3 Tips For Pitching Your Songs to Recording Artists

[Editors Note: This article was written by Chelsea Ira.]

 

There are a lot of revenue streams available to songwriters, but today let’s focus on getting your songs cut by recording artists. This is something you see a lot in songwriter-hubs like Nashville, but you can pursue this kind of publishing income from anywhere, even if you’re just starting to make a name for yourself as a songwriter.

Today, I’m going to cover a few best practices that will help you move up in the songwriting industry. The world of songwriting can notoriously feel pretty closed off, so I’m going to focus on a few tips that will help you get your foot in the door.

Pitching Your Song – What Does it Mean?

Okay, first thing’s first, what does it actually mean to pitch your song to recording artists? Essentially, you (the songwriter) are licensing your song to a recording artist – you’re granting them the right to record and release your song in exchange for some payment.

Of course, in most cases this is a license, so you still own the song. That means, in addition to the publishing income, you’ll also get backend performance royalties any time their recording is played in public. In other words, this is something that can become a great source of recurring income.

1. Start Small and Climb the Ladder

Every songwriter dreams of getting their songs cut by some big-time recording artist. And while a big goal like that is an awesome thing to strive for, it may not be the best place to start. I want to avoid the “big break” mentality and instead focus on building up to success one-step at a time.

Let’s think about the numbers here… an extremely popular recording artist might get thousands of song pitches as they’re gearing up to release a new album. Going by statistics alone, standing out in that stack of songs is extremely difficult (especially if you have no connections to give you a recommendation).

It’s easy to get discouraged in these kinds of situations, and those little rejections can really slow down your momentum and your confidence.

Instead, let’s start small and build up little wins that will get your name (and your songs) out in the industry!

Do some research and target some smaller, up-and-coming recording artists and bands and pitch your songs to them. These guys are always looking for a great song that will get them noticed and if they start breaking into the bigger league with your song, your music is going to start getting attention from other recording artists and labels. It’s a win-win.

Of course, you have your reputation as a songwriter to consider as well, so really spend a lot of time on the research phase. You want to find musicians and bands that are dedicated and in it for the long run. Plus you need to make sure they will do your song justice.

2. Build Your Network

I think this point can often be overlooked, but as a songwriter you may not have a typical artist-fan structure for your career. Instead, you’re pitching your songs directly to recording artists and publishers should you choose to work with one – almost in more of a B2B (business to business) format. And that means, your network and your connections are everything.

A great way to build your web of connections in the publishing industry is to co-write with other songwriters. I know, you ultimately want to get to publishers and recording artists, but your relationships with songwriters can be a gateway to those connections.

You need to make sure your rights to any co-written song are protected, and for that, we recommend filling out a split sheet. A split sheet is a simple document that you and your co-writers fill out for each song you write together. It includes basic information like percentage ownership, PRO and publisher affiliation, and contact information. Most labels will want this kind of information before they move forward with any song, so it’s best to have everything down on paper from the start.

3. Relevancy is Key

Most recording artists want to use songs they can personally relate to – both musically and lyrically. Simply put, a pop singer probably won’t want to record a country song about growing up on a farm in Montana when her childhood was spent in busy New York. Relevancy is key.

With this in mind, it’s best to know as much as you can about the recording artists you want to pitch. Do your research, know their musical style, become familiar with their catalog of recordings, read interviews, and check out their bio to see if you have a song that might be a good fit.

When in doubt, opt for songs that deal with more universal themes that anyone can relate to – you know, love, loss, relationships, struggle.

If you think you have some songs with potential, only send those tracks along. A targeted, well-thought-out pitch will have a much bigger impact than spamming them with your whole catalog.


Chelsea Ira is the Director of Marketing at New Artist Model.

The 3 Biggest Business Missteps DIY Musicians Make

[Editors Note: This was written by Suzanne Paulinski.]

 

As the music industry evolves, more and more responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of independent musicians who wish to build a sustainable career in music. In order to do that, they must embrace their role as CEO of their own business.

For many, this is a dreaded role they would have preferred never to fill. After all, we tend to shy away from things that don’t come naturally to us and if one’s passion and talents lie in creative endeavors, spending time with spreadsheets and business plans doesn’t exactly sound like a walk in the park.

While there is a lot to learn about the business, there are 3 major missteps DIY musicians make when setting out to build their career that can trip them up, no matter the tools and resources they have at their disposal.

#1: They spend money on the wrong things

All too often I have musicians approach me and say, “I want to work with you, but all my money needs to go to recording my next album.” Now, for some, that may make sense.

If they have an engaged following, songs that are ready to record, and plans to leverage that album by booking shows and gaining more press – awesome! Then investing in studio time serves their goal and they should move forward.

However, if they’re spending money in the studio just so they can tell people they’re back in the studio, while in reality they’re paying to sit and write songs that aren’t ready to record, and they’re not at all sure what they’ll do with the album once it’s done, maybe that’s not the best use of their money.

I’m not saying it should all go to a career coach, but one has to ask, “What will serve me right now in my career? What’s holding me back the most? What will make a difference in my efforts moving forward?”

If you’re unclear on your goals – get a coach. If you’re failing horribly at social media, take a class. If you’ve got great songs but your vocals are weak, invest in voice lessons. Being the CEO of your career means taking charge and doing what’s right for the future of that career.

#2: They focus on building a team too soon

Much like the misstep with money, many musicians put an endless amount of energy into seeking management, or fail to book a tour for themselves because they’re convinced they can’t get the gigs they want without proper representation.

There is very little one can’t do on their own in this industry. There is a distinct difference between “can’t” and “don’t know how.” While one term is definitively limiting, the other indicates that one can eventually succeed with the right tools and knowledge.

Obviously, with everything that a musician has on their plate, the thought of a team to carry out what needs to get done seems like the answer to their problems. However, what ends up happening is that they spend time pitching managers and booking agents rather than booking shows and engaging fans.

Managers and booking agents then turn the artist down, after being unable to see any action from the artist’s career to warrant their help.

If you’re hitting roadblocks in your efforts to book shows or grow your fanbase, do some research or enroll in a reputable online course to learn better tactics.

If you’re completely overwhelmed with little time to accomplish what needs to be done, look into hiring a virtual assistant (or outsource on Fiverr/Task Rabbit) who can help take care of the day-to-day administrative tasks while you focus on bigger picture goals.

An assistant doesn’t need to see a certain level of followers or performance history before jumping on board. Build until there is something formidable for someone else to manage. Let them seek you out, they’ll know when you’re ready.

#3: They try to learn too much at once

Gary Vaynerchuk, as well as many other successful entrepreneurs, often warns that a lack of patience is the ultimate downfall for many who try to follow their dreams. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Much like building a team, you must use the same advice above when it comes to building up your knowledge of the industry.

Too often musicians begin learning about one aspect of the business and then lose focus because they heard someone mention something else that was “super important” so they switch their focus to learning that bit of magic, until someone else comes along and mentions the next “up and coming” piece of industry know-how and then it’s onto that new focus.

In the end, they are left with information overload and a very low retention of skills and knowledge. Success is comprised of healthy habits. Habits take time to form. Trying to learn all of the industry’s “secrets to success” at once is a fool’s errand.

Decide what is a priority right now for the next phase of your career. Figure out what resources you have to carry out the tasks required as well as what’s still needed. Seek out the information and tools necessary to move you forward and nothing more.

If you happen to download an ebook or resource that doesn’t serve your current focus, save it in a folder for later. Finish tasks. Move forward. Reassess. Learn more.

There is no one way to building a successful career, as success is defined by the person pursuing it, but there is a right way. Hopefully avoiding these missteps will allow you to focus more energy directly on the goals you’ve set out to achieve, rather than allowing your energy to splinter off into unrelated paths.


Suzanne Paulinksi is an artist consultant with over 10 years in the music industry and owner of The Rock/Star Advocate

The Misery Myth: Why a Self-Destructive Attitude Won’t Improve Your Songwriting

[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]

No matter how gratifying songwriting can be, making meaningful music and sharing it with the world is often tedious, thankless and discouraging. With that in mind, it’s no wonder so many artists associate emotional pain represented by addiction, depression and other self-destructive habits with songwriting gains. But while it might be tempting to liken the economy of songwriting to a bank where the more misery you put in the greater the songwriting returns, it’s just not true.

The Misery Myth

From modern songwriting greats like Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse to legendary musicians active all throughout the 20th century like John Coltrane and Bix Beiderbecke, misery has been associated with musical genius for a long time.

Some of the world’s most influential songwriters have fought and lost battles with addiction and depression on the world stage, so it only makes sense that music fans and songwriters equate self-destruction with songwriting talent and potency. And because the fact that pure, unbridled sadness is something everyone longs to relate to in music has never changed, the misery myth continues to persist and thrive today.

Recognizing the Problem

The fact that lots of phenomenal musicians have tragically succumbed to their own self-destructive behaviors doesn’t mean that misery is an essential ingredient for meaningful songwriting. There’s no telling what sort of music Elliott Smith would be making now if he were still alive today. Misery didn’t enhance his legacy, it ended it.

It’s time to recognize this problem for what it really is. Glamorizing self-destruction is foolish, destructive and completely disrespectful of musicians who’ve died battling their personal demons.

Music fans and songwriters alike have a habit of holding up a few examples of depressed, self-destructive musicians as sacred musical role models while ignoring the overwhelmingly vast majority of artists with the same behaviors who never became successful.

The truth is, things like substance addiction, depression and mental illness make it nearly impossible for musicians to create music. The great songwriters we associate with misery, self-harm and addiction somehow managed to musically thrive in spite of their demons, not because of them.

Rather than imitating and fetishizing self-destruction, if you want to become a great songwriter like Kurt Cobain, songwriters should try defining what it is they really admire about him.

Separating the Music From the Myth

Things like talent, musical intuition and consistent hard work are what make songwriters great.

And while dramatic stories about addiction and suicide often elevate artists to a legendary status, a songwriter’s legacy is built off their music, not their tragedy. Misery will only hurt you as a songwriter and as a functioning human being. If you want to thrive as a musician and writer, you’ll have to learn how to write great music. Using self-harm and destruction as tools to relate and connect with your listeners will only end up making true, impactful music a more difficult and remote goal to achieve.

Creating meaningful music over the long term is almost impossible without taking care of yourself. That’s something that isn’t discussed much in our culture for the simple fact that it’s less dramatic and sexy as the misery myth, but it’s true. It’s absolutely possible to emotionally resonate with listeners while being healthy and centered.

In fact, that’s a position the majority of musicians working today operate from. If every songwriter in the music industry was perpetually high, suicidal and on the brink of death, the world would have much less music. If you want to make meaningful music, misery in all its forms something important to write about, but it alone just isn’t capable of doing the job.


Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.

2018 Tour Goals: Fly Passport-Free to Play These Two Island Cities with Incredible DIY Scenes

[Editors Note: This article was written by Jhoni Jackson, a music journalist and San Juan, Puerto Rico-based music venue owner.]

 

If you think living on a island is a tropical, sunny breeze, please exit the #islandvibes hashtag on Instagram immediately. All those beautiful beachside backdrops will leave you tripping over tropes; yes, the scenery can be jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but you’re not getting the whole picture.

The reality of #islandlife is less picturesque: Islands are more likely to be impoverished, experience drastic income inequality, struggle with food security, and in some cases, they also endure the worst of natural disasters—complicating existing conditions and disrupting the tourism industry on which so many island economies rely, albeit to varying degrees.

These oppressions extend to U.S. islands, too. Statehood or territory status by no means makes the potential for these problems obsolete, but in fact can exacerbate them—like in the cases of Hawai’i and Puerto Rico.

Factoring in the effects of colonialism is inherent to understand the issues both archipelagos face. The displacement, depletion, or near destruction of indigenous cultures is a violent tragedy all its own, but with U.S. takeover also comes the privatization of lands, military occupation, tax breaks for wealthy individuals and multinational corporations, a drop in sustainable agriculture in favor of imports—all at the expense of the people. (There are grassroots movements to decolonize both islands.)

Understanding all this, it’s not a stretch to view DIY music scenes in Puerto Rico and Hawai’i as acts of resistance.

When you’re living in the most expensive U.S. city—Honolulu, where four rolls of toilet paper will cost you more than anywhere else in the world—buying a guitar may be a feat of finance. If you’ve recently survived a devastating category five hurricane, are enduring the aftermath without electricity, and haven’t been able to work for months, putting a show together might rightfully be the last thing on your to-do list. Even before Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans were grappling with an 11.5 percent sales tax and an unemployment rate higher than 10 percent (officially 10.8 in November; for comparison, the U.S. stands at 4.1 percent).

These are just a few of the realities of actually living on island, of course, and they’re specific to Hawai’i and Puerto Rico. There are other influences involved with each, and you can’t sum up a culture or a society with stats alone; life is more complex than that. But context is consequential to learning about a music scene, understanding how it runs and why—and that will give you a clearer idea of where you, as a visiting band or artist, might fit in.

If you’re plotting a tour in 2018, consider venturing out to these islands. It’ll cost more than taking the van a few cities west, sure, but the trip can be more than a typical tour date. You won’t need a passport for either, at least.

Small and tight-knit, but not insular or uninviting, the independent scenes in Puerto Rico and Hawai’i run on DIY community ethos, encouraging solidarity and mutual aid. If your band is fueled by the same ideals, you can expect a warm welcome at both—and to make new connections with listeners and fellow musicians in a more personal, enlightening way than you would playing a big U.S. city.

Honolulu, O’ahu, Hawai’i

In small scenes, working together is especially crucial, and solidarity is a key force in Hawai’i DIY. Transience and a high cost of living combined limit its population and means: It’s not easy to sustain a band while holding multiple jobs, and imported instruments and gear are pricey. Rather than struggle solo or compete for audiences in an individualist way, independent bands, organizers, and venues support each other so that everyone thrives.

Rachel Heller’s story for Rookie last year detailed growing up on O’ahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian islands, and beamed a shining light on a thriving DIY culture, particularly of the punk, emo, pop-punk, and lo-fi indie variety. In the Chinatown area of Honolulu especially, the underground is elevated through Failed Orbit Records, once the label of local band Beaman and now an umbrella collective organizing hometown shows and bringing in outside acts. Transportation and other costs are offset by fundraisers, making it possible to fly in names like Peach Kelli Pop and Audacity from California and New Jersey’s Screaming Females—a scene-generated process that further cultivates a sense of community. (And while Failed Orbit announced a hiatus in November, we have no doubt the scene will be maintained, and continue growing, too.)

And the DIY realm extends to other genres, too. Ska, reggae, hardcore, metal, hip-hop, and electronic (see Audiophile Entertainment, Rave Rock, and Rise Up Electric) are all sturdily planted in and around the same network, sometimes even sharing lineups. They’re seemingly disparate sounds, but operating with the same DIY gusto in pushing the independent music forward, and that common effort can be unifying.

Best indie venues: Hawaiian Brian’sThe Manifest, Downbeat Diner and Lounge

Read more: Rachel Heller’s Rookie story, Mariana Timony’s report on Bandcamp

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Before the fawning, a disclaimer: I live in San Juan, and I opened a venue here (Club 77) several years ago. I’m no longer a co-owner, though I remain very much a supporter of that spot and the rest of the local DIY scene, too.

The underground of San Juan is perpetually pulsing, and feels more critical than ever now in post-Hurricane Maria conditions. Immediately following the storm, a mainstay DIY venue, El Local, reopened with a 12-hour daily community kitchen that was a boon to scene bonds—it solidified established connections, and created new ones, too. Venues like Club 77 and La Respuesta have reopened in the past month or so, and they’re thriving—in the wake of it all, the trauma and the hardship and total disruption of the quotidian day-to-day, bands have emerged eager to play, and crowds are anxious for the catharsis of stellar live shows.

It’s important to note that the storm’s repercussions aggravated pre-existing difficulties; the island’s unemployment rate was already high, so economic strife was amplified by the island-wide power outage that left virtually every Puerto Rican worker without income. A mass exodus is already in full swing—and it’s forced out some of the scene’s key players.

But there’s a long history of independent music in Puerto Rico; it’s a scene that’s overcome countless hurdles. This category five storm was inarguably its most difficult blow, but communities are working in solidarity to bounce back. The recovery is still in progress across the island—and that includes the music scene.

Built in bulk by a steady boom of hardcore punk in the late ’80s through the ’90s, the punk scene is sustained today by the some of the same folks, plus bands of the later 2000s wave (Los Vigilantes, Ardillas) and a generous crop of emerging acts (Desahuciados, Sikotropicas). Dating back about as far, the hardcore and metal factions regularly converge these days, operating together on the same bills and through the same organizers, but they’re individually robust enough to stand alone, too.
Hip-hop, too, has continued to evolve from its strong start around the same era. La Respuesta’s Lunes Clasico, a longstanding weekly hip-hop, soul, and R&B party, is the heart to the genre’s sprawling veins that, like every other genre, showcases regularly in all DIY and indie friendly spaces. Reggae, dub, and ska acts are tried-and-true Puerto Rican indie players as well—and folk, alt-pop, experimental electronic, and heaps more styles.

It’s a unique landscape; the intertwining of seasoned acts with up-and-comers in a condensed environment makes for a fixed sense of burgeoning. There’s always something new and fresh to be found, but consistently great stalwarts are intrinsic to the whole.
Visits from outside acts aren’t uncommon, albeit not with the same regularity of a continental U.S. city. These shows are a mix of booking and venue-funded appearances and bands that make the trip on their own dime; the latter, no doubt, the scene could especially benefit from right now, as organizers and musicians are still steadying their footing post-storm.

Best indie venues: El Local, Club 77, La Respuesta

Read more: Check out Puerto Rico Indie, the island’s premiere blog for independent and DIY sounds. (It’s exceptionally comprehensive, but in Spanish; use Google translate if necessary!)

College Gigs and How To Market Them

[Editors Note: The following is the first in a monthly series of a partnership between TuneCore and students at Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business at Belmont University. In an attempt to offer new insight and educational content for independent artists, we’re excited to give these music industry professionals of the future a journalistic platform.]

 

Have you ever wondered what’s the best way to book a gig in a ‘college town’? Or how to connect with students to build a fanbase who buys, shares and streams your music? Well, if you have, we have some answers for you!

Because of the fact the music business is a non-business, there’s no one way to do things. Here’s some ideas, tips, and tricks for show promotion we have compiled that are tried and tested by us, music loving college students.

Advertising On Campus

Once you’ve booked a gig at the perfect venue, you have to decide how you want to promote. If the venue is near a college campus, or if you are a college student yourself, the campus probably offers tons of avenues for you to advertise.

Many people don’t realize the various opportunities student campuses provide for the promotion of music. Some examples include campus-wide emails, university event calendars, campus radio stations and newspapers, and possibly more depending on what your university has to offer.

Firstly, email blasts are an awesome way to deliver promotional information to large amounts of people all at once. If student artists on campus want to advertise their upcoming shows, album releases, or already-released music on streaming sites, campus-wide emails can be a very effective way to do so. If they are formatted correctly, they can contain visual graphics that draw the reader’s attention, and they can even contain links to ticket sales or music downloads.

Additionally, college radio stations – often run by students – provide a broad selection of music to the public and give independent artists the opportunity to receive radio airplay. In fact, if a radio station is considered a “college market” station, it is possible to get on the national Top 200 College Radio Chart, which is reported weekly. College radio promotion is a great marketing strategy for anyone trying to break into the music business and can give you a taste of what radio is really like.

Newspapers are also available on most campuses whether electronic or physical, and they can be great tools for staying up to speed with local activities. Since most are student-run, it can be an easy avenue for any musician to promote upcoming gigs or releases. School newspapers offer another very effective tool to advertise talent. A study by 3D Issue showed that 72-80% of students read their campus newspaper. This news outlet is a reliable way to spread information about an artist and is trusted amongst the university population.

Furthermore, many campuses offer some sort of event calendar to students. The event calendar provides information (time and location) regarding upcoming events – such as sporting events, lectures, special guest forums, writer rounds, etc. As mentioned previously, much of what is posted on these event calendars is student-curated.

Printed Flyers

Another promotional tool for shows is traditional flyers. Flyers are an awesome way to promote shows and point people towards your band’s social media outlets. They can be super creative and showcase your music style through design. But, as we all know, a flyer that is just thrown together won’t fly these days. People like to see aesthetically pleasing graphics that grab their attention. Follow these simple rules to help you create the perfect flyer:

  1. If you’re serious about designing a great flyer, consider using a grid system. A grid consists, of course, of intersecting vertical & horizontal lines (i.e. rows and columns), often based on optimal proportions for the document’s size.
  2. Try aligning your text in the center of the flyer for a pleasing symmetrical look. Or, align text to the right or left side, with a margin that works well with other graphical elements.  Want more clicks on your social media promo flyers?  Text should be no more than 20% of the promo flyer!
  3. Three! Always three! The rule of thirds is when you break down an image or document as a whole into thirds, either vertically or horizontally. Placing the most important information on one of the intersecting areas can help with structuring the layout of text & graphics.
  4. Color can visually enhance a message and help to highlight particular points. Colors also evoke emotions that can support your tone or theme. Try using similar or complementary colors throughout the flyer to provide a consistent visual experience for the viewer.
  5. Stop uploading screenshot photos from online!  If you upload low-res image files, you’ll likely have issues when it comes time to print. Your best bet is to use photos that have been saved at 300 ppi (pixels per inch). For displaying your flyer on the web, 150 ppi is usually sufficient – just find the original photo.

Free Merch

Once you have promoted your show, and you’ve got a good audience, you might consider giving out free merchandise to drive people to your social media channels or to strengthen your brand identity. This can be a great tool to advertise, but can have some negative setbacks. Read more below about the pros and cons of free merch.

Pros:

Many artists and record labels give away merchandise for publicity and promotion purposes. Items such as stickers, pens, buttons, and bracelets are commonly given away for free by artists. They are usually sold in high quantities for low prices by distributors, and are easily customizable. Artists may make them available on their merch table or personally give them out at shows, or even bundle with other merchandise as an added incentive.

Social media contests for free merch are common for artist promotion. Fans enter by sharing information or media from the artist, or by signing up for the artist’s email list. Giving listeners a tangible item is a simple yet effective way for artists to establish visibility and promote new music.

Less developed artists should be conservative when considering giving merchandise away for free; a band is a business, businesses have budgets, and merchandise sales may make up a decent portion of an artist’s income.

Cons:

While it is tempting to simply give away free merchandise to an artist’s loyal fans when first starting out, it is beneficial to consider there are more people willing to pay for brand items than an artist might think. If the artist is especially talented, people will want to get their products while the artist is still a new act so the consumer can later say they supported them first.

In addition, continued distribution of free merchandise cheapens the artist’s brand. Free shirts, other swag, and even CDs can make the customer question the value of what they’re getting and the brand it represents. It’s OK for a new artist to ask people to spend money on merch if it contributes to a tangible return for the patron.


We hope these tips and tricks help you learn a little more about how to book college town gigs and how to promote your music to students!

How To Write a Killer Guitar Hook

[Editors Note: This was written by Sarah Jacobs.]

The hook is basically what keeps you hooked on a song. It’s a selling point, that group of notes or that phrase that stays stuck in your head and makes you sing, headband, or rock out on your air guitar. Most of the time it’s the first thing that comes to mind when you mention a song’s title, and it’s what most musicians usually start out with when composing as it serves as the foundation for the verses of a song.

Consider the lines “We are the champions,” “I can’t get no satisfaction” and even “Ah, ha, ha, ha – stayin’ alive” – these are all popular hooks that have made their respective songs easy to recall. Of course, it helps that these are also part of the song titles, but not all hooks are in the titles or the chorus. Blur’s “Song 2,” for example, has “Whoo hoo!” that sets off the hook.

Writing for Gibson, Ted Drozdowski says that for guitar players, it’s wise to think of hooks as riffs. Riffs have the power to pull listeners right into a tune – recall the riffs of great guitar players in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and you’ll see what riffs can do to make a song a hit.

What makes a great guitar hook?

Before you go writing a hook, it’s first important to know what makes a hook a great one. If you listen to the most iconic hooks in music, you’ll notice that they’re all short and easily repeatable. When writing a guitar hook, keep in mind that the longer it is, the harder it is to remember, which defeats the purpose of a hook – so keep your hook short and simple.

Music producer Kim Copeland says that different music genres rely on different types of hooks to sell songs. Country songs, for example, almost always have a story and characters. Country music artists are storytellers, which is why their songs would usually have a hook at the beginning or end of the chorus, or at the beginning or end of each section of verse. A great example is country favorite “Always On My Mind.”

For pop music, a melodic hook is key. The melody is what makes people burst into song, (even if they don’t want to), and what makes earworms stay in our heads seemingly forever. Hooks in pop songs make lyrics singable and hard to get away from – Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” is one song you probably can never shake off because of its catchy hook.

And for rock music, you’ll agree that the most hooky hooks are there at the very beginning, way before you even hear a vocal melody. Copeland mentions AC/DC’s “Back in Black” as a prime example of a song with a killer hook.

So how do you come up with a guitar hook that will get people hooked, keep them listening and make them invested in the song and your music? Let’s look into three different kinds of hooks and what you can do to create them. By the way, you don’t have to stick to just one type of hook in a song – experiment and see which ones work best alone and which would work well together. Let’s get started!

The Rhythm Hook

The rhythmic hook uses a combination of instruments and essentially establishes a beat-rhythm combo upon which a song is built. Many of Stevie Wonder’s hits in the Seventies are built on rhythm hooks, such as “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “Superstition.” Creating a powerful rhythmic hook involves these steps:

  1. Keep a steady beat by slapping your knee or tapping your foot.
  2. Improvise (sing or hum) a short, catchy 4- or 8-beat rhythm.
  3. Come up with a one- or two-chord progression that sounds interesting when repeated, such as C-Bb, C-Fm7, C-Eb and so on.
  4. Make a bass line where the end connects easily and smoothly back to the beginning of the line. Make sure that this bass line has a catchy rhythm, one that is ideally different in rhythm as the guitar or other instruments.

The Intro Hook

The intro hook is mainly a melodic idea that, as its name suggests, gets established in the first few bars of the song. It is then repeated throughout the song over and over but it isn’t always present – it appears then drops out. Some examples of songs with an iconic intro hook are “Smoke on the Water” and “Moves Like Jagger.” The following steps can help you write your own intro hook:

  1. Think of a catchy rhythm (4 to 8 beats) and base a melodic idea on it.
  2. Stick to the pentatonic scale notes C, D, E, G and/or A (in C major).
  3. Come up with three separate chord progressions to accompany the hook. These chord progressions should be able to function as chorus, verse and bridge progressions.
  4. Let the hook appear and disappear throughout the song.

The Background Instrumental Hook

“With or Without You” by U2 and “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan are two fine examples of songs with great instrumental hooks. The instrumental hook is usually added to an already completed song, and it works well in combination with other types of hooks. Here’s how to create one:

  1. Make a short 2- to 4-beat riff (with a distinctive rhythm) on your guitar. The guitar riff should be able to be accompanied by most chords in the key you’ve chosen.
  2. Focus on using it mainly in the song’s chorus but instead of putting it on top of the chorus lyrics, fit it in and around the lyrics. Think of the instrumental hook as a counterpoint or answer to a chorus lyric.
  3. Let the hook stay in the background, complementing the other hooks you already have.

Now that you’ve come up with a hook (or at least an idea for one that you want to try), get songwriting! Remember to repeat, repeat and repeat – but not too much. Give your song a listen with different hook repetitions and you’ll know when it’s too much so you can adjust and make it just right. Change the rhythm between verses and choruses, or add effects like stuttering and pauses for variety. Lastly, make sure you highlight the hook. Again, the hook is the song’s selling point, so make it easy for listeners to pick out and sing or air guitar along to. Good luck and have fun!


Sarah Jacobs is a blogger at Know Your Instrument.