Hook, Keith Urban, Performing Songwriter, songwriter, songwriting

Hooks & Spare Parts

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Spare Parts
In the December 2006 issue of Performing Songwriter, Keith Urban is quoted as saying:

“Sometimes a song will be great for spare parts. You have to be willing to give up a few songs to get that one great song sometimes. For me, I hope it’s always about quality and not quantity”.

This quote applies directly to my ongoing songwriting process. About two years ago, I sat down with a bunch of old tapes and got 100+ song ideas down to less than 10 finished songs. On the one hand, I was disappointed at the low number of actual songs. On the other hand, all these new “composite” songs are stronger with multiple hooks.

3 Hooks Theory
Since that time, I try to fit about 3 hooks in every song, usually one for each important song section: verse, chorus and bridge. More than that and the song become unfocused, like some kind of progressive rock song. Less than that and I have the feeling that the song is not as good as it could be.

I view each hook as an independent song idea with the potential of forming a complete song. Then, once in a while, I go through all my available song ideas and try to see if they could be combined into complete songs. Most time it doesn’t work, but when it does it’s really cool. Also, I find it easier to finish a song that already has 2 solid hooks.

Instrumentals
One thing I noticed however is that instrumental spare parts have very limited usefulness. For me, they are generally the result of my guitar or piano noodlings and are hard to fit in any song. I try using them as intros, but they are often too long for that. I also tried using them as bridges, but I much rather have a singing bridge than a solo or instrumental break.

One Big Puzzle
Songwriting is like multi-dimensional puzzles where you have to fit melodies and chords with lyrics that are emotional yet make sense. Sometime, you can find that you already have the missing pieces lying around somewhere. Other times, you have to design a custom piece to finish the puzzle.

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3 thoughts on “Hooks & Spare Parts

  1. Jack says:

    Cool blog. In an interview I read awhile ago, Bryan Adams mentioned that Mutt Lange likes to work this way as well. Adams said that he brought a pile of songs to Mutt when they first started working together and was kind of taken aback when Mutt started disassembling the songs and using a chorus from one song as the verse for another, etc… Adams said it showed him a whole new way of looking at songs.

    To me, the only drawback to this approach is that sometimes the song can end up sounding like a collection of parts rather than flowing naturally, but sometimes that works too, so this is definitely a good approach to use.

    For your instrumentals, I’d try chopping them in half or whatever length fits as an intro, or pick the best 4,5,6… note melody and use that. Also if it follows the chord progression of the verse or chorus it might work as an instrumental counter to the vocal. I’ve found that by moving around and juxtaposing different parts in Logic I sometimes get some cool stuff by accident. Sometimes not, but that’s another story!

  2. Jack,

    Thanks for the comment. Mutt Lange is my hero! This doesn’t surprise me. His songs are essentially a collection of instrumental and vocal hooks. He has this near-mathematical way of going from one hook to the next. Love it!

    This approach is a bit shocking the first time around. After that, you begin to see every new song as a collection of hooks and progressively finish old songs and form new ones.

    I’ve given up on using my old instrumentals. Their biggest problem is that they were designed to shocase my guitar and/or piano playing. Therefore they are melodically too complex and rythmically too fast. It’s like trying to fit lyrics to Paganini’s violin exercise: hopeless.

    – Nick –

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