A throw-away intro may kill any chance you have for your song to make a strong impact.
Song intros are often thought of as being separate from the actual writing of the song. For any song that exists, you can probably come up with dozens of unique intros, none of which change the actual guts of your song.
That’s because an intro is typically part of what you might consider to be the arrangement — not the composition — of the song. But I’d like to make a case for composing a song intro that’s every bit as much the job of the songwriter as writing the rest of the tune.
The “strum-guitar-until-verse-1” kind of intro can sound a bit mindless and boring. And the danger with boring an audience so early into your song is that it’s far too easy these days for a listener to click on something else.
The benefit of a killer intro is that it can become a flag that waves right in the face of the listener, making your song instantly recognizable.
But what can you try? Here are some well-constructed song intro-types that might stimulate your imagination.
- The Composed Melody Intro. Groups that have an instrumentation larger than the typical guitar-bass-drums might find this kind of intro beneficial. For an oldie great, give “Call On Me” (Lee Loughnane, of Chicago) a listen. The intro is a melody that’s unique to the rest of the song, and the brassy instrumentation sets up the mood perfectly. And “Stairway to Heaven“, of course, is the iconic example of this kind of intro.
- The Intro-Connector Intro. This is an intro that works both as a song intro, but also as a connector that can work beautifully at the end of each chorus, bringing you back to the next verse. Example: “Born To Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
- Instrumental-Sound Effect Intro. This kind of intro is usually an instrument playing an improvised line that gives the impression of merely being a sound effect. In the 70s, you would have heard this at the beginning of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (Walter Becker, Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan), with that curious “flapamba” solo. In a sense, the intro of Imogen Heap’s cello solo at the beginning of “Tidal” from her Ellipse” album also qualifies. Also, give Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” a listen.
- Instrumental Hook Intro. This is where you create a short, catchy hook that gets set up right at the beginning of the song, and keeps returning throughout. The most famous example of this, of course, has got to be Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water“
- Soundscape Intro. You can get creative with this, and there’s no boundaries to the kinds of ideas you can use. Listen to Arcade Fire’s “Flashbulb Eyes” from “Reflektor to get an idea of what can be done.
And don’t forget – starting right in to verse 1, with no intro at all, is often the best way to draw people into your song right away. The Paper Kites’ “Woodland” is a great example.
Most of the time, you’ll want the intro to reflect the kind of music that’s about to happen. You hear this in the intro of “Flashbulb Eyes.” That’s not likely the kind of intro you’d use if your song is a 12-bar blues. (Having said that, it’s completely up to you!)
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.