Pop songs – how do you write one?
From Ryan Tedder’s hits to Max Martin’s number ones, our popular music has been crafted under new subliminal rules in the last years. It has now become essential to creating a sense of familiarity for the listener as soon as he hears the song’s melody for the first time. A few other noticeable differences are; intros have shortened, choruses come in much earlier than they used to and toplines have become the center of the pop song. This has changed because the industry and the listener’s attention span has. Production has also become fundamental in songwriting.
It is noticeable that most pop songs are made of a ABABCB formula. This allows the listener to recognize the melody and yet still be entertained throughout. It is important that the chorus (B section) comes in within the first 50 seconds of the song’s beginning. The earlier you can add it the better. The intro should be kept as short as possible. As an overall rule, due to the diminishing patience of our generation, don’t let the listener wait too long for anything.
Each section of the formula should be distinctly different from each other as dynamic variation is key in maintaining the listeners’ attention. Many verses include a minor chord to create tension before the chorus kicks in (sense of relief). It is also known for choruses to either heighten, which can be done by lifting the pitch or the rhythm or alternatively, for the choruses to drop, which usually involves low frequencies (such as heavy low bass synths) and spaciousness.
Make sure you don’t clog up the overall sound of the song when you add new elements in new sections. In order to keep the listener’s attention, repeat the chorus around three different times in the song but have the elements around the melody change. On a side note, in order to create a memorable catchy melody, it is best to use in-between 2-7 notes. A few examples that include all of the above are “Into You” by Arianna Grande, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake and “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” by Adele.
It is crucial to create a sense of familiarity for the listener when he hears the song’s melody for the first time. The hook needs to make people want to hear it again and again. Almost leaving them wanting more. This helps guarantee that the listener comes back to the song after it has ended. In terms of the lyrical content, the message/idea/concept for the song should be extremely straightforward. Or at least for the chorus.
Let’s not forget, at this point in time, most things have already been said which is why we need to find new ways of saying them. In terms of subject matter, the listener usually wants to feel something; whether that being happiness (make them dance), or sadness (make them cry). Another way to create familiarity is by using harmonies such as thirds, fifths or octaves. 808s are in for the moment and so are four-on-the-floors.
Overall, try and ensure the listener doesn’t lose interest by the verse and chorus coming in quickly, the dynamics of the songs constantly evolving and the melody and theme sounding familiar. Make sure not only your sound is constantly evolving throughout your work but also your mindset. Something that works today, might not tomorrow.