Tag Archives for " Deconstructed Hits "

November 16, 2016

The Common Characteristics Of A Hit Song

Hit SongAs we’re all too aware, crafting a hit song isn’t easy. Most people in the music business struggle their whole careers to be a part of just one, while others do the same to get a taste of that magic once again. While there isn’t an exact formula for a hit, there are a number of common elements between them that you’ll find that may help you in creating one. Here’s an excerpt from my Deconstructed Hits series that will hopefully shed some light on the subject.

“After looking at hundreds of hit songs, there is definitely a list of similar characteristics that you’ll find in a hit song on the charts today:

  • Most hits are short. Songs today average 3:47 in length, which is a lot longer than it used to be, but still an easily digestible bite.
  • Most hits have a short intro. The average intro of today’s hit is about 7 1/2 seconds, but it’s always been about getting to the point and that never seems to change.
  • Most hits limit the number of arrangement elements that occur at the same time. Most have only three or four, and rarely even five arrangement elements that play simultaneously, but no more.
  • The arrangement of most hits develops over the course of the song. Usually it reaches a peak at either the bridge or the last chorus.
  • Most hits use the arrangement to keep your interest. There’s always a new element entering or exiting to hold your attention.
  • Most hits have either a bridge or arrange a repeating song section to act like a bridge. The latter is an arrangement trick to keep the interest high and the song flowing.
  • Virtually all hits are dynamic, with a lot of tension and release, which means a hit changes in intensity. This is usually accomplished through the addition or subtraction of instrument or vocal tracks, but can also occur because of good old-fashioned dynamic playing if real musicians are used.
  • There are exceptions to all of these rules. It is rare to find a song that follows these traits exactly. Often what makes a song a hit in the first place is the ability to twist one of these traits into something new.

As you listen to songs in the future, begin to listen to the similarities in song form, arrangement and production, which can be a great help if you’re a songwriter, arranger or producer. The more you know about how a hit song is made, the more likely you’ll actually create one.

Keep in mind that even though you may not like a song or an artist, it is still worth a listen. Hits are hits for a reason, and they are definitely hard to come by. Each has some sort of magic––as well as some common elements––so something can be learned from every single one.”

You can read excerpts from the Deconstructed Hits books on the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com. You also might want to check out my new Music Producer Formula course as well.

4 Ways Music Production Has Changed

4 Ways Music Production ChangeAlthough it may not be entirely obvious if you’re not listening carefully, music production has changed immensely from the early days of 16 and 24 track recording until now (hits made before multitrack recording were even more different by virtue of the limited tracks available). Here are some observations on how the production of today differs from what was done in the 60s and 70s.

1. Hits today are “less organic.” With so many songs built around beats, loops, sequenced tracks and virtual instruments, the intensity from section to section in a hit is changed by adding or subtracting an instrument or vocal, instead of a live player just playing more dynamically. This has changed the feel of the current hits, for better or worse.

2. Hits today are quantized or “put on the grid” in a digital audio workstation app. Back in the days of tape, performances generally weren’t perfect (Steely Dan aside). The track space was limited, and if a player played the part nearly perfect except for one flub, many times you couldn’t take the chance that the next performance would be played as well, and you might record over a better take. That meant that you lived with the mistakes, but that also helped the songs sound more human or organic. In other words, in those days there was no such thing as “undo.”

3. Effects layering is more sophisticated today. Back in the early days of hit making, the only effects that most studios had were reverb and delay, and usually only one of each. Today we have a huge array of effects available, and even the most basic native plugin is far more variable than any of the original effects used way back when. Plus, effects today can be easily automated so they can appear or morph for only a single word or beat, which make the hits of today sound more “slick.”

4. Most songs have an ending. Before the turn of the century, most hits ended with a fade. Not so today. According to one study, hard endings play better in the digital world, where a fade is more likely to make the listener skip on to the next song.

While there’s still a lot of music production that remains the same as it ever was, there’s a lot that’s different too. The next time you listen to a song, keep these observations in mind. It will make you think differently about what you’re hearing.

For a detailed look at the production of hit songs, check out my Deconstructed Hits series of books.