Music for the masses sounds difficult. What could bring so many people from different backgrounds together? The truth is that there’s almost a formula — and I’m not just talking about repeating the chorus hundreds of times. There are a huge range of variables that go into getting that elusive number one. Label support, a huge marketing campaign, a release at the right time of year etc. But it boils down to getting a few key ingredients right — all the polishing in the world can’t make a turd turn into gold.
Here’s my three essential components to crafting your number one:
1. You must have a good beat.
People like a song that they can dance to, think of any major summer hit. That’s where the money’s to be made, that’s what’ll get played in the clubs in years to come. Something simple and repetitive is good, and instantly dancefloor friendly. A straight up four-four rock standard is a good place to start but mixing it up to something that stands out is even better.
2. There must be some sort of hook.
There must be that one part that everybody will recognise your song by, if they hum it. A bass riff, a particular melody somewhere, or a line leading into the chorus. There must be something that makes your song unique. The hook is your identity, the fingerprint of your song and part of what tells you apart from other artists. Use it and put your stamp all over it.
3. The chorus must be magnetic.
Simply just having one isn’t enough. It must be shout-along-able, larger than life and memorable. It also helps if your song keeps coming back to the chorus — you want the listener to know it inside out before the song’s over. Little tricks like changing the key of the song up a notch works well, as does adding in backing vocalists and extra layering as the chorus repeats again and again and then fades out.
And that’s it!
Altogether it creates a song that, in any genre, will be liked by the majority of people. Breaking these rules may give you more artistic, against the grain and interesting work but no artist writes music simply for their own enjoyment — part of the process is the interaction and digestion of their work by others. To see a reaction, a change behind somebody’s eyes when they’ve heard your song is a great feeling.
Songs can be happy or sad, major or minor — all by following rules and conventions. I’m not asking anyone to bow to what I’m writing here, or sacrifice their integrity and sell out — but if more artists took a leaf out of the book of pop music, their music would be more accessible. They would find a wider audience and have more success with their music. There’s no way of guaranteeing a number one, but it’s a start.