Two essential parts of a good song are the hook and the chorus. As their names suggest, these elements hook the listener into the song (the hook) and make them want to hear where it’s going (the chorus). Hooks and choruses are song elements meant to get stuck inside the listener’s head–in the best way possible.
Despite their similarities in overall function, they operate in different ways inside of a song. Understanding these differences can help songwriters, musicians, and producers to create the best possible songs.
What is a Hook?
Fundamentally speaking, the hook of a song catches the listener’s ear and pulls them into the music. It’s meant to “hook” the listener in, as the name suggests. The hook is meant to get stuck in the head of anyone who listens to it. It has to be memorable and exciting enough that people want to return to the same song again.
Hooks can be anything from short riffs to catchy lyrics to a drum fill. The whole goal of a good hook is to excite the listener and bring them further into the song as a whole. There isn’t an exact science to creating a good hook, but everyone knows exactly what one sounds like when they hear it.
How Can Producers Make Good Hooks?
Contrary to what may seem to be the most intuitive and intellectual answer, the best hooks are often the ones that are simple and to the point. Because hooks can be either instrumental or vocal, there are countless ways to use them within songs. They can be repetitive as a riff or just a small piece of the song that sticks out from the rest. As long as it sounds good and stands out, it can function as a hook.
A big thing to focus on when creating a hook is contrast. If there’s a big part of the song, an abrupt change to something sonically small could function as the hook. Think of the word “duh” in “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish. It’s a dry interjection into a song that is otherwise fairly heavy and processed. The way “duh” is used is slightly comedic and lyrically aloof in contrast to the rest of the song’s dark and intense lyrics. This hook focuses on using contrast to stand out, and it does it brilliantly.
What is a Chorus?
Even if someone doesn’t know what a chorus is musically speaking, they can very easily tell what it is when they hear one. That’s because a chorus is meant to stick out from the rest of the song. A good chorus will stick with a listener long after the song is over, even if they can’t remember any of the other lyrics.
The chorus is usually the part of the song that lyrically and musical contains all of the most central elements. It is typically repeated through the song’s duration multiple times and is used to get the song’s main message across. While the song’s verses are generally used to communicate the overall narrative and background information behind the song, the chorus will say the message most directly. Every other part of the song is building up to the chorus to give it maximum impact.
How Can Producers Make Good Choruses?
A well-written chorus gets the listener to the song’s ultimate destination. This can be done in various ways, but one of the most common ways is to create resolution. Write a chorus that makes the listener feel as though they are “arriving.”
Think of the chorus to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” The verses build up the song’s narrative and the message and create tension in the music. But when the chorus hits, the whole song comes together in a truly glorious way. The melody and the chords work together by making a memorable, exciting chorus and helps to define the song as a whole. Creating a chorus like the one in “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” helped place Whitney Houston into a long-lasting legacy that still carries on today in clubs, high school dances, and weddings the world over.
How are Hooks and Choruses Different?
Hooks and choruses are different because they play such distinct roles. Typically, a hook will be very small and concise, while a chorus is drawn out over several bars, taking up a good amount of the song’s runtime. Another difference is that hooks can often just be singular points in a song, while choruses are almost always repeated.
It’s also important to know that hooks and choruses are meant to stand out from the rest of the song, which means they can be used together for maximum effect.
How Unison Can Help
Learning how to create truly masterful choruses and hooks can be difficult. Luckily, Unison is here to help producers and musicians create the best music with the best tools. The Unison MIDI Chord Pack can help producers to get just the right chord progressions for their choruses. The Unison Serum Collection can help to create synth and other instrument sound effects that create the best of the best hooks and choruses. The Unison Vocal Series can help producers to create the best possible hooks using vocal sounds that breathe new life into songs.