Books and music

Those First Few Seconds

When I’m buying a real, “hold it in your hand” book from a bookstore, particularly if it’s fiction, I have a confession to make: I am highly influenced by two things:

  1. the cover design, and
  2. the first paragraph.

I wonder if it makes me seem shallow, but so be it. I notice that I just simply turn away from books that have covers that I have a negative reaction to, and I’m less likely to give that book a chance. And I seem to do that without realizing it at the time.


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When I look inside a book, that first paragraph needs show me something immediately good, and indicate what I can expect from the rest of the book. If I’m turned off, confused or otherwise disinterested in that first paragraph, it goes back up on the shelf and I keep looking.

That’s neither right nor wrong, it’s simply a subconscious reaction.

The reaction you have to your first encounter with a book is similar to people’s reaction to the first few seconds of your new song, and it’s particularly true of music in the pop genres. Fans of classical or jazz tend to be a bit more patient and will give music a longer period of time to impress them.

But if pop music is your genre, you only get a few seconds to seal the deal and gain a fan.

This is where objective listening becomes crucial, and particularly if you are producing your own song. You need to be able to listen to your song as if it were written by someone else, and ask yourself:

  1. Does this song grab my attention right from the start?
  2. Does the length of the intro seem balanced properly with regard to the length of the song? (i.e., it should usually get to the first words of your verse by the 15th second or so.)
  3. Does it get to the chorus before the 1-minute mark?
  4. Does the first line of lyric make me interested in whatever else is going to follow?
  5. Is the instrumentation interesting, and is it well-played/produced?

There’s probably more you could ask yourself, but the point is clear: a good song needs to get going right away, and not run the risk of boring or confusing your listener before they get to the chorus hook.

In the pop music world, immediacy of effect is often the difference between failure and success.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle

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