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Hearing a song you wrote being played on the radio is definitely one of life's great "highs!" In fact, in the rich fantasy life of most songwriters, hearing your song on the radio ranks right up there with fantasies of winning the lottery or swinging from the chandelier with your favorite movie star clad only in loin cloths!
As we have been learning, however, radioplay is a "reality based" medium. Program directors are constantly trying to capture as many listeners as possible to drive up their ratings and consequently, their advertising income. So songwriters who have more than just fantasies about hearing their songs on radio, must learn to both understand the listener's mind (Muses Muse, July 1999) and to write from the listener's perspective (Muses Muse, May 1999). In this article we will begin to examine some basic writing principles that will help you -- the songwriter -- to create such "listener-friendly" songs that radio decision-makers will select your song for airplay.
1. Radio Songs are "Hook-Driven" -- In previous generations the hook has been called a motif or a refrain, but the concept is crucial for any kind of effective musical communication. (George Frederic Handel may never have heard the term, hook, but he definitely understood the principle. Could anyone write a more effective hook than "Hal-le-lu-jah" ?)
The dictionary definition for the implement known as a "hook" is this: A tool which is used to catch something, hold something, sustain it and pull it along. This is also a very good definition for a songwriting hook. A well-crafted hook will catch the listener's ear despite all competing visual and audio distractions. It will hold the listener's attention….sustain listener interest and pull the listener along to the very end of the song. And in case you hadn't noticed, all of these functions accomplish what radio hopes to achieve -- namely keeping their audience from changing channels.
Of course, the subject of hooks could fill several articles all by itself. In future editions of Mary's Musings, we will definitely explore it further. But for our purposes here the following considerations are essential:
- The hook is the most memorable musical and lyrical element of the song. It is the thesis statement -- the one-phrase summary of the whole creation. It is like a diamond on velvet. The rest of the song is the velvet background which displays the beauty of that one magic "diamond phrase" known as the hook.
- The hook is usually also the title and should be strategically placed at the beginning or ending of the chorus….or at the first or last line of the A sections in an AAA or AABA song ….where the listener expects to hear it.
- A well-written hook/title will be so clear and obvious that listeners will know it from the first hearing and will be able to request the song BY TITLE when they call the radio station to request it.
2. Radio Songs are Simple -- Again, remember that radio is all about ordinary people finding something they want to listen to. Ninety-nine percent of them don't know a flat-nine chord from Adam! They simply want to be touched emotionally and to be able to sing along.
Songwriting team, Kasha and Hirschhorn, subject all of their songs to what they call the "whistle test." In other words, "can the piece be whistled, hummed and remembered?" If not, you risk losing that crucial listener ear before you know it. Take some time to analyze hits you hear on the radio….the ones that have sold thousands of copies….the ones you love to sing in the "studio" of your moving car. It won't take long to realize that less is usually more when it comes to writing songs for radio.
See you next time for more radioplay principles that will hopefully increase your chances of hearing yourself on the air!