Everything is useless if you try to sell a bad song. Good songs are the be-all and end-all of the music business. Much more important even than the execution (i.e. the recording). Because good songs can be re-recorded and interpreted by different artists in different styles. So how can you recognise hits?
The information on what commercial songs are and what constitutes hits is therefore useful for the “music business people” such as label founders, A&R managers and music publishing founders, as well as for the people who want to write songs: songwriters and musicians.
Hit – what is it?
The term hit in the music industry simply refers to the success of a piece of music. The term means in English: “to strike”, “to hit” or “to hit”. What is meant by this is the “impact” of the song on the market or the “meeting” of the buyer’s wishes. So there are no patent recipes for writing a hit song. However, there are some important elements and aspects that often occur in successful songs. These include the following.
First of all, there is usually the so-called “hookline”. If we translate the term into German, we know what this “hookline” is supposed to do: It should “hook” into the ear and the listener’s attention – in German, it should be an “earworm”.
A hookline can occur in many ways, for example, a bass line or a guitar riff can serve as a hookline (Smoke on the water, Deep Purple), but sometimes also a characteristic drum pattern (Money, Pink Floyd). Mostly, however, the hookline is the melody – that is, usually the vocal track of a song.
The hookline is:
- Occurring frequently in the song (for better memorisation).
- “High point of tension”.
Have you ever wondered why radio stations mention the station name before every song, after every song, before the news, after the news, during the presentation, etc.? The answer is quite simple: with audio media, the listener often has no other way of recognising the station than through the audible transmission. And what in TV is the faded-in station name in some corner of the picture, in radio is the audible logo.
The same applies to commercially, potentially successful songs. If a song sounds good, has a great hook line, i.e. a super earworm, and the listeners only have the need: “I have to own this song!” – then these listeners must also be able to buy the song without too much trouble. This can be quite difficult when the song hook is:
“Guess who’s here, it’s me!” and the song title is: “Flowers for you”. If you have heard the song and liked it, you will naturally look for the most memorable part – the hook line: “Guess who’s here, it’s me!” or ask in the record shop for the corresponding hook line.
As a record contract/ music publisher, we lose valuable customers by making such a mistake. It is therefore important to place the title in a prominent position during the songwriting process, and preferably to use it directly as a hook. As a music publisher/record company, you should always determine the original title in such a way that the song can become commercially successful (i.e. choose the most striking, catchy part of the song as the title).
- Hook should be song title.
- The song title should be frequent and
- The song title should be clearly recognisable.
The hook is usually hidden in the chorus and the chorus is also the place in the song where you can repeat a phrase often and catchily. So it’s important to focus on an explosive chorus.
Important: Contrary to what many semi-pros believe, it is important for the chorus to stand out from the rest of the action. It should stand out as much as is reasonable and possible. So four chords for a complete song may work now and then, but it is potentially more successful if the chorus brings completely new ideas into the song.
Also, a chorus should appear as quickly as possible in the song. Sometimes the chorus can even precede the first verse (good example: “High School Musical: “Breaking Free”). As long as the chorus is good, the song can stand the chorus being repeated a lot.
So for the chorus:
- The chorus should stand out from the rest of the action as much as possible.
- The chorus should occur often, quite early in the action, preferably before the first verse (at least implied).
Counter-listen to songs
Music can often be categorised into its period of origin on the first listen. The 70s can often be recognised by funky guitars and the typical “disco strings”. The 80s stand out because of the typical synth drums and the 90s can be recognised relatively well by the use of the computer and sampler technology, which was still very limited (but nevertheless wildly used) at that time.
So every era has the music that sounds like it. It is therefore important to “listen to” songs. In other words, always take your own songs and compare them with the songs that are popular at the moment. At the moment, for example, the typical “Timbaland” synthesizers and drums or dubstep elements are quite popular. But the trend is also going back to “authentic” music, where all the instruments are real and played by bands (Wir sind Helden, Nora Jones, Damien Rice, etc.).
So you should make sure that the songs are produced in a way that is appropriate for the music of the moment. The best way to do this is to run the song you sent in and then switch to a song that is in the charts at the moment. If you don’t notice a big sound difference in the music production during this change, the song you sent in fits in with today’s music.
Of course, this is especially true for labels where band takeover contracts are targeted. But in principle it applies to everyone: songs (and song demos) that are to be successful in today’s world must also sound like today’s world (as beautiful as the music of the 1960s to 1980s was).