In this post we’ll examine song templates and why they contribute greatly to a song’s success.
It’s often an overlooked aspect of songwriting and production, but it’s definitely one of the crucial elements necessary for creating a hit song.
So without too much intro, let’s dive in!
What’s the best way to get a song to number one in the UK Christmas charts? It’s an obscure question to ask, but if your business is based around getting music heard by as many people as possible, it’s worth asking it. And according to a study by Manchester, UK record label Ostereo, the answer simple is:
Make your song 3 minutes and 57 seconds long, in the key of G Major, recorded at a tempo of 114 beats per minute and if possible, have it performed by a 27-year-old solo artist. For an extra shot of festive cheer, hitmakers should throw in a choir and some church bells.
Experts at Ostereo analysed every UK Christmas number one from the past 50 years (the Christmas number one is a thing in the UK, by the way) and found that the most successful songs fitted a formula.
CEO Howard Murphy said at the time of the study:
“I think we’re a long way from an algorithmically generated Christmas number one, but technology and data will certainly help play a part in identifying potential trends and untapped niches. For example, if data can tell us that people respond best to a certain tempo or a specific key, there’s no reason not to use that information in the writing process.”
And how do Eurovision songwriters hack the contest to give their compositions the best chance of impressing the judges? 124 beats per minute, 3 minutes and one second long and in a minor key. Although most Eurovision winners have been recorded in major keys, the majority of recent winners have been brooding tunes in minor keys. That’s why Murphy correctly predicted a ‘dark and moody’ winner for 2019.
Why Pop Songs are Shrinking?
There’s been another important question on the minds of the Ostereo team recently. Why are pop songs shrinking? Ostereo’s data experts, of which there is an entire team, went and found out. According to their research, pop songs are shrinking rapidly and longer songs are becoming less popular. The average UK number one record has shrunk by 46 seconds over the past two decades, but the rate of decline has accelerated rapidly over the past few years. What’s more, the researchers think they know why. Algorithms.
“Our own data suggests consumers’ attention spans are getting shorter. More people skip before a song has ended and there’s a theory that streaming algorithms see this as a signal of dissatisfaction.” Says Howard.
Ostereo is not your normal record label. For a start, they don’t produce any physical records. They focus on streaming. One of their most successful acts is J.Fla, a Korean singer who they discovered on YouTube. Since partnering with Ostereo, her audience has swelled to an impressive 11.2 million subscribers. There are other success stories too, but it’s the methods that are most interesting.
So what can producers learn from these little nuggets of data? Murphy explains. “You can’t polish a bad song. A bad song is a bad song and no amount of production tricks or hacks will make it good. But taking the bones of a good song and putting it into the right template, for the right context, can definitely improve its chances of success in the charts or on streaming platforms.”
Considering the influence of streaming platforms on music success, Murphy urges producers to pay attention to audience analytics. “People are spoiled for choice now and are far more likely to skip a song, even if they actually like it. The sheer amount of musical content available to consumers combined with their dwindling attention spans means that songs have a shorter window of opportunity to make an impact on a listener.”
Outros, for example, are literally on the way out. The producer behind hits including Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’ and ‘Uptown Funk’ Mark Ronson recently claimed that songs over 3 minutes and 15 seconds have a lower chance of success due to Spotify’s algorithm. Ronson believes that it’s because people skip the last chunk of a song more often, even when it’s one they’ve chosen to listen to. This sends a signal to Spotify, whose analytics record it as an incomplete listen, which then means Spotify is less likely to recommend that song to other users.
Streaming accounts for two thirds of American music revenue, and it’s only going to get bigger. Artists and producers therefore need to be cognizant of how streaming platforms differ from ‘traditional’ consumption channels. And while writing good songs and producing them well is still the key to breaking through, some of the details have changed.