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Hit Song Quality Checklist by Berklee Music's Blog


Everybody always talks about making hits but is there any way to better your chances of creating the next top seller? Here's a very interesting checklist I came across recently via BerkleeMusicBlogs. I think the writer
Eric Beall came up with a complete list. Let me know if you see anything missing from the list in the comments.
1. Does the title sound like a “hit”? Real “hit” songs have hit titles—interesting, provocative, funny, and unique. “Genie In A Bottle”, “U + Ur Hand”, “Pass The Courvoisier”, “Sk8r Boy” – these titles stand out.
2. Is there a concept for the song? Most songs miss the mark because the core idea of the song is simply not very compelling. “I Kissed A Girl” is an idea for a song. So is “If I Were a Boy”. Too many songs are not really about anything, or at least not anything very interesting.
3. Is the lyric effective? Appropriate? Convincing? Singable? Cliché free? Do the lyrics of a pop song really matter? Yes! The words have to sing comfortably. They have to say something that a singer would want to express. Most importantly, they have to say it in a way that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. Stock rhymes like “fire” and “desire” or trite, predictable metaphors drive A&R people nuts.
4. Is the song structured correctly? Is there a natural build and release within the song structure? There are endless ways to structure a song, but only about three that actually work. Song structure works on basic principles: use the best parts more than once, don’t take too long to get to the best parts, and have at least one section that comes as a bit of a surprise.
5. Does the arrangement serve the song? Does it enhance the song? On almost any classic record of any style, there is some sort of instrumental hook built into the arrangement of the song—the bass line in “Billie Jean”, the string lines of “Yesterday”, or the guitar riff of “Johnny B. Goode”. If you can’t find the instrumental hook in your song, then the song isn’t done.
6. Is the tempo right? Does the song drag? You never really understand the importance of getting the tempo right until you play your song in front of someone. Suddenly, everything seems to be in slow motion. The best advice is to push the tempo up to the breaking point and then pull back just slightly from that.
7. Is the production of the demo “dynamic” and “in your face”? The impact of music is not just emotional or intellectual. It’s also physical. If you don’t know what I mean, crank a little Nine Inch Nails on your stereo. Drums and bass should be a physical force that literally pushes the music along. Don’t be timid. Try to blow those weasels out of their chairs.
8. Does the demo fit clearly into one specific genre? Is that the appropriate genre for the song? If you want to place your song, you have to figure out where it could fit in the giant puzzle of the music industry—and then make sure that it fits there. What type of artist would sing the lyric? How young or old would the artist need to be? What rhythmic feel works for the melody? Everything else can be adjusted to make sure the song is appropriate for a specific genre.
9. Does the song have the potential for mass appeal? Is it the right size? Too many songwriters create lovely little songs: a melancholy little lyric, with a tiny, subtle hook buried at the end of each little chorus, with a lot of little chords and a melody in a little six or seven note range. Pop hits tend to be BIG, GRANDIOSE ANTHEMS TO BE PLAYED IN BIG ARENAS FOR BIG CROWDS. That’s why they’re big hits. Challenging, eh? As I said, it’s never easy to be objective about your own work, and even with an outline like the one above, the tendency to minimize your song’s weaknesses (they all have ‘em) or, for many of the less-confident, to obsess over supposed flaws is tough to overcome. Of course, the easiest solution is to try things out on an audience. It’s amazing how clear things can become as soon as your song gets that first public airing.

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