Analysis of 50 years of Pop Music: What makes a song a hit?


imageI have no idea if any of you would find this interesting; I sure did.  A team analyzed the last 50 years of US pop songs, to see what makes a song a top hit..    

They found songs that are close to 120 Beats per minute seems to be the magic BPM  for the last 50 years! Plus major keys dominate the charts, make the song danceable, are about 4.5 minutes in length, and turn it up to 11.   Some things to think of when you are choosing songs and want to keep the energy going..

Here are some screen shots from a few of the things looked at: https://sites.google.com/site/visualizingahit/results

The main page that explains what was done is here: https://sites.google.com/site/visualizingahit/home

I would add a personal observation;  most of the top songs that I have listened to require careful listening..  Pick most top pop song playing, and listen carefully… not to what is obvious in the mix (vocals, instruments etc.) but there is almost always some sort of sound that is either ½ (or less) of the volume of the rest of the instruments or is louder than everything.  It is usually short in duration – or a *very* simple accent note,  happens once per music phrase or measure.  You won’t notice it unless you are actively listening (concentrating..)    My theory is that it is music for the ‘subconscious” part of our brain.. for some it can be sound effects as long as they are introduced and removed selectively..  which is what I do when I run sounds for bands I do this to provide additional interest (sprinkling of delay, mic volume accents.)   It is also why having a good speaker to reproduce the high frequencies is key to interest (as well as preventing ear fatigue)  the ride cymbal accents, snare accents, high-hat accents on certain songs for example are extremely important.  It’s the extra muted “chuck” on a guitar that gets inserted in certain phrases etc.   So on the surface a song is simple, but decomposed it has nuisances that break up the symmetry.  It gives our musical brains something to chew on..   Know knows, this could be completely bogus. 

What do you think?

An example that I wasn’t totally happy with, but..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDpt4jEEsUY

#25 –  congos

#24 – on the right channel there are two things: guitar two notes – but more importantly on upbeat of the 4th beat of the song there is a slight “scratch ”or a sweep of frequencies sound. Its is hard to hear, but it’s right before the 1st beat begins.

high-hat open

#23 – i hear a guitar harmonic hit once in a while, almost banjo like

#22 – not hearing anything in the section they chose to play

#21 – guitar arpeggio ?

#20 – right channel high-hat

#19 – ?

#18 – FX (delays)

#17 – backup vox

#16- backup vox

#15 – triangle

#14 – FX (delay)

#13 – bass guitar fretless sound

#12 – this one is hard to hear:  I think it is a backup vox that hits twice on a high pitched “hohw” “Hohw”

#11 –congos

#10 – jazz organ

#9 – flange

#8 – strings

#7 – there is a keyboard echoing the phrase in a high octave

#6 – swish sound  and a block hit

#5 – high-hat  open.. delay

#4 – guitar that comes in right before it ends

#3 – banjo

#2 – ?

#1 – high-hat work (alternating open/closed)

 

Ok, so here I digress, but I LOVE music, sound etc.. so just some additional geek thoughts for you. Maybe reading about this might make you a better musician, better listener, or maybe you might understand a little better of the approach I take when I am running sound for band. I am not the technical guy who lines up the meters at 0 for all mics, and freaks out when the band’s dynamics change from song to song. That is a technical sound engineer. There is gear to help minimize the various if the gain structure is set right. Running sound is also a bit of an art. I bring up certain mics (besides the obvious solos) on certain songs.. cymbals, high-hat etc. I try to recreate what I hear in my mind for that song. Each band has a different blend, and I try to incorporate that some in each song a cover band plays. Not all songs because sometimes it just doesn’t matter, but other times it does! It is not just making sure everything is heard by the audience and musicians, it is something more.

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