Good songs don’t necessarily need to start with the hook. It is possible to write a song and add a hook later.
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If you ask most songwriters, they’ll tell you that for them, songwriting often starts with the working out of a hook. That hook usually serves as a chief component of the chorus. From there, they work out the rest of the song. And that hook remains a crucial part of the whole, the element that immediately identifies the song to listeners. But not all songs have strong hooks. Hooks tend to be a hallmark of hit songs, but it’s very possible to have great songs that don’t rely chiefly on a hook. Many of The Beatles’ hits did not feature predominant hooks.
There’s a basic songwriting adage that I like to keep foremost in my mind, which is this: hooks can’t save bad songs. If your song has problems, you really need to identify the problems, and deal with them. To use an analogy, if you’re building a house, and it’s threatening to fall down, you won’t solve anything by adding a wrap-around balcony.
But a wrap-around balcony might be a great feature to add if your house design is solid, but boring. So too with music, if your completed song just seems to lack something that draws listeners in, the addition of a hook might be just the thing to ramp-up the interest factor.
But how do you add a hook to a song that’s already completed? Here are a couple of ideas to try:
1) Develop a hook-heavy intro. A song intro with a hook (think of the classic intro of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4“) has the benefit of immediately identifying the song to listeners. Hook intros are easy to add to existing songs. Extra hint: Use a hook intro as a connector between verse 1 and verse 2, and optionally as a connector between a possible bridge and a return to a verse.
2) Develop a background instrumental hook. There are lots of examples of this in pop genres. Simply get your band to create rhythmic-melodic ideas that get played throughout the tune. Again, it has the benefit of immediately identifying the song to your audience. This differs from the hook-heavy intro in the sense that it doesn’t usually demand as much attention, doing most of its work in the background. But a background hook can be a real earworm that offers structural glue to a song. A really great and fun example of a background hook can be found in the instrumental accompaniment for “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging” by Genesis from “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” album (1974).
In a way, background hooks are very similar to motifs – short melodic or rhythmic ideas that get incorporated into music as a structural element. The main difference between a hook and a motif, however, is that motifs tend to change and develop over time, while hooks usually maintain their original shape.
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