How To Write a Hit Song – Is Three still the Magic Number?

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Ever wondered how the big names write hit song after song. Well the answer is collaboration, which in itself is not much of revelation when you consider the icons of old such as Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Page/Plant etc. However what may come as a surprise is that in Music Week’s recent analysis of the Top 100 singles of 2016 the average number of heads needed to write a hit song is 4.53! For example Beyonce needed 16 songwriters, producers and composers to complete her latest LP ‘Lemonade‘. So what does this mean? Should we be outraged by this revelation?

3 Is The Magic Number

Well before we jump on our soapboxes and burn effigies of Simon Cowell we can all agree that collaboration has long been an excepted method of hit making. And as Music Weeks article goes on to point out those collaborating – Musicians, Songwriters, Producers, Composers and Samples are now being more readily credited for their contributions. Therefore we can conclude that in essence there is nothing wrong with 2,3,4,5 heads being better than one. That said if you’re anything like me you have a greater sense of respect when a four piece band collaborate with each other than when a solo artist parachutes in assistance. But what’s the difference? Well we’d argue that there are two distinct types of collaboration.

1) Natural Collaboration – This is when like minded individuals naturally come together over a mutual musical interest and then naturally progress to writing together.

2) Artificial Collaboration – This is when an artist, artists management team or record label draft in industry experts in order to write a hit record. We say hit record because why would you go to all this trouble just to write something that disappears to track 7 on your LP?

Having read both definitions you’re now probably thinking Natural is good and Artificial is bad. Well not exactly! Yes in an ideal world ‘Natural Collaboration’ is probably how we’d all like to write and consume music, but naturally written music can be just as awful as artificially written. As much as Hipsters can be just as irritating as Chavs and Jocks as annoying as Nerds.

Truth is both types of collaboration have the potential to create great music and terrible music. We know this because we’ve all heard examples from both camps, whether we know it or not. Yet despite this revelation many of us instinctively hold the belief that collaboration should only be natural and music created by any other method is ultimately fake, inferior and less valuable. Time to burn those Simon Cowell effigies again… At least that’s what we thought until we recently read the Guardian article: ‘Beyoncé’s Lemonade is an object lesson in collaboration‘.

In this article writer Dorian Lynskey argues that in order for collaboration to work their needs to be a figurehead with a clear and strong Vision. Stating that Beyonce was that figurehead in creating Lemonade. Yet despite this clear narrative throughout the LP many still dismiss Beyonce as nothing more than a well manicured product. Knowing this Lynskey cleverly draws parallels between Beyonce and the universally accepted Bowie. Highlighting that Bowie like Beyonce recognised his need for assistance in communicating his message. Where would ‘Heroes’ be without Brian Eno, or ‘Let’s Dance’ without Nile Rodgers?

In conclusion it’s clear that collaboration is king and 4.53 is the magic number when it comes to writing a hit record. However for some of us the figure 4.53 is an incendiary indicator of how much music is being devalued in order to make a quick buck, which to an extent is true. That said should we dismiss a record purely on the basis of how many people have contributed to it? Should we instead consider the narrative behind the music, its consistency and what it’s trying to communicate? Let us know…