What’s a crescendo? Well, it's not a Starbucks drink—although that does sound appetizing.
“I’ll have a triple venti, soy, no-foam, caramel crescendo... with an extra shot.”
A crescendo (kruh-SHEN-doh) is a musical term for gradually increasing in volume or intensity. But for such a deceptively simple, non-caffeinated concept, playing a crescendo can be fairly difficult to master.
When novice players attempt to play a crescendo, their first instinct is to get loud, because that’s what’s written in front of them. While technically correct, beginners tend to rush past the soft part, play louder immediately, and end up ruining the dramatic effect.
Too much. Too fast. Too loud.
With more experience, musicians develop a deeper understanding of all dynamic ranges. But the real epiphany is when they realize the true purpose of the crescendo. It’s not about simply turning up the volume. It’s not even necessarily about arriving at the loudest point. It’s about the exciting tension between extremes.
The real secret behind mastering the crescendo is restraint.
It sounds counterintuitive, but by holding back, by embracing the uncomfortable tension, the contrast in dynamics becomes exaggerated, enhanced, and compels the listener to lean in. Some examples:
“Touchdown” by AllttA capitalizes on the crescendo from the opening note, and throughout the song.
“Batman Theme” composed by Danny Elfman uses the crescendo to prepare listeners for an unforgettably epic theme.
“Windows XP Start Up” composed by Bill Brown. Yes, it’s everywhere.
The crescendo is a simple, yet effective device to build suspense, add excitement, and even provoke strong emotional responses. But paramount to its effectiveness is the musician’s ability to create exciting tension—to show restraint.
Here’s the thing:
There’s a strong tendency for brands to overcommunicate. Social media, video, ads, websites, direct mail... what starts as carefully crafted messaging quickly turns into communication overload.
Too much. Too fast. Too loud.
This is a common problem, probably because it’s uncomfortable to hold back valuable information. In a world where brands are desperate to “break through the noise,” it feels like a missed opportunity when you’re not saying more. It feels wrong to leave space open for someone else to claim.
But that would be missing the point.
The goal of your messaging shouldn’t be to communicate as much as possible. The true purpose is to create exciting tension. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you hold back, when you don’t give it away all at once, you increase the hold on your audience’s attention, compelling them to lean in.
Great messaging shows restraint.
You could even go as far to say the reason "less is more" holds true, is because "less" is really the beginning of your audience wanting "more." They feel the tension, building their interest and anticipation... like a crescendo.
Imagine what it would be like if the only kind of music you ever heard was always only loud: every note at the same intensity, without variation, unrelenting and bombastic. It would lose its musicality. It would be boring. It would turn people away.
Now, imagine if the only kind of messaging you ever experienced was always only excess: every possible feature and benefit, no perceivable hierarchy of importance, unrelenting and bombastic. It would lose its meaning. It would be boring. It would turn people away.
- What’s your favorite musical example of a crescendo?
- Which of your favorite brands use messaging that shows restraint?
- On a scale of 1-10, what’s your brand’s ability to create exciting tension?
The next time you’re having difficulty perfecting your messaging, take a moment, think of the crescendo, and ask yourself, “What would a musician do?”
Need some help?
Reach out to us here at Liquid! We love developing unique brand narratives to create exciting tension, helping you connect with your audience and meet your business goals.