Captivating Listeners in Today’s Songwriting World

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Ever notice that many hit songs start with unique intros? Just take a listen to any songs in the top 10 right now on Billboard, and you’ll notice that the majority of them have distinctive ways of grabbing attention, and they do it immediately. At least in today’s pop song world, listeners won’t usually sit around waiting to be entertained. I’ve mentioned before that especially in the world of the digital download, listeners will give you mere seconds before they pass judgement.

So your song intro needs to captivate and at least intrigue the listener, and you’ve only got a few seconds to do it. Here are some ways you can be sure to reel them in and keep them listening. Not all of these will work in every song, so experiment:

  1. Establish a hook immediately. This can be either a rhythmic idea, a repeated lyrical fragment, a melodic shape… anything catchy that’s easy to remember and easy to sing.
  2. Let your intro be a mini summary of ideas that your song will feature. Try seeing if the first few notes of your chorus make a good intro. You may also be surprised to discover that the first few moments of a bridge can also make a good intro, so explore that possibility.
  3. See if your chorus, sung unaccompanied with 3- or 4-part harmony, will serve as an intro. The nice thing about this kind of unaccompanied intro is that when the instruments finally enter, the song gets a shot of energy that’s quite exciting.

No matter what you do, try to avoid a simple guitar-strumming intro that doesn’t add anything to the song. Those kinds of intros simply delay the more interesting bits, and you can lose listeners by then.

That takes care of intros, but what do you do to keep listeners once you’ve got them?

It really is a matter of looking closely at that trio of song elements – melody, chords and lyrics – and making sure that each component has something to speak directly to the audience:

  1. Is the melody memorable? Good melodies, when you look closely at them, use repeating figures, and also have a climactic moment that comes across as the high point of the song. Those repeating figures and shapes make the song easy for listeners to remember.
  2. Are the chords predictable enough without being boring or repetitious? It’s nice when you can develop chords that are somewhat unique, but don’t abandon predictability. Remember, predictability, even in distinctive progressions, is a vital component of song harmonies.
  3. Do the lyrics relate to experiences and emotions that the average person encounters in their life? One of the biggest lyricist errors is to write about how you’re feeling without giving any story background. People relate to stories far more easily than they relate to emotions. Give them the story (in the verse), and let the listener develop their own emotional response along with you (in the chorus).

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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