Music is a universal language that can connect people across cultures, generations, and emotions. But what makes a song a hit? What are the ingredients that make listeners want to play it over and over again? Is there a formula for creating a successful tune?
There is no definitive answer to these questions, as different songs appeal to different audiences, tastes, and contexts. However, some researchers have tried to analyze the characteristics of hit songs using data from music charts, sales, streams, and other sources. Here are some of the findings they have discovered.
1. Uniqueness: One of the factors that can make a song stand out from the crowd is its uniqueness. A song that has a distinctive sound, style, or theme can catch the attention of listeners and create a lasting impression. For example, the 1968 hit "Hey Jude" by The Beatles was unique for its time, as it was over 7 minutes long, had a fade-out coda of "na, na, nas", and broke the convention of pop songs being 3 minutes or less. According to a study by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the most successful songs since 1985 have been those that were not cookie-cutter copies of other songs, but had something special going on.
2. Familiarity: While uniqueness can make a song memorable, familiarity can make a song comfortable and enjoyable. A song that has elements that listeners can relate to, such as a catchy melody, a common chord progression, a popular genre, or a recognizable artist, can make them feel at ease and satisfied. For example, the 2019 hit "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus was familiar for its use of the country rap genre, the sample of the 2008 song "34 Ghosts IV" by Nine Inch Nails, and the collaboration of a new and an old star. According to a study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, the most successful songs since 1958 have been those that balanced novelty and typicality, as they stimulated the brain's reward system and increased the likelihood of repeated listening.
3. Emotion: Another factor that can make a song a hit is its emotion. A song that can evoke a strong feeling in listeners, such as happiness, sadness, anger, or nostalgia, can make them connect with the song and the artist on a deeper level. For example, the 1997 hit "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion was emotional for its association with the tragic love story of the movie Titanic, the soaring vocals of the singer, and the sentimental lyrics of the song. According to a study by researchers from the University of Southern California, the most successful songs since 1951 have been those that expressed positive emotions, such as joy, excitement, and surprise, as they enhanced the mood and energy of listeners.
Of course, these are not the only factors that can make a song a hit. There are also other aspects, such as the marketing, the timing, the context, and the luck of the song, that can influence its popularity and success. Moreover, the preferences and expectations of listeners can change over time, as new trends and technologies emerge and shape the music industry. Therefore, there is no guarantee that a song will become a hit, even if it has all the ingredients mentioned above. However, these factors can provide some insights and guidelines for songwriters, composers, and producers who want to create a hit song, or at least a good song, that can resonate with listeners and make them want to hear it again and again.