If you were a novelist, you’d be hoping to write a “page-turner.” As you know, all that means is that the reader simply can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next.
Is there an equivalent to the page-turner in the songwriting world? That concept of anticipation exists in every art form, though in music it’s usually a more subtle quality. But if you don’t give your listeners reasons to want to keep listening, you’ll lose them before the chorus.
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So how do you build up that important quality of anticipation? It’s different for every song. For some, the lyric tells a compelling story that keeps listeners riveted.
For other songs, there’s a sense of melodic direction that pulls the listener in one direction or another. It might be the way the chords work. Or it might be non-songwriting elements that are at play: the way instrumentation changes as the song progresses. For many songs, it’s a combination of several aspects of music.
The Power of the Verse-Chorus Format
For most, the verse-chorus format itself is enough to generate a strong attraction to audiences, to keep them wanting to listen. That’s because verses tend to have a low aspect of musical energy, while choruses are more energetic, and that up-and-down of musical energy acts as a kind of musical “pump” that is an intense source of musical attraction.
Other formats will work well, of course, as long as there’s a sense of up-and-down in musical energy.
For songs that just aren’t working, you need to go element by element, looking at each component of your song as a separate entity, and make sure you’ve done something to make it enticing.
For most songs, the easiest way to focus in on any potential problems is to ask a simple question:
What have I done in this lyric (or melody – or instrumentation – or any other component) to make it interesting to listeners?
By putting that kind of magnifying glass on what you’ve written, specific problems should become immediately obvious.
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