For most songs that are written and produced for today’s pop music market, the hook is a very important feature. It’s the part that everyone remembers long after they’ve forgotten everything else about a song. And crucial to the business side, it’s what brings audiences back to a song and makes sales more likely.
We tend to speak of hooks in the singular, but in fact many songs create layers of individual hooks. In that regard, one hook tends to be the one that instantly identifies the song to most of the listening public, but other hooks will support it, or act in a secondary manner.
For a classic example of how this might work, give Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” (Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Desmond Child) a listen.
The hook that everyone thinks of is the title/chorus hook, the line that acts as an answering phrase, belted out as the song’s highest notes:
Whoa, we’re half way there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it – I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
But the fact is that most songs destined for the pop market need more than that, and it’s not far off the mark to say that these days almost every section of your song needs something hook-like, something that relentlessly pulls the audience in and keeps them listening.
In “Livin’ On a Prayer”, you get several layers of hooks:
- An intro/instrumental hook. A bass riff that then gets played through a talk box – just the effect alone brings the riff up to the status of a hook.
- A pre-chorus hook. In any other song, that line (“…hold on to what we got…”) would rate as a pretty strong chorus hook, assuming you modified the ending of it to keep it from moving down.
- A chorus hook. This is the big one, one hook “to rule them all”, you might say.
By layering various hooks and appointing one as the main ear-catching hook ensures that as your song moves from one section to the next, you’ve got something to keep people interested.
In that sense, you can think of a hook as something that happens on a macro-level — the song — and then secondary hooks that happen on a micro-level — section by section.
Now go back to any of your favourite songs and make a list of anything you find hooky about them, and you’ll notice that this happens a lot: a main hook, supported by one or more lesser hooks.
- “Sugar Shack” (Keith McCormack, Jimmy Torres. 1963). The main chorus hook “Sugar shack…” is fairly understated, but works in part because of the alliteration — the double “sh” sound — in the title. But there’s also that catchy organ hook that follows each line in the song, arguably even more noticeable than the chorus hook.
- “Beat It” (Michael Jackson. 1982). Everyone knows this strong chorus hook, but the instrumental (guitar/bass) hook set up in the intro is crucial to building musical momentum.
- “Shake It Off” (Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback. 2014). Every section of this song has something that waves a flag, all woven together in a friendly competition for “Most Valuable Hook.” Take the time to listen to this, and notice that each section, from intro to verse, through the pre-chorus and then the chorus, shows off a powerful hook. The pre-chorus would work just fine as a chorus, but then gets supplanted by an even stronger section: the true chorus. It’s a great example of the multi-hook approach of today’s music.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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