Music trends have changed throughout decades but one thing remains: the duality between music and business. The vast majority of music that is played on the radio or on TV is associated to artists signed to major record companies such as Universal Music, Sony Music or Warner Music. Even if these companies are operating in the music field, their strategies will always remain profit-oriented and due to this, they will always try to standardize the way they run their business in order to eliminate random parameters as much as possible.
When promoting a new song, record companies need as many media partners as they can. A mainstream song that has TV and radio support will statistically generate bigger sales than one that doesn’t. And, these media also have their constraints in terms of audience rate. For example, a radio station constantly needs to increase its audience rate or at least not lose listeners, again for profit reasons. Thus, mainstream radio stations have to play trendy music or at least what they feel will become trendy. Therefore, they will also tend to lower risks, eliminate random parameters as much as possible and thus play mainstream (standardized) music in some ways.
Because of this whole system, major record companies and major media will often request or indirectly force songwriters to write songs which respect a certain format. Again what matters for these companies is profit through sales (labels) or audience rate (media). Therefore, all of them are looking for the “music holy grail” which is generally called “hit song”.
Many musicians, songwriters don’t like to be told how to make music, so they decide to stay away from this whole system. However, other artists agree to make concessions, agree to be part of this global network and produce songs in a formatted way, but in the end potentially make big cash.
How is a hit song structured? How to produce a hit song that can potentially bring a major record deal to an artist and get major radio airplay?
For several years working with major labels as music producers, we’ll reveal you 3 important things you need to think of when you intend to make a “hit song”:
1. Structure of a hit song
For some of you, this might sound quite obvious but through our years of experience we have met several composers who were wondering why their song was not played by radio stations. In fact, their song simply had a too complicated structure.
If you carefully analyze the structure of most popular songs, you will notice that a common structure appears most of the time. Obviously you are free to choose your own structure but if you would like to be close to producing a hit single, it’s important to respect this point.
Here’s the most common structure you should follow:
– INTRODUCTION: it should announce the mood of the song. Most of the time, it can last 2, 4 or 8 bars.
– VERSES: each verse will tell the story of the song. There can be one verse or two before the first chorus. Don’t change much the melody between each of them, otherwise, listeners will get lost with too much information.
Also, there should not be more than 4 verses in general. After the first chorus you can place one more verse or two. The length should be from 8 to 16 bars.
– CHORUS: it is the most important part of the song because everyone must remember it (this is the strength of a hit song). A good chorus contains a catchy hook. It can last 8 to 16 bars. We will go into more details later.
– PRE-CHORUS (BRIDGE): this part is optional. It should be placed between the verse and the chorus to link the two parts together. We personally like to add a bridge when we are not totally satisfied by the transition between a verse and a chorus, and it’s a good way to bring an additional mood, bring a bit more richness into a composition.
– MIDDLE EIGHT: it’s optional too but we advise you not to neglect. It can be very useful. It is generally placed after the second chorus to give a break to the song pattern or the possible monotony in your composition. One of the best reasons to use it is that it will highlight the the arrival of the last chorus, which should be the peak of the song.
– ENDING: you can either have the last chorus repeated continuously with a fade out or you can bring a tail to it according to your sensibility. Very often, we will personally choose to end up songs with one of its most important theme (main musical part in the song).
2. Popular chord progressions and catchy hooks
2.1. Use popular chord progressions:
Some chord progressions naturally create an emotional response to most of us. If you observe carefully the chord progressions of the most popular songs of all time, you will be surprised to see that they are all based on just a few chord progressions.
– One good example is the very catchy I-V-VIm-IV chord progression (C G Am F) (e.g. « Someone Like You » by Adele, « Time After time » by Cindy Lauper). We invite you to listen to songs that are played on mainstream radio stations nowadays and we bet that you will often find these chord progressions.
– You will also find the common variation of this progression: vi-IV-I-V. (e.g.: « Grenade » by Bruno Mars, « All Of Me » by John Legend).
– Another popular chord progression is the 50’s Progression I- vi-IV-V (e.g.: « Royals » by Lorde, « Stand By Me » by Ben E. King…).
However, you might ask yourself why you would include such chords that have already been used many times. The answer is very simple: if these chords have often been used, it’s simply because they work. If we are talking about making a hit song, then you should definitely use such progressions. Of course, the challenge will be to make it sound different from other songs.
As a songwriter, you can decide whether to use these progressions or not. According to us, if you believe your lyrics are going to be “rich” or even quite “heavy”, then these chord progressions will help by bringing some balance in your song and thus make it more easy-listening, more “efficient”.
If you still have doubts, be sure that you can always express all your creativity and talent with these progressions. The chords you choose have unlimited possibilities of melodies around it. You can choose your own rhythm, create a special arrangement or even add chords extensions such as 7ths, 9ths, sus, 11ths and 13ths. All of this can bring your creativity to another level, and make your composition even more interesting.
2.2. Find a catchy hook:
* Vocal hook:
As we said before, the composition part is very important to make a hit song, but a bad vocal melody can ruin your work. So in order to reach your global objective, you will need to find a vocal melody that will last in listeners’ minds after the very first listening of the song. Therefore, it has to be simple, clear and quite repetitive (without getting annoying). If you follow these tips, you’ll have more chance to have your song’s melody stuck into most listeners’ minds. And if you’ve got them to sing a few parts of your song after the first listening, then you definitely made a great job!
* Instrumental hook:
In the instrumental part, it can be a hook based on the rhythm/beat, an intro hook repeated all along the song (e.g. “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5) or a hook produced by one instrument.
* Lyrical hook:
One of the most important parameter when you intend to produce a hit song is catchy lyrics. It’s quite obvious that complicated lyrics will get listeners to be lost and your music won’t resonate inside of them. Therefore, try to write a catchy hook in the lyrics.
By the way, anytime we are working on a song, we will always look for a hook. Even when we write beats and instrumentals for Beats Avenue, we always record a vocal hook in the composition process. We know we have a potential hit song if we can sing an efficient and clear hook on the music.
Catchy hooks are very important but once you have them, you should work on finding suitable chords as well as matching music arrangements.
3. Quality of the music production
Choosing popular chord progressions is important but this is not enough to produce a hit single. Indeed, the music production part is crucial.
Before making any kind of beat, whether it is a dance instrumental, a hip hop beat, a latin beat or a pop beat, you must think about the kind of instruments you’ll include in each production according to the specific music genre you’re working on.
In any popular song you’ll hear on the radio, you will notice that all the instruments are not put all together at the beginning of the song. In fact, listeners must feel an evolution. Therefore, you should try to make your arrangement as “light” as possible, “let it breath”, especially at the beginning of the song. If you place all the instruments at the beginning, then you won’t allow your song to grow.
For example, make a first verse with very few instruments and then start to add another instrument in the next part. Also, in general, the chorus will be the moment when you can add more instruments to bring more dynamism and to emphasize the change.
Let’s illustrate this by analyzing the Pop instrumental “Sparkle In Your Eyes” that we’ve produced for Beats Avenue (www.beatsavenue.com). For this Pop/R&B beat, we decided to start with a single instrument: piano. After one measure, we added drums and at the next measure, we added the bass, giving more shape to the instrumental and a light virtual sound. When reaching the chorus, we can feel the presence of more synthesizers. We also made the drums sound a bit heavier. Then, at the beginning of the following verse, we chose to bring a softer mood again and to follow a growing progression.
Here’s another example. For the Pop beat “Unreachable” that we produced for Beats Avenue, we decided to introduce the drums only after the first chorus.
The music starts with a guitar playing a full chord and a light pad is sustaining it, bringing additional harmonies. Then, a few strings appear giving more presence to the music. In the chorus, we finally added the bass, and the guitar is played with a more dynamic rhythmic pattern in order to bring more “energy” in the music. In the last part of the chorus, some synthesisers appear, contributing again to this “growing” effect. Finally, the drums arrive in the verse right after the chorus, giving a stronger and more determining feeling to the instrumental.
Another common aspect in the evolution of a song is the middle eight arrangements leading to the final chorus. You can often notice that after the second chorus of a song, a middle eight will appear. One of its main roles is to break monotony and also bring a calmer feeling before the rise of the song in the last chorus. In fact, the idea is to place a small number of instruments to make the song breathe at this very moment. Then you can add all your instruments back again in the last chorus to make a powerful contrast. Once again if your bridge was already full of instruments, you won’t be able to feel the power of the last chorus.
If, on the contrary, you decide that your bridge should be powerful and growing, then you can add more instruments to this part during a few bars, but just before the last chorus, try to make the arrangement light again, make it breathe, and then make the last chorus explode. For example, you can only make a sudden break of drums or why not a break of all the instruments…
On Beats Avenue, you can have a listen to all the Pop Beats for sale, all the Hip Hop beats for lease (Dirty South Beats, West Coast Beats…), Bachata Beats for sale, Reggaeton Beats for sale, R&B instrumentals etc., you’ll notice all of these structures.
To conclude, despite all of what we said earlier, sometimes a good composition, good ideas of arrangement and catchy lyrics are not enough for your song to be aired on the radio. Indeed, nowadays, a top quality production is compulsory. You can’t have a satisfying song if the quality of your production doesn’t reach today’s standard. We may develop this technical aspect another time. Also, you need to choose a good mix engineer. The quality of mix is really important and it’ll take your song to a higher level or not.
This is also why we are leasing beats, so that many artists can have to possibility to use our productions and benefit from our experience at an affordable price. And Beats Avenue is definitely one of the best place to buy beats with a wide range of instrumentals for sale. We also offer Exclusive beats and Custom instrumentals.
Finally, never forget that you must always like the music you produce; every successful songwriter has that in common. And even if you don’t succeed at the beginning, be patient, hard work pays off and someday you’ll get your song on the charts…
Booming Brothers, team of music producers.