What makes a song an absolute hit? This question bothers not only musicians and producers, but also mathematicians, psychologists, and linguists.
A group of statisticians as well as the scientists from the University of California set out in search of a formula that would make some song a hit.
It has always been believed that popular songs are characterized by good rhythm and cheerfulness and are therefore often an inevitable part of any party, celebration, birthday… However, the combination of statistics and science seems to tell us that in the last few decades, there have been more and more hits with a different rhythm. What is it that makes them so popular?
This Is What Statisticians Say…
Before we turn to the results of the scientists, let’s see what statisticians say because their research was a bit more targeted. They singled out 20 songs that dominated music charts in 22 countries in the last decade, so-called the 2010s, to figure out what genre, tempo, energy, danceability, and several other factors influenced the most for some track to become No.1 in the chart. And, every country is a story for itself.
Making a song that will be popular in such a diverse and large music market such as the USA’s is certainly a goal of every musician. Well, you need to make a pop song, written in key C, with a tempo of 111 BPM, and time signature 4/4 to have the best chance of success there.
A song aiming to be the No.1 single also needs to be between the mid-scale and upper scale in terms of energy (63/100) and danceability (65/100).
The UK market is another desirable market for musicians. Chart-topper in this country has to be a pop track having some of the characteristics similar to the US: to be based on the key C and have a 4/4 time signature.
A tempo of the song that will catch the attention of the listeners in the United Kingdom should be 108 BPM, have the energy of 61, and danceability of 72.
This Is What Scientists Say…
A team of university experts, whom we mentioned at the beginning of the article, analyzed more than 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015.
The scientists also examined data from all available MusicBrainz and AcousticBrainz music databases which collect detailed information about the songs, including how they sound, their dance potential, and the mood they drive. Also, whether the singers are male or female. Songs are sorted by genre or mood which they extract from the listeners.
Based on these data, it was discovered what exactly characterizes the songs that turned out to be a hit.
They came to the conclusion that in the last 30 years, songs that are sadder and sadder have more easily become hits, while all those songs with a cheerful and fast rhythm have lost their popularity. Research shows that songs with slow and melancholic rhythms are increasingly becoming hits.
Scientists have made another observation.
Female voices are experiencing a boom, regardless of the music genre. This is especially true for the most successful hits, which, according to scientists, resist general musical trends.
Research also shows that the chances of an already popular musician making a hit are 85% more realistic compared to a musician who’s just starting his career.
What does research tell us when it comes to the music genre? Compositions of classical and jazz music are harder likely to become a hit, while pop and dance music are convincingly in the lead among the No.1s. Also, after 2000, the success of rock music began to grow.
The contradiction between general musical trends and the dominant characteristics of hits has led the authors of the study to the conclusion that it’s difficult to define and generalize success in music.
It would be wrong to believe that the song, that’s accompanied by the merry dancing of the female singer, will automatically become a hit. After all, one-hit wonders are a proof for that.