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Three Tips for Writing Better Song Intros

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 08, 2017 @08:00 AM

Three Tips for Writing Better Song Intros

by Cliff Goldmacher


In an era of significantly shorter attention spans and increasingly distracted listeners, you, as songwriters, have an even greater responsibility to grab your audience as quickly as possible. The first and best place to do this is in your song’s intro. This can be done partly in your songwriting and partly in the production of the song demo. By writing better song intros, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting your listeners into your song right away.

1. Keep your intro short and to the point
I’ll start this article with a story. I was backstage at a music conference a few years ago listening to two panelists chatting before going on stage to do a song critiquing session. One of the panelists was a seasoned conference veteran and the other was relatively new to the game. The new panelist was asking the older panelist what he should do as he’d never done a critiquing session before. In response, the older, more experienced panelist said “If you can’t think of anything to say, tell them to cut their intros in half.” In other words, it’s a common mistake to make your song’s intro longer than it needs to be. I get it. As writers, we love the idea of setting the scene and creating a mood before we get to the verse but, unfortunately, it’s a luxury we can’t afford. Perhaps your mom will listen – and enjoy – a long, winding introduction to your song but unless your mom also happens to run a record label, it’s probably a better idea to keep your intro short. It’s our job to make every note count and the best way to do this is to use only as much runway as is absolutely essential to set the scene.

2. Use a catchy instrumental hook/riff
Think of the intro to Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” You know immediately what the song is from the first notes of the opening riff. There’s no reason you shouldn’t consider a similar approach in your own songs. A catchy intro riff is the perfect way to no only grab your listener’s attention but make your song is memorable so that it can be recognized almost instantly when it begins to play. The “hookier” you can make your songs the better and an intro riff is exactly the right way to go about it. A common device is to replay that intro riff at various points throughout the song like after each chorus and in the outro as well. The trick here is to make sure that while the riff is catchy, it’s not too repetitive. One way to avoid this is by modifying the intro riff by a note or two when it comes back around so that it’s recognizable while not overdoing it. Another way to avoid needless repetition is to leave out the riff in the body of your verses and choruses.

Creating a memorable intro lick is as difficult as writing a great melody or a meaningful lyric. A few was to help yourself along might be to start the song with a great groove or feel and to mine your chorus melody for direction. Anything you can do to get the various parts of your song to relate will make the overall cohesion of your song that much better. Finally, intro riffs sit in that murky area between songwriting and production where they’re not melody and lyric but they are an integral part of your song’s identity. That being said, it’s well worth your while to keep them in mind when demoing your songs.

3. Use dynamics
The hallmark of a polished and professional song demo is not only the great recording quality and performances of the musicians and vocalist but the dynamics. In other words, the way a song expands and contracts with volume and intensity does wonders when it comes to getting – and keeping – a listener’s attention. Often, coming out of the gate with a big, splashy intro is a great way to catch your listener’s ear but it’s also the subsequent dip of volume into the verse that serves to highlight just how dramatic/memorable the intro actually was. Secondly, carefully consider which instrument you’re going to use to convey your intro riff/hook. Sometimes the song calls for a bolder statement of theme like from an electric guitar while at other times it can be more a more subtle piano figure. Depending on the song, it can also be extremely effective to have multiple lead instruments play the hook/intro lick in unison for a more “orchestrated” feel. As I mentioned earlier, keep in mind that when it comes time to play in the verses and even the choruses, it’s better to let the melody of the song (i.e. what the singer is singing) take precedence and the lead instruments should take a back seat.

When it comes to your song intro, you only have a precious few seconds to make an immediate and lasting impression on your listeners. This is important not only for pitching your song to the music industry decision makers but also for anyone who you’re hoping will respond well to your song. Keep your intros short and impactful and you’ll have gone a long way towards achieving your goal.

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site,, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


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Songwriting Tip: How Does Your Song Stack Up?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2012 @11:40 AM


Danny Arena, Songwriter

Every now and then, I like to tape the entire country top 40 and analyze the songs in terms of song structure and various timing considerations. In this column, I wanted to share with you the results of my most recent survey.

1. Song Form. Everyone says write your song in a song form. Maybe you've wondered just how important that is to making the top 40? Well as usual, out of forty songs on this particular week when I analyzed them, every one was written in one of the well established song forms. 

Form Number of Songs in the Top 40
AAA none
Verse/Chorus 15
Verse/Chorus/Bridge 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus/Bridge 2

As has been the case the past three years, the majority of songs in the top 40 used the simple verse/chorus structure (though some included instrumental sections). Second place was very close, with the AABA's getting the nod by a slim margin, followed closely by the V/C/B structure and the V/L/C structure. As you might expect, there were no AAA songs, although one or two a year usually make their way into the top 40.

II. Length Of Introduction. How long should an introduction to a song be? The introduction should be long enough to establish the feel and tempo of the song, and possibly introduce a motif. Anything longer, and your introduction is simply taking up valuable space in the song and probably hurting the song. 

Length of Introduction # of Songs in the Top 40
< 10 seconds 8
11 - 15 seconds 25
16 - 17 seconds 7
> 17 seconds none

Average length = 12 seconds

The fascinating statistic here is that twenty-five of the forty songs fell into the second category and no songs had introductions longer than seventeen seconds. 

III. Time To Get To The Chorus (including the introduction). Okay, so we've all heard the expression, "don't bore us, get to the chorus". Let's see how the songs in the top 40 compared on this very important timing issue.

Time To Get To The Chorus # of Songs in the Top 40
< 30 seconds 4
30 - 40 seconds 10
41 - 50 seconds 11 
51 - 60 seconds 10
61 - 75 seconds 5
> 75 seconds none

Average time = 45 seconds

There were only five songs in the top 40 that took longer than a minute to get to the chorus. Out of those five songs, three were written or co-written by the artist. Take a tip from the top 40 and get to the chorus in under a minute.

IV. Length Of Song (including the introduction). Finally, let's take a look at song length. 

Length of Song # of Songs in the Top 40
< 2:30 none
2:30 - 3:00 11
3:00 - 3:30 25 
3:30 - 4:00 4
> 4:00 none

Average time = 3:17 seconds

This category changed the most from last year. Last year, the average time for a song was right around the three minute mark. This year, the majority of songs were in the 3:00-3:30 category. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

V. What It All Means. So what do all these statistics mean? While I don't recommend putting your song under a microscope during the writing of it, it is interesting after your song is written to see whether or not it falls into the "pocket". If you notice that your song takes over a minute to get to the chorus, you may want to consider getting there quicker. If your song is in an obscure song form (like one you made up yourself), be aware that not many of those make it to the top 40. In the end, there are always exceptions to the rule and knowing the above information should not be a guiding factor in compromising the writing of a song. But it can help give you a healthy perspective after the writing of the song. Most of all, just keep writing the best songs you possibly can.

Hope to see you on the charts.


About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of, which provides over 70 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:

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