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Date
November 26, 2012

Hit Song Formula

Is there a formula for writing a chart topper?
Transcript

Shelley Wade: Good morning! I’m Shelley Wade on New York’s hit music station, z100.

Gary: Nationally syndicated DJ Shelley Wade knows when she has got a huge pop song on her hands.

Shelley: First of all, when everybody’s requesting it, and then when I want to blast the speakers while I’m on air. That’s when I know it’s huge.

Gary: And you probably know it when you can’t go anywhere without hearing or seeing it.

So what have been some of the biggest songs this year?

Izzie: Call Me Maybe.

Music fan: Party Rock.

Kassin: We Are Young.

Sinead: Payphone.

Music fan: Mercy by Kanye West.

Sebastian: Well, the one on everyone’s mind right now would probably be Call Me Maybe.

Gary: According to researchers in Britain, songs like that don’t become hits by chance. They say a successful pop song often follows a formula. And they say it is possible to predict which songs will top the charts with a computer program called Score A Hit.

It uses mathematical equations to analyze a song’s hit-making qualities.

Songwriter Jared Cotter doesn’t buy it.

Jared Cotter: I may sound a little bit like a dinosaur on this one but I really feel like a hit record definitely cannot be determined by a computer.

Gary: He has written some big pop songs, including Jay Sean’s Do You Remember featuring Sean Paul and Lil Jon and Down featuring Lil Wayne.

Jared: You need that human connection. You need to feel something and computers have no feelings. So you can’t really ever trust the opinion of a computer when it comes to emotion, which is the driving factor in music, in my opinion.

Gary: So what is the formula? The researchers looked at hits and flops in the UK’s Top 40 since 1961 then analyzed 23 specific song characteristics. They found hits within the same time period share many of the same attributes.

I spoke with the lead researcher for Score A Hit, Tijl de Bie. He is a professor in England.

So what sparked the idea of analyzing pop songs?

Professor Tijl de Bie: Well, we were interested whether the audio of music actually contributes to success of a song or if the success of a song is almost exclusively determined by other factors, for example, popularity of the artist, the marketing budget, maybe social factors surrounding the song.

Gary: While lots of non-audio variables, like marketing, do go into making a hit, the research suggests the music alone can predict its success.

For instance, if you want a hit in 2012, it needs to be between 3 minutes and 30 seconds to 4 minutes and 15 seconds long, and have a tempo of 90 to 128 beats per minute, or BPMs. Most importantly, it better make you dance.

How many BPMs is this song?

Music producer: This is… I think it’s 126.

Gary: So would the analysis have predicted that Do You Remember would have been such a huge hit?

Professor Tijl de Bie: It would’ve said that it has a very high potential.

While some non-danceable songs become hits, they score well in other features.

Jared: I think that if people use this program, they’ll start to write for the program as opposed to starting to write from their feeling. They’ll be writing to the equation. And I think it’s dangerous.

Gary: But Professor Tijl de Bie says Score A Hit is not a recipe to create a song. He says it is to fine-tune songs you already have. And he says some music producers may unconsciously follow a hit song formula without even knowing it.

So would Jared use the program?

Jared: Well, honestly, if it was that accurate and proven to be that accurate, I would definitely use it as a tool, you know, before sending it out to a record label or an artist.

Gary: Of course, music will keep evolving, and things that make songs a hit today could be outdated in a few years. But formula or not, chances are you will always know a hit when you hear one.

Gary Hamilton, Channel One News.

Correlations

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