Let me ask you something (and please be honest here):
…Are you scared shitless of not being able to make a living with your music? Of not being able to support a family or pay off your debts and rent?
…What if it turns out that your songs aren’t good enough? What if no one “gets” your music? Or worse: What if no one even hears your songs?
…What if you fail? What if you have to admit to yourself that being a professional songwriter just isn’t cut out for you? What if you have to work at Burger King for the rest of your life?
…What would your friends say? What would your parents say? What would those guys from high school who always doubted you say? What would it mean to you?
These are some of the questions that haunted me back when I started my songwriting studies. All bridges were burned, no way back, I was doing this. My life was about music now.
Of course, everyone had told me I shouldn’t.
Artists starve, everyone knows that. But I believed in my songs, KNEW I could do it if I tried hard enough. I had been writing songs for various bands for the past 5 years. I felt confident.
But then I met the other music students. And I realized I wasn’t as great a songwriter as I had thought. I might’ve been the best from everyone I knew back in my home town, but here…
This hit me hard. All of a sudden, my dreams seemed destroyed. I was going to die an insignificant, lonely death, humilated and ashamed. I felt like a loser.
But then one day, SOMETHING HAPPENED.
We had a hit songwriter/producer do a guest lecture for us. We all showed him our songs and got our feedback. The guy listened (usually until the second verse), stopped the song and began with his feedback.
Then we got to my song. And something strange happened: He didn’t stop the recording. The whole class listened to he entire song.
When it was over, nobody said a word, the song still hanging in the air. Even the producer was quiet for another couple of seconds (which felt like minutes) before he said “Wow…”
(By the way, my song wasn’t even overly short – quite the contrary actually, it was over 4,5 minutes. And it certainly wasn’t my production skills either – I was definitely the worst producer in the class)
There was something about that song. I didn’t know it then, but in my five autodidactic years before my studies I had taught myself an approach to songwriting that none of my colleagues knew about.
I never saw this approach anywhere else, but I heard it in literally every hit song of the past 25 years. Without knowing it, I had found a rule of hit songwriting.
It has been my secret ever since and I now use it systematically to captivate my audience. I call this technique “Lyric-Less Storytelling” and it plays a huge part in my Songwriting Circle:
Arc & Energy (in the upper left corner) are what Lyric-Less Storytelling is all about.
The first time I consciously used this formula in a song, I immediately won an award with it (two years in a row, actually). And after that, everything happened rather quickly:
My music went to Cannes Film Festival, I played HUGE festivals in front of over 100,000 people, performed on prime-time television, wrote for Ubisoft and Apple, and worked for Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), René Merkelbach (Within Temptation) and Jeff Rona (God of War).
Look, I don’t mean to brag, but I want to show you that this formula actually works. Using Lyric-Less Storytelling in your songs will give you a clear advantage over 99.9% of the writers out there.
So This Is About Hook-Writing, Then?
Actually, far from it. Captivating an audience has nothing to do with hooks. This is a common misconception amongst songwriters, but
Hooks don't actually hook.
Read that sentence again, because it is important: Hooks don’t hook. They may be useful for other things, like memorability, but they don't grab your attention.
Why do you think A&Rs only listen to the first 15 seconds of a song to see if they can sell it? They turn your song off before they even HEAR your hook! They are listening for Production, Up-To-Date-Ness and… Lyric-Less Storytelling.