How to Write Dynamic Metal Songs That Captivate Fans

Get your songs to stand out among the rest. Simple steps to break out of the mold and keep them wanting more.

Ultimate Guitar
Writing music is and should be total self expression. Whether you like it or not when you write music it is in fact self expression. You may not intend it to be. Maybe you're just writing for fun or to make money. If those are your reasons it is still an expression of what you perceive to be fun or what you think will make money. Add to that the listener. Most people will associate the music you wrote to you in their mind just like you might become personally attached to what you wrote. Let's assume you write for pure self expression. You have an emotion you need to put to music or something you want the listener to feel when they hear the song. Lyrics alone can convey a lot, but if we are honest it is not all there is to a song. The music itself is full of energy and is meaning in some aspect. Music really doesn't have to follow a formula, but the song should connect with an idea or emotion that the listener can connect with. To get that emotional or mental response from your songs you will need to write songs to match your desired response. You will also need to clarify to yourself what that response is. Do you want them to feel excited, contemplative, silly, etc.? Knowing that first will help you make better choices.

Set Yourself Apart

One thing that will set you apart is dynamics in your song. A lot of modern music and modern metal is static. This seems like a contradiction to what it is known for. For example; metal moves fast and has a flurry of notes in most cases, so how is it static? Static is the antonym of dynamic. I say this because metal is high energy almost all the time. There are plenty of exceptions I can think of because I prefer to listen to more dynamic music, but the majority of what is out there is static. Loud, fast, aggressive, from beginning to end. There is nothing wrong with this way of writing, but like anything else, if there isn't change it will become stale and be a thing of the past. I've actually started to fall asleep standing at a show. It was fast the entire time. The band did a great job running and jumping all over the stage, but there was no dynamics. I left halfway through so I didn't look like an idiot by falling on my face. When I think of something that is very large in number and consistently goes on for a great distance I think of how exciting corn fields are. Forgive my sarcasm.

How To Make Your Songs Captivate

Here are few techniques to try in your songwriting to make it more dynamic and captivating. You can use them all in one song or spread them out over multiple songs. If your formula is the same for every song then it might defeat the point, but it's your song, so do whatever you'd like.

1. Volume

Loud is good, but if a whole album is loud all the way through the listeners ears adapt to it and by the time they are a few songs in it doesn't seem so loud. It's just normal and everything just starts running together without being noticed. Let your songs breathe a little. Have quieter parts. It will grab the listeners attention when things change. Then go back to the in your face part and the impact it has will be more intense. It will reset their ears (perception of what they are hearing) and bring their focus back to your music.

2. Space

A lack of notes can be just as moving as a ton of notes. If you're picking as fast as you can or the double bass is full bore the whole time then it may impress a few people, but may also seems repetitive. Playing less notes and giving space to your riffs is a great way to bring variety to a song. You can add rests or let notes ring out longer. It adds suspense.

3. Tempo

I checked out a new album someone recommended a couple days ago. Every song was just about at the same moderate tempo. Skimming and skipping through the whole thing I couldn't find any deviation. It had such an impact I can't even remember what it was. Changing tempo in a song is not a common thing in modern music. This is probably due to that fact that it is hard to do without sounding awkward. It will require some extra thought if you are not used to changing tempo. An easier way to do this is to change up the tempo between different songs. Some songs will actually sound better at a tempo faster or slower than originally written in. It doesn't have to be drastic either. If a song is 120 BPM, try moving 10-20 BMP up or down. This is also a simple way to freshen up an old song. If your fans will be used to hearing it how it is on the album. Try changing it live and give them some variety. Since most bands tend to speed up live (usually because of the drummers excitement), it will be more noticeable to slow a song or 2 down 20 BPM. It might require an in-ear click track to keep the animal behind the kit from going crazy. Here is an example of a dynamic song I wrote called "Seismic." It includes all of these elements. The subtlest is a small tempo change halfway through at the 1:26 mark. As you can tell it the song does not end even close to how it began.
Lead guitar play through of "Seismic":
YouTube preview picture
My favorite part about writing music is that there are no rules. There are results. If you really want to write fast and loud all the time then keep in mind what the results will be. But if you have read through this article, you most likely are looking to experiment and change things up a little. Keep these simple adjustments in mind when working on new songs or reworking old material and use them to your liking. A little can go a long way and really make a song shine. It isn't necessary to completely change everything you do. Remember for something to appear special there needs to be a contradictory element. This is most familiar to us in books and movies; setting, conflict, climax, and resolution. A great place to show that difference is right in the song. Have fun! About The Author: Ryan Duke is a musician, songwriter, and teaches guitar lessons in Seattle. His music is a unique breed of avant-garde progressive metal. Visit Fortis Amor to get an exclusive download of new music free. Download a free e-book for help to improve your guitar playing.

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I don't know if I'd limit the article to only Metal songs. These are good tips for pretty much any genre. Nice article.
    You forgot the most important thing: write songs, not riff salad with no structure. The catchier, the better.
    Ryan Duke
    I would agree that structure is very important. Though the word catchier would make one think of Katy Perry or a standardized template to appeal to the masses. Metal Specifically generally doesn't appeal to the masses. But nonetheless, not many riff salads in my diet.
    Pretty decent article and gives you something to think about. But am I the only who didn't find that much 'space' in the song?
    Ryan Duke
    That's a great observation. It doesn't have much obvious space. Examples of space might be in the beginning the bass waits to come in or right before the heavy transition the drums shift and the kick and snare back off just enough to give the transition more impact. Subtle space applied with subtle dynamic(volume) change.
    See, this right here is one of the main reasons SOAD is my favorite band. Yet, they're the ones that get get blasted because they're 'not metal', while there are plenty of older rock bands that are praised while they have albums full of static songs...
    old bands were way more dynamic.... sabbath,maiden,zeppelin,scorpions and the list goes on.....
    I agree, but thats not to say that modern bands don't use dynamics, just listen to tool or korn (I don't really like either of them, and I am a huge fan of the bands you just listed, but feel like presenting another view, good point about SOAD too, they're very varied)
    Every single song on Holographic Universe by Scar Symmetry. One of the many reasons they are one of my favorite bands.
    You could condense much of the article down into one habit which many writers never learn to lose....don't base your song around one hook or riff unless you are writing throwaway pop! As soon as that hook has fizzled out on the listener the entire track goes the same way. The best writers in my collection write more hook/riff ideas into one song than many artists do an on entire album. The opposite is also true however. "Overwriting" a track endangers cohesiveness, manageability and makes the music impenetrable. All in the most negative connotations of those words too.
    these seem obvious when I saw them, but keeping them in mind can be difficult. Great article and awesome song.
    I'm starting to write music for the first time professionally and this is definitely the biggest help other than basic theory so far...and nice band too! Gotta new fan +1
    It doesn't work. You end up too quiet in a sea of overcompressed hard-limited and clipped white noise.