Resisting standardization is a natural tendency for creative types.
We want to be different…original, right?
In part, that’s why we do what we do!
The thing is, we sometimes allow that desire-for-different to become an obstacle to our songwriting.
Case-in-point the never-ending battle over lengthy song intros.
- You say it’s too long, I say I’m exercising creative license.
- You say it’s commercially unacceptable, I tell you I want it to be different because standardization stifles creativity.
- I say it’s too long, you say “who am I to dictate how you write your song”? It’s your song…it should be your choice.
- I tell you that long intros challenge the reasonable limits of a listener’s attention span…you say that pleasing the average listener is less important than living up to your own creative standards.
- I tell you it’s too long, you tell me you’ve heard that criticism so often you’re numb to it.
These types of exchanges have become virtual expectations on songwriting forums around the world. Over the past decade, I’ve watched this “intro” situation devolve.
Suggestions which were once perceived as well-meaning, are now considered white noise. More times than not, recipients respond defensively or not at all.
Some might say – “good, I’m sick to death of hearing about my intros anyway”!
The thing is, I fear it’s the intros themselves that have suffered. We now throw the baby out with the bath water.
Too many writers are ignoring the intros, as well as the advice.
I contend that the importance of the song introduction is greatly underestimated.
Remember back to your childhood…when your parents told you about the importance of first impressions? Well the song intro is your opportunity to make a first impression on your listener!
And…just as your parent told you back then, you may not get a 2nd chance.
Regardless of how creatively fulfilled the intro makes you feel, it’ the listener’s impression of it that really counts If they become bored with it too soon, they’re likely to turn it off.
How do I know this?
Because (news flash) that’s what I do! Absolutely!
Yes…I’ve been a songwriter 20+ years, a musician 30+…a listener for my entire life and if I begin listening to a 6-minute song on the boards with a long, terrible intro…I turn it off.
Now imagine what an ordinary listener does!
As songwriters, we can delude ourselves into believing whatever we want. Countless people over the years have told me that living up to their own creative standards is their primary goal.
And I might buy that load of crap if it weren’t for the fact that they’re all SongStuff members. The vast majority of whom post material on the boards, in either the critique or showcase sections.
2nd news flash - If a major portion of your creative life is spent making your material publicly available for listening & feedback, then you do care what others think of your efforts.
You may not be comfortable admitting that to yourselves, but you do. On some level everyone does!
With that in mind, here's a few suggestions I hope you'll find helpful:
1. If you insist on crafting lengthy introductions, please make them interesting. Repetition of a basic chord progression, with basic percussion & a synth pad underneath does not qualify as interesting.
2. There’s an art to creating an intro (arranging).
· Give it a defined structure
· Build in some form of melodic movement
· It should differ from your other song sections, yet be similar enough to convey the impression of a cohesive whole. In other words, sound like they belong together.
· It should resolve into the body of your song. The change from intro-to-song body should flow naturally. It shouldn’t sound abrupt or forced.
- If you can’t come up with something interesting & distinctive, do yourself a favor…keep it short (15-20 sec.). Contrary to popular opinion, length does NOT = creativity.
Last, but not least, I’ve including 7 sample intros taken from my own body of work.
They range in length from :17 to :54. Each sample ends where the vocal (body of the song) begins.
*BTW for anyone wondering, NO…I don’t think I’m God’s gift to songwriting.
I've included these samples for 2 reasons - 1) as examples of the things described above 2) to demonstrate that I practice what I preach.
Intro Audio Files:
If you noticed, Middle Class Blues is the only intro that would qualify as long (by board standards). Even though it's under one minute, it begins with the hook line (title). That lets the listener know immediately that the song will contain vocals. My advice...never assume that they know. Many people, my wife included, have no interest whatsoever in instrumental songs.
For many listeners, it's all about the vocal.