How to ensure that audiences are remembering your songs long after they hear them.
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The hook gets a lot of attention when it comes to creating songs that listeners keep singing all day. And that’s for a good reason, of course. When you look at the qualities that good song hooks possess, there’s no mystery about it:
- They’re short.
- They’re repetitive.
- They’re catchy.
Hooks that are too long or too complicated won’t stick in the mind of the listener. Remember, most listeners have only a casual understanding of music. Most will hum a good hook without even knowing it’s a hook.
But don’t equate an audience’s “casual understanding of music” with a complete ignorance of how good music works. Most people, even if they’ve never had a music lesson in their life, have musical abilities. It’s part of being human. But without music training, audiences can get bored with music without ever knowing why. They know they don’t like a song, but don’t have the background or vocabulary to describe what they don’t like. They simply switch it off and move on to something else.
So how do you keep an audience humming your tunes? Here are some crucial elements that exist in most great songs:
- They use repetition. Repeated melodic shapes, repeated chord progressions, repeated lyrics… they all play a role in capturing an audience’s attention. They like when they hear things repeat, as long as it’s mixed in with something new. Never underestimate the importance of repetition in the arts.
- They use hooks that are singable. If people are singing your song in the shower, you’ve nailed it! You need to write something that people can hum or sing, even if badly. Popular song performance is a group activity, and the world is your group.
- They use chord progressions that keep the tonic chord as an important beacon. Even with chords that are complex and creative, the tonic chord acts as a sign post that keeps pulling the music back in a very pleasant way.
- They build and disperse song energy as they move forward. A good song’s momentum generally moves upward, but never in a straight line. Verses tend to be calmer than choruses, and so the moving back and forth from verse to chorus ensures that energy will ebb and flow, and listeners love this effect, whether they know it or not. Verse-only songs can be boring if you don’t find ways to generate that important rise and fall of song energy. (Hint: Use instrumentation and melodic shape to help.)
- They present melodies that aren’t too long or meandering. Shorter melodies are easier for a listener to comprehend as a musical journey. If you feel your verse melody is too short, try inserting a pre-chorus before the chorus, rather than looking for ways to make your verse longer.
There are probably lots of other ways that good songs rivet into the brain of the listener, and those other ways can be thought of as your own particular writing style – the way you shape melodies, the kinds of chords you use, and so on.
Of the list above, probably the most important quality for making your song click and stick is repetition. Saying something over and over tends to make people listen more, and singing something over and over has the same effect. As long as you mix it in with other things, repetition is vital for keeping your audience humming.
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