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Songwriters have a tricky relationship with predictability. A successful song is usually one that is innovative enough to stand out from all other songs, but similar enough to everything else (i.e., predictable enough) that it doesn’t scare audiences away. It’s a tricky balance to get right.
There are two simple things you can do to a song that will help it stand out from others in your chosen genre:
- Eliminate the intro; and
- Start with the chorus.
There are lots of songs that do either of these two things, of course, so this is not to say that you’d be doing something very innovative if you ditch the intro or start with the chorus. But it may be all the innovation your otherwise great song needs to stand out a bit.
There’s no denying that a song intro performs an important role. It sets up the general mood and tone of the song, establishes key and tempo, and focuses the listeners’ minds. So you’d think that any good song should use one.
But there is a kind of power — a musical energy — that comes from jumping right into the verse with no instrumental preparation. It’s a technique that demands attention from the audience. And especially for songs in which the intro would otherwise be a kind of mindless strumming, ditching the intro is often the best way to go.
Some songs with no intro:
- Happiness is a Warm Gun – Lennon & McCartney (The Beatles)
- Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins (as performed by Elvis Presley)
- Bullet with Butterfly Wings – Billy Corgan (as performed by The Smashing Pumpkins)
- Payphone – Adam Levine, Benjamin Levin, Ammar Malik, Dan Omelio, Shellback, Cameron Thomas (Maroon 5)
- Best of You – Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters)
Starting With the Chorus
The main benefit of starting with the chorus is that your song gets an immediate energy kick. You need a song for with the lyrics will make some sense without having had a verse to describe what’s going on. It used to be that almost any song that speaks to universal issues such as love and peace would potentially be able to be started with the chorus. But really, any song where it’s obvious what the subject matter is can be started this way.
Starting with the chorus doesn’t mean that you can’t use an intro as well, and including an intro, if cleverly done, can take your song from low to high excitement level pretty quickly, and is certainly something to think about.
You can also opt to start with a rendition of the chorus – a shorter version that simply exists to set the tone, and “Payphone” from the “No Intro” list above also fits this list. Many Beatles songs started this way. “Can’t Buy Me Love” is a good example.
Some songs that start with the chorus, or a shorter rendition of the chorus:
- Jolene – Dolly Parton
- I Shot the Sheriff – Bob Marley
- All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor, Kevin Kadish
- Peaceful World – John Mellencamp
The Spice of Innovation
Innovation in most artforms, including songwriting, is like a spice: you want to add it just a pinch at a time. And you’ll be amazed how little you need to make a song sound fresh and different from everything else out there. That’s what these two ideas have going for them.
And in fact, most people won’t notice that you’ve started with a chorus, or that you’ve eliminated the intro. It’s something that slips under the radar of most of the listening public, and yet it can make your music sound exciting and ever-so-slightly different.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Creative Chord Progressions”. Learn how to take your chords beyond simple I-IV-V progressions. With pages of examples ready for you to use in your own songs!