An intro gives you 10 seconds to prove that the rest of the song is worth listening to.
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The average length of a song intro these days is between 10 and 15 seconds. Another way of looking at that statistic is to say that you have between 10 and 15 seconds before someone either commits to listening to your music, or goes searching for something else. It makes a simple guitar-strumming intro a bit risky. These days you’ll find that song intros need to incorporate something more interesting than a simple “keeping time” kind of intro. Here’s a short list of the kinds of things songwriters and producers are incorporating into today’s music.
- A standard instrumental/rhythmic pattern intro. Place an interesting instrumental element up front. It ropes the listener in and forces them to want to listen. Examples: “Gangnam Style” (Psy); “I Knew You Were Trouble.” (Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback) and “Too Close” (Alex Clare)
- An a cappella vocal rendition of verse or chorus as an intro. It’s hard to ignore the strength of the unaccompanied human voice as a powerful way of enticing people to keep listening. It requires good singers, because voices that are front and centre with no instrumental backing comes with its own risks. Example: “Some Nights” (fun.)
- An interesting non-standard instrumental start. If you’ve got a good keyboardist, guitarist, or some other talented member of your band, try highlighting their impressive instrumental talents. A good example of this is Muse’s “New Born“, and Procol Harum’s iconic start to “Whiter Shade of Pale“
- A catchy hook as an intro. The benefits to this are obvious. You snag the listener right away, and you could probably play this kind of intro forever before even getting to verse 1. Examples: “Smoke on the Water” (Deep Purple); “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder)
And don’t forget one of the best ideas: use no intro at all. It can be very exciting to jump right into verse 1. And there’s nothing riskier than using an intro that just lies there and misses the mark.
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