Struggling to come up with an impactful Chorus? Then keep reading (or watch the video above) because the problem may not be where you think it is.
I don't know about you, but when I first started producing music — many years ago —, I always felt like there wasn't enough impact when my songs transitioned from verse to chorus, or from bridge to chorus.
There was always something missing, like it wasn't even the chorus yet. The energy levels were still the same after transitioning.
But when you listen to a pop song on the radio and the chorus hits, it hits hard. You know that's the chorus. It's an energy climax for sure.
Contrast in Music Production
Of course as producers and even songwriters, we have to purposely create tension beforehand, then release it in the chorus, like a cliffhanger.
But it was only when I learned about the importance of contrast in producing my songs that I figured out how to recreate that effect.
Simply put, there's got to be enough contrast in each element of the song for your chorus to stand out. Every element helps create contrast.
For instance, during your chorus:
- Your melody can go on a higher pitch;
- You can use different chords than the verse;
- You can introduce new instruments and crash cymbals;
- You can equalize things differently or add more sub frequencies;
- You can layer backvocals to create a wall of sound.
All these things will help you achieve a powerful chorus.
Automation to Add Impact
But the trick I want to show you today is all about decreasing your verses' loudness and stereo width.
In doing so, when the chorus hits, it's slightly louder and wider, therefore creating contrast.
You can apply this to your songs right now, without changing any of those elements I mentioned before.
It's the easiest technique ever, but not many people know about it.
And I like to say it's a mastering trick because it's actually the last thing I do on each one of my songs, before I finish it and export the track.
Here's the automation I create on the master track using the stock effect Utility by Ableton Live.
The first one is stereo width, and the second automation is the Gain.
Also on the top, notice all my locators are properly set up, so you can quickly spot my verses, pre-choruses and choruses.
How the automation works to increase the impact during Choruses
Instead of trying to increase the loudness of the chorus and widening the stereo image, which could cause overcompression and out-of-phase problems, this technique works backwards.
By decreasing the size of the stereo image and the loudness during the verses and pre-choruses, and keeping the choruses unaffected, contrast is created.
The size of the stereo image slowly goes from 100% until 70% during the first verse and pre-chorus, until right before the chorus.
Because it's getting narrow over time so slowly, it's almost unnoticeable.
The listener probably can't tell the track is getting narrower.
But then, suddenly, when they get to the chorus, it quickly goes back to 100% stereo width.
And since it's such a fast increase, it can now be felt, which causes the impact.
That way, the chorus feels enormous in comparison to the section before.
When to bring back the volume and width
In this song, the increase happens slightly before the chorus hits because there's a pause in the instrumental.
And it was the place that made the most sense and sounded the best to me. But the right placement can change from song to song.
Now, during the whole chorus, that full width is maintained.
But when it gets to the next verse, the automation resumes. It decreases again, slowly, until the next chorus.
Over and over again, for as many choruses as the song has.
The same goes for the gain automation. Same pattern.
The song starts at maximum gain, then it slowly makes its way to -1 decibel, and right before the chorus, it quickly goes up again, back to normal.
Sometimes you can even get away with decreasing 2 decibels, but it could be too much.
It can become very noticeable and almost kind of cheesy.
Will this add impact to any song?
Stereo width and loudness differences almost guarantee to take a good song and make it great by having impactful choruses.
But it won't save a song that was poorly planned, before the mastering, mixing and even production phase.
So don't forget to use other production tools to give your transitions more impact, like the pitch of the melody, chords, new instruments and maybe a change in rhythm.
It could be anything that creates contrast.
Just try to not overdo the contrast because that could make your chorus sound unfamiliar to the verse, almost sounding like a different song.
That would ruin the experience. Yes, it's another mistake I made when I was a beginner.
It's your turn now
The automation you just learned can be done no matter which DAW, since they all offer similar ways to create the same effect.
Now go make some impactful choruses and let me hear them if this article was helpful!
If you need more resources to make memorable pop music, visit my website.
See you soon.