We all know the importance of a hook in a song. Anything unique or interesting that a listener can remember after just one listen can be considered a hook, whether it’s a catchy melody, a ‘killer line’ in the lyric, or something strong or unique in the arrangement.
Quite literally, these are the aspects of a song that ‘hook’ themselves in the listeners mind, it’s the vocal or instrumental part you just can’t forget. Lee Mavers of the La’s, who wrote ‘There She Goes’, has the various hooks of this catchy little track to thank for his continuing royalty cheques from radio play, covers and ad campaigns worldwide. So be crafty with your hooks.
Hooks can be anything, from chorus melody to bass line or silly synth riff. Here are a couple of tracks that start with different types of hooks.
In terms of arrangement, a hook can be used in more than one way. It’s a classic arranging technique to have the main vocal melody played by instruments too for example. To go way back in time, Frank Sinatra’s ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’, arranged by the legendary Nelson Riddle, opens with the vocal melody played by a delicate piano/celeste layer, it has a breakdown section which features the vocal melody, played on strings, and very little else, and a fragment of the melody is used again, once more on celeste, to finish the song. You’ll never forget the tune after all that! (This track also yields another arranging hint: echoing the song’s lyrics with the arrangement. When Frank sings the line “down to my shoes”, the string line descends to match, reinforcing the lyrics subliminally.
As implied by the above, repetition is a good thing in pop music, even though many consider that a lot of current hit tracks take the principle to extremes! If you’ve created a good riff or clever part, making sure to use it at least two or three times will help create a feeling of continuity. However, if you want a track that doesn’t become boring, repetition has to be balanced with novel ideas.
When you listen back to your arrangement you should be asking yourself whether something new happens often enough to stimulate new interest, and also whether the best bits of the track are repeated sufficiently often for them to become lodged in the mind of the listener. This is what we call here the energy of a song.
You can’t over emphasise how important hooks are in a song. No matter what style of music you are writing, even if you are not intending to write overtly commercial music, your songs must include hooks. Everyone wants their songs to be remembered by their audience, right?
How To Arrange Your Hooks
But, where should these hooks fit in my song? How many hooks should I use? Can’t I just have one hook and then repeat it over and over, that would surely be memorable, wouldn’t it? Every song has a sense of a flow of energy in it. Put simply, it is this flow that keeps our interest in the song, which in turn enables us to enjoy it. This energy is simply a metaphor for the flow of interesting things in a song: too fast and you can tire your listener too early, they’ll switch off. Too slow and you’ll bore your listener, they’ll switch off too.
Getting this energy thing right takes practice and experience, but here are some tips to help you along the way:
- Get your hooks in early! You can even afford to start your song with the chorus, maybe an instrumental version of it.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat the good bits in your song. After all, they’re the bits people like. Don’t over do it though, you must have a very good reason to repeat your chorus three times in the middle of your song. There is a kind of optimum number of repetitions of a part you must use in your song: too few choruses and your song will feel incomplete, too many and you will annoy your audience. Trial and error applies here.
- Keep it simple, stupid! Your audience does not care how clever you are, get over it and write something musically concise and clear.
- You can have more than one hook. In fact, the more the better. But don’t get too complicated (see above), and don’t confuse your audience.
- Light and shade. You need contrast in your song so that the loud bits sound loud, the fast bits sound fast and the quiet bits sound quiet. Nirvana made a whole career out of this (they copied it from The Pixies of course, but a good idea is a good idea).
- Get help! Often, musicians can lose all perspective and objectivity on their song as they have been working on it for hours (or days. More than that, then in my experience its time to stop and move on to something else, like plumbing). Play your song to someone whose opinions you trust, be open to suggestions or just their overall impression. They’ll often say something like “I don’t know anything about making music”, but you have to reassure them that any constructive comments they have will be well received. After all, most of your audience will know nothing about producing music either.
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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂
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