FOR HIT SONGS, INGREDIENTS MATTER


While I lay out important steps for hit songs in my book Futurehit.DNA, is that all it takes? This morning I got an insightful tweet from David Brogan asking that very question. He writes a UK based blog posting articles on writing hit songs as well, and his question is a variation on one I get asked often:

If we have the same ingredients & follow the same recipe, shouldn’t we get similar results?

The key words of “ingredients” and “recipe” are the important signifiers here. It would be great if the only thing you needed to do is read my book and spit out a big hit. But there’s many more elements involved that can never be taught in a book. Experience is about the only way you can get thru that. Comparing that to cooking is a great way to frame those elements.

Pick the right ingredients. How many times do you hear stories of great chefs waking up at 4 AM to hit the fish market to get the freshest catch? Going to farms to ensure they get the best vegetables? And for that matter, knowing which ones are best when they see it? That’s what top chefs do. You can have the same recipe for a great fish/vegetable dish that they do. Yours won’t taste as good because you don’t get the best ingredients. Never mind your failure to get up at 4 AM to find them. Music is no different. If you don’t know, can’t afford, or can’t select the best musicians, producers and engineers, how is your song going to be a hit?

Follow the recipe exactly. The best chefs follow the recipe they create down to the very teaspoon. Down to the very second. You might add just a half teaspoon too much. Or keep a dish in the pan for 30 seconds too long. The dish may taste good, but is it great? Just having the recipe and following it may not be enough. You have to be meticulous, exact and accurate. It also helps to practice it many times and see how you get it wrong before you get it right. Just following the recipe doesn’t yield a great dish.

Practice until it’s second nature. A chef can have a dish with the right recipe and ingredients and it still doesn’t come out perfectly. For that, it needs to be made with such ease that it’s second nature. The best chefs practice and make the dish repeatedly so that perfection is a foregone conclusion. Along the way, the recipe gets slight tweaks to achieve greatness. Have you practiced to the point of performing with your eyes closed? Does the song feel effortless because you’ve already played it 500 times? All key points to a hit.

Please don’t buy my books if you think that’s all it takes to make a hit. It’s not. You need to commit to it all. Learn how to get the best elements and insist for the best. Make sure you take your learnings and be exact in their execution. Practice until its hurts and you can’t stand. Then, and maybe then, the Futurehit.DNA elements will elevate your song to a true Top 10 hit.

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4 Responses to “FOR HIT SONGS, INGREDIENTS MATTER”

  1. David Brogan May 15, 2012 at 3:09 pm # Reply

    Hi Jay,
    Thank you so much for responding to my initial question in the manner and style above. I am currently conducting research for my Masters degree in Songwriting with BathSpa university in the UK, and my paper is based on whether we can establish a definite set of underlying ‘Principles’ for Hit Songwriting, much in the manner that Napoleon Hill and BIll Wilson established sets of ‘guaranteed success’ principles for “wealth” and “personal recovery” programmes (if followed consistently) in the early C20th.
    One response I received today you may find very interesting, if you have not come across it before. Bristol University are developing software that can already reliably predict a Top5 UK chart hit with 60% accuracy. They are currently tweaking the model to achieve an even higher ‘hit’ rate. Their research links are – http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2011/8116.html and http://www.scoreahit.com/TheHitEquation
    By pure ‘coincidence’ in my ongoing correspondence with Dr. Tijl de Bie today, I had mentioned some additional parameters for consideration, which included your name, your books, and your own cutting edge research and insights regarding song introduction lengths, with regard to online streaming and attention spans. Also, current lyrical content as a result of Twitter generation condensed “sound bytes”.
    Best Regards Jay, I love reading any articles, information, and videos I find your stamp on.
    David B.

    • Jay Frank May 15, 2012 at 5:22 pm # Reply

      Thanks for the compliments. I’ve seen several places who offer accuracy on hit placement. The problem is that there are too many intangibles to accurately guess a chart hit via software. An algorithm can’t predict how much money someone will spend on promotion, what level of leverage they will get to secure airplay, or what promotional placements they can secure to drive sales. So all an algorithm can do is suggest an increased likelihood of chart success. But due to those variables alone, I can’t see anyone ever being able to get 95% success rates at hit predicting. You can only increase the odds.

  2. Rick Barker June 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm # Reply

    As usual, AWESOME!

  3. Alan Warrick August 20, 2012 at 11:10 pm # Reply

    I don’t cook with a recipe just with what taste good. We sing with our tongue but we listen with our ear.

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