In our newest mailbag, insight into the minds of artists as to how they decide to end recordings. Plus, sales updates on Selena Gomez and Avril Lavigne and ... Is Lady Gaga's new single on the way soon?
As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20
WHY DO SOME SONGS FADE OUT AND OTHERS END COLD?
Lines, Get Lucky and Can't Hold Us. First time all top 3 fade out since Apr. 07 with Don't Matter, Glamorous and Beautiful Liar.
IF the video version of Hold counts. Youtube counts doesn't it?
I'll take your word that Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Can't Hold Us" are indeed the first songs to populate the Billboard Hot 100's top three simultaneously (for the week of June 29) that all fade out, as opposed to ending "cold," or abruptly. As you note, with the availability of radio and/or video edits, it's tough to be definitive on the subject.
Ultimately, your Tweet prompted me to pursue a question that I've always thought would make for a fun topic: Why do some songs fade out and others end cold?
(Plus, with the blistering weather in New York recently, I'll happily take the opportunity to use the word "cold" in any way possible.)
Having worked in radio for 14 years, I observed that how a song ends is important (at least on stations where a live DJ still runs the board …), as you need to know how to mix in the next track. It also adds to the art of radio: hitting "play" on a song right on the same beat of a song that was fading out, creating as seamless and smooth a transition as possible. It's much easier to do, of course, when a song ends cold; you simply have to start the next one without any "dead air" in between.
FYI, best segue I ever heard: When I worked with Harmon Dash at adult pop WBMX Boston in the '90s, he discovered that Martin Page's "In the House of Stone and Light" leading into Toni Braxton's "You Mean the World to Me" made for a really clever mix. "House" ends with an a capella "I must go there … to find my soul, yeah!," while "World" starts with an increasing-in-volume "whoosh" that crashes into a fuller instrumental open. When mixed so that that Page's last word hits the point when "World" bursts into its all-out production (which had to be planned by back-timing "World" carefully), well … it was pretty cool to a couple of radio-geek newbies.
(And, the topic of how songs end seems more interesting to me than how they start, as most songs begin with music, not vocals. A cold intro seems more reserved for showing off harmonies, a la the Eagles' 2003 single "Hole in the World" or, more recently, fun.'s "Some Nights." Some pop programmers have even requested that labels offer edits of songs so that they start with the chorus, to waste no time in reeling listeners in and keeping them tuned to their station.)
For more insights on how artists decide whether to fade songs out or end them cold, I reached out to those with actual studio experience on the matter: three artist friends who also found the topic intriguing. Often, they said, they rely on artistic instinct.
"Ending a song cold or fading a song is usually determined by the producer," says Franklin McKay, who, as an independent artist, has impressively charted three songs on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart since last year, including the No. 25-peaking "More Than a Memory" in March. "Based on my experience and involvement with my own songs, the song usually dictates what approach is taken. Less of a thought process and more of a feel."
Folk-rock singer/songwriter Jeff LeBlanc agrees that intuition leads the production. "Early on in the writing process, I can tell what kind of an ending a song will have just by the vibe of the writing. For example, 'Two Worlds Apart,' a song on my upcoming record, has numerous hard stops and starts throughout the tune, as well as an abrupt ending. When I was writing it on the acoustic guitar, prior to production, I knew the overall tone of the lyrics needed that."
LeBlanc says that the "outro" is often his favorite part of a song, both as a writer and listener. "Some of the coolest stuff happens in the fade out. I love hearing a subtle melody change, or perhaps one lyric change that totally completes the song."
Pop artist (and former Billboard Latin charts manager, just as Jimmy Buffett worked here before moving on to some other job …) Jose Promis believes that lyrical content plays the most vital part in deciding how to conclude a track. "I usually end songs cold simply because mine tend to be concise 'story songs,' so there's no need to fade. Of all my songs, I think I've faded out maybe one or two, one being a cover of a Greek hit and the other being a sort of Motown sound-alike."
(Along similar lines, think a somewhat-story song like Lisa Loeb's 1994 No. 1 "Stay (I Missed You)," which employs a palindromic tool: starting and ending with the same lyric, and, thus, production: "You say ... I only hear what I want to …")
"I think back in the pre-rock era songs used to end cold often because they were not so repetitive and they tended to be more about a story," Promis muses. "I think fades are more a rock-era studio trick and a way of ending when a song has a repetitive chorus. It gives the impression that one could continue singing the song forever since it just sort of fades away."
I agree with Promis regarding lyrics and rock-era refrains dictating a song's ending. The fade of Belinda Carlisle's 1987 No. 1 "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" quickly comes to my mind, with its ridiculously catchy title line repeating as the song trails off. Two more '80s No. 1s (to stay in my wheelhouse, era-wise) that seem to reinforce the angle: the Police's "Every Breath You Take" (1983) and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" (1984). With the former's main lyric being "I'll be watching you …," it naturally lends itself to a feeling of continuation, so a cold end would run counter to its meaning and tone. "Time After Time," meanwhile … well, the title says it all. And, its fade-out featuring the lyrics "I'll be waiting … " just equals a feel of "to be continued."
It's not an exact science (or art), however. Roxette's 1989 No. 1 "Listen to Your Heart" ends with vocalist Marie Fredriksson pleading the song's title as it fades, as if she and the listener are left wondering what the person to whom she's singing will ultimately do. Conversely, DHT's 2005 remake of the song ends cold on a piano note. Same song, opposite treatment. Then again, the latter is a much more stripped-down "candlelight" version (the act also released a dance mix, both of which received significant airplay) and simpler songs production-wise (i.e., acoustic/folk songs) tend to end on a gentle guitar or piano wrap-up. I.e., it's hard to fade out a song that has less sonic elements than a more-fully produced track like so many wall-of-sound '80s hits.
And, '80s hits with big hooks end cold, too, like Joan Jett & the Blackhearts' "I Love Rock & Roll" and Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me," which finish with abrupt bangs, showing that ending a (rock) song with one contained vocal/guitar/drum boom can be effective toward leaving a lasting, striking impression. It's also, of course, how almost all songs, regardless of genre, end in concert.
Back to radio, fades can be fun for clever DJs, who hopefully continue to curate the skill of playing off a song (in an era of voice-tracked and/or out-of-market on-air presentations). I once chuckled at hearing a Boston DJ's interplay with Rod Stewart's "My Heart Can't Tell You No" as it faded out with its chorus, "When the one you love's in love with someone else / Don't you know it's torture, I mean it's living hell ..." The host then said after that line, "What is it, Rod?" Stewart "answered" with another, louder, "living hell!"
Ultimately, I like Promis' phrasing that a fade equates that a listener could "continue singing the song forever."
As LeBlanc echoes, "I often think of the fader track as … 'They're shutting the door to the studio … but the party's still going …' "
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