Excerpted from Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com
Ever had a commercial jingle running through your head, keeping you awake at night, or just generally driving you crazy? Getting rid of it is like getting rid of the hiccups-no one is exactly sure how to do it but there are plenty of crazy remedies. We all want to avoid those annoying repeating loops!
So what's the difference between a song hook that keeps running through your head and a jingle that's driving you nuts? Not much if it's a banal hook line from a song you don't like. However, there's a big difference if the hook evokes the emotional world of a song, especially a song you do like. This is what you want your hook to do so I'm going to suggest that you turn your hook into a mini-version of your song, offering listeners a taste, a reminder of what they enjoyed, and making them want to listen again.
Focus on the song's central emotion
To ensure your hook conveys the central emotional message of your song take a minute to write a sentence that sums up what your song is about. Make it a simple statement in the plainest possible terms. Now, write your hook lyric next to it. Is it saying the same thing? In Rascal Flatts' "What Hurts the Most" the title of the song is the hook. The song lyric focuses on hurt and how the singer copes with it in those moments that are most painful. So, when listeners recall the hook-"what hurts the most"-it pulls them right back into the song's emotional theme.
Give us a summary of the situation
Try a hook line that gives listeners a taste of the whole story in miniature. For example, in Avril Lavigne's hit "Complicated," the hook asks, "Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?" The song lyric describes what happens in a relationship as one character goes through changes that shake up the status quo, making things, well, complicated. The hook line evokes the singer's dilemma as well as her feelings of frustration drawing listeners right back into the song.
Emphasize the message of the song
Underline the most important aspect of your theme in the hook line. In Trace Adkins' Country hit "You're Gonna Miss This," the verses and bridge are tightly focused on three separate moments in a lifetime with little to indicate what the songwriters want us to learn from them. That's left to the hook line which sums up the message and drives it home.
Know what your song is really about
As you can see, to write a knockout hook, you need to know what your song is really about at its core. This may sound obvious. Of course you know what your song is about don't you?
Sometimes songwriters figure things out as they go along, so the theme tends to drift a little. Or they bend their theme to include lines that don't really belong. However, if you're going to feature a compact hook line that sums up the entire song, then the song needs to be tightly focused around a clearly defined theme. It takes discipline and rewriting to keep your message on target. Go through your song and make sure that every line leads back to your hook, even those inspired lines you're in love with! Any line that isn't tightly woven into the song's central message needs to be replaced. You can always use those great but off-topic lines in other songs.
Song Construction by John Braheny