Writing a good hook is something many musicians will shy away from boldly proclaiming they understand. Perhaps – it’s because musicians and songwriters often feel like a brilliant breakthrough is rare, and difficult to achieve.
But I was curious.
If there’s one thing that defines writing a good hook – what is it? Even though creativity often feels like a burst of inspiration, what can someone do to instigate more of that kind of breakthrough?
Here are some of the insights I got back from some of the most brilliant musicians I know.
“A good hook grabs your attention and compels you to listen.”
Elliot Weiner – Drummer / Songwriter
“In the modern media environment, in which people are inundated with an endless stream of new sights and sounds, it is a massive challenge to find something attention-grabbing. There are a couple of time-tested methods that serve as standard advice: (1) keep things simple and find an idea that captures the essence of what you’re trying to say without extra bullshit; (2) strike a good balance between familiarity and novelty. Simplicity makes it easier to pay attention and easier to resonate with people. Familiarity does the same. Novelty, on the other hand, makes your material stand out from the crowd.
These ideas capture common elements of good hooks, but the more important question concerns the deeper creative process underlying all of this. Here, I think it boils down to three ingredients: inspiration, intentional execution, and authenticity. Moments of inspiration grab us, elevate our experience in the world, and make us feel something that transcends daily experience. But inspiration isn’t enough, by itself.
We need to follow through with this inspiration, using a careful process of intentional execution. That may involve paring things down to find the simplest expression of that inspired feeling. It might also involve elaboration to explore all of the implications and possibilities that follow from that inspiration. This might involve a lot of revision, self-doubt, and opportunities for personal growth. Because this is a continuous process, it is hard to know when anyone idea is “complete.”
I believe that this is where authenticity comes in. Authenticity is about being true to your self. A focus on authenticity allows you to hone in on ideas that feel most honest. Once you have an idea that is inspired, well executed, and authentically put it out in the world! Music is a communication of our emotions and our experiences. If these communications are inspired, well executed, and authentic, they will resonate with people. Then it’s just a matter of finding your audience.”
“What’s the one thing you want them to remember if they forget everything else?”
Ryan Gaskill – Rock Singer / Songwriter
“A good hook is important. And it can come in many forms. From a short, memorable passage, to an elongated build working its way up to a dramatic climax. The biggest thing to remember is that this embodies the big takeaway to the audience. What are you trying to say? What’s the one thing you want them to remember if they forget everything else?
For me, I start by writing one sentence. It doesn’t have to be long, in fact, the shorter the better. What’s important is that it has weight. It means something. It matters to me. From here, I can forge the rest of the song around that one sentence. Giving that one sentence depth, and color.
“This one demonstrates the point well. The hook is me saying “I’m waiting, waiting…” – Not even a complete sentence”
“Sustained, Intense Desire”
Lucas Ebert – Country Singer / Songwriter
“My one proven method is simply this… Sustained, intense Desire. A good hook requires methods. A great hook requires magic. If you google ‘How to write a hook’ you can easily find 100 methods. But, no one seems to have the answer on exactly how to write a great hook other than this: sitting in front of a piece of paper with indubitable earnestness until you finally open up the pipeline between your conscious mind and the other dimension, the muse, you unconscious, or whatever you’d like to call it.
And that’s it.
The methods are well trodden. If you look into the story of the hero’s journey. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to The Avengers they all follow the same basic format. Technically, it seems like then all you’d need to do to write a hit are to follow those forms. But, people try and fail at that most of the time. In my opinion, what separates those that simply follow the forms versus those that access real magic is this: Sustained, Intense Desire.”
Lucas Eberts gorgeous ‘Old No. 7’:
“One, two , three, four shots and I’m set free, five and I come alive, six and I see the light of a black label heaven… thank god for old number seven” -Old no 7
I’m 100% grateful for my talented friends above that decided to contribute to this article – I also wanted to share my thoughts, and give you some idea of why I feel like these concepts relate very closely to what we do as an agency.
“A good hook makes you feel like a hero as you sing along”
A good hook seems to cut through the noise, and get stuck in your brain. It makes you get wrapped up in it, and take it on as your embodying force. “Love is – what I got” – by Sublime makes you feel like the hero of your own story, as you sing along.
I like to think about my 17-year-old self, feeling understood listening. It also allows me to write for ONE PERSON. “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”― Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box.
This is probably one of the better examples of a hook I wrote that embodies some of this feeling.
“We all, we all – lookin’ for answers. We all – would kill for the truth. We all, we all – know the secret. We all, we all, know we’re small.”
Why does any of this matter for our marketing agency?
Writing a good hook might not seem on the service like it matters for a marketing agency…
But so many of the same principles of creating an effective hook for a song, apply to creating a slogan, a tagline, or an overarching emotional idea and persuading through marketing.
If you can get it stuck in their head – you’re halfway there.
Thanks for reading! Go support these singer-songwriters and musicians!