Making hit songs

By Cari Cole

Everyone can write a song. But what makes a song land in our solar plexus and stick there… on repeat, or even… constant loop??

It’s more than clever lyrics and beats, although the accoutrements of the right production are paramount. But a great production without a great melody or lyric fall short in the long run. As artists, we are nothing without our songs.

Think about your favorite artists right now. Do you really think about them or about the song/s you love? Is it really their hair or clothes or personality, or is it the songs that send you to Mars.… it all comes down to the songs, and even big stars are nothing without them.

Call me “old school” – actually “new old school” – I’m too much of a maverick to be old school… but what I want to say here is that the main ingredients of a great song (book or movie) are those that make an impact.

Here are my: Top 3 Components of Hit Songs That Crush The Competition

1. “Show Me Don’t Tell Me.”

I work with musicians, singers, artists, songwriters and music  producers every day who are all trying to write songs that break the mold, win awards and matter to people.  Some musicians will beg to differ, but songs without great lyrics won’t have a long shelf life. The songs that use metaphor and shared experiences — that we can step into, are the ones that make an impact. A common phrase writers come to know is “show me don’t tell me…” Painting the picture so listeners can join the party is the way to write lyrics that are relatable and penetrate the artist-audience barrier. Lyrics that makes you lose sense of time, feel your own emotions, and enter the transcendent ride that music can offer is the ticket.

2. Crescendos.

Dynamics, crescendos and decrescendos, peaks and valleys create the tension and release that lift us up and/or bring us to our knees. It’s the emotional roller coaster, the ups and downs, the human joys and great sorrows in our shared experience must arise in a song to impact us. Great movies, books, music and art all have crescendos, visible or non-visible to the eye. In songs, the dynamic build is essential to create the tension and release. Without it, we can’t fully arrive. There is a dynamic melodic arc that must be there.

3. Vocals That Crush It.

You know it’s funny, as one of the world’s top vocal coaches you would think that I love perfect voices. Yes I love a skilled voice, but that’s not all. I love real voices (like Carole King) over a super trained voice (like Celine Dion) — or a distinctive voice (like Tom Waits) over a perfected one (like Adam Lambert.) And over all I prefer a voice with great emotion over technical perfection (like Whitney or Pink over Carrie Underwood.) But no matter what your level of vocal talent, a great song always has killer vocals that crush it – matter of fact anything less won’t deliver the song. Stop thinking that just okay vocals will do – that people will hear through it – they won’t. Don’t ever leave off pitch, unexamined, unarranged vocals on your record OR your demos (that’s right.) Vocals are what everyone (except musicians and producers) are listening to. No great song can fully deliver without them crushing it.

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