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What Makes a Hit Song?

What’s the major difference between a hit single and one that no one buys? Well, normally there’s millions of dollars’ worth of difference, especially when the song gets used in adverts or in a movie or TV show soundtrack, but what typically makes a hit song?

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Universal appeal

The obvious thing that your song needs to make it popular is universal appeal. If only a small percentage of the world are open to the type of music you produce, you’re market is small. Take a song like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The theme is universally appealing and can easily cross the language divide. The fact that it’s part of a major motion picture obviously helps. But it also does the second thing on our list extremely well.

Repeat the title

We’re not sure how often Pharrell Williams sings “Happy” in his hit song but it’s sung enough to get the point across. Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" to Psy's "Gangnam Style” are also examples of songs that repeat the title a lot and therefore get their message across.

Sung to someone

This isn’t something that every successful song does but if the singer is singing to someone, you’re also likely to be onto a hit. Think of Bruno Mars' "Grenade" as an example of this (“I’d jump in front of a train for you” as an example of the sort of lyrics that have this appeal). Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is another example of this sort of song.

Repetition

Repetition is really important with songs. A repeated single-note melody really is important to a popular song. Check out just about anything from Lady Gaga if you’re not convinced. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines” is another example of this popular method of making a song memorable and therefore really appealing.

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