From classic literature and historical speeches to podcasts and YouTubers, one maxim remains true: if you want to keep your audience attention, you need to hook them early.
That window of opportunity continues to narrow too; a 20th Century author might have had a couple of pages, whereas today’s online audience, according to Facebook, gives a piece of content 1.7 seconds on mobile before deciding to move on.
But what’s that got to do with you, a jazz musician, and how can the simple concept of a ‘hook’ help you get more gigs?
Mr Beast, Dodie Smith & Martin Luther King
It’s no coincidence that many people who are successful in building an audience are experts at crafting ‘the hook’.
Take Mr Beast, for example.
Unless you’ve not logged into YouTube in the last 5 years, you’re probably aware of him.
He’s racked up BILLIONS of streams in no small part to the finely-tuned opening section of each video.
Check out the first 15 seconds of the clip below; it’s over-the-top and unnecessarily loud but (love it or hate it) I’m sure you’ll agree it’s not bland.
Or what about the opening of the 1948 novel I Capture the Castle?
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”
Tell me that’s doesn’t make you curious to read on!
Back to the present day, and almost any podcast you listen to in 2023 will kick off with a provocative question, a tantalising statement, or a snippet of content that leaves listeners craving more.
And what about Martin Luther King’s iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech?
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation”
That’s not short on promise is it?
Our brains have become adept at filtering out what we deem irrelevant
In some ways its a super power, being able to ignore adverts or click-bait online.
But in the case of creatives like musicians, it might mean that things are unintentionally getting missed, simply because they are not catching attention early enough.
So, what makes us decide to give our precious time to something new?
Typically, it’s a compelling hook that strikes a chord with our intellectual or emotional triggers.
A different type of jazz ‘hook’
The music industry might seem a million miles away from those examples, but the concept is the same.
In fact, when we asked Howard Mandel (president of the Jazz Journalists Association) to put together a piece on crafting press releases, his exact method referenced the need for a ‘hook, line and sinker‘
Here are some other examples:
- Festival promoters need a headline artist to hook the audience and get them to buy tickets.
- Agents need a big date to hook the rest of the tour around.
- Publicists need the tagline that draws a journalist into the press release (and, in turn, the journalist needs one for their reader)
And finally you, the independent musician, need ‘hooks’ every time you are trying to connect with people inside the industry.
Let’s take the example of pitching for a gig
Promoters are bombarded with information, all day every day. Their inbox is an ever-moving flow of emails, not dissimilar to your newsfeed on Facebook or Instagram.
Do you dig into every post you see on social media to check if it’s relevant to you? Of course not.
In much the same way, it’s totally possible a promoter doesn’t even realise that your project is a great fit for them, because they aren’t even staying tuned long enough to hear it.
So how do you make sure you’re catching attention, rather than being quickly scrolled-past or discarded?
Hook them early
The only guarantee you have when someone gets to your mail is that they see the subject line. And yet so many musicians waste this space.
This is vanilla.
It’s what promoters see all the time. Your email will most likely drown in a sea of similar booking requests.
This line communicates success and relevance, and shows it’s for them by using their first name. Much harder to delete.
Then, if you’re lucky, you probably have an opening line to grab the attention.
Again: bland pleasantries and generic introductions waste this.
Instead, channel your inner Mr Beast and figure out how to fill that space with something which will stand out from the crowd and make them too curious not to click the link and listen to your music.
Hook them good (examples)
OK, so we’re agreed that the idea of grabbing a promoters attention before they switch off and move onto the next thing is good. But how can you do that?
Being conscious of your own inbox and social media is a good start, to see what hooks your attention.
But after that, here are some common types of hooks that work…
- a question that your recipient can’t help but want answered Want to know how we sold 250 tickets on our first trip to Chicago?
- a bold statement that arouses curiosity 70s-era Miles meets early Beatles
- An intriguing fact or statistic 10 Years, 17 countries 104 Festivals…
- FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) one UK date left for Spring 2024 tour
- Personalisation Great to see Get The Blessing on your line-up Greg!
- Quotable snippets from a well-known source “one of the best debut albums of 2023” – Jazzviews.net
- News Jacking (Reference a current event that everyone is talking about, linking it back to what you offer) Unlike FTX, Our Performance Won’t Be Suspect
- Social Proof Sold out at Smoke Jazz Club
- Humour (Risky, but if done correctly, a light joke or a pun can catch attention)
Whatever you go for, there are a few best practices and a couple of golden rules to keep in mind.
Of course, you can’t write anything simply to get someone’s attention.
It needs to pave the way for the main ‘ask’ of your email, and not be misleading or confusing.
Assuming you’ve done that, be sure to follow it, quickly, with context. Explain why your offer or news is timely or relevant to them.
Also make sure the call-to-action (“watch our latest video here“) is not only clear, but also not buried too deeply in the email. And don’t add multiple different ‘asks’ – if it’s a first time connection, simply getting them to check your music via a YouTube video is a big win.
Then, once you’ve carefully crafted your mail, check the golden rules again:
🧈 Get to the point quickly while maintaining the reader’s interest (think “elevator pitch)
🧈 Review and revise: make every word count.
Round Up: Writing Hooks
The art of the hook is not exclusive to any one medium – it’s a psychological tool that can be wielded across platforms, including email.
As a musician, borrowing strategies around this from podcasters, YouTubers, authors and other creators can significantly enhance your email pitches, making them not just more readable, but compelling.
I know: you’re a musician, not a marketer/copywriter/businessperson.
And I know that talking about things like ‘hooks’ can seem a million miles away from the idea of making great music and finding people who support it.
That is, of course, still happening.
But diving a little deeper into the psychology behind why people pay attention to you can really speed up your progress and your bookings.
Will it guarantee you a gig?
Of course not.
But it will open the door to promoters that many musicians are trying, and failing, to connect with.
Thanks for reading.
As always, feel free to share comments in the section below. Looking for more gig-booking-related content? It’s all here.