When you love a song, its main hook is usually its most important feature. In a sense, no matter what else goes on in a song, everything works toward the hook. While the quality of all features is vital, everything culminates in the hook.
It’s like climbing a mountain. The mountain peak is the immediately identifiable feature. That peak is the goal. All the land around it is moving upward, all working toward that mountain peak. Visually-speaking, it’s all about the peak.
Sometimes, if a song has too many ideas going on, they can distract from what the song is really about. Too many ideas will draw the listener’s attention away from that main hook. When that happens, the song acquires a disorganized, cluttered feel.
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What do we mean by “too many ideas”? There are several ways in which songs can be cluttered up:
- Too many chords that move the key in too many directions.
- Too many words that keep the listener from following a clear train of thought.
- Too many song sections that don’t immediately relate to each other.
- Too many hooks, motifs, and other rhythmic/melodic ideas competing with each other.
- Instruments that aren’t picking up the melodic and rhythmic ideas of other instruments.
What can you do to fix this? It’s not just a situation where there’s too much going on. Sometimes it’s that the ideas that are happening just aren’t relating to each other. As if all the sections, all the chords, all the players… everything is working in isolation from everything else.
What you want is to be able to hear similar motifs, similar rhythms, and a similar approach across the entire structure of the song. And you want to hear that across all the backing instruments as well.
The best songs out there do this well. Just as an example, give “Tell Me What You Need“, by Alex Clare, a listen. You’ll notice:
- The rhythms of the vocal line, in all sections of the song, all relate to each other. There’s a similarity, even when rhythms are different.
- The backing instruments all use a similar rhythmic approach, all serving the melodic line.
- The chords are repetitive, most drawing from the same smallish pool of chords: Am Em F G, etc.
In case you worry that your song will suffer if it doesn’t have more going on, think again about that mountain peak: everything serves the mountain peak.
Complexity doesn’t make that mountain more visually appealing. All the little hills leading up to that peak are an important part of the beauty of the ultimate peak. But when all is said and done, it’s all about the peak.
As a songwriter, you need to now look through your latest song, decide what the important hook is, and start relating everything that happens in your song to that hook. Borrow its rhythms. Choose chords that sound like they belong to that hook. Serve the hook.
Make your song about less, and it will come across as sounding more coherent, more organized, and more enticing.
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