A lot of songwriters don’t know how long to make the intro to their song. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your song. If you just write for yourself and think really long intros are cool, then by all means go for it. On the other hand, if you’re trying to sell your songs, or get any kind of significant airplay with them, you’d probably increase your odds of that happening if your song has a short intro.
The main reason for that is a lot of times when you submit your song to a music industry professional, they don’t listen to the whole track. In fact, if you don’t engage them right away, they’re moving on. It’s sad but true. They’re busy people and they usually don’t have the time to give every random song submitted to them a fair listen. So they make it easy on themselves but judging songs very quickly.
According to author Jay Frank, who’s written a couple great songwriting books including Future Hit DNA and Hack Your Hit, you have about ten seconds to engage your listener. Ten seconds before they have that burning desire to flip to another song, if they’re not engaged with yours.
Also consider that with it being the digital age, it’s easier than ever to listen the beginning of a song before quickly moving on to the next one. All it takes is the press of a button to immediately be listening to the next track, whether it’s online or on a CD. It’s not like the old days with cassette tapes, where it would probably be easier to just listen to a whole song than to try and find the next one you want to hear. As great as technology is, a lot of times it plays into the typically short attention spans that we humans have. This can work against you if you’re looking for someone to give your song a fair shot.
In addition to that, even if you did rope them in early on with a strong start, the next “check-out” point will be at about the two-minute mark. So being past your second chorus, with a new melody and chords (in your bridge) at that point is usually a good idea for a catchy pop song. But that’s a little beyond what we’re talking about here in regard to song introductions.
I don’t necessarily advocate making any cookie cutter moves. However, if your music is really good (after all, having a short intro is clearly not the only thing a music industry professional will be looking for) and you want to increase the chances of it getting heard, a short intro is often a good idea. I know there are a lot of examples of hit songs with long intros (especially in classic rock songs), but it’s just not the norm these days.
A lot of times it’s even a good idea to put a catchy little piece of melody as your intro before your verse starts. You can use the intro as a way to pull the listener in, as opposed to something they just have to sit through. It can even be something as simplistic as the intro to Pink’s “So What.” It’s just a repetition of a nonsense syllable on the word “nah,” after a guitar riff that played the same melody. It’s simple, but it’s catchy and holds you in until the verse starts.
Think about ways to make your intro catchy as possible, opposed to just being a repetition of the verse chords you’re about to play when you start singing. A catchy little guitar lick, or nonsensical piece of melody can go a long way when trying to rope your listeners in. Your intro is a great chance for you to have fun with coming up with some new, fun, catchy (and quick!) ideas to pull people into your song. So enjoy the process!