song has succeeded in grabbing and keeping a huge audience, an audience big enough to make that song a huge hit.
And audiences will not wait. If you aren’t doing something catchy, hooky or otherwise attractive within about the first 7 seconds, your losing listeners in droves!
So once you’re finished writing your song, and are ready to get into recording it, ask yourself: What am I going to do within the first 7 seconds that will keep my target audience listening?
-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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