I hear many times that “there is no formula for a hit song”. But I would add the word “YET” at the end of this sentence. After analyzing more than 2000 hit songs, and reading all the books and courses on songwriting, I found many answers to this question. For example, I discovered the hidden rhythmical system behind ALL hit songs, which I call the “Rhythm Code”.
So here are some of my answers to the question: “how to write a hit song”. Keep in mind that this is not a step-by-step instruction, but more like a cross-section of most of the hit songs. You can always experiment and deviate from any of these if you want to write a unique song.
1. Use only 3 or 4 chords
Regardless of the genre, 99% of the hit songs are written by using only 3 or 4 chords. The Cuban band Buena Vista Social Club is a “world music” band, but their extremely popular song called “Chan Chan” is written by using only 4 chords.
Bobby McFerrin is one of the greatest jazz singers in the world, but he became famous with his song “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, which is not more than 3 chords all the way through.
And of course, in popular genres, it’s even more typical to use only 3 or 4 chords in a hit song. Yes, there are hit songs that have more than 4 chords, but the vast majority of the hit songs are using only 3 or 4 chords.
2. Use only diatonic chords
Most hit songs are using only diatonic chords. Diatonic chords are chords from within the key. Yes, there are many hit songs that are using chord substitutions and borrowed chords, but again, the vast majority of the hit songs are using only diatonic chords.
There are seven diatonic chords in a key, but they mostly use the first six of them. So for example, these are the first six diatonic chords in the key of C major:
C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am
3. Use a proven song structure
There is a reason why certain song structures are often used by successful songwriters. A well-crafted song structure affects and controls the emotion of the listener.
If you take some of the hit songs and write down their structures, you can easily find the most often used song structure, but here is a simple example:
verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus – chorus
This is not just a random “rule” or music theory. People use these structures because they work. Of course, there are many variations of this structure, but it’s a good starting point if we want to write a hit song.
4. Use the Rhythm Code™
Do you want to know the biggest secret of Max Martin? It’s not melodic math. It’s the Rhythm Code. He is utilizing the Rhythm Code in ALL of his songs. And he is probably not even aware of it.
People are using the Rhythm Code because it FEELS good, it sounds good, but they are not aware of it. They just use it intuitively. Fortunately, I created a formula for the Rhythm Code so you can use the same rhythm system as those songwriters are using.
You can create melodies, bass grooves, drumbeats, horn arrangements with the help of the Rhythm Code, and it helps you to create BETTER rhythms for these elements of your song.
The Rhythm Code is the first chapter of the Songwriting Essentials course.
5. Create a unique hook
The hook is a small motif which is:
The hook will make your song unique and memorable. The hook can be a motif played by a musical instrument, or it can be part of a vocal melody.
Here are some examples. Listen to the song “Black or White” by Michael Jackson. The guitar starts with a short riff… that’s the hook in this song! You can immediately recognize the song just by listening to that motif played by the guitar.
Or listen to the song “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. The end of the vocal melody in the chorus is “shake it off, shake it off”. That’s a hook!
The good news is, I have the exact formula of how you can create these kinds of hooks that are unique AND memorable. (it’s in the course)
It’s not a coincidence that hit songs are full of repetitions. It’s scientifically proven that people prefer music that contains repetition.
There are many different kinds of repetitions in hit songs, but I didn’t find any books or courses on songwriting where they teach us what are these repetitions EXACTLY and how to create them.
After analyzing more than 2000 songs, I figured out all the different kinds of repetitions and documented them in the songwriting course.
There is a specific kind of repetition that makes a song unique and memorable. Everyone uses this tool, Max Martin uses it, Ed Sheeran uses it, Michael Jackson used it, Stevie Wonder uses it, Taylor Swift uses it.
In the course, I give you the exact formula of how you can create this specific kind of repetition. You won’t find this anywhere else, nobody talks about it.
Here are the most essential things that are present in most hit songs:
1. Use not more than 3 or 4 chords in your song.
2. Use only diatonic chords.
3. Learn the most often used song structures to control the emotions of the listener.
4. Use the Rhythm Code to create better rhythms in your melodies, bass grooves, drumbeats.
5. Create a hook that is unique and memorable.
6. Learn the different kinds of repetitions that are used in most hit songs.
The secret pattern behind successful songs
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About the Author
Producer, songwriter at Bánhidy András, and Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of The Rhythm Code.