Six Reasons Why Your Breakdowns Suck
You know that feeling you get when you stumble upon a bone-crushing, gut-punching, nipple-twisting breakdown? The type that compels you to wanna take a 30-foot running start and punt a baby? Yeah, that one.
Now think of the hundreds, if not thousands of really crappy breakdowns you had to listen through to get to this golden nugget. The countless hours you’ve spent in your life listening to a song your friend played you, to which you reluctantly responded, “Haha… brutal, dude.”
Now think about the music you’ve written. Chances are, if you think about how many crappy breakdowns there are in the world you’ve probably written a turd yourself (I know I’ve written turds aplenty).
However, that all ends right now. Let’s put an end to this subpar breakdown epidemic. I’ve identified six reasons why your breakdown is crappy.
1. There’s No Contrast Leading Up To It
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I wonder what I should write to follow these three consecutive breakdowns? How about another breakdown!” then you’re likely going to be boring your listener by failing to have any contrast. Great sushi tastes so good partially because there is shitty Safeway sushi to compare it to. Similarly, heavy parts are heavy because there are non-heavy parts right next to them.
2. The Song Doesn’t Call For It
Imagine that you’re about to eat a fat, juicy, medium-rare steak, seared, grilled and sizzled to perfection. However, when you take a bite out of this delicious steak, you realize that someone deviously put melted chocolate on the inside. Don’t get me wrong, both of those things are great, but its a crime against humanity to put them together. The same thought process should be applied to your music. Breakdowns can be awesome but don’t cram them in where they don’t belong. Figure out what story you are trying to tell with your music and add riffs in accordingly!
3. It’s Overly Technical Without Being Musical
This is a tricky one. Meshuggah are a God-tier example of a band that’s done an amazing job of combining both listenable and extremely technical elements into their breakdowns. As a result, they have a huge fan base of diehard ‘shuggah fans. A lot of people observe their success and try to mimic it, creating breakdowns that are unbearably technical without any real listenability. They erroneously believe that technicality for the sake of technicality is what makes good music. Although there is certainly a market for technicality and this is a relatively respectable mistake, as a whole it’s just making it a lot harder for people to find something to latch on to and get into it.
4. It Goes On For Too Long
It could have been awesome for the first eight bars but it stopped being interesting after bar 24 of the exact same breakdown. If the breakdown goes on too long, it becomes redundant and doesn’t add anything to the story that you are trying to tell. It’s like someone repeating the same sentence over and over. It’s like someone repeating the same sentence over and over. It’s like someone repeating the same sentence over and over
5. It’s Way Too Slow
There are plenty of YouTube videos out there that humorously demonstrate extremes such as “the slowest breakdown ever” which are funny because we can all agree they lack the aggression that an energetic section SHOULD have. There is a range of tempos where your breakdown simply fails to really viscerally “groove” with a listener. One good way of telling that a breakdown is violating this rule is if you ever feel like you’re “waiting” for the breakdown to catch up or finish. Breakdowns are supposed to be captivating and driving! It’s okay to walk a block and turn around to wait for your grandma, but not your breakdowns.
6. It’s Too Predictable – You Aren’t Innovating Enough!
If an average metal listener can predict right when a breakdown will happen, this means that you are playing it too safe! If you aren’t doing anything new, there is no memorability in your breakdowns, rendering them forgettable. As a result, you’re going to be left behind in a genre that prides itself on pushing the limits. People that are trying to get their fix of interesting new jams are going to be unsatisfied with the same ideas you’ve been throwing at them.
At this point you might be overwhelmed at the long list of things NOT to do, but don’t allow yourself to get paralyzed! It all boils down to one thing: being extremely self-critical.
Listen to your songs.
Re-listen to them.
Re-listen some more.
After listening to your breakdown for the 100th time, are you still stoked about it? What does your gut tell you? Pick apart existing breakdowns that you DO like and figure out what makes them special! Take note of the bpm, the vocal patterns, the frequencies, the tunings, everything.
Reverse engineer it so you see if there are any patterns you can take influence from. Put in the work: do your research and apply it. If you practice being self-critical, I promise you that you will be writing baby-punting breakdowns sooner rather than later.
Here is one specific trick with cymbal/snare drum placement I learned after picking apart breakdowns.