Making an early or instant impact is vital when writing a tune, especially for radio airplay, but just how do you go about doing this? In this tutorial we take a look at the different ways to grab the listener’s attention right from the word go.
These techniques are also useful when working on a whole album’s worth of songs, as a variety of different intros can help to keep things interesting.
A very common practice is to start with a minimal version of the verse. For example starting with the drums and bass then introducing other elements, or with a synth or guitar riff, and build it from there. The basic concept is that you basically gradually build the track in.
However, there are many other ways to introduce your track, here are some examples. Fade a long instrumental intro in from nothing, so that the song begins as just a suspicion in the listener’s mind and gains strength gradually. This is a great technique to draw people into your song. Check out ‘This Is The Day’ from The The’s Soul Mining album for a good example of this tactic. A sparkly, haunting, music-box synth part twinkles in from the far distance. You strain to hear this lovely sound and your delight only grows as it becomes more audible. By the time the song proper kicks in, you’re hooked.
A variant on the above idea is starting a song with ambient noise and bringing the instruments in over that. Air’s ‘La Femme d’Argent’ starts with rain as the ambient noise, and it works beautifully. As a side note, there’s really only one thing you can hum in this whole atmospheric instrumental, and that’s the distinctive bass line, so Air make sure to bring that in right at the start, after all, it’s their hook.
Using ambient sounds related to the subject of the song is a well-used but potentially winning idea too: Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’, opening with car noises, is an example, as are Madonna’s ‘Swim’ (from Ray Of Light), which starts with the sound of running water, and ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ by The Beatles, which starts with a cockerel crowing.
A deliberately weird intro can work too with the right kind of song: listen to Erasure’s ‘Chorus’, from the album of the same name, it uses a weird noise intro, bloopy, bleepy, sci-fi synth textures, to good effect. However, do not let this type of intro last too long! Boredom will set in very rapidly if you don’t get going on the song.
It may sound obvious but don’t forget you can pile in immediately with a catchy riff. Blondie amongst many other examples, do a lot of this (at least half the tracks on their huge classic 1978 Parallel Lines album). The advantage is that the track is stamped immediately with a strong identity and the listener’s desire for something to happen is satisfied right away.
Finally, why not start with a vocal solo. Meaning, why not come straight in with the vocal part unaccompanied for a few words, then bang! In with the rest of the instruments. That will certainly grab attention.
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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂
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