In Part 1 we discussed the importance of expectation in writing and producing a great song. A song needs to sound familiar to help the audience relate but at the same time have a few (but not too many) unexpected elements to make it more exciting or add depth.
I think it’s important to note that breaking the rules should always be done in service of the song. We, as writers, want to experiment and stray from the norm out of curiosity….but at the end of the day, the barometer should be whether we have a better song because of it. If breaking a “rule” (ie. what the audience expects) doesn’t enhance the song for the listener then you are better off without it.
Let’s go over a few examples using popular recordings that you might be familiar with.
Our first record is Estelle’s Conquerer.
I think the most obvious break is in the missing pre-chorus before the second chorus. In a pop song with a strong, rallying chorus, I think it’s better to get your audience into the chorus as quickly and as often as possible. So while you may have a pre-chorus after the first verse to build suspense, you are better off doing away with the pre-chorus on the second go-round to give the song a greater sense of motion.
A variation on this is to put the chorus at the beginning of the song. It’s a great way of reeling your audience in quickly but it only works with a strong chorus where the audience can ‘get it’ without the story being told in the verses. An example of a song that does this effectively in Flo Rida’s Whistle Song:
The above examples relate to songwriting but there are some tactics that can be used on the production side to enhance the song. In the case of Owl City’s Fireflies, the first chorus is performed in a breathy voice with stripped down instrumentation to add suspense. The audience was probably expecting a full, hard hitting chorus the first time around but instead they are deprived of it. When the next chorus hits, with more instrumentation, it will hit the audience even harder.
This tactic does fit the song because the theme is about insomnia. So I can picture Adam Young under the covers at midnight singing the first chorus while trying to keep quiet from waking everyone else up.
Another interesting point on this song is after the second chorus, instead of diving into the 3rd verse, a different form of verse is added. This is effective when having more than 2 verses because using the structure Ve Ch Ve Ch Ve Ch can be too repetitive, so inserting something musically different (but not too far off) helps keep the song interesting.
The use of more than 2 verses is different in itself and in some ways allows the omission of a substantial bridge. The verses need to be melodically interesting to use this tactic otherwise that 3rd repetition may seem tired. A good example where using more than 3 verses works well is Pat Beneatar’s We Belong.
So above we have a few examples of defying audience expectation to enhances a song’s impact. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen in every song that you write but they are a tool that can help your song stand out or become ‘sticky’ in the audience’s mind.
Just use in moderation.