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In Songwriting, It’s Never Too Late For Easter Eggs

In the software industry, an “easter egg” is a hidden feature that only becomes visible when certain keys are pressed, or when the cursor passes over a certain part of the screen. It’s become an attribute of many programs, and it’s meant to be an entertaining add-on to the program.

People like discovering easter eggs because it’s like stumbling on a bit of treasure without even knowing that it’s there in the first place.

Hooks and RiffsSongwriters are very familiar with the chorus hook, but there are other kinds to experiment with, and you will want to discover the power of layering various kinds of hooks in the same song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ shows you how it’s done.

There is a way in which songwriting can provide you with a similar opportunity to insert hidden features into music, even if we don’t typically use the term easter egg. Using a sample — a bit of recorded music from another artist — in the construction of a new song might be considered a kind of hidden feature, and it’s very common in the industry.

You might hide a different kind of feature, for example, putting together an instrumental track by assembling bits, note (or chord) by note. Example: “Love of My Life” (Freddie Mercury) uses a harp introduction that was created by Brian May pasting together single harp notes, chords and glissandos, so that it sounds as if it’s being played by a harpist.

Easter eggs within songs can be a great way to keep your fan base looking for something interesting from you. They think they’ve heard everything there is to hear in a song, and then suddenly they discover something they hadn’t noticed before.

I remember discovering that the last four brass section notes of Stravinsky’s epic ballet score, “The Firebird”, are the same as the first four notes in the bass section. I discovered this probably 5 years after first hearing this work, and it was exciting to know that I could still discover things after so many years of listening.

If you’re interested in trying to hide easter eggs within your songs, here are some ideas to try:

  1. Reverse a verse melody to create your chorus melody. Take your verse melody, and whenever it moves down, create a chorus melody by moving up by the same (or almost the same) intervals.
  2. Reverse a chord progression from a well known song. Take a song you love, and see if you can get the progression to sound good by moving backwards.
    Example: Dm  Fmaj7 Bb  G7  Dm (“Southern Man” – Neil Young) becomes: Dm  G7  Bb  Fmaj7  Dm.
  3. Hide something in the lyric. This might be grabbing a bit of famous lyric, then modifying it for your own song, or using famous lyrics backwards. Doing something that won’t be immediately noticeable is often best, as it makes it less likely that your fans will discover it right away. And modifying it will be important, since it’s not legal to simply use someone else’s lyric as is.
  4. Borrow a melody from a classical work, or some other public domain song. Be careful — as with lyrics, it may seem clever to borrow a melody, but if it’s protected by copyright, you’ll have problems of the legal kind. Using public domain melodies (folk songs, classical tunes) can be a good way to find good melodies when you’re own creative abilities feel a bit lacking.

The more obscure you make your hidden features, the better will be the effect. If it takes people years, let’s say, to discover that you’ve cleverly hidden some feature of your song, the discovery of that easter egg becomes all the more powerful.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process,” along with a Study Guide. Learn how to make the writing of a good lyric the starting point for your own songwriting method.

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