Anatomy of a Hook: Choose a Sample that Makes Your Blood Boil

hook-anatomyI’m back to dissecting hits. I’m taking a bit of a hiatus from the current charts to look at a song from a while ago. It has a lot to teach about using samples of music from other genres.

Imogen Heap wrote a poetic and dreamy song, Hide and Seek. By Pop standards, it does not have a very strong hook in the chorus. The lyrics are not as straight forward and conversational as a pop hit would be. In Hide and Seek, the hook starts about 1:12 in, “Hide and seek. Trains and sewing machines. All those years, they were here first.” The power of this song comes from the jazz-inspired harmonic language, use of vocorder, and a lot of reverb. It hints at emotions, and then builds. At 2:52 we get a face full of passion. She is confrontational, direct, probably fed up, “Whatcha say, that you only meant well? Of course you did. Whatcha say, that it’s all for the best? Of course it is. Whatcha say that it’s just what we need? You decided this. Whatcha say? What did she say?” In a Singer-Songwriter song, the listener expects to be led on a journey, it has more of a story-telling vibe of introduction, painting a picture with words, climax, and denouement.

Whatcha Say, by Jason Derulo is a very different song. The producers, J. R. Rotem and Fuego, used the most passionate section of Hide and Seek as a jumping off point. Pop has no time to spare. Make your point in the first 5 – 10 seconds and build from there.

Whatcha Say, speeds up and uses a stutter in the sample to add reality-TV adrenaline to the song from the moment the needle drops. This Hook-First form is an excellent way to grab the listener’s ears. The Beatles used it in She Loves You. This sets the emotional stage for the song. It gives a woman for the man to plead with. We understand from the first breath that the man doesn’t just want to make amends, he was caught.

This sample also gives sonic contrast to the song. For example, Flo Rida’s Wild Ones uses Sia’s voice for contrast. Contrast keeps our ears engaged, dialog draws us in. Samples can be that kick of heat in an otherwise smooth sauce. Take the most passionate bits of the other artist’s work, and interact with them. If it doesn’t get your blood boiling, it’s not worth using.

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