Successful Songs: the Importance of a Catchy Start

An intro can either work brilliantly, or bore your audience so that they never even hear your song.

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Arcade Fire - ReflektorThere’s a good reason why some hit songs, like “Hey Jude”, don’t bother with an intro: you get to the good stuff quickly. These days, when it’s so easy for a listener to click on something else, you need to grab their attention and then keep it. If your typical song intro is simply a guitar strumming, it can work, but it’s risky.

Song intros are usually less than 15 seconds in length. In that time, you’d better be doing something interesting enough to ensure that your audience isn’t already predicting that they won’t like your song. Most of what you plan for your intro is not really a songwriting issue, since it’s something calculated usually after the song is written.

Arcade Fire’s new album, “Reflektor”, has several songs with unique, innovative starts: “Flashbulb Eyes”, for example, with its synthesized sound effects. Most of the songs on that album make you say, “What’s that? What’s going to happen here?”

How you start your song is going to be a large part of its success formula. A few decades ago, the intro did some important things, such as set the tempo, key, as well as set up the basic feel and mood of the piece. These days, especially with a group like Arcade Fire, the intro often has more to do with grabbing attention than establishing key.

As you prepare to record your music, think carefully about how you want to create the intros. Here are some good questions to ask yourself:

  1. Does my intro make me curious for what’s to happen?
  2. Does my intro properly set up the mood of my song?
  3. Does my intro allow me to get to the song within 15 seconds (assuming a 3-4minute pop song)?
  4. Is there something interesting about the rhythmic/melodic treatment of my intro?

Done poorly, a song intro can bore your potential audience, chasing them away before they ever hear the good stuff.  Don’t be afraid to be experimental and innovative. These days, a song intro can amount to being sound effects, like Arcade Fire’s “You Already Know”, which starts with a vocal announcement.

And if you can’t think of anything that works well, always consider the possibility that your song doesn’t need an intro at all. Jumping right in to verse 1 is a great way to grab attention.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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