By Tim "The ChirpinByrd"
In my lifelong venture with music, I’ve searched over and over again to figure out what constitutes making a hit song. I always knew what music I liked. I always knew how a certain song made me feel. I even knew how a song could take me back to what I was doing, feeling or where I was, when I first heard a particular song. But the anatomy of a hit song baffled me. How could a few words that rhymed (or not), mixed with musical instruments, create a feeling of euphoria, sadness, anger, rebellion, etc…? Like I said, it baffled me. I’ve always said, “If teachers could teach subjects using music, we would never have problems with essays, exams or even showing up for class”. So what is the formula for creating a hit song? Good question.
There are theories and speculations on how to create a hit song, however; there isn’t a set, iron clad, constitutional, 10 commandments formula for creating a hit song. You’re probably saying, “But Tim, ummm, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Motown, Led Zeppelin and all the other greats must’ve had a formula because I still hear their music ‘til this day”. And I completely agree with you. We continue to hear their music ‘til this day, however; I’m sure they didn’t sit in their bedrooms saying, “Man, this formula for creating a hit song is going to keep my music around for generations…even after I’m gone”. I’m pretty sure they “wanted” it to happen, but it really doesn’t work that way.
When I was young and on my quest to find the winning formula for creating a hit song, I seemed to always hit a brick wall. I mean a HUGE wall. It frustrated me. I mean some songs were created this way and others the other way. In today’s world of the internet, you can Google “The Formula for Creating a Hit Song” and you’ll probably find millions of links on this one subject alone. You want to know why? It’s because everyone has their own version or theory on how a hit song is created. But if you purchase a book in a bookstore or read music content online, you’ll notice that producers, songwriters, singer-songwriters, whoever it may be, provide general or technological answers. That doesn’t help me. And it probably doesn’t help you. My apologies to the book publishers and the online authors who publish books or provide content information on the subject “How to Create a Hit Song”. So, what is the formula for creating a hit song?
The answer? THERE IS NO FORMULA FOR CREATING A HIT SONG!!! You’re probably thinking, “I wasted my time reading this article.” No you didn’t. There is no formula for creating a hit song. There’s a structure for creating a song itself. But there is no formula. And when I say structure, I mean…intro, verse, hook followed by another verse, hook…so on and so forth. A “hook”, for those of you who didn’t know, is sometimes referred to as the “chorus”. The “hook” or “chorus” is a part of the song that music listeners remember the most like Annie Lennox’s “These Dreams (Are Made of This)” or Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean is not my lover”. You may want to YouTube it if these songs were before your time. To further elaborate on structure, it’s equivalent to one’s daily life….“I wake up” (intro), “I’m going to take a shower, brush my teeth and then get dressed” (verse), “I’m in my car going to a job that I despise” (hook [chorus]), “on my way to work I got a flat tire so I’m late for work…I might lose my job” (another verse), “I’m standing by my car on the interstate/highway hoping I can get to a job that I despise” (another hook [chorus]….so on and so forth. See where I’m going with this? The structure is easy because it’s in the form of an outline. But a formula for creating a hit song is a another beast.
I came across an interview with Music Producer, Film Composer and Television Producer Quincy Jones. For those of you who are not familiar with him, he has worked with the likes of Dizzie Gillespie in the 1950’s, Frank Sinatra and Leslie Gore (It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To) in the 1960’s, composed the theme song for “Sanford and Son” and produced Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” in the 1970’s, produced the biggest selling album in the history of music, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and produced the TV show, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” featuring the now mega-superstar Will Smith. In an industry of uncertainty, why wouldn’t I pay close attention to what this long-standing veteran has to say? I mean, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” alone makes me wonder. If there is no formula, then why does “Thriller” remain to be the biggest selling album in music history? I’ll tell you.
Quincy Jones says, “You have to do something that gives you goose bumps”. It has to make you say, “Yea man, that really turns me on.” Note, he is not referring to a sexual feeling everyone. He follows with, “…If [you and others around you] get turned on a lot [by your own music], you’ve got a chance of somebody else getting turned on”. To sum it up, if you feel it deep in your soul that you’ve created a great piece of music and others around you feel those goose bumps, 9 times out of 10, other people will feel the same way. Quincy also states that you can’t plan a hit record.
So where is the formula for creating a hit song? It lies in you. “Thriller” sold as many as it did because people felt the same goose bumps that Quincy and Michael felt. Gut instinct. My advice….Listen to your own songs the same way you listen to songs that grabbed you when you heard them. Not every song you create is going to be a hit. But you will find your audience, if what you create, is your honest point of view. Good luck.