Two artists walk into a studio. Artist A says, “Let’s throw down some 808 beats, add a catchy chorus, mix some dubstep into the bridge and we have a hit on our hands.” Artist B says, “I wrote something… Who knows how well it’ll perform on the charts. I just want to get it out there, because people need to hear my story… They need to know they’re not the only one out there.” Who would you listen to?
A lot of today’s music is formulaic, but is there really a secret magic potion to conjure up a hit song? To me a song could be a hit for many reasons. A) It’s catchy (*cough* “Call Me Maybe” *cough*), B) It’s relatable nature (any of the numerous Adele hits) or C) It’s danceability (For example anything from RedOne’s arsenal like Nicki Minaj’s “Starships”). A hit to me has to awaken an emotion inside of people.
An artist who knows who to do exactly that is Ryan Tedder. I listened to a lot of Ryan Tedder NPR interviews today (if anyone knows me, this is no surprise. Saying I love Ryan Tedder/OneRepublic would be a major understatement). He’s written some of today’s biggest hits like Beyonce’s “Halo”, J.Lo’s “Do It Well”, and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone.” I love how he takes stories of life, and sets a soundtrack to them. For example, he cowrote “Rumor Has It” by Adele. When he heard Adele walking into the studio pissed off about the rumors people were starting about her and her ex, he was inspired and started playing a sultry Louisianan-sounding blues riff. The words followed and a Grammy worthy hit was born.
The man’s a songwriting genius. Scratch that, he’s a songwriting/producing mastermind. You know that song “Bleeding Love” by a little ole’ British songstress named Leona Lewis? He cowrote that with Jesse McCartney. That song went onto spend weeks topping Top 40/Billboard charts.
I am in love with his current radio smash “Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes where he not only wrote and produced, he lends his stellar vocals on the record. The track’s success comes from within. The anthem-like drum beat, the moving lyrics about being knocked down but getting up, and Tedder’s emotional vocals. Many listeners can relate to the melodic lines about pushing through hardships. The story telling that gets the listeners’ ears.
Another producer that is one of my favorites is mega-hitmaker RedOne. He’s worked with Pitbull, Taio Cruz, NeYo, and a whole catalogue of big ticket artists. There is no surprise when his songs goes to the top. He knows that the world craves a danceable hook. They want to move. Dance records may not be my favorite, but I love expressing my emotions through movement. So do a lot of other people.
Whether it is a fist-pumping club worthy track or sentimental ballad, can there truly be a secret key to making a hit? Is payola and other radio politics a factor? Sure, plenty of cases today ensue in the battle of how deep is one’s pocket versus the quality of the record. Does internet/social media/YouTube popularity matter? Sure it does. However, it all comes down to you. Who are you willing to support?