Working on some mixes today I was really focussed on making sure the tracks “took the listener on a journey” and it got me thinking about where the storytelling factor of a song comes from.
It could be the lyrics, if the band/instrumental/backing track stays fairly consistent throughout the song then the lyrics can often be the main narrative factor of the song (especially in rap music and similar).
It could be the mix – using automation can really help build the song; increasing volume, editing EQ, or adding reverb/delay to various instruments over time can really help.
Ultimately, though, I believe it mainly comes down to the arrangement of the song – harsh automation can stick out like a sore thumb and its difficult to keep the balance right when changing dynamics in the mix over time. A strong arrangement, with instruments coming in and out of the mix during the track can emphasise the builds and fades during the track.