When I began brainstorming ideas for Vox Pop’s Earworm, I asked myself one question: What are the sounds or music trends that everyone subconsciously knows about, but doesn’t know why they became so common? The first thing that immediately came up was, “Why the hell do some songs fade out and others don’t?” Lucky for me, I quickly found Bill Weir, who wrote a comprehensive history of the fade out for Slate.
I always hated when my favorite songs faded out. It felt like such an anti-climactic end to a song that I otherwise really loved. After diving deep into its history, I discovered that there’s a real art to the fade out. When I learned that it requires incredible precision from sound mixers, music producers, and audio engineers, I realized I was wrong. My opinion changed. The fade out, it turns out, is an amazing way to end a song and there’s evidence to back that up.
The video above traces the origins of the fade out in popular music — from a door slowly closing on a choir in 1918 to George Martin’s genius idea to fade out and fade back in on The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
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