While there isn’t a perfect formula for how to write a hit song, there are some guidelines that help. You may believe that music is just something extra we can turn to for enjoyment. But the fact is that music does a lot for us beyond that.
For starters, it triggers the pleasure centers in the brain and releases dopamine. Your brain can even predict when the most pleasurable parts of a song are up ahead and it releases dopamine in response to that.
Music may also keep your brain young and encourage heart health, according to research. Music can help with depression and help your body release immunity-boosting antibodies to keep you healthy.
As a musician, you’re bringing more to just enjoyment to the world, but for your music to reach a wider audience, you must learn how to write a hit song. Not everyone wants to write wildly popular music, but if you do, you’ve come to the right place.
How to Write a Hit Song: Song Arrangement and Structure
While folk music is a different genre than typical pop music, you can apply certain rules to a folk song that will make it likelier to become a hit. Most of the top popular hits in 2018 stuck with a set of rules in a musical arrangement that the industry has been using for a while.
Our culture likes a quick fix, and that includes music, so a hit song will often be quite short. A lot of the most popular songs out there are between 3 and 3:30 minutes long. Although this may seem like leftover advice from the era of radio, it does still apply today.
People are busy, and we move fast, so being able to access our music, in the same manner, will go over best. When you’re learning how to write a hit song, you’ll need to not only deliver your music fast but make it just varied enough to keep listeners hooked.
You likely won’t hear an intro to a super popular song that lasts more than 15 seconds, and typically the chorus comes after that. It used to be standard to include a hook after the intro, but in our modern world, there’s endless music to choose from on the Internet and radio.
With the next song by another artist just a click away, you’ll need to show listeners what you’ve got as soon as possible. If a favorite song begins with a verse rather than a chorus, the chorus typically comes within one minute. Popular songs rush this process more than ever before because our attention spans are shorter than they used to be.
Switch it up
Another good guideline for writing a popular song is remembering to change things up. Changing things up can mean adding or removing things, changing the groove or melody in some parts, or adding an extra harmony part in the vocals.
In general, you can include these changes every four bars in the song to keep it interesting. Be careful when you add these changes and don’t make them too dramatic. They need to be just enough to keep the song ever-changing and interesting.
When it comes to the arrangement, most popular songs are going with a similar structure. Each song usually begins with a quick, short intro, has a couple of chorus or verse sections, then a musical bridge, a climax with the most energy, then an outro.
All of this happens in quick succession. While some genres depart from this and include longer verses or choruses, the music that makes it to the top in our modern day almost never do.
How to Write a Hit Song: Research and Find the Tune
If you’re learning how to write a hit song, you need to know what topic it’s going to cover. First, you’ll identify the subject matter and lyrics, then you’ll put a tune to it.
Research your topic
To know what you’ll be covering, you should research the topic. For musicians who want to write about social issues or politics, this can mean reading the paper, watching the news, and staying on top of current events.
Pay attention to what you hear about throughout the day and write down key points. If your song is going to about the culture of your country, take notes as you go about your day and observe it.
Think about the song
Most great songs aren’t born out of one sitting at home. They’re a process that happens over a span of time. In order to learn how to write a hit song, you’ll need to stimulate your creative flow. Go out into the world as you normally would, but keep your song in mind.
Record key phrases that you think of or see and note them down for later reference. Go to areas that remind you of the subject matter you want to cover in your song. And if you get any good ideas for lyrics, write those down too.
Find the tune
The next step when learning how to write a hit song is looking for the tune. When you start to jot down your song lyrics, think about the type of tune it would go best with.
What feelings do you want listeners to feel? What mood do you want to create? As you read over your lyrics, you can start humming some notes or playing your instrument to find what sounds “right” in your mind.
How to Write a Hit Song: Tying It Together
The tips listed above are essential for writing a folk song that your audience can connect to and listen to over and over. But how are you going to tie the rules mentioned together for a great finished product? Here are some tips for tying it all together to create a great song:
Ensure that the pronouns in your song agree with the antecedent. You may have listened to a song before and noticed that it started out referring to a “she” that later on became a “you.”
This change can be confusing when it comes to trying to understand what a song is about. Try to stick with a single pronoun and if you use the word “I,” make sure it refers to the same person throughout the song to avoid confusion.
Write meaningful words
Another great rule of thumb to follow is trying to make every line of your lyrics relevant and meaningful. Read one of the lines in your song aloud. Does it make sense on its own?
Each line in your song should paint its own picture for the people listening and stick with the title and theme of the song. When it comes to writing popular music, your song should stick with the theme (illustrated by the title) that you’ve chosen.
Be clear and honest
You should be upfront with the story you’re telling with your music. Check out your first two lines of lyrics and imagine a stranger walking up to you and saying those lines. Is it clear what they’re trying to convey? Were they able to communicate the “how, why, where, what, and who” of the song with what they said?
If you’re confused after hearing someone speak those two lines to you, your song needs some work. Record producers will want to know what your song is about as soon as possible and this means making those opening lines clear and to the point.
Vary patterns in your lyrics
Type your lyrics out and print them on a sheet of paper. Do the lines of the song all roughly match each other? Then it will probably not sound as interesting as you’re hoping it will. Do a lot of your lines extend all the way across the page? If so, then your song might sound a bit monotonous.
One way to keep a song interesting is to vary the length of the lines of lyrics. If the right edge of text on your printed lyrics is ragged and appears to be all over the place, you’re doing well.
Match beats in the song
Once you have the basic structure of your song fleshed out, it’s time to match beats in the song. First, count how many beats are in the first verse of lyrics, then count the beats in the second verse. Try to make sure they match so the song has a uniform feel to it that doesn’t confuse the brain.
Place emphasis on the title
Your title is an important part of the song that you should never overlook or forget. Your title lets listeners know what your song is going to be about.
Titles can have power positions in a song and the best to go with will depend on the structure of your song. Some songs will include the title in the first or very last lyric of the song, like the Beatles hit, “Yesterday.”
When you’re new to writing hit folk songs, it’s probably best to stick with this formula. But you can stray from it, as long as you place your title power position at the beginning of your chorus (or at the end). Whatever you do, don’t put your title in the middle of your song as it will get lost in the rest of the lyrics.
Add some variety
To keep your song interesting, vary how many lines are between your verse and chorus. Count how many lines you have in each verse, then count the lines you have in each chorus.
If they’re the same number, you need to add some more contrast between the sections. This contrast will keep the feel of the song exciting and fresh instead of too predictable or boring.
Put variety in the rhyming
Try to create a consistent scheme for your rhyming but change the sounds in your rhymes. Check out the rhyme scheme you’re working with and if it follows an A, B, A, B, C, C scheme, try to match the following verses to this.
However, remember to mix up the rhyme sounds. Don’t make your song a repetition of the “oh” or “ay” sound as listeners will get bored of this quite fast.
Try some a-cappella
Sing the melody of your song a-cappella onto a recorder and pay attention to where your title appears. If it appears around the most exciting part of your melody, it’s in a good spot. If it’s in the middle of the song (as we mentioned earlier), you’ll need to change it.
Also, pay attention to the emotional dynamics of your song. Does it bring up emotions or does it sound like the same thing repeating over and over like a nursery rhyme? Try to keep the length of your notes varied and interesting along with the intervals between them.
Think about chords
Every chord you play will have its own emotional tone, and this will shape the melody. While minor chords create feeling states of sorrow or doubt, major chords have a positive vibe to them. Adding inversions, suspensions, 6ths, 7ths, and 9ths will make your chords more interesting and lend them some depth.
Using chords appropriately will create the feeling you’re trying to create. As a general rule, since you’re wondering how to write a hit song, keep the chords simple. Too much complexity and variance can distract your listeners while not enough change can leave them bored. Find the sweet spot in between if you want to write a hit.
Ready to Write a Big Hit?
Learning how to write a hit song comes down to keeping the music relevant and exciting to today’s listeners. Although your goal is to write a popular piece of music, it’s still your creative work and should stay true to what you like.
By paying attention to the trends discussed in this article, you can help your music stay relevant, modern, and improve your odds of popularity. Again, there is no perfect formula for how to write a hit song, but following these guidelines will certainly improve your odds!