hit song, Hook, Music Video, Rihanna, Terius "The Dream" Nash, Terius Nash

Umbrella – Anatomy Of A Global Hit

The Song
Umbrella is a worldwide hip-hop/pop crossover and first single released from Rihanna’s third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad. It was written by songwriter/producer Terius “The Dream” Nash who is also signed to Islan/Def-Jam as an artist.

Umbrella is really remarkable for three things:

  • 1) It was passed over by many well known artists before being recorded by Rihanna.— The song was originally offered to Britney Spears with the lyrics written especially for her, however she turned it down. The song was then offered to Mary J. Blige; she also turned it down. This makes me wonder how developed was the demo before being presented to them. Sometime people cannot ear anything until a demo is fully produced. Jay-Z has a good ear for great hooks, so it must have been easier for him to extrapolate.
  • 2) It was originally written with Apple’s Garageband— The beat from Umbrella is a loop taken from Apple’s Garageband. Now, we’ve all heard about indy bands using Garageband but generally, they will use anything that produce a sound as long as it’s free. It’s the first time GarageBand is mentioned in the context of a wildly popular pop song.
  • 3) The Production Was Kept Simple— Technically, this song is near perfect. The rap at the beginning is optional and is frequently removed by many radio DJs. The chorus and verses hooks are massive. For me, the bridge is not as strong as the verse and the chorus but it ends with a nice climb that perfectly prepare for a last round of choruses. This song would have been so easy to overproduce, I’m glad that they kept it simple and to the point.

The Video
The Umbrella video is from filmmaker Chris Applebaum. I must admit that this video has some pretty good visual ideas. The metallic makeup has been done before (James Bond, Spandau Ballet, etc.), but this whole “animated covergirl magazine page look with the water splashes” is quite effective.

This video has tons of post-processing and glossy compositing, which I love. Check out the other videos on his web site. The progression from 1994 to now is incredible. He went from trashy low-budget handy-cam stuff to this glossy hyper-processed glam look that he has now. Oh, and Rihanna looks incredible, as usual…

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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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