Intros are meant to identify a song, and, more importantly, entice people to keep listening. They do this usually by setting up the mood, the key and tempo (though not necessarily, as you’ll see below). A good intro acts an identifying banner or flag for the rest of the song.
If you find yourself always opting for a strumming kind of intro, your listeners will find your music overly predictable within the first few seconds. Though you may think of an intro as something that happens at the production stage (something that’s decided when you’re ready to record), there’s a lot to be said for song intros that require a bit of songwriting.
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So if you’re finding that your intro winds up being a bit of wasted time until the song properly gets going, here’s a list of tips and ideas that you might think about:
- The simplicity/complexity of the first part of a song should be reflected in the intro. A simple strumming intro might work, if the simplicity of the song is something you’d like to emphasize. Example: “Sister Golden Hair.” – Gerry Beckley
- Longer song intros need to be interesting; they need a reason for existing. By “reason”, I’m talking more about a musical reason, not specifically one that needs to relate to the subject matter of the lyric. An old-school example might be Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” An interesting intro that incorporates chamber orchestra and piano is Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” from the 2002 film “8 Mile.”
- Song intros rarely need to exceed 10-15 seconds. Shorter intros have the benefit of getting to the lyric quickly, and that’s going to give you song its best hope for pulling in and keeping an audience.
- A song doesn’t need an intro. I think it’s a shame that producers don’t use this “clean start” approach more often. A song without intro can be almost startling in its ability to demand immediate attention. The Beatles have given us some good examples: “Penny Lane,” “All My Loving”, “Hey Jude,” “Hello Goodbye“, and others.
I think the best way to proceed here is to take one of your finished songs and jump right in without whatever you’ve been working out for an intro. If you really don’t like it, and think your song needs an intro, it’s time to give it some careful thought:
- What’s the best kind of intro that sets up your opening verse. What would get people listening?
- What can you do in your intro that partners up well with the rest of the song?
- Can you create something in your intro that might work well as a song bridge?
In other words, don’t allow your song’s intro to simply take up time until something more interesting comes along. Be certain that your songs’ intros are well thought out, and meant to support everything else your song offers.
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