Why more pop songs should end with a fade out

A lot can be said about Rihanna and
Drake’s hit song work. It completely owned the charts in 2016. Its dance hall
beat and endless repetition were the ultimate example of where the sound of
pop was going. It did everything most top forties hits were doing – except for one
thing – it faded out. Let me start by making a confession here, I used to hate
when songs faded out. it felt like a cop-out. A lack of creativity. A boring
anti-ending to a song that I otherwise really loved. It turns out that this is
the wrong opinion. The fade out is misunderstood and under-appreciated.
There’s an art to it. A science to it. And when executed correctly, the fade out
makes a song feel like it’ll live on forever. This chart, which is pretty cool,
shows the number of songs that had a fade out on the Billboard top 10 from
1946 to 2016. It was made by this guy. My name is Bill Weir and I’m a writer –
mostly about music and specifically about technology of music and history of
the music technology. So the chart starts in 1946 but the story of the fade out
actually begins in 1918. Gustav Holtz was conducting his world-famous piece “The
Planets” and he devised a unique way to convey the distance of Neptune – at the
time the farthest known planet in the solar system. So he wanted to create the
sense of almost unimaginable distance and the mysteriousness of the cosmos. He
had the women’s choir offstage in a room and he instructed a stagehand
to slowly close the door to create the effect of it fading out and going off
into the distance. People loved that, it went over huge. I mean
today we take the fade out for granted, but in 1918 it was like a whole
new whole new sonic adventure for them. In the early days, the fade out was a
novelty. It was really only used to convey real-world scenarios like
distance and space. That is until the 1950s and 60s when sound recording
wasn’t just used to preserve a live performance, it became its own art form.
The fade out quickly became a creative and functional tool for record producers.
Functional, because radio deejays demanded songs be three minutes or less.
If the album version was longer producers would typically cut a shorter
radio-friendly version that faded during the chorus. Fade outs were also used to
fix flubs here’s the full waveform for strawberry fields forever. You can see a
really long fade out and then it suddenly starts coming back. George
Martin, the Beatles producer, wasn’t crazy about the percussion towards the end of
the song and so he faded the song out. But then he hears all the great music
that happens after the fade-out that the Beatles continued to play and he hated
to waste that so he faded back in. Not only is there an art to the fade out,
there’s a science to it also. Here Susan Rogers. To do a fade properly you have to
do something called chasing the fade. So we know from the Fletcher-Munson
curves that our ears don’t perceive frequencies of sound equally when played
at the same volume. if you’ve got the speakers cranked you’re hearing
approximately equal levels of bass mid-range and high-end. But as soon as
you turn the level down, it becomes really hard to hear the high highs and
the low lows, but you can hear the mid-range very well. If you lowered everything
equally the singer would just be hanging out there all by themselves. You can hear
that on Prince’s “Slow Love” which Susan worked on. The fade out became so ubiquitous that
by 1985 all top 10 songs of the year had one. But there’s something more to the
fade out than being another fashionable trend in music. When psychologists
studied how different types of song endings affected our experiences with
them, they found something pretty amazing. The researchers, they had a group of
subjects listen to the same song but two different versions, one with a
fade out one of the cold ending and they had them tap along to the beat of each
version. If a song had a hard ending, participants on average stopped tapping
along to the beat 1.04 seconds before the end of the song. If it had a
fade out they’d stop tapping along to the beat 1.40 seconds after
the song ended. In a sense that song was living beyond its physical self in the
mind of the listener. That might help explain why The Beatles
7-minute “Hey Jude” has a fade out that’s about as long as their entire early
singles. “Hey Jude” was released after The Beatles stopped touring, they didn’t need
to perform it live. Well until they did this one TV performance. It’s my pleasure
to introduce now in their first live appearance for goodness knows how long
in front of an audience the Beatles. It took at least 12 takes a lot of editing
and a visual fade to black to recreate the same epic fade out of the recorded
version. The fade out was such a long-lasting
record making tool, it was used in some of the biggest hits for decades, but its
future isn’t looking so great. Yeah I mean it’s kind of sad because the
fade out’s demise is kind of a replication of the
effect itself in that its actually literally fading out in popular music,
and so slowly and gradually that I think most people don’t even notice. There are
plenty of songs over the last few years that would have been better served with a
fade out like Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know” It just suddenly ends and
they they threw at Tom or something in there they just went boom and it sounds
so pasted on to my ear. Bruno Mars’ “24k magic” and “That’s what I like” have abrupt
endings to when they sound like they could fade out forever. Pick any number of songs these days and
those pasted on endings are the norm. Want to know what work sounds like with
a hard ending? It’s terrible. The fade-out it turns out, is important and often
necessary. It’s a tool in a record producers arsenal that makes us tap our
feet along even after our ears perceive the very last notes. And I hope, just like
the ending of “Strawberry fields forever” it comes back. It’s hard to say whether
or not the fade-out will actually be as prominent as it was 30 or 40 years ago I
just look at the Top 40 today and only three songs had legitimate fade outs that I could find. could find. Those three songs are
actually really good hint for the next earworm episode. So go listen to the billboard top 40. Try to find those three songs. And let me
know what you think the next episode is gonna be about.


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