Condensing Your Work, When Less Is More

I’m not going to debate complexity here. Some music is brilliant on a single instrument, and some with a full band or orchestra. But one issue I encounter repeatedly with composers and songwriters, something I challenge myself to adhere to, is the idea that the best music of a pop nature tells its story in the smallest increment of time allowable.

My definition of pop is very wide. Simply, popular. It can be just vocals, or a band, or electronic or orchestral. My point here does not apply to more formal structures of music or improv jams, or a score where the action dictates what is needed, but with the common structure of songwriting the majority of us attempt.

When someone asks me to listen to a song demo, most of the time it is just too long. This is especially a shame when there are some interesting elements to the piece, but it simply takes forever to get to the point with long introductions or builds, or leans on the stronger hooks or melodies to a degree that undermines their very effectiveness.

My rule is nothing should be repeated more than twice without a variation or a growth that leads to something else. We as writers fall in love with our hooks, assume everyone else will, and the temptation is always to offer it too many times. It’s like how a magic trick is never as entertaining on extra viewings. The secret is, as the adage goes, to leave them wanting more. A catchy chorus that excites twice will fatigue or bore four times, so condense your ideas. Don’t dilute, pad or stretch them out. Maximize the novelty and intensity and your work will be remembered. 

In keeping with this theme, I will end this post before my point becomes diluted. Brevity is the soul of wit, and can be of music as well.


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