The song is written. You know how it goes. The band bring themselves to it. When you’re in rehearsal, you sort the top and the tail. If you’re interested in getting things right, the band needs to know where to come in and where to go out. Entries and exits.
This, however, is about the endings.
If you’re recording the rehearsal, there’ll be fluffs, giggles and conversations. But they’re not the song. To include them in the finished product is to contrive a liveness that’s gone the moment it’s captured.
It’s rather satisfying to finish at the same time. Whether it’s an audacious guitar-toting leap, or a quiet resolve communicated by glances, playing live, a definite ending for a song is a cue for applause. Let it dribble out and your own confusion will spread to the audience – unless that’s part of the schtick – even the grooviest of audiences need to know when to clap, whether it’s out of appreciation, relief, or a resolve to face the bar queue again.
When you’re in the studio, and you strike the last chord, you hold your instrument still, try not to shift, to let the sound you’re making ebb away, unsullied by the sound of your chair cracking, your feet shifting, or anything else. A clean reverberation.
Conscious this is the final moment, you hold it tenderly. The instruments stack up. The breath behind the vocal harmonies is breathed out. The cymbal crashes. The bassist’s finger holds it down so it dies cleanly. The cellist’s hum halts as the bow leaves the string.
The track is laid down. The take is ‘taken’, but it’s not over until it’s been mixed and meets its master. If you’re on tape, the engineer’s finger pulls down a fader on a desk once the note dies. Now it’s all onscreen, the wave form fizzles away: if it’s a fade out, it’s sharpened like a pencil, whittled away to flatline: an elongated point. The producer and engineer’s art.
If the band hasn’t worked out how to end a song live, sometimes you’ll just keep playing towards a ragged conclusion that you know will be annihilated by a fade-out.
A fade-out implies the song’s moving away from the listener- that somewhere, this tune, and the band playing it, are still going somewhere. Or maybe it’s you, pulling away from the place of the song: walking or driving, the sound diminishing and attenuating as you move to another place.
A long tail. It flickers away. And it’s over.