Payoff for the Listener

So. Thing I think about a lot. Is it worth making the ‘payoff’ in a piece of music early in the track or holding off until later in the track? Might be the catchy bit/hook/or however you prefer to think about it. Or, you know, is one’s music so damn great that it doesn’t matter? Is it target market related or just down to how good you think you are yourself? Do you even care about stuff like that.

Personally I tend to make it later in the track and have been questioned on this at times. Been wondering.

The way I tend to structure my tracks is that the C section is more complex than the A section (with section B being my bridge between the two), though similar in concept. I feel like the payoff comes in section C, though some people would see it as recycling material from section A with a fresh coat of paint, and might see A as the payoff and C as extra runtime. I’ve heard it both ways.

I like my payoff to come later in the track, because I think it CAN be more complex once you’ve laid the groundwork for it in more basic sections, or it can be a different texture, etc. My B sections are where I take the entire song and distort it harder, delay it bigger, put in like 8 extra arp layers, and really see just how much I can squeeze out of an idea. All the song leading up to that point is to try and get you ready for that moment. So the payoff is pretty late in the track, once you’ve seen how I can modulate that original idea from the beginning.

I can’t imagine a track where the payoff is at the beginning, because otherwise why listen past the beginning? I would love for someone to explain that to me. Not sarcasm or a challenge, I would love to hear some opposing ideas.

I think of it as like theatre…

Act I…the setup
Act II…tension, foreplay
Act III…the main attraction
Act IV…Segway /transition
Act V…climax and euphoria…

To me each section should have some sort of payoff…like a little payoff in the beginning…some in the middle…and then the huge payoff in the end…

One of the reasons why I got into (and will always love) Skinny Puppy forever is the fact they didn’t care much about established song structures. I remember an old cEvin Key interview around Last Rights time where he said that he had no interest in exactly knowing what was coming next in a song. I 100% agree with that.

While for some (usually pop/rock) genres it can be great to have the basic formula (hello AC/DC, Ramones, etc.), it can also become terribly boring really quickly. Speaking of AC/DC and Ramones, you basically only need a max of 10 songs and you know all there is to know about their 20 or 30 albums.

Consider what 95% of mainstream songs are. It goes something like: intro/ verse 1/ chorus/ verse 2/ chorus/ bridge/ chorus x3/ the end.


I like the fact that, with instrumental music, you’re more likely to have surprises and innovation.

While a build up in a song is great, I would hate to have someone listen to my songs and know exactly what to expect next.

So do whatever you want. Start with something crazy and end up like an ambient song. Repeat the same section for 3 quarters of the song and fuck it up at the end. Have 2 choruses and no verses. Everything is possible :slight_smile:

Edited to add: thinking a little bit more about it, I do quite dislike the concept of a “payoff” in a song. For me it makes it sound like your song is useless except for the 20 seconds where there’s a riser or a drop or a solo, whatever, the "payoff’.

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for me it would depend on the style and the length of the song. I tend to have the payoff later on in the song and since i normally play metal and have longer songs, I’ll add more intensity to already existing parts in the form of double time on the drums or going hard on a crash/china instead of hats or the ride, add harmonies and mess with the rhythm and do accents in places it wasnt earlier on in the composition. Plenty of tricks that make things exciting. Rhythmic (metric) modulation is a favorite of mine. I tend to do this with any instrument in the form of phrasing differently, but again depends on the style/tempo.

in my experience with sidestream elecronic music, being the attention span of the average listener the same as that of a 7 year kid with attention deficit hypeactivity disorder, the best thing is to tease the payoff/chorus/hook right after a very short into (say 10 seconds) to catch his attention.

then he’s hopefully hooked and prone to wait for the main/full fledged chours a bit later in the arrangement.

sadly, that’s what they do in pop music… and even more sadly, they do it in pop music because it works.