Making Catchy Hooks In Your Songs


Today we’re going to talk about a topic
that in some ways is a follow up to the Melody Writing tutorial we recently did. In other ways… it’s not. We’re going to attempt to define a set of
guidelines for how you can incorporate hooks into your songs and melodies. I can hear some of you already saying, “hooks
and melodies? Those are the same thing, right?” Well not really… but yeah sometimes.. You see, a hook is nothing more than a metaphorical
term for the special thing that makes catchy music well… catchy… If we consider the listener on the other end
of our creative output we have a delicate balance to strike. The recipe for catchy music is equal parts
predictability and unpredictability. And if that seems at odds to you – it is. And really that’s the beautiful thing that
makes music kinda special. We’re connecting with listeners by both
sharing a reliable experience, while surprising them at the same time. If we were to extend our hook metaphor…
the predictable elements might be the bait that lures our listeners into the song through
familiarity but it’s the hook that catches them. Of course, a strong melody is still a great
thing to have. But today let’s look at some hook techniques
to either modify your melodies or accompany them.. Technique #1: Give ‘em something to shout
about I once saw an interview with a songwriter
who summed up her definition of a hook pretty simply. She said, “A hook is the thing the audience
shouts when you play live.” To illustrate this let’s revisit an instrumental
that we’ve already seen in our mixing tutorial on High Pass and Low Pass filters. Remember this song? Today we’ve added a top line melody to go
over that instrumental. Here’s how it sounds. And we’ve written some lyrics to replace
that piano melody. The melody is nice but if we imagined playing
this song in front of a crowd it doesn’t work with our songwriter’s rule… there’s
nothing really for the audience to shout. And it’s for this reason that you’ll often
hear seemingly arbitrary shoutable hooks in songs. These appear in songs for one great reason:
they work. They engage the listener. Check out this clip from the band NOFX playing
a show in Monterrey, Mexico. That shouting shows the audience is hooked. With that in mind, let’s try adding a simple
shout to our song. Artists like The Lumineers employ this trick
very successfully. I’ve downloaded two samples of people shouting
Hey from freesound.org. This one… and this one… I’ll pan them for some stereo separation…
and then I’ll duplicate the tracks and transpose the samples a bit so our chorus of Heys sounds
bigger and like a mix of genders and ages… you know, kinda like a crowd at a live show. Check out our song now. I defy you to listen to this and not want to
shout along with the Hey, even if it’s just in your head while you’re listening. That’s what hooks do. The melody gives us a familiar, the hook provides
that element of surprise. But okay that’s a simple gimmick, even if
it is effective… Let’s check out a more involved way to add
hooks that integrate those surprise elements within the melody. Here’s simple enough song I’ve got going… I’ve used a Scales & Chords Player to create
Sine Pluck chords… I’ve got some drums… and a bass line using
Fancy Bass in the Reason 9 sounds… Overtop of that I’ve worked out the start
of a melody line… and that leads me to hook technique #2: Repeat melody phrases. To understand this one, let’s look at a
simplified piano example for a second. I’ve got this very simple chord progression…
and this very simple melody. To make this melody a little more catchy we
can actually make it more repetitive by getting rid of the second half and repeating the notes
that occur over the first two chords over the second two chords. Now consider what this accomplishes… for
one thing it’s familiar because we’ve just heard it but it also surprises us because
the same notes over different chords have a different harmonic tonality… that is to
say they feel different. But you might notice a little too much repetition
bothers our ear. If we change our last note, however, we end
up with a simple pleasant variation… And from there we have something of a hook
to move forward with lyrics for example. But anyway, let’s shift back to our electronic
idea and apply the same principles. I’ve got this melody over the first half…
let’s repeat over the second half.. And just like our simple piano example, this
repetition is harmonically interesting but we might want to alter our last note. Alright… that gives us a melody which has
a repetition hook in it. Now let’s punch it up with Technique #3:
Punctuation is catchy. Remember that clip of NOFX playing live? Whether they knew it or not, they combined
our Tehnique #1: shout it out, with Technique #3: punctuation. And there’s no doubt the audience has responded
to their hook. But punctuation hooks that get stuck in your
head aren’t limited to shouts. But you already know that if you’ve ever
offered someone to stand under your umbrella-ella-ella. Let’s apply punctuation to our melody. This long held sustained note is prime territory
for punctuating. Our synth is a monophonic so we don’t even
need to shorten the underlying note. I’ll just draw in some short staccato notes
high above my melody. Let’s start an octave above. Okay… how about something a little lower. That’s it. Now this is where personal taste comes into
things but for my sense I’d like to modify the end of that phrase to help bridge the
high punctuation with the lower resolution. So I’ll move this note below the melody…
allowing us to undershoot, then overshoot, and finally settle into the end of our phrase. Okay! Now that’s kinda hooky… compare that to
the more boring second half which has no punctuation. So let’s punctuate the second half too. Now, there’s no science to this but since
we went above the melody on the first half we’ll go below the melody on the second
half. And since our first punctuations were one
the beat let’s make our second ones off the beat. I’m liking where this is going but here
I’m going to go rogue and delete the rest of the repetition motif. It’s just not jiving with my new off-beat
punctuations. Instead I’m going to take a moment and explore
some different notes to finish our our staccato phrase. This is partially trial and error. But one thing that makes this process much
easier is if we put a Scales & Chords Player above our instrument, set it to the same scale
as our backing chords, and turn off the chords switch. Now all the experimentation we do is with
notes that fit our key. After playing around a bit… we’ve got
this. And yes, that’s quite different than the
literal repetition we started with but if we play our whole phrase you can sense the
repetition motif surviving along with our new punctuation hook techniques. Since we’re already headed in this direction,
I think it’s time we explore Technique #4: Get weird. This is an open ended rule… but weird…
is good. Do you think Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off
began with with just drums and baritone saxophone in mind? Do you think Imogen Heap wrote Hide and Seek,
knowing exactly what a harmonizer would do to her voice? No, she didn’t. The fact is that playing around isn’t just
interesting for the creator. The result is interesting for the listener. So let’s play around. Since our hook is played on a synthesizer,
the obvious place to get weird is some knob or setting on our synth. And to make today’s example obvious and
understandable, let’s go with the pitch wheel. I’ll open up this instrument combinator
and modify the synthesizer inside so that our pitch bend range goes from a modest two
semi-tones to a more extreme twelve semitones. Now we have a full two octave range from top
to bottom on our pitch wheel to bend our notes. We’ll create an automation note lane for
our pitch wheel by right clicking and choosing Edit Automation. And let’s draw a pitch wheel dive at the
end of our first phrase… like this… we could, of course, decide to go slower… or
faster. Hearing it faster like that makes me want
to add some more… so let’s make two more automation clips, one that goes up on the
second to last note of the phrase… and one that goes down on the last note. You see what I mean? It’s weird… but oddly catchy. Let’s add similar pitch dives to the end
of our second phrase to help us serve both masters – the unpredictable but also the predictable. So as you can see, the the concept of hooks
is an ongoing pursuit of experimentation plus trial and error. Hopefully today you’ve got some ideas you
can try in your own music making. As with all things in music, sometimes we
learn techniques and rules just so we know how to break them. And by all means… break all the rules. It is, after all, the only way music moves
forward. So good luck going forward and I’ll see
you soon.

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