Gary Ewer: Hooks and Riffs

New Songwriting eBook — And a FREE OFFER

[This article has been edited to reflect a new discount deal available at the Online Store.]

I’ve been quietly working on a new eBook for the past while, and it’s finally finished!

“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” is available now, as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Deluxe eBook Bundle. This is a limited time deal.

Read more about that deal here.

The eBook looks at exactly what’s going on when a songwriter “hooks” a listener. You’ll discover that hooks typically have 3 important components:

  1. The enticing melodic shape.
  2. The catchy rhythm
  3. The strong, short chord progression

But how do those three components combine to make something so enticing that listeners want to keep hearing it over and over again? It’s all a vital part of what makes most successful songs great.

“Hooks and Riffs” takes a close look at 15 different hit songs and examines the way they’ve used hooks to snag an audience and ensure their success.

It then gives you three step-by-step procedures for creating your own song hooks if good ideas are hard to come by.

An Excerpt:

It’s Hard to Resist Free Food

You’re walking down a street in your city, and pass by the local deli. As you can imagine, it’s the smells you notice first: the cured meats, mainly. Your salivary glands kick into action, and now you’re like a drooling dog on the prowl. You stop to look in the deli’s large display window, and it’s a feast for the eyes. Hanging hams, sausage links, sliced meats and cheeses on display. But… those prices. Who can afford these things anymore?

And then you see it – a tray with chunks of gorgeous pepperoni just inside the entrance, with a very inviting “help yourself” card perched on the edge. Well, who can resist free food? You can help yourself, and you don’t even have to buy anything. In fact, it would be wrong to not take advantage of that, you convince yourself.

Now you’re inside, chewing on morsels of pepperoni and glancing around the store. Just standing there eating makes you feel a bit self-conscious, so you move about the shop, pretending to be trying to make up your mind what you’re going to buy. But for you, you’ve got what you’ve come in for: free pepperoni.

Oh, look at those sausages. Well, it can’t hurt to buy a few. And look at this way: for a few dollars, you’d be getting a package of sausages and a few pieces of pepperoni. Surely that means you’ve snagged a pretty good deal. You buy the sausages, sneak one more piece of pepperoni, and you head out the door to continue on your way. And you make a mental note to return again soon; who knows what will be being offered on the “free” tray next time?

What a Good Deli Owner Knows

I’ve just described what a storeowner might do to attract potential buyers through the doors. And here are the things we learn from this experience:

1. Customers love good pepperoni, but are OK if it’s of mediocre quality. Since it’s free, they’re already pleased.

2. Customers find it easier to buy something from a store offering free pepperoni, since it makes them feel that they’re getting a good deal even before spending a penny.

3. No matter how good anything else in the store is, the free pepperoni is likely what they’ll remember long after they’ve forgotten everything else.

4. No matter how good the pepperoni is it won’t solve the bad paint job on the store sign. (But the pepperoni is still good, so…)

5. Customers will return occasionally to see if free pepperoni (or free anything else) is still being offered.

Since this is a book about songwriting, and specifically about song hooks, let’s pull this discussion about pepperoni into something more relevant.

Grabbing Attention

The pepperoni that the storeowner is selling is a hook. It’s what got the customer interested in entering the store, and that’s also what a good song hook does. Regardless of anything else, a good hook grabs attention. A listener may have heard of you, and may have even heard a song or two that you’ve streamed online. But a good hook will make them commit as a possible fan.

A song hook may not be overly clever, but its nature (and indeed its very importance) is to be first and foremost catchy. An effective song hook builds up trust between the listener and the performer-songwriter. Even if the listener is still trying to get used to your music, they’ll find the hook to be catchy, and they’re more willing to listen to whatever else you’ve got to offer.

Making Memories

Once the audience is done listening to your song, it’s the memory of that powerful hook that will keep bringing them back. Long after everything else about the song has been forgotten, memory of the hook will remain. And remember, it’s the aspect of trust that’s important with a hook. Give the audience a nice, solid, catchy hook, and you’ve gone a long way to making a pleasant memory, one that will make it more likely they’ll come back.

A good song hook has the ability to make listeners ignore other potential problems with a song. A good example of this is the out-of-tune singing on the Beach Boys’ version of “Barbara Ann.” Of course, the whole song is done in fun, at a studio party. That hook is every musician’s dream. Just start singing “Bar bar bar bar Barbara Ann”, and everyone knows it, and everyone loves it. The bad tuning in the vocals would never usually have been tolerated by any good musician, or in any other recording session, except for that hook that makes everything else seem less important somehow.

Once you’ve snagged an audience for your hook, you’ve got them “in the door”, so to speak. Listeners will come back to hear what else you have to offer, and that’s the beginning of building a fan base. So as you can see, it’s not really much different in the music business than it is in the cured meats business: get people through the door, and you’ve done the most important thing.

Right now, all 10 of my songwriting eBooks (including this one) are available on the purchase page as part of the 10-eBook Deluxe Bundle. Now and for a limited time, that bundle has been discounted by $10 USD.

Read more

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages look at songwriting from every angle, and have been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.

Posted in Miscellaneous, songwriting and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Pingback: For Guitarists: Guitar Hacks – Weeding Through the Fluff | The Essential Secrets of Songwriting

  2. Hi Gary, Your blog and newsletter are awesome. I purchased your ebook set this past July.

    Is your new book on Hooks free for people who have already purchased your ebook set?


    • Hi Jim:

      Thanks so much, and I am very pleased you like the blog. 🙂 Just to help me manage things, the new ebook is presently being offered to new purchasers only, but a special deal will soon be offered to previous purchasers of the bundle, as I always do when I release something new. That deal will be available in a few days.

      Thanks again, Jim!

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