The Gotye song “Somebody That I Used To Know” has really taken off in the US. It had the 4th biggest sales week ever for a digital single and even became the first single to have three weeks of sales over 400,000. It’s clearly a worldwide smash with over 200 million YouTube views, so is there lessons to learn from this song?
I admit that Gotye does not appear on the surface to fit the theories I discuss in Futurehit.DNA. My first discussion of this song was in August, 2011 after the song had been out a month and was exploding in Australia. A top industry exec friend asked me, “Is this a US hit?” My response then, as it is now, was “It doesn’t really fit modern Top 40 theories, but it has that compelling special something.” There are five key takeaways that you can use as you work to create your own hit.
#1: BE DIFFERENT
The assumption is that you have to make songs that are produced and homogenized like everything else out there. The facts rarely support this. More of the top selling songs in the last few years come from the one that didn’t sound like everyone else. This year, both Gotye and Fun. are dominating single sales without being like anyone else.
#2: USE SUCCESSFUL TECHNIQUES OTHERS AREN’T
People have asked me why “Somebody That I Used To Know” works so well. I just say it’s a new version of the Human League song “Don’t You Want Me”. That early 80s hit had a structure where the male singer pleaded for the woman in the first verse and the woman explained why she wouldn’t come back in the second verse. Gotye copied that subject exactly. While everyone else seems to write direct love song pleas, he mined a tested theme that had been unused recently.
#3: MAKE SURE YOUR SONG BUILDS
Play the first 15 seconds of the song and then the last 30 seconds. The beginning is very soft and sparse, with the memorable xylophone line. The end is a colliding cornucopia of harmonies, counter melodies, and electronics. They are at a significantly higher emotional level than the beginning. The song is a journey to get to that point. Make the song the journey. Flat dynamics and emotions will not win.
#4: PLAY TO THE MEDIUM
People have asked me if this song invalidates the 7 second rule in Futurehit.DNA. It doesn’t because of how the song worked with the platform playing it. In the video that broke the song, the 19 second intro became compelling because of a long tracking shot of the left side of the singer’s naked body. Skin sells, and the mere fact that the open teased sex and nudity kept the viewer engaged. The extra body painting and time lapse stuff that the video is known for kept you there. But the allure of nudity drew the listener in. When it came time to deliver the song to US radio, the intro was cut down to 8 seconds to conform to Top 40’s short attention span.
#5: WORK FOR MANY MONTHS TO BUILD
One thing I’ve been preaching a lot lately is that many bands fail to have a hit because they give up on their song too quickly. They presume the few weeks around the release is all you have to do and if it doesn’t pop, it’s done. The opposite is true. Gotye came out in Australia in July 2011 and peaked in the US in April 2012. I was aware of the song in July, as were many others. But it still took a long methodical campaign with a lot of work by UniversalRepublic to make sure it hit a mass level. Sticking with a song is key to its success. I’ve been working with a song for nearly a year that now has over 300,000 views and 10,000 singles sold. This weekend, the song was shared on Facebook at a rate of about 3 times an hour. There are about 100 videos that use or cover the song on YouTube. This didn’t happen overnight. This was a lot of time and work put into it. With more work to come.