Writing Stronger Songs
If your goal is to be writing stronger songs, it very important to put some serious thought into one the most important elements – the “hook”.
I’ll assume you all know that a “hook” is an element of a song that hooks the listener into
it; makes the song stick in their head; makes them sing it (even sometimes against their will); makes them tell their friends about it … and make them listen also; and, most importantly – sells the song to them!
With that assumption, let’s talk about types of hooks and how best to make them pay off for you.
Different genres of music rely of different types of hooks to sell songs. This is mostly based on what that genre’s audience reacts to and what is proven to sell records (downloads, concert tickets, etc.)
Country Music Songwriters
Country music has always been built on stories and characters. Loyal listeners of Country music demand a character that they can identify with; love, hate, emulate or desire. They also want a story, a visual scene or relationship, with a beginning, middle and end. And they demand a lyrical and/or emotional payoff.
Since the early days of Country music, singers in that genre have been storytellers. Hall of Fame songwriter, Harlan Howard, built his career on what he called “three chords and the truth”; honest characters talking about honest emotion and situations that mainstream audiences can relate to.
Today’s Country music still rides on a story, even as it incorporates rhythms and lyrical and musical phrasing from other genres.
When you are writing a Country song, you still need to start at the beginning, set the scene, introduce the characters and give your audience a payoff hook at the beginning or end of the chorus or, in a 5th form structure, at the beginning or end of each verse section. It may also appear elsewhere in the song, but because it is likely the conclusion or point to the song, it usually fits best there.
Other examples of lyrical driven Country music hits are: Your Cheatin Heart, Crazy, I Walk the Line, All My Ex’s Live in Texas, Forever and Ever, Amen, When you Say Nothing at All, Always on My Mind
Pop Music Songwriters
Pop music has always relied on melody to hook its audience. Emotion can be expressed in melody, even without lyrics. Today’s Pop music features much more groove and rhythm as the lines blur between R&B, Hip Hop and Pop, but you still will find the most success with a melodic hook line that any four year old can sing after one listen.
Example; Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off. Though the song definitely has a message and the lyric has a payoff (after all, Taylor comes from Nashville), the song is built around a nine note repetitive melody capped off by a six-note hook. It comes at you over and over making it very easy to remember and sing along with.
This song is the perfect example of formula Pop writing and that is why it has been so successful commercially.
If you are writing Pop music and looking for commercial success, start with a melodic hook and make it simple and singable.
Rock Music Songwriters
Rock music relies heavily on musical hooks to keep listeners loyal to their songs and artists. Sonic uniqueness is achieved with instruments, outboard gear, chord progressions and voicings. Vocal timbre and texture are often an extension of the instrumentation used by a Rock band or artist, as the musical sound usually is the first building block for a rock song.
Often times you can recognize a Rock song by a musical riff way before you hear a vocal melody or lyric. This is what drives this genre of music and what hooks its listeners. Think of how many of your favorite Rock songs you play air guitar to or sing the musical hook of. When you remember the first time you heard the song, you likely remember the musical hook as what grabbed your attention first.
If you are writing Rock music, chances are you are also the artist performing your songs. Put yourself in the audience. Try to create an energy from the fist note you play that makes the audience react the way you want them to.
Examples of great Rock music that has followed this strategy to the top of the charts and into our collective memories are: AC/DC – Back in Black, Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter, Ac/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long.
Though guitar is most often the vehicle for a musical hook in Rock, there are many good examples of other instruments being used for this, very effectively.
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a great example of a Rock song that uses voices to establish the musical hook. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb is another good example of this.
When you are writing, think not only about what you want to say with your song, but also how you might say it by building around a catchy hook. (Get it…catchy – to catch an audiences attention. Hook – to hook them in.)
No matter what type of songs you write, you can elevate your chances of commercial success and increase your fan base by focusing on strong hooks that do their job well.
Country – You can also have a memorable musical hook and a great melody; but the lyrical “aha” or “I told you so” moment will take you to the top of the charts.
Pop – You can say whatever you want to say as long as your children can Shake it Off from the back seat of the car or dancing around the living room.
Rock – Make them feel it before they hear it! Put the emotion in the music with a phrase that makes them feel something before the singer starts singing.
Hope this helps you hook the big one!
Kim Copeland, music producer