Hit songs have mass appeal. Universal emotions is one thing, and another thing – not far away – is to have the attention of mass public. When a song go viral for any reason, it will become a hit and will start generating revenue. Even a song like PPAP by Japanese comedian, Diamaou Koasaka which I assume most people had heard it when it was on top of its game. Songs like that are not even great and they will be big just for a very short period of time, but they still will get to places that I don’t think anyone could imagine. On the other hand, there are hundreds – if not millions – of great songs that are recorded and released, and they are out there but nobody had heard of them! Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not encouraging anyone to write songs like PPAP, but my point is that when the mass listeners like a song for whatever reason, that song will go places, even for a very short time before I get forgotten. Not all great songs would be appreciated by mass public. Hit songs become hits because massive numbers of people like them, buy them, request them, etc. Some great songs only appeal to a small number of people. Even though they are very well written, meaningful, catchy and well performed but they just don’t appeal to enough people to be of interest to recording artists or record labels.
Hit songs are not usually controversial. The Dixie Chicks were selling more than 10 million copies of each album they made until they ventured into politics. In an instant, their career was over. The lesson is that many artists learned from watching that play out was – “Don’t offend your fans”. So, most artists aren’t going to sing a song that risks offending or alienating part of their fan base, even if the song is amazing. I personally know many songwriters who have a bunch of very strong songs, but no major artist wants to risk their career recording those songs because the songs are about things like religion or political views, in controversial ways. Recording those can make the artist pay very expensive price, losing fans, and no major artist in their right mind would fancy such thing.
A great song might not fit current radio or musical trends. Paying so much attention to the charts and closely following what are the best songs at each given period of time is one of the most important things a songwriter must do I’d say on a daily basis. You as a songwriter must know what are the trendiest songs at any given time and what particulars at each of these songs had made them to be where they are. A song can be amazing but be ahead of its time or behind the times. For a song to be a hit right now, it has to fit what radio is doing right now, and that happens only when the writer of that great song is perfectly aware of what’s happening in the industry and on the radio and they make their new song around that.
A song might be awesome, but it makes the singer look bad. If the subject of the song is cheating, drinking and driving, abusing someone, etc – most singers won’t touch it. They don’t want people thinking that they really are that kind of person. The singers are creating and maintaining an imagine by their songs and their fans are following them because of that image – even in many cases the image is very different than the truth about the singer, and funnily the fans know it too – but the traditions of the industry says that every artist have to have a lovely image and that’s the label’s responsibility to create that image and advertise to make the potential fans to be comfortable with the new artist. In most cases that image is very positive and appealing to the mass public and nobody want that image to be ruined. In fact you seldom would come across a commercially successful singer and find out that they’re very bad ass or anything than being so nice.
A great song might not be saying the same old thing in a fresh way. I have heard great songs that were really well written, but they were basically just re-writes of older hits. Even if they weren’t close enough to be considered infringing on the older song, they just didn’t say anything in a fresh, new way. For the most part, hits are great songs that say something in a creative, different way. Learning the difference in a great song that is just a song and a great song that is a potential hit is an important step. Early in my career, I wrote a song called “Who Are You”. It was about the singer seeing his dad cheating on his mom and losing respect for the dad in the process to the point that he doesn’t recognize this man as his father anymore. It was a really well written song. My publisher loved it. But he told me that it would probably never get cut. Why? Not many singers want to portray their dad that way. People might believe that it was true and the dad would have to live with people saying things to him about the song. I didn’t think about those things and a great song still remains uncut 15 years later. If you are just writing for yourself, you can write whatever you choose. If you want commercial success, you have to write great songs that are also potential hit songs.
Hangi Tavakoli is our in-house established and professional music producer with 20 years of experience in songwriting, music production, mix and mastering. He has written and produced more than 5,000 published songs to-date, including some major hits in international scale.