In this edition, our focus is on track order.
There comes a point—after you’ve decided what sort of identity your group is trying to project and whether or not your album is going to adhere a theme, after you’ve picked your songs, and perhaps even after you’ve recorded them when you need to think about what order your tracks will fall in on the album. In the contemporary era when so many people download individual songs rather than full albums and veer toward playlists over the orders that artists and record companies produce for them, the idea of caring about track order may seem antiquated. Just the same, if you sincerely want your listeners to hear every single song you’ve recorded, you need to consider how you can compel them to do so via album layout.
This process starts with grabbing your audience’s attention. It’s no coincidence that so many albums start with one of a group’s loudest, fastest, or otherwise most energetic recordings, because groups tend to agree that the first track should use that sort of energy to excite and captivate the listener’s attention. There are alternatives to this paradigm. While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes starting soft, or with a song that stands out for its emotional vulnerability can force your consumers to listen more closely and get invested quickly in the album without the standard up-tempo, major chords we traditionally think of on a first track.
As the album progresses, it’s worth considering how the mood of different tracks plays off the others. I don’t necessarily recommend to basic of a structure as alternating between fast and slow songs, but I will say that having significant contrast in terms of dynamics, tempo, and content between songs not only makes the listening experience more diverse, but also makes the qualities of each individual track stand out for their sheer contrast to the music surrounding them.
It’s also worth considering flow—how one track moves to another. In my estimation, when you’re figuring out your order, there’s no substitute for doing the work—sitting down and actually listening to your tracks in succession and shuffling them like puzzle pieces until you’ve arrived at your optimal order.
Lastly, when it’s time to finish an album, it’s important to think about what you would want your last impression to be. For some listeners—particularly ones who aren’t already personally invested in your group or who don’t live in your immediate area, the last track on your album may be what most lingers in your listeners’ ears—their final sense of what your group is all about. You want to leave them craving more, which may mean putting an especially strong song last, or a song that other finishes “big”—culminating in a dramatic moment, or showing off your best musical chops.
Track order draws a listener to consume your entire album and progression of tracks can go a long way toward making each individual track sound its best.