What Makes A Hit Song?


Hit songs Vs. Good songs…………..

It is essential to stress, first things first, that this article attempts to address the qualities and general characteristics which distinguish a song as a hit single and not necessarily as a good song. A good song may mean different things to different people based on genre, artiste’s voice, lyrical content etc. but a hit song is humbly respected or at the very least is reluctantly recognised and accepted for what it is even among people who are not necessarily fans of the genre, style of music or the plethora of other reasons which decide what kind of song people prefer to listen to.

So, what exactly is a hit song?

In the US and the UK, a song is usually considered to be a hit single when it has reached the official Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 or the top 75 of the “UK Singles Chart” and stayed there for at least one week. In the absence of any such organised and generally accepted music chart standard in Nigeria, it becomes essential, for the sake of a respectable discussion reference point to at least try to pinpoint what we may precisely refer to as a hit song. Considering the output of songs made in Nigeria as compared to that of the US and the UK, a top 20 chart list seems to be an ideal standard, and in fact, local music chart of radio stations are usually between a top 5 and top 10 limit so a top 20 list sounds fair.

So what determines the songs in the top 20? The most obvious and relatively un-bias methods to go about this are to choose songs most played by radio stations (usually based on listeners demand) and songs most played by DJ’s (sure party and club bangers). The last way which poses problems for obvious reasons is just to try and sample how popular a song is among people generally.

One may be tempted to say at this point that fast paced party songs hold an unfair advantage but experience has shown that this is not the case e.g. 9ice’s massive hit single “gongo aso” is not a party song, Banky W’s “strong thing” is a pure R&B song and Wizkid’s breakthrough single “holla at your boy” is obviously not a dance track and you and I know that these tracks did very well on radio stations much to people’s demand and delight and not just because radio stations wanted to play them.

Summarily, a hit song(in Nigeria) may be considered as one of the top 20 most popular songs on radio, DJ turntables and (informally) people’s ipods, phones and other gadgets used for playing music on the move.

Hit Songs!!!!!!!!!!

Sometimes unexpected even by the recording artiste, often elusive even for long timers and the holy grail of the music industry……..a hit song! One, just one is enough to take an artiste from complete obscurity to national and even occasionally continental stardom. What make these songs what they are? What gives them their magic?

The secrets……..shhhhh

1. Instrumental– A 50-storey building must of a necessity be built on a solid foundation, in the same vein; it is difficult to find a hit song done on a shoddy instrumental. It must however be pointed out that instrumentals only will not make or mar a song, much of the remaining work is also up to the artiste.

2. Artiste Voice- This factor, is for obvious reasons more important for singers than for rappers although a certain feel and attitude to the voice of a rapper also helps. Listen to some good songs done by “upcoming” or not very popular artiste and imagine how they would sound if they were sang by the successful artistes we now know and you may see what I mean. The Pitch at which an artiste can sing and the power in his voice usually contributes to the reception the song will get from people although they may not consciously notice it.

3. Chorus/Hook- A catchy chorus on a song or hook on a rap recording can turn around the fortune of a song drastically. In fact, a trend among even some “big” acts of recent is to create a catchy chorus and talk about random issues not even vaguely related to the chorus of the song and not surprisingly some of them have turned out to be hit songs.

4. Tune/Melody- This goes hand in hand with the “secret” given above except for the fact that it covers the whole song other than the chorus/hook part of it. Memorable and hauntingly beautiful tunes stay with listeners and make them repeat the song endlessly.

5. Theme- This refers to the subject matter been discussed by an artiste. For singers, I say pointedly here that the actual depth or quality of the lyrics been used to articulate the artiste’s thoughts don’t seem to be particularly important (I believe I don’t have to say this doesn’t apply to rapping where lyrical ability is the backbone). The tunes used to carry even poorly written lyrics seem to trump the actual quality of the lyrics. In some situation however, lyrics discussing the themes seem to get some songs to the hit single status without necessarily catchy tunes. In these situations, the themes are usually topics which listeners find interestingly compulsive to listen to e.g. political issues, sex, alcohol, party etc.

Been an avid fan of “Naija hip hop”, the five “secrets” above individually or in combination are the key factors which I have repeatedly noticed are responsible for giving birth to massive hits. I chose, for discretion’s sake, not to mention names of specific artistes whom I believe the “secrets” above have worked for. I leave to my esteemed reader the interesting task of pinpointing artistes whose success is hinged on the factors listed above.

Your comments and insights will be appreciated.

Keep supporting Naija music.






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