In a time where consumers are used to picking tracks as individual downloads, it might seem that album sequencing is a lost art. But to me it is a very important factor of the whole production process.
To me as an artist, the CD, or album as I like to call it, is still a complete statement and expression of my art form. A great CD is not just a random collection of songs. As not all songs are obvious singles, some might be equally important to set the overall mood and pace of the CD.
I always come back to the example, which most of us, who grew up in the age of vinyl, can remember:
You buy an album, because of that hot single you just can’t live without. Then you wear it out, listen to it over and over. After a while, as you gradually get over the single, you start listening more and more to the rest of the album. You find these little hidden gems, songs you probably wouldn’t have downloaded just by themselves. And all of a sudden one of these songs is becoming your favorite tune on the album.
Not having that experience is what I believe to be the biggest loss in the age of individual downloads. So whenever you can, always download or purchase the whole album. I promise you won’t regret it, as long as the artist is sincere.
Here are a few guidelines I use to find the perfect sequence of songs.
While I work on an album, I make myself car CDs trying different song orders. I am looking to find songs that work well after each other.
1. the first song should be a grabber. It is usually the first song anybody hears. It also sets up the character and sound of the album
2. sometimes you have a song that’s the odd one out. I would try putting it at the end of the album or as a break in the middle.
3. I look at the tempo, or more precisely the tempo feel, of my material and list the songs in 3 categories: up-tempo, mid-tempo and slow. Where is the majority of my songs? To keep the album flowing you don’t want to place too many songs from the same tempo category next to each other.
4. I would shy away from a sequence of songs that get gradually slower. I rather choose an order, so that tracks get gradually faster and then drop to a slow song as a breather.
5. I would not put all the singles (your radio songs) at the very top of the album and I certainly would not put all the best songs at the end of an album. This is where album sequencing differs from a live show set list. I would put my best song at the end of a live set, but not as the last song of an album.
6. If there are two songs that are similar sounding, I would not put them next to each other.
7. I would not choose to put two slow songs next to each other, unless my album is a collection of ballads.
8. Key considerations: To me that’s secondary to tempo , but if you have 4 songs in the same key next to each other, that could get a bit boring. Also after 3 songs in the same key, a song in another key might sound more different than intended.
Remember these are just general guidelines. Any of these rules can be broken if it feels right. That’s why I call it an art, not a science. The overall effect should be an album that flows well from one song to another and keeps the listener engaged.