Music Is Competitive
We live in a world of immeasurable musical diversity. The music industry is growing every year, and there is no end to the competition that artists and labels face.
Everyone who makes commercial music is trying (and mostly failing) to make a hit – that one song that captures audiences around the world and results in millions of views, streams, (and dollars).
But what makes a hit?
What Is Hit Potential And What Does It Mean Musically?
Our Hit Potential Algorithm takes tracks and returns a second-by-second analysis of its likelihood to be commercially successful – we’ve already shown in a previous article that the Algorithm works when backtested against real world examples.
So, is there something that this granular level of analysis can tell us about the art we make? Let’s apply a human musical perspective to make sense of these numbers and imagine how they might work in a pre-production situation.
Note: Our Hit Potential Algorithm provides second-by-second analysis, but for this article, we are looking at the scores averaged out over buckets of 10 seconds.
BTS – Dynamite
BTS is fairly consistent in its Hit Potential score across the entire length of Dynamite. Let’s explore 1. The two drop offs at 73s and 145s, and 2. any significant musical differences between the middle section and the final high section.
At the first drop off at 73s, one noticeably different musical element is a heavily processed spoken (non melodic) vocal part that only appears in this part of the song. It is quite distinctly different from the rest of the song, which would explain the radically different score.
When looking at the actual second-by-second analysis, this becomes more obvious since the biggest part of the dip coincides exactly with that musical element.
Perhaps this finding suggests that such elements (less audibly clear or natural vocals) may detract from the overall Hit Potential of similar Pop tracks. Or, considering that similar drop offs are present in the other tracks, perhaps this is simply a necessary musical contrast/arranging device to keep the music moving along.
At the second drop off at 145s, we have a very exposed vocal and not much music supporting it. Compared to the rest of the song, the energy level is fairly low, which may account for the lower Hit Potential Score in this area – however, this is most definitely a deliberate contrast used to highlight the bump in energy that comes immediately after.
A Final Push
The track has a fairly high score throughout, but the final section scores a sustained average of approximately 5 points higher than the other high-scoring sections. The key musical difference between the last section and every part of the song is the Key.
The song modulates up by a whole step, resulting in a sound that is relatively brighter than everything we’ve heard so far – considering the consistency of most other musical aspects, this is quite likely to be the reason for the increased Hit Potential score.
Overally, BTS follows excellent music composition structure and philosophy, using contrast to demarcate sections and give listeners a break, while also making effective use of modulation to introduce freshness at the final push.
Black Eyed Peas, Shakira – Girl Like Me
Girl Like Me has a lot more variation in its Hit Potential Score over time, which gives us more things to explore. Given its strong peaks, however, its overall Hit Potential score is still high, regardless.
Let’s take a look at the placement of Shakira’s signature vocal hook in this piece of music and how our Hit Potential Algorithm responds to it.
Vocal Hook – What’s Happening Around It?
The first time the hook appears, at 20s, the Hit Potential Score is increased by approximately 5 points. This is in contrast to the other 3 times where the hook appears, at 67s, 82s, and 152s, where the score dips anywhere from 4-10 points from the previous average.
When the first hook appears, the instrumentation is fairly sparse, with no kick drum, and no bass. In contrast, in its later appearances, it is accompanied with a strong beat and plenty of low frequencies. The vocal hook itself is fairly high in pitch, with a deliberately nasal quality that draws the attention.
Perhaps the scores in these sections would be higher if the hook were accompanied with less beat-driven instrumentation, using other musical elements to carry the song forward in those instances instead.
These are educated guesses. The only way to know is to tweak the arrangement and run it through the Algorithm again, which points to it as a possible assistive tool in the iterative songwriting and production process.
It is also worth mentioning at this point that these particular low scoring moments are more likely indicate deliberate musical arranging moves to create contrast and an ebb and flow, rather than an error in judgement.
Breakdown and Recovery
We can observe a slight dip in score at the Breakdown (circled in pink) followed by a steady stepwise climb (arrow in green).
This most likely marks a deliberate sectional contrast similar to the one we just saw with BTS. Each of those “steps” demarcates the addition of a musical technique or layered element.
The first step after the Breakdown introduces a new male rap vocal, the next step marks the introduction of a hi-hat, and the final step marks a short section where strong silences punctuate each phrase in order to create impact through negative space.
At 175s, we can observe a steady and massive climb in Hit Potential Score to 81.
Similar to the previous climb after the Breakdown, the steps in the increasing average score can be tied to the introduction of a specific musical element. However, in this case, the build is not tied to the addition of musical elements to the same (or obvious) degree.
Rather, it may be correlated with the increasing rhythmic density and rising average pitch of the sung/spoken words. It starts simple and sparse, increases in density, and then the average pitch of the lyrics increases.
In the final step, there is a subtle change in the bass, which plays a couple of higher pitches not heard in the previous two steps.
The Take Away
Let’s be clear. This song has nearly 300 million views on Youtube and it is on the Spotify Top 200 chart. Neither it nor Dynamite needs any help.
What we are doing here is:
- Applying the technology to see if there are lessons we can take away from the song, and
- Seeing if we can apply it ourselves to improve our own creative processes and tweak songs in pre-production to reach their maximum potential.
If you, as a songwriter, label, producer, or A&R executive navigating this notoriously difficult industry could have just a little bit more information to give you that edge over your competitors, wouldn’t you take it?
Perhaps you’d end up making something really amazing.
I am a composer and run a small distributed music, voice, and audio production team comprised of experts in 3 countries. I have a deep interest in startups, business, venture capital, networking, and learning about new ideas. I love meeting founders, angels, and people in VC and private equity to talk shop and connect people that need each other. I've Served clients and brands including Ubisoft, Garena (SEA), IGG Games, Hogarth Worldwide, We Are Social, Moving Bits, Playstudios, Ferrero, Samsung, GSK, Pernod Ricard, Pan Pacific Hotels etc. I’ve also worked with Wang Leehom, Joanna Dong, Derrick Hoh, Luke Slott, and a number of other artists. Founded and ran a professional orchestra in Boston for 5 years.