Right now my website SecretsofSongwriting.com is offering the free eBook “Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW!” when you subscribe to the “Songwriter’s Quick Tips Newsletter.” That’s a free monthly newsletter thats delivered to your email address, and includes important articles and information pertaining directly to songwriting.
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The eBook describes seven of the most common songwriting errors I’ve observed, both in my work with my own music students, as well as with students of songwriting I’ve had the pleasure of meeting online. The following excerpt comes from the section called, “You’re relying on a hook to save a bad song.”
In my eBook, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, I talk about the 10-cent ice cream cone as being that thing that keeps people coming back to the local fast food joint. In that sense, the ice cream is a hook. There’s usually no pretence by the restaurant that the ice cream is good quality, and in fact, it’s probably not. A lot of people will choose one restaurant over another if in addition to what restaurants normally offer they get something else at a very low price. But look deeper at what sales like this are really saying. The 10-cent ice cream is a store’s way of saying, “We’re offering pretty much the same fare that all the other stores do, so we’re willing to sell something at a very low price to differentiate ourselves from the competition.”
Put that way, it sounds like a hook is just a cheesy way to get people through the door. But it’s not necessarily the case. Especially in music, a good, high quality hook may not necessarily mean that there’s no other way to get people interested. In fact, most hit songs on the Billboard Hot-100 list have hooks that are a vital part of the chorus, and contribute positively to song structure. On the downside, a repetitive hook can have the unfortunate effect of dumbing a song down and drawing attention to itself to the point where the rest of the song doesn’t matter a whole lot. But a good hook can be that extra feature that makes a good song better.
Which gets me to what I really want to talk about. Sometimes a hook can be so catchy, so memorable, that it’s masking other problems that the song has. A typical scenario might be that a song is finished, but the songwriter feels that it’s a bit boring. So she develops a hook that adds a bit of extra zing to the song. But what she’s ignoring is the real reason for the song being boring: that the song’s energy was not well thought-out or planned. So by adding a catchy hook, you’ve gone from having a song with problems, to having a song with a great hook – that has problems.
It’s important as a songwriter to develop an ability to listen to your songs objectively. Each component of a song should be able to stand on its own as a problem-free section. If you find yourself saying, “This verse is OK, I guess, but I really think the chorus hook will make up for it”, you’re treading on thin ice. It’s better to address those verse issues directly before even considering what a good chorus hook will do for you.
- Adding a hook to a bad song gives you a bad song with a hook.
- Make sure that all elements of your song work well both individually and in combination with others.
- Not all songs need a strong hook. Many Beatles’ tunes, for example, use hooks that are musically restrained and understated.
Written by Gary Ewer