Who considers song order and what's your strategy?

Who considers song order and what's your strategy?
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Not sure if this is the right area of the forum, but it’s the one I felt fit best.
TL:DR - Song order still seems to matter a lot these days, despite digital libraries and streaming/shuffle options. Image below.

So, I am on the tail end of finishing another EP (my first under the name Alien Lard, in which I posted the first song That's What They Said About 'Nam - need some tips please for bashing).

So, I was wondering what, as song writers and EP/Album makers, you consider when considering song order. Pre-streaming and digital library with access to shuffle, order was paramount and we are probably all aware that the killer songs aimed at hooking new fans were in those first three songs.

However, many people, myself included to an extent, choose which songs they want to hear, or listen to their collection or playlists in shuffle mode. I almost exclusively listen to Bandcamp artists I have found and own over 220 albums from that service. When I buy a new batch of albums/EPs, I tend to listen to them regularly in order. Once they become part of my musical furniture, I usually listen to my entire collection on shuffle.

There’s a few thing to consider with that, however.

  1. I’ve already listened to those albums from start to finish several times before I buy them. To determine if they make it to my wishlist for future purchasing or not, the majority of the project needs to win me over, not just one song, HOWEVER, as I scan each new release, the artist has nominated a “highlighted” song. That song is the first thing I hear and I either explore more or move on to the next album. So, in that case, it wouldn’t matter if it was the first song or the thirteenth.

  2. I know I am not like most people in that I actively look for new music and am willing to wade through crap to find gold (I listen/check out about 200 releases a week and have done for years - keep in mind a “listen” may be three seconds!)

  3. Finally, the Bandcamp app allows me to shuffle my collection. The Web based browser does not so sometimes my hands are tied if I am not on the PC that has the downloaded versions on the hard drive and in a media player playlist.

Normally, I’d say I don’t care what the order is when I release a project, BUT, having looked at play stats on projects I have released so far (my band, my personal ones and even a fundraising project I released through the school I work at) there is an obvious and distinct pattern that the first songs get played a heap and they tail off considerably after that.

Consider my stats for this album below. This was a Christmas rap album I released late last year with my school with 9 classes. I expected plays to be even, as there were approximately the same number of students in each class and therefore even if some students favoured their own song more than others, you’d think there’d be a fairly even spread. I DID consider song order for the first two songs for any NON-school community members who may have stumbled across it, but after that it was more about spreading the year levels across the album evenly.

You don’t need to be a mathematician to see the pattern and suggest that song order still matters. This is replicated across all my releases (except with FAR less plays!).

So, are you still putting a decent amount of consideration into your project’s track order? If so, what’s your general strategy?
Strangely, I have the issues where I’d argue my strongest musical song in this Alien Lard project will likely be the 5th and final track. I love albums that have a gem of a final track that’s usually a little more rewarding to cap off a project. Also, I wanted 'Nam to open up and set the trend and the 2nd track flows naturally after it. But my stats tell me otherwise…

Thoughts?

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Yeah my thought process has always been to throw the catchy songs in the first 3 and then one that I really like. I also always think that the best none catch song should go in position 10. Why? Because back in the days of cds I had a bunch that my favourite song was number 10 so… no real reason.
In other words I think put it in the order you would like to hear them and enjoy.

Not that I’m close to releasing an album, I have thought about this very matter for far too much time. I think song order, or the importance of song order really depends on the artist and the record. Take Dark Side of the Moon, switch it on and click the shuffle button. I do believe that may be the most heinous act a human being could commit. That album is practically a text book on song order.

But let’s say you take a Duran Duran album. The song order on an album like Rio is the song order because the band / producer wanted the order to be that way. If I heard that album on shuffle, I would be thrown off by the a song following another song, but I don’t think it would do anything to make that album less than what it is. So I think if your EP / Album / Double Album has a message that flows from one song to another, I think the song order should be what you feel it should be.

And I take your point of how music is consumed. It took my whole life, but just a few weeks ago one of my students asked me what an “album” was. I honestly had to sit down at the shock of the question itself. According to this poor child, artists just walked into a booth at Spotify head quarters and recorded songs to add to a playlist. But if there’s any hope in the world, my 11 year daughter will happily switch on a classic prog rock album and listen to the songs in order…

To me song order is very important, even in todays age of custom playlists. In my Album “Prana Zone” which is a Yogic Dance Album, designed for Yoga meditation and Yoga Dance workout, I start my Album with a series of meditative soundtracks. It is designed for people to start their session in a seated pose, with their breathing exercises ‘Pranayama’. As the Album progresses, the songs go towards the more powerful dances, culminating in extremely epic soundtracks like Arrival of Titans and Forces of Prometheus. The Album has a mythological flow, akin to the ancient mythology in the Vedic stories. Then after the workout session is over, the songs go back to a calming soundscape and end on a unifying note.

Each song had a purpose and was composed with a specific nuance in mind over a few years, so choosing an order for them took a long time. The order reflects that as well. Because of my severe OCD, I rationally justify this once in a while to make sure I don’t overdo this part, but it is hard to choose an order of an album nevertheless. Anyone who has released an album will likely feel the same anxiety lol

I thought it out quite a lot for my last album. There are a few albums from the classic 70’s and 80s era that absolutely nailed the song order, so I tried to follow that model. For example, I think Cold Chisel’s East is pretty much the perfect album in terms of how the songs flow from one to the next, the pacing of the album, and the way the energy ebbs and flows and takes you right through to the end.

I actually set up a session in my DAW where I could move the songs around and experiment with how they flowed into one another. I tried various things, but I think it is important for the first few songs to be fairly accessible (if possible).

I didn’t put (what I thought was) my best song first, but rather what I thought was my most accessible song (“Bitter”). For the next few I tried to vary the tempo and key, but keep them relatively accessible. The goal was to gradually increase the “power” of the songs until I reached “Bulldozer” which is less accessible, but very powerful.

Because that song is a relative onslaught on the senses, the next one “Damage” was the “album ballad” - a total change of pace, and a “cool out” zone. The idea was that would increase the impact of “Lean” (quite a heavy riff-rocker), when it arrived. The next song “Say Something” was probably the most “down” song on the album. I followed that up with three songs that were decidedly “quirky”: “Celebrity Chef” “The Ballad of Charles and Harry”, and finally, “Snake Oil Salesman”.

“Celebrity Chef” and “Snake Oil Salesman” are actually two of my favourite songs from the album, but I felt they were probably also two of the less accessible in terms of style, as they are both pretty quirky.

My wife also played a big part in the album’s song order. I trust her judgement when it comes to these type of things, as she has a good sense of overall aesthetics.

The thing I discovered once I released the album was that people have been conditioned to artists putting their best song first, so no matter what song you put first, that will be the one most people will assume is “the single” and thus your best song. That is very much reflected in the number of plays on the various streaming platforms.

Some other things to keep in mind just beyond the accessibility and basic tempo and mood of the songs, is the key of the songs. It’s pretty boring to have 10 songs in “E” for example.

Also the “density” of the productions is a significant factor. If every song is full on right from the beginning, it gets pretty wearing after a couple of songs.

In some ways, sequencing an album is similar to arranging a song. Expectation, surprise, flow, dynamics - they are all important factors.

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Good man! :innocent:

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Maybe not always #10, but yes, I agree. Often the last, or second to last songs are rippers on many of my favourite albums. Then throw in what Andrew said…

…and that helps me feel more settled in taking what I think is my most powerful song that would likely be the favourite over time with folks who like this particular style, and place it last (5th) on the EP as really solid closer and climax.

Yes, but obviously that was designed to be heard that way and the listener really didn’t have much of a convenient choice to do otherwise. There will obviously be artists who still write and design albums or EPs this way, but in my case, I just wrote 5 songs. Only on one occasion did I want one specific song to lead straight after another particular song. In fact, They are going to be placed in the order that they were written, which is not much more than a coincidence.

Very true.
One of most favourite EP/Albums I have picked up in recent years is this one:

It is the most beautiful, melancholic album that immediately resonated with me. Track 4, however, is a more up beat pop song that I am not a huge fan of, yet I’m glad it is there, acting like an intermission before round two!

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I’ve always been conscious of the song order when releasing CD’s, digital albums, and back in the old days - cassettes.

Coming from a hard rock/ metal background, me and my band mates tended to pick the heaviest, fastest song to be the opener. Then the second song tended to be more commercially accessible (catchier, with a bigger hook).

I’ve always worried that listeners have really short attention spans and that you need to grab them at the first song…and near the start of the song, also. It’s especially important for us indie bands/ artists. Not many people are going to give an unknown artist much of a listen for very long when there are well-known bands/ artists that have already captured their interest or have a strong buzz in the music industry happening…,and there’s a million other unknown indie artists that they could listen to with the click of a mouse (or tap of a finger).

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This is an interesting question considering the 30 second attention span you’re dealing with.
Seems like you have to compete for attention even within a song rather than letting it unfold.
With that in mind, I think my strategy would be to always put out an EP as a draw to the entire recording. The EP would have the strongest hook laden song to start, and 3 other succinct songs cut from the same cloth. I think if the listener will give you that much time, they would be more likely to let you present an album formatted in the sequence you feel represents it best without worrying about attention span. It would start with one of the EP’s songs, but allow a flow of mood, tempo, and emotion that fits your idea of what you are trying to convey.

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I only deal in EPs now (as in producing - I am happy to buy and listen to them still). I simply can’t make 8-10 songs in a timely enough manner, especially covering multiple pseudonyms and projects. Even my band releases 4 song EPs. I do 5 song EPs for my projects. Some artists simply release each song as they are done and never package them in an EP or album at all, which I personally dislike, but I can see why they do it at the same time.

I very much still believe in listening to albums as they are intended, so song order is critically important to me. I’m not a shuffle/playlist person. I pop on an album and listen to it. And for my own stuff I order my songs as if they are going on vinyl…even if they aren’t. My brand is generally American punk rock so my songs are relatively short and fairly quick tempo, but there are some outliers sometimes. And I usually have 12-14 songs. It usually goes something like this:

1 - maybe not the “best” song, but a good song that will set the tone for what is to follow
2 - good song
3 - best song - total banger
4 - fastest song
5 - change up
6 - decent song to close side one
7 - strong song to open side two
8 - change up or weaker song
9 - good song
10 - the most out of place song
11 - strong song
12 - wild card - can be total weirdness or a total punch in the face to leave them exhausted

So that’s my general formula. It changes a little from project to project but that’s basically it. I’ve come up with this from actually studying my favorite albums and why I like them. And anyone that has ever listened to my stuff agrees that it flows well from song to song so I’m happy about that. It works for me and my kind of music.

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It’s great to have a plan, and it’s even greater if you can get people to follow it. If you’re putting stuff out on vinyl you even have to strategize the stylus angle on the last songs of each side.
It would be great to identify and write to an audience that appreciates your concept of a complete work, rather than listening in bits and pieces. Getting people to invest their time and hopefully to some extent their money is validation for a musician.

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I hear you, but my general wonderings are whether that is what people who may like my music still do. I’d say most people here are probably following close to your patterns, as we are likely to be more invested in the art and willing to persevere, discover and be rewarded by repeated listens to an album.
But my wondering is if people (general public) have changed their listening patterns or their thresholds have changed, perhaps leading with your best is the way to go.

Thinking of how you listed yours, I would describe my order of the next EP as such:

  1. Best summary of style song, probably catchiest
  2. Most extreme of the style in sections, most varied in dynamics
  3. Good song, straight simple
  4. Least like the overall feel in sections
  5. Most complex, intense and arguably best song for fans of the genre. Wanted to end with a belter but it’s not catchy per se.

I think you are right, people obviously listen differently now. The album as a collection of songs in a certain order still matters, but shuffle and playlists are how most people probably listen through tiny little speakers jammed into their ear holes. No doubt about that. The single is probably still king in mainstream music. But…

But for me I’m not making singles. And as the creator I couldn’t care less about how people listen. I’m making my albums the way they are supposed to be. My songs are written, arranged, performed, tracked, and mixed exactly as they should be. The sequence is exactly as it should be. Could someone else have a differing opinion? Of course. But they’re my songs, so my opinion is the one that matters. The end user can make up their own mind how they want to hear my work, if at all, and the correct option is always there if they choose - that being to listen the songs as a collection from start to end in the order I put them in.

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And this is where I find myself forming a dilemma! I too prefer thinking carefully about the order and flow, but does this cost me potential listeners? With the styles I tend to do, probably not.
When I go searching on Bandcamp, the artists nominate a “featured” song, which I think is a very good feature, as that song may well be #10 but it’s the one they think will best suit their target listener.

I don’t see why it would. They’ll either like your stuff or they won’t, and you actually can’t do anything about that. What you can do is just the best you can do and let the chips fall where they may. If you just want to force what you think your best song is into the fickle ears of internet listers, then put that song first and hope for the best.

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