It may be hard to believe, but honestly, sometimes that super anthemic, bombastic pop chorus just doesn’t feel like the right fit for your song. And that’s okay!
That’s where what’s known as a “down” chorus comes into play. The down chorus is a songwriting device that makes use of a drop in energy, as opposed to an uplift, in the chorus section.
A clear example of this happens in the hit song, “Closer” by the Chainsmokers ft. Halsey, where their chorus features a drop out of the beat, a simplified instrumentation, and a slightly slower tempo, in order to both ramp the energy back up in the following sections and provide more clearly audible lyrics with which to sing along. Let’s listen:
A handy device that’s often paired with the down chorus is a post-chorus, where you get to extend and rebuild the broken down instrumentation in creative ways. There’s definitely a post-chorus being used in “Closer” — did you hear it?
If that anthemic chorus isn’t working for you, ditch it! Let’s give the down chorus a shot, here are a few easy ways to get started.
But first, for all you singing producers out there, you have to check out Soundfly’s in-depth, and awe-inspiring online course, Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, and Production, in which Kimbra herself demystifies her variety of vocal and production techniques and the creative inspirations behind her most beloved songs.
1. Bring That Energy Into Another Section
As previously mentioned, one of the most important things to do in your song in order to make a down chorus work is to bring that lost energy and big hook melodies into other sections. If you’re worried you’re giving up all your best material in the chorus, you can always spread them out in other sections.
In this way, you can still control and bring the energy in your song and retain the focus of your listeners consistently.
One easy way to do this is to write melodies into your verses that function as hooks themselves, almost akin to another chorus, and play around with the beat, the instrumentation, or the tempo to differentiate between these sections; and keep the song moving (not stagnating) in the process.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “Songwriting for Producers: 3 Ways to Introduce the Hook.”
2. Lyrical Focus
Though the traditional chorus is known for repetitive and simplified lyrics to summarize the main ideas of a song, the down chorus tends to give you a little more room to play with.
Using “Closer” as an example yet again, you’ll notice that the chorus is extremely descriptive in a way that sticks in the brain, but differs from an original pop anthemic chorus format.
“So, baby, pull me closer,
In the back seat of your Rover,
That I know you can’t afford,
Bite that tattoo on your shoulder,
Pull the sheets right off the corner,
Of that mattress that you stole,
From your roommate back in Boulder,
We ain’t ever getting older”
Lines like “In the back seat of your rover that I know you can’t afford, bite that tattoo on your shoulder” are truly far more descriptive than you’ll see in the lyrical hooks of most pop bangers, which is one of the things that sets this pop banger apart.
Additionally, there’s no repetition of the title line. But because the chorus is coming at you with a lower energy, your brain doesn’t have to work super hard to concentrate on hearing the lyrics through layers of synths or risers, etc. It’s just, empty… And it works!
This just shows how a down chorus leaves more space for you to say what you want to say — without the constraints or expectations of the classic anthemic pop song.
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3. The Purpose of Your Chorus
Think about why your chorus might work best presented in this way. Is it because you’re writing an emotional song that needs a moment of reflection or space to breathe? Or is it because this format highlights your song’s theme in a way that just makes it that much better.
Honestly, maybe the down chorus is just a vibe you want to share with your listener.
No matter what the purpose ends up being, make sure you have a clear and concise reason for utilizing the down chorus, or your song may not communicate the right message. Solidifying that purpose will help you better prepare the other elements of your song to best serve it.
4. Utilize Production Elements
If we take one last look at the “Closer” chorus, you’ll hear that they’ve left the production extremely spacious with a heavy emphasis on the vocal production. This sparsity draws the listener’s attention in to what the lyrics and vocalists are doing, in an intimate, almost precious way that a classic chorus can’t usually truly capture.
Thus, sparser kinds of production can be helpful in pulling off a down chorus of your own.
Try removing everything but the piano or guitar, and the voice. Play around with your elements, and listen to which combinations best serve your sound. After all, this is your own chorus — there are no rules.
Remember, writing is an expression of what you like and what you want to say artistically. Whether or not the down chorus is something you feel you can employ or even want to try out, let it be a clever tool to keep in your songwriting toolkit.
Comment below and let us know if this method has worked for you, or what you’ve discovered trying it out.
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