One of the biggest enemies to writing commercial songs is confusion. If your listeners don’t know where they are in your song (“wait – is this the chorus yet?”), they won’t stick around much longer.
This is especially important in high-energy songs, such as Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, because this kind of song revolves around one big “message”. This “message” usually happens during your chorus. And you want your message to stand out. Got it?
Then let’s get going.
Use A Pick Up Phrase Or Fill
One of the most important factors for lifting the energy of your chorus is what you do right before it. Think Wrecking Ball: Miley comes in full throttle on the 2+ of the previous bar, which makes that chorus pop like crazy.
If you’ve read my book The Addiction Formula you will know this classifies as a tension technique. And indeed, using pick ups really drives your audience towards your next section, making it almost impossible to turn off your song.
If your chorus doesn’t have a pick up phrase, you should use some type of fill (why only then? This is one of the best things you can learn if you want to become a professional and it’s called “Trading Space”. Read all about it here).
There are actually 2 types of fills, “hype fills” and “tension fills”. For introducing a huge chorus, you will want to use the latter.
The idea here is to somehow break the natural flow of your section. So for example, if your pre-chorus (or verse if you don’t have a pre-chorus) is in 8ths, add in some 16th notes or the other way round.
Change The Drum Voicing
Yes, drums have voicings, too. On drums, “voicing” refers to whatever your drummer’s right hand is playing (or left if he’s left-handed).
You can find all possible voicings and how they work in The Addiction Formula, but the best ones for powerful choruses are:
- Open / Closed Hihat combinations (As in Clean Bandit’s Rather Be)
- Crash (Ellie Goulding – Love Me Like You Do)
- Open Hihat (Sia – Elastic Heart)
…although I will say that crashes and open hi hats are kind of out in pop music (they’re still very popular in rock music though). What do I hear you say? “Where’s the ride?” Back in the 90s, that’s where.
Increase Your Base Pitches
Another very well-known technique for lifting your chorus to a new level of energy is hitting more high notes in your chorus. Listen to The Weeknd’s Earned It for an example.
When I look at the vocals to any song, I see each section as a horizontal line on what I call the “base pitch”:
Melodies don’t jump around like crazy. They play around a certain note. For example, in the chorus to Taylor Swift’s Style, the base pitch is the 2nd (the note she sings on “James Dean”). All the other notes merely revolve around it.
When I’m listening to Style, I visualize the chorus as a horizontal line on the 2nd of the chord. I suggest you train yourself to do the same.
A good arranger can use base pitches to build energy. Beyoncé’s Halo builds from a 1 in the first verse to a 5th in the pre-chorus to an 8th in the chorus. Higher, higher, higher. In my mind I see steps going up. Take a listen and hear it for yourself.
“Er, Friedemann… I know a song that doesn’t use these techniques”
Do you have to follow all these techniques? No, of course not. In fact, there’s plenty of songs that use just one or none of these.
So why this post then, if all these techniques don’t really matter?
Because it’s not the techniques that matter, it’s what you use them for. They are just 3 of many, many paths to your goal. In my book The Addiction Formula, I talk about over 300 such techniques, why they work and how to use them.
It’s not how many techniques you know, it’s how you use them that differentiates the average from the hit songwriter. Listening very closely to how the world’s best songs work with energy (something I call Lyric-Less Storytelling) is key to making this transition.