MIMO - When Music is Your Fix

What Is a Hook, and Why Do You Need One?

The following is adapted from an article I wrote for The Developing Artist. As both a music enthusiast and a songwriter, I understand the need for a good hook in a song, and in my own writing, I always try to include something in the song that makes the listener want to keep listening. The word “hook” seems to come with some negative baggage among DIY musicians, especially those who consider themselves “alternative” or counter-culture who don’t want to be tied down to restrictions. But as you read on below, you may discover that a hook isn’t always what you think it is, and regardless of genre, pretty much every song could use one. Enjoy!

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When I say that a song needs a “hook”, it often makes the fur bristle on the necks of  alt-indie musician types. “What?” they say. “Hooks are about pop music! We’re not into crappy pop music! What’s this guy trying to do? Sell-out! Mother…”  (I could go on, but it just gets ugly from there.)

It’s true enough that hooks are associated with pop and pop-rock , and because of this, I think there could be some confusion about what a “hook” really is in a song. I don’t know how you define it, but by my definition, no song in any genre gets much attention unless it has some sort of hook.  So perhaps we should get away from the pop music bias and just talk about what a hook really is. I could probably cite some famous source with what they say it is, but I want to be totally self-indulgent and tell you my own definition for “hook”.  Ready?  Here goes:

A hook is any element of a song that makes the listener want to hear it again.

There.  That’s simple enough, isn’t it?  Not one word about “pop music” in there, either.

You see, we typically think of a “hook” as that catchy melodic line or lyric in the chorus of a pop song–and yes, that’s a hook. But it’s only one kind of hook.  I don’t know about you, but there are lots of different things a song can do that make me want to come back for more.  It could be a guitar riff, or a rhythm pattern, or a meaningful lyric, or a section of the song where the passion is just unbridled, or any of a number of other things.  The hook could be repetitive, or just happen once. But whatever the hook is, it will draw the listener back–and that’s what makes the listner want to own it, or hear it again and again on the radio.  And the stronger the hook is, the more spin time the song is going to get on the listener’s personal playlist.

Can you see now why every good song should have one?  Everyone wants their song to be listened to. It doesn’t matter if the genre is pop, country, indie, rockabilly, emo, or screamo; if you write a song, you want people to listen to it, not just once, but over and over again.  Whatever it is about that song that makes people want to do that–that’s the hook.  At least, in my opinion. Get it?

So if you’re working on writing songs, start by asking yourself what sorts of things draw you back to a particular kind of song.  Those are the clues you need to help you figure out what makes a good hook for whatever genre you’re writing in.

“Hook” may be a four-letter word, but it’s not nearly as bad a word for indie or alternative musicians as you think it is.  In fact, for any songwriter, the hook is your friend.

So what about you?  What makes you want to listen to a particular song again?  What hooks you?


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

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