I’ve got several analogies I like to use to represent what’s going on when we write songs. Sometimes I find it useful to compare it to going for a walk or a short journey. That’s a useful comparison because it emphasizes the fact that, like taking a walk, we are aware that songs have a beginning and an end, needing lots of interesting landmarks (chords, hook, melodies, etc.) along the way.
Sometimes I like to compare songwriting to climbing a mountain. That’s an especially useful analogy if you find the task of writing to be daunting. It reminds us that, no matter how high the mountain, the task is always the same: put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Regardless of the difficulty, climbing a mountain is always one foot in front of the other.
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Sticking with that mountain analogy: let’s say that you were climbing a mountain with your smartphone, but you only have enough battery power left to take one shot. What picture do you take?
No doubt you’ll take a picture of the peak of the mountain, no matter how interesting anything else about your climb is. No matter how you got to the top, that mountaintop is the goal — the representation of your achievement, regardless of how difficult/splendorous anything else about your climb has been.
The Mountain’s Peak: The Song’s Hook
Now think about songwriting: if you were to offer one moment to your audience — one moment that represents your song — what would you show? You’d likely offer the hook. It’s that one snapshot that tells everyone what every other aspect of your song is pointing to.
That’s an apt analogy because good songs, no matter how excellent all the different parts are, have one defining aspect that grabs attention more than any other. That one defining aspect, especially for songs in the pop genres, is the hook.
For every song you write, you should be able to point to one element within that song that stands out above everything else, no matter how good everything else is. Because a chorus hook is the most common type of hook we use, just the mention of a hit song’s title should cause us to immediately start singing the chorus.
So if you’re finishing up your next song, you need to record it, even in a barebones state with a simple guitar accompaniment, and be able to identify at least one element within that song that’s designed to grab attention.
If you can’t do that, your next step is to dig back into your song and find a moment that has potential, and modify or edit it so that you’ve got something strong and hook-like that can grab an audience’s attention. That’s going to be your song’s snapshot — the moment that represents what every other aspect of your song points to.
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