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Wednesday
Oct312012

What are the essential features of a hit record?

We have all heard those hit songs that can be considered  ‘timeless classics’.

Whether it’s a hip hop track, a rock classic or an 80’s power ballad, these songs share some essential features that ensure they will be on the airwaves for years to come. Obviously there is not one hard and fast rule for this as every song is different, but here is a list of features that many of these hit records share.

A ‘catchy’ song

Starting with the obvious, a hit record must be a great song. Above all the melody must be strong, as this is what a listener focuses on and this should be accompanied by some great lyrics and a good groove. You can apply the best production techniques possible, but if the song is weak then the record will sink without a trace!

A strong vocal


Having a great vocal is a real asset to any record. If you have a quality song and you have a strong vocalist to sing the melody, then this can be the golden ticket to creating a hit record. A great vocal does not necessarily need to be technically proficient, but more to do with how a singer can successfully interpret the emotion in the song i.e. how they can convey the message in the lyrics.

A creative arrangement

After the song and the vocal, you need to ensure you have a strong arrangement. This involves using the right structure and ensuring each section of the music is interesting for the listener. This can be achieved by adding extra instruments, adding a counter melody, changing the drum pattern, or changing the key etc. Have a listen to some hit songs, and pay attention to the subtle differences between each section. How is verse 2 different to verse 1? How is the last chorus different to the first?

An accomplished performance

You may have the heard the crude expression “You can’t goldplate a turd” and this definitely applies to creating a hit record. A track must sound like there is ‘life’ in the performance and no amount of editing in the studio, fiddling with EQ’s, compression or reverb can replicate this. It can be hard to put your finger on it at times, which is all the more frustrating, but sometimes one take just sounds better than another. If you have musicians who put there all into a performance and play with real emotion and intensity, then the production phase becomes far easier!

A well produced track

Although there are examples of hit songs which don’t technically sound very good, generally the really big and timeless records do sound excellent. A well engineered record does not guarantee it will be a smash, especially if the song, vocal, arrangement and performance are not up to scratch, but it can add an extra dimension to the overall sound, if the EQ’s are well balanced and the right amount of reverb and compression is applied.

The timeless factor


Despite having all the previous factors in place, if the track sounds like the last trend, and the musicians or band members look like it too, then the record might not take off as you would like. Having said that, a ‘retro’ look and sound to a band can work out really well if you go back two or more trends.

Are all the above factors essential for every hit song?

Well in short, no.

There will always be some songs which become hit records and cannot be explained. You will find some songs with weak vocals and melodies which take the charts by storm.

However, on most of the really big hits, you will find they contain the majority, if not all, of the factors in this article. Songs like “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade will be heard every December in shopping malls and on the radio. Other hits like  “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson and “Imagine” by John Lennon will be played all year round for many years to come.

Would you like some great tips on how to write a song and compose music in any style? Download a FREE 10-page guide on “5 Essential Elements On How To Improve Your Music Making In Any Style” at http://make-music.net

 

Reader Comments (9)

Thank you, Marcel, for your wonderful article!

I totally agree with you. The only thing I would add is that the lyrics of a song must be "universal" (lyrics that many people can identify with and understand).

Sakis Gouzonis

October 31 | Unregistered CommenterSakis Gouzonis

Enjoyed reading the article. I would go into more detail of why a song is "catchy"?
It seems that many of the best and most memorable songs have very simple melodies that are repetitive. Usually chorus is a simple hook and it repeats. This gives a chance to listeners to quickly learn it and that's what appeals to them on subconscious level.
Simplicity may not always be obvious due to elaborate harmonies which move underneath it.

So, I think that simplicity and repetition are the key.

What do you think?

November 3 | Unregistered CommenterGoran

And yet the main stream radio continually plays trash

November 6 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Lets stop with the goofy CD baby postings of the overly obvious nonsense, shall we? If there is ONE musician on the planet that doesn't know the above, then they are not going to be in the game for real no matter what. Why not give people real solid advice? Lets look at one thing that can ACTUALLY do.. "Strong vocals are an assets" ? NO SHIT? Look, you are in business to distribute peoples record, how about real information? Here's one for free. The COLOR of your CD cover. Yes even if you sell it through iTunes. People's attention is drawn to colors and interesting looking things. A hit record has to sell and get attention.So, the above advice is damn near useless, and completely ambiguous.

So.. Direction that works number ONE: INTERESTING Album/Single cover that gets people to look twice. Your NAME on a black cover because you're so "dark", skip it. Spend money on the art.

your turn CD baby.. and yes, I am a CD baby customer.

November 6 | Unregistered CommenterThe Reverend Rob

Why assume that a hit record has to have a vocal at all?
My favorite records have no vocals at all.

- V

December 2 | Unregistered CommenterVersus

I TOTALLY AGREE with Reverend Rob (ABOVE). Wow!!! i can't believe you guy's waste your time ( and mine) writing this stuff ( and hopefully Not paying someone to do so) that you think would actually have surpassed a musicians common knowledge base. I think the usual drunk guy at the bar carries this common gray matter knowledge. Im' a CD Baby client, and frankly disappointed that you people think we are THAT far gone. Email some 3rd Graders with this stuff,,,, not those of us who have the experience and the knock downs and pick ourselves up again. Horrible Job Guy's,,, i mean,,,,REALLY!

December 6 | Unregistered CommenterJon B.

I think all of this information is common knowledge to everybody; but, the reason why it needs to be spelled out for everyone is because it is all easier to say than achieve. Kind of like the Ten Commandments: very simple rules, but very hard indeed to achieve.

December 9 | Unregistered CommenterGina L.

Everybody doesn't know how to make HIT songs!!!! That's too bad, but true. I'm a songwriter, but can't sing. I'm praying that I find someone to sing my songs. I could have a hit song. This is really hard, tryin' to find someone on the same wave length, I'm on. Some people give up, before they start. They let other people think for them. You see what I'm dealin' with, POOP BUTT people. They're scared to meet me because they never met me before!!!! Like I said, I keep runnin' into POOP BUTTS!!!!

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Patterson

Everybody doesn't know how to make HIT songs!!!! That's too bad, but true. I'm a songwriter, but can't sing. I'm praying that I find someone to sing my songs. I could have a hit song. This is really hard, tryin' to find someone on the same wave length, I'm on. Some people give up, before they start. They let other people think for them. You see what I'm dealin' with, POOP BUTT people. They're scared to meet me because they never met me before!!!! Like I said, I keep runnin' into POOP BUTTS!!!!

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Patterson

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