But loops can also be the pathway to monotony and the reason why your listeners get bored. After all, it's so easy to "loop it and forget it." But I urge you to get your loops out of "cruise control." Just like with our road trip, if you drive in a straight shot for too long, it'll get boring. So once in a while let your song stop at a viewpoint, take a moment to stretch, and snap a photo.
Create special accents for your instruments and fills for the groove. Notice how in Demi's song multiple sections are introduced with large drum fills. This sudden break from a steady groove is a nice new surprise to the ears which your listeners will love.
But just like having a sudden busy fill can create an interesting moment, so can the polar opposite of that. Silence can sometimes be even more effective in building tension. In "Tell Me You Love Me," all the instruments drop out for a moment right before every chorus. This gives us a second to breathe, which makes the entrance of the chorus that follows ever more powerful and strong.
The takeaway: Get out of the steady groove and surprise your listeners with a fill, a couple accents played by all instruments, or a sudden stop.
7. Create new memories in familiar places
Repetition is key to making sure that your audience remembers the chorus of your song after it finishes. It also helps distinguish the different sections from each other. Imagine if each one of your choruses sounded completely different. Your listeners would probably be confused, and more importantly, they'd have a hard time figuring out which part of your song is the hook/chorus. Bringing your listeners back to a similar-sounding section that they've heard before gives them a sense of satisfaction around having finally arrived "home."
So you can definitely copy and paste or repeat your choruses (and other sections) to speed up your workflow. But just because you're repeating a section doesn't mean you should do it identically as before.
Think of it like taking a trip to your favorite city. You'd been there before, so you're bound to revisit old memories and familiar places, but you'll also discover some new little gems along the way.
Notice how in Demi Lovato's song each "Chorus I" section has an almost identical core (like a repeat) which consists of the lead vocal, brass, organ, groove, background vocals, and claps. At the same time, each "Chorus I" is a little different compared to the others. The first one establishes the core instruments and feel. It's clear and solid. The second time around, only one element changes (this chorus adds bass), but it's enough to give it a significant step up. The third time around the chorus is first stripped down to only two instruments + vocal (very barebones which gives it an intimate feel). It then explodes into full power with a groove that's more complex than ever before, an addition of the ride cymbal, and a different brass part (which this time plays the brass lick rather than short stabs).
Although these changes aren't huge, they're enough to make the chorus grow and slightly change each time we revisit it.
The takeaway: Repeat your sections, but give your listeners something slightly different with each one. Add a new instrument. Temporarily remove one. Make some of the parts busier than before.
8. Take a surprise detour
Again, it's all about making the journey interesting. Demi Lovato's "Tell Me You Love Me" starts with a pretty simple intro that establishes the main brass lick over an organ bed. What you would probably expect is for the brass to drop out for the verse and for the vocal to come in on top of the organ, but instead we take a surprise turn and the verse gives us a totally different set of instruments. This shift instantly creates a nice contrast and sonic change. And we're barely 12 seconds in!
Throw in surprise twists in your song productions. Make a section sound unique by swapping some of the instruments for new instruments/sounds that we haven't heard yet. You can stay within the overall sound palette of the song. Or you can go outside the box. It's up to you. It just depends on what you're trying to achieve.
The bridge of your song is a great place to go somewhere new sonically (aka to take some side streets and go into uncharted territory). Change the sound pallet that you've been using up until this point. Introduce a new instrument. Switch the groove. Maybe take out the groove. Modulate. Go into a different scale. If your entire song is major-based, try going minor for the bridge. Or vice versa.
Michael Jackson's "Black or White" goes into an intense heavy metal & rap bridge which provides a huge contrast to the remainder of the song. It gives us something new and sonically completely different, so it definitely catches your attention. Creating a highly contrasting bridge also guarantees that when you finally return to the steadiness of the main groove in the section that follows, it is met with a huge emotional release and relief. So explore and go beyond what you've offered the listener so far. Don't be afraid to venture far for a moment. The payoff may be great.
The takeaway: Changing your sound palette for a section will give your listeners a nice surprise. The more contrast you create, the more interesting your song will be. So play with contrasts and see how they amp up the intensity of your final chorus.
9. Bring it home
Celine Dion's "All By Myself" is probably one of the best-produced songs in adult-contemporary pop history. Definitely my favorite, as it takes listeners on an intense musical journey, similar to the one outlined in the roadmap above. Not only that, the song pulls out all the stops to make sure that you're never bored. From melodic changes, through groove transitions, modulations, an orchestral bridge, ending on the greatest money note of all time which leads right into a grander-than-life final chorus.
It doesn't matter what style of music you primarily work in. Analyze as many songs as you can and you'll see that 95% of your favorite songs all grow and take listeners on a ride. Your songs should be these fun 3–4-minute adventures that you share with your listeners. Don't be afraid to take them on a drive with you. It doesn't have to be crazy. You'll be surprised how introducing something new here and there can make the world of a difference.
At the end of the day, your goal is to never give your audience an opportunity to get bored or to switch to a proverbial different radio station. So fasten your seatbelts and decide, where will the road take you today? Take us on a road trip with your song.