The ''fade'' in popular songs: a useful technique, or lazy?

Something’s been bothering me about songs lately: the ‘‘fade’’. That is, when a song ends with a fade.

Don’t get me wrong - there are many songs I like which do end in fades. But sometimes it just seems to be a lazy way of ending a song - ‘‘We don’t know how to end the song, so let’s fade it.’’

Agree? Disagree?

I’m going to have to disagree with you, EmilyG.
I don’t know how old you are, (I’m 49 y.o.) but I was raised on late 70’s R&B and Funk, and know ONLY “The Fade” as a way to end a song.
Granted, there are some exceptions, but nearly all of my favorite songs end with the chorus repeating to fade out.


Writing song endings that resolve is difficult.

As with most questions of artistic method, the answer is “it depends.” In some songs (e.g., “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” or “Hey Jude”) a fade is very effective. In others, it’s not.

I was listening to my best of ELO CD, and I was struck by how many songs seem to fade out. I thought “Damn, Jeff…you can do better than this!”

Yep. I agree. Fade-Outs are just a lazy way of ending a song. Also, a way for a DJ to cut into the fade-out, and start another commercial (Or whatever) sooner.

I would agree with this. The most head-scratching example of a fade that I know of is “Go Now” by the Moody Blues… the song builds up to a very satisfying final vocal coda, but it FADES!!! Why? (Ans.: Probably because somebody messed up at the end.)

I’m used to songs that fade, so it doesn’t generally bother me. What I find more annoying is the recent tendency, in pop/ R&B, to end songs in what seems like almost a random fashion. I guess this is happening because both fades and traditional endings are seen as old hat, but it still comes across to me as lazy/sloppy.

My theory is that the musical fade-out was a side-effect of longer jazz and big band compositions still being mass-produced on 78’s, where because of time limits they had to be split between the two sides of a record. Naturally the song isn’t over by the end of side 1–and it sounds weird just to cold-end in the middle–so the audio engineers had no choice but to fade out mid-song and pick up again on side 2. Even when technology made it possible to avoid this necessary fade, the principle had become common and most artists just followed the precedent unless they had a good reason not to.

I also think that the “keep it flowing” mantra of most popular entertainment emphasized the need for the fade. Cinema had long had a habit of using music to transition scenes, and as a way to emphasize the link music would fade away as the dialogue in the new scene started. And of course the radio business wanted no excuse for the listener to tune out, so fade outs (and the usually wordless opening bars of a tune) allowed for smoother segues and time for the DJ to patter the call sign or some paid advertising spot.

As others said, it depends. There are some songs that definitely call for it, and there are some where it just seems like they couldn’t think of a better way to resolve it. The thing is, not every song can have a clever ending or can easily be resolved, and it’s an easy way to handle those sorts of situations.

Personally, I don’t really think to much of it unless it stands out. I remember listening to an album several years ago that was otherwise quite brilliant, but it struck me that every single song on the album ended with a fade out, and while I still loved the album, it’s not the sort of thing I should have noticed and I’d count it as a negative. It’s sort of like when I saw Battlefield: Earth and became aware of the cuts because there were only maybe 2 or 3 diffrent ones used in the film. Song endings, like cuts, shouldn’t stand out for their similarity, unless it’s deliberate to an end.

That all said, I do think it can serve several really cool artistic purposes. One major way I’ve seen it used, and a way I’ve used it in my own work, is as an indication that there’s a continuity, as if to infinity, at the conclusion of the song. That is, it’s precisely that the song doesn’t have a resolution. One good example of this is a song by Nevermore with a rather pessimistic view of the existence and nature of God, the song ends reiterating the the phrase “Don’t set your mind to one side” phasing between the left and right speakers and fading out. I think it illustrates the nature of the discussion and, in the view of the artist, the nature of God himself, and how it doesn’t have any sort of resolution.

For a more emotional example, I’m also reminded of the song Drapery Falls by Opeth. It’s a long song about the confusion inherent in a failed relationship, coming to a realization of that disfunction, and continuing on it the cycle anyway. This is musically illustrated by having an opening riff that sort of has a confusing and falling sense, imprinted with the first lyrics “Please remedy my confusion”. After exploring the concepts and coming to the realization, the song ends up with the lyrics “Waking up to your sound again, and lapse into the ways of misery”. He’s pulled the drapery down, seen the essence of what its there, but returned to the very same state where he started. And thus it ends with the same riff that it started out on, fading away for the cycle to repeat.
So, yeah, it can be lazy, and it usually is, but it can also add another level to the song if done well.

I’m 28 years old, but my musical tastes are all over the place.

I guess I’m mostly a classical musician, though. (There is quite a lot of popular music that I like, though, especially older stuff like '60s rock.) I can only think of two classical pieces which end in a fade.

I guess I find non-fading songs have a more satisfying finish to them.

I think what bugs many folks about the fade is that it is nigh-on impossible to have a “live” fade-out (marching bands excepted). So if you perform a song live and have to come up with some kind of ending anyway, why not just have it on the record?

Of course, most fade-song endings done live are just an extended riff on the last three notes, lost in a wash of all conceivable sounds the band can make (cymbals, drums, meandering lead guitar) punctuated with a single staccato chord. Not much better IMO.

Mrs. Frig got a couples of CDs at Christmas that collected the greatest hits of a guy who was really, really popular between 1973 and about '81. (He still records today, but not as much original stuff as the string of pop hits back in the '70s.)

His favorite song structure was A B A B C B (key change) B again, fade. . . .

He had a live album and I saw him in concert once in '78. It was interesting to hear how lamely some of the live songs ended, because in performance you do need to stop sometime.

No it’s not. Every song naturally ends with the final note that you’ve written. People perform music far more often than they record it, and they don’t need a fade out to make it listenable. You just stop.

I think fades are lazy and stupid and need to stop.


At the end of the song What was I Thinking?, Christine Lavin has this run-on thing (over the interminable fade-out) about how songwriters use fadeouts when they don’t know hjow to end the song (as she, purportedly, didn’t in this case). “Except for Like to Get to Know You by Spanky and Our Gang,” she adds. “That was an artistic choice. But usually, they don’t know how to end the song.”

It’s not quite that simple. Some songs are structured so that each part ends with a lead-in to the next, so there’s no natural ending point. Ex.: “Tell Me” by the Stones. You can always create a cold end, but the fade generally works better on songs like this.

For some bands, and many electronic producers, there are few live song ‘endings’–most segue into other pieces by jamming or beat-mixing.

Meh; it’s a way to end a song. It got overused when it was “in fashion” - it gets applied to the wrong songs for the wrong reasons all the time, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. No different than a four-on-the-floor beat, auto tune, compression (as in Why are modern songs SO LOUD), wah pedals, etc. People just making the wrong choice for the recipe.

I used to know a few people who played music on the street and in the public market. They played mostly covers, and these fade-out songs were a problem. Since their act was completely acoustic, they couldn’t fade.

So they found themselves either not playing a song they liked and they thought their audience would like, or writing their own endings for other people’s compositions.