If you glance through the charts from the last 50-years or so, can you spot any patterns?
Even though the charts even 20 years ago look nothing like they do today, there are still periods where songs from the same genre continually make the charts. Consider the jazz of the 30s and 40s, the Motown of the 50s, or the emergent pop and rock of the late 50s, 60s, and beyond.
While the charts are home to their fair share of weird and wacky songs, hit music has become increasingly uniform. Pop music, hip hop, RnB, and rock music dominate people’s favorite music genres, and it’s becoming increasingly challenging for other genres to penetrate the charts (e.g., the Billboard Hot 100 or the top 75 of the UK Singles Chart.)
But can you predict what songs will become a hit? How do you know when a song will be a hit? And do streams and play counts really matter that much when creating hit music?
How do you know if a song will be a hit?
The music industry remains huge, and record labels have immense influence over what music becomes a “hit.” So, if anyone knows what songs will be a hit, it’s the record label.
When scouting and signing artists, large record labels are making an economic decision. The label is more willing to invest colossal sums into producing, marketing, and distributing an artist’s music if they’re confident it will profit.
The “Big Three” recording companies are Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music, and they only tend to strike deals with artists that routinely produce profitable hit music.
Finding the next hit: the role of talent or A&R scouts
Predicting what song will be a hit has always involved a subjective judgment.
Traditionally, the A&R scout’s job is to judge what artists will be successful or what songs will be hits. This usually involves signing the artist as early in their career as possible. For example, John Hammond from Columbia records scouted both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen when they were pretty much unknown artists, later selling over 100 million records.
A&R scouts go to gigs, listen to music online, and scope out artists from YouTube channels and social media.
Of course, to get signed by a big record label, you’ll need a considerable following already.
Many famous bands were signed by labels when they were still under 18. There are numerous stories of band members’ parents having to sign contracts on their children’s behalf!
Of course, for every artist that goes on to produce hit music, many will fail. That’s the cut-throat nature of the music industry!
How many streams is considered a hit?
It’s no secret that streaming has changed the music industry forever. As a result, you can no longer measure chart success through record sales alone. In fact, numerous songs have millions of streams that haven’t been retailed in shops at all.
Spotify has its own charts, and the top 50 songs on it all have over 1 billion streams. The most streamed Spotify song as of 2022 is Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You, with over 3 billion streams.
Spotify Charts has many different charts containing the most popular songs for the day, week, month, by genre, etc. You don’t need millions of streams to reach some of the genre-specific charts – something in the region of 100,000 or more will certainly get you noticed.
Monetizing music is different now and revolves around digital advertising as well as traditional record and ticket sales. As a result, artists can earn revenue from YouTube before a label even scouts their songs. For example, to monetize a song on YouTube, creators typically require 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours over the past year.
What is the science behind writing a hit single?
Music has fundamental features that are true across all genres and styles, including:
However, there are near-limitless ways to combine sounds in different ways to create music. So, is there a definitive pattern for creating music that is popular with the masses – a science to creating hit music?
There have been many attempts to discover underlying patterns in hit music – it’s even become its own subject, dubbed “Hit Song Science.”
Music analysis companies now work with record labels to discover potential hits, enabling them to contact artists without even putting A&R scouts on the ground.
For example, these computerized algorithms employed by record companies allegedly predicted the success of Norah Jones’s album, Come Away with Me, (which subsequently won a Grammy for Best Album) and Ben Novak’s Turn Your Car Around, which made 12th spot in the UK Singles Chart.
What’s the best tempo for writing a hit single?
One large analysis of the tempo of songs uploaded to streaming platforms found that 90 to 99 BPM was the most popular range with listeners. Moreover, 80 to 99 bpm accounted for nearly a third of all chart music. Most of these songs were hip hop.
Best song length for writing a hit single?
Most chart music is short and sweet, with an average length of just 3 minutes and 30 seconds. This has decreased by 20 seconds in just five years. There are now very few songs over 5-minutes long that make the charts.
Predicting hit music with AI
Since the advent of AI and machine learning, enabling computers to trawl through trillions of data points, some scientists believe they’ve found underlying patterns that can predict hit music.
One algorithm designed by a team at the University of Bristol can predict hit music with an accuracy of roughly 60%. Another algorithm analyzes tunes by their tempo, rhythm, melody, and other structures to predict whether they’re likely to be popular.
So, while predicting a hit has traditionally been the job of A&R scouts, we’re now entering an era where algorithms can trawl through music and automatically find potential hits. The algorithms can then send these hits to record labels as “pre-screened” for success.
Summary: Can You Predict If A Song Will Become A Hit?
There are computer algorithms out there designed to do just that. These AI-powered algorithms are replacing the traditional means to recruit new artists onto labels through A&R and talent scouts.
Using innovative techniques to find new artists is more important now than ever. Artists racking up thousands of hits on YouTube, Spotify, and other social media and streaming platforms might be scouted by an AI, not a human.
If you’re an emerging artist, it might be a robot approaching you with a record deal and not a human!