On Songwriting: Cold Open

In the movies, there’s a narrative device called the cold open. It’s where the film jumps right into the story, usually before the opening credits. You don’t really know what’s going on, but your interest is piqued. Think of the Jason Bourne movies. So much action at close camera angles. Who’s who? Where are they? What’s going on? But as the movie progresses you make sense of it. The tension resolves.

This technique works in songs, too. You can start out cryptic and let the listener piece it together by the time your chorus hits. Countless songs do this. Here’s an example in Carol King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”:

I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down
I feel my heart start to trembling

Up until this point, we don’t know what’s happening. Why is she feeling this way? Is there a storm? Is she in danger? It’s not until the last line of the first verse and into the chorus that we understand. She’s talking about love, the feeling of being in a relationship.

Whenever you’re around
Ooh, baby, when I see your face
Mellow as the month of May
Oh, darling, I can’t stand it
When you look at me that way

Try this technique in your own songs. Hook the listener from the get-go with tension and resolve it in the chorus.