Grabbing Listener Interest Right From the Title

For songs that you hope have commercial value, a strong chorus hook is a vital part of the structure.


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Music-songwriting studentI write a lot about the power of a good musical motif – a fragment of music that gets developed and worked into every part of a song. It’s what adds structure to all music of any genre, and it’s important.

That’s not to diminish the importance of a good song hook, though. For songs that you hope will grab a listener’s interest and keep them listening, a strong hook — particularly a chorus hook — can be crucial, for the following reasons:

  1. It usually places the title of the song front and centre.
  2. It combines melody, lyric and rhythm in an enticing way, making a song unforgettable.
  3. It grabs a listener’s attention right away.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook BundleFor you as the songwriter, if you want to write songs that stand up and get noticed immediately, starting from the title is a good way to work. Here are a set of steps for developing a song that starts with a chorus hook:

  1. Get an enticing working title. It’s got to be something that is attention-seeking, something that demands that someone listen right away. “You Make Me Hurt Inside” might not do it, but something similar, like “Shot Me Through the Heart”, or perhaps even something as benign as “Now What Can I Do?” might be better, because it either states something in a more emotional way, or asks a question that demands an answer.
  2. Work out a preliminary (short) hook idea. This is the actual hook, the small 1- or 2-bar fragment that grabs attention. It can be simple, like Kelly Clarkson belting out the word “Stronger” in her hit song “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”, or “Radioactive” (Imagine Dragons), or Springsteen’s iconic “Born in the U.S.A.” Most good hooks combine melody, rhythm and then the lyric that serves as the song title. And to reiterate, it’s got to be short, catchy, memorable and fun to sing.
  3. Fill in your chorus. Take that short idea and work it to be part of something that can serve as an entire chorus. You’ll want to let that hook be the flag your song waves, so let it stand front and centre. Good chorus hooks are repetitious, and so don’t worry that your chorus uses that hook over and over. If it’s fun to sing, you’ll want that to be the case.
  4. Work out a verse that makes the chorus sound like a logical follower. In other words, you need to make that chorus hook sound like it’s responding to something that takes place in the verse. Be sure that when you write your verse, you 1) keep the melody lower than the chorus, 2) present a story or situation that makes the chorus hook sound appropriate, and 3) builds in energy to meet the higher energy of your chorus.

Once you’ve got a hook and then a verse that leads into it, you’ve done the most important part. Anything else (adding a bridge, instrumental solos, etc.), are compositional decisions that can make the song even better.

A bit more about point #4 above, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” is a great model. The title is a fantastic hook, because it’s an expression that everyone will know, and it grabs attention in a very “strong” positive way.

Also, the verse describes a situation that makes that title the obvious response: “You think you got the best of me/ Think you’ve had the last laugh/ Bet you think that everything good is gone/ Think you left me broken down/ Think that I’d come running back/ Baby you don’t know me, cause you’re dead wrong…

And it all starts by getting the chorus hook working well — grabbing interest right from the title. Get that title working first, and then it becomes so much easier to figure out what you’re going to do in the verse.

In fact, with strong chorus hooks it’s possible to begin the writing process without even knowing what your song is going to be about. Once you’ve got the hook, the rest of the song is much easier to write.

Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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