Write a Hit Song


Every musician wants to write a hit song, but it rarely happens by chance. Writing a hit is as much a musical endeavor as it is a business project. To hack a hit, you’ll need both. These tips and resources reveal the formula behind hit songs.

How to Hack a Hit

REVERSE ENGINEERING – Pick five hit songs you like. Learn to play them. Study the structure, the melody, the lyrics, the rhythm — everything. Reverse engineer them. Identify five similarities shared by these songs. Then write your own original song that incorporates those five similarities.
SONGCRAFT AS MARKETING – Understand that successful hit songwriters are successful marketers. As unromantic as it sounds, hit songs are marketing tools. Mention song title early on and repeat often. The listener hits “the wall” after the second chorus — add a bridge and change the feel before they get bored. Use the pronoun “you”. Appeal to emotion and get remembered by using vivid lyrical imagery. Stick to around three minutes in length.
MUSIC THEORY – It is possible to write a hit without knowing any music theory. Sometimes it’s an asset. But even a basic understanding gives you an edge, and you can use every edge you can get. At the least, study basic music theory concepts like the circle of fifths and syncopation so you can begin to reverse engineer the theory behind why and how hits “work”.

Hit Song Hacking Videos

Ralph Murphy – How to Write a Hit

Murphy is the elder statesman of songwriting hacks. This lecture from 2013 is a concise summary of many of his “Murphy’s Laws” of hit songwriting, derived from tireless reverse engineering of thousands of hits.

Larry Dvoskin – Songwriting Workshop

These three lectures comprise a thorough crash course in hit songwriting. Plenty of relatable musical examples make this the perfect starting point for the aspiring or up-and-coming songwriter.

Artists House Music – Band as Business: Composition

Writing a hit song isn’t enough to make it a hit — that’s where musician entrepreneurship and songwriting chops come in. This half-hour video from the “Band as Business” online video course has a number of different perspectives on how to actually turn your songs into hits.

Hit Song Hacking Links

Analyzing the Hits: How Knowing the Similarities and Differences Can Help You Create One – Bobby Owsinski gives a great breakdown of how to analyze hit songs to find out what makes them hits, and how to incorporate those techniques into your own creative process.

(photo CC-BY Eva Rinaldi)