Effective Ways to Begin Your Next Song

As an artist, how do you write songs that will “grab” and “keep” the attention of your listeners – from beginning to end? Listeners who visit your web page have very little patience and an itchy trigger finger—meaning that you’re just one left-click away from losing them if you don’t deliver in a hurry. In this article from Songwriter 101, Musician and Audio Engineer Dave Simons shares some valuable tips which offers great advice on the how to craft songs that are both, effectively written, and enjoyable to music listeners.

One of the key adages in the world of journalism is “always begin with an effective lead.” In songwriting—or recording—the same basic principle applies. Consider some of the tunes that have long been your favorites, and chances are many of them start out with a bang—a distinctive riff, a compelling vocal, an infectious piece of percussion.

How you choose to begin your own recordings has taken on even more importance in this click-through culture of ours. Long gone are the days of the standalone song intro; today, you’ve got literally seconds to get to the point. You may have penned the perfect three-minute song, but if you don’t start out strong, the last 2:55 may never be heard.

Front-load the good stuff. A great chorus is key, but a stand-out opening statement announces your presence with authority. There are other techniques that accomplish the same goal. Rather than begin the lead vocal two minutes into the track, why not re-locate it to the :00 mark? For that matter, consider bringing the entire chorus right to the top, particularly if you’ve got a good one. While you’re at it, make sure the singer features prominently in the mix, i.e., keeping guitars and other extraneous noises away from the vocal “path.”

Processing Power. When trying to get someone’s attention, a little sound embellishment can go a long way. For instance, you might try something slightly radical like running the opening lead vocal through a distortion patch (or stomp box), then abruptly cutting the effect at the start of the first chorus. Or begin the track with everything pared back except for an electric rhythm guitar processed through a lo-fi filter.

Contrast It. Though noticeably absent nowadays, it’s important to “over-emphasize dynamics in order to make them jump out, which can be achieved through mixing, or how you work out the arrangements in the studio.” To capture that kind of feel on little speakers when you turn on your radio in the morning is the ultimate challenge.

Move It Around. Thanks to digital editing, all of the above can be accomplished after the fact, if you so choose. As discussed in previous columns, utilities like Audacity, which include standard editing functions such as copy and paste, clip trimming and pitch/tempo adjustment, allow you to relocate and/or digitally alter sections of your song at will. When done properly, all of those stitch marks won’t be obvious to the listener—but even if they are, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if it throws the listener for a bit of a loop, that’s usually a good thing.