Your song’s intro might be a wasted opportunity to build an audience for your song.
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The job of a song intro is a pretty simple and obvious one: introduce the song. Don’t confuse the simplicity of the job with the level of importance, however. A good song intro does a lot more than say, “I’m about to start a song.” It often gets left to the recording stage to come up with something good, but there is no reason that an intro can’t be composed and honed as part of the songwriting process itself.
A song intro does several things:
- Establish the tempo and basic rhythmic structure.
- Establish the key.
- Establish the mood.
Beyond those three, intros can optionally do other things: set up an intro hook, introduce the full instrumentation that the listener can expect, and offer a melody that differs from the verse and chorus, also acting as a connector that brings a chorus back to the next verse.
What makes an intro especially important is that it’s the first thing a listener encounters when they hear your song, and so making it both relevant and enticing is crucial. In a very real way, an intro can be as important as a hook, and so it’s important to get it right.
An intro that doesn’t entice your listener means that within seconds they can be clicking or tapping their way to some other song that isn’t yours, and that’s a problem. Your intro allows your song to stand up and demand attention.
Here are three basic ideas for what your intro can be doing for you:
- Give the listener the expectation that something great is about to happen. It’s why many song intros are based on an enticing rhythm, and why often a simple strummed chord can work. That rhythmic groove gets the listeners’ musical imagination working. The danger of a simple strum is that listeners will dismiss its musical value pretty quickly, so don’t let a strummed guitar chord go on for more than 10 seconds, tops.
- Make the intro relevant to the rest of the song. There needs to be something about that intro that sounds material to the main sound and message of the song. In Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” from his “So” album, the intro is about 40 seconds long, long enough to give most producers a few sleepless nights. But it works because it’s interesting, rhythmically captivating, with a fascinating instrumentation. And, most importantly, it’s relevant to the sound and mood of the rest of the song.
- Consider an intro melody. By this I mean a melody that differs from the verse and chorus melodies, but is interesting in its own right. This melody can then be used to help take the end of a chorus to the beginning of the next verse, or serve as an outro. (Chicago does this with their 1970s hit “Call On Me”).
I can’t think of any song for which I thought the intro was too short, but there are many songs that suffer from an intro that’s too long. Songs with no intro at all can be exciting, as the main message of the song starts to get communicated to the listener immediately. No intro can definitely be an attention-grabber.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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