Is Hit Music “Good” Music?

Is Hit Music “Good” Music?

Lauren PesinMonday,26 January 2015

What makes music “good” is subjective. We may love Puccini because of how the music moves us, or enjoy “The Macarena” or “Come on Eileen” because it reminds us of being drunk or acting crazy. We may have liked songs at points in our lives because the words told our story. Some music makes us want to dance or the vocals make us feel something. There are a lot of reasons for loving and hating music. What you or I believe to be “good” varies and changes as much as our moods and undergarments.

“Just a Friend” by Biz Markie was ranked top on the billboards list, while the beloved “How Soon is Now” by The Smiths never made it to mainstream U.S. radio. Perhaps this is confirmation that whether or not music is good has no bearing on the success or failure of a song in the U.S.

If hit music is not necessarily “good,” than what constitutes hit music? What commonalities or ingredients make music popular enough to make it to the top ten?

My guesses: catchiness, dance-ability, hype, artist popularity (Taylor Swift’s 8 seconds of static), novelty (Psy’s Gangnam Style), and meaningful or socially relevant themes (Macklemore’s Same Love).

Upon further examination, I found a few indications of who or what makes music hits.

Max Martin

Although you may not know his name, top selling musicians do. Max Martin has written more than 50 top ten hits worldwide, including sales of over 135 million singles. It may not seem like a lot, but consider who outranks him–two members of The Beatles. Max Martin is barely behind George Martin (the 5th Beatle) for producing the most number one singles. What is the secret to his success? We may never know; however, it could be either he writes a lot of songs, so the volume works in his favor or it could be his reported ability to stay current while consistently improving his craft.

Common Traits

Interestingly, researchers from the University of Southern California tried to take the fun out of guessing through the analysis of 2,480 Billboard Hot 100 songs, discovering what most #1 songs have: back-up singers, use of a non-traditional number (less than 3 or more than 5 instruments) and specific combinations of instruments.

I really wanted to tell you that humans are so refined in musical taste that we drive the best music into billboard success; or that original, creative, inspirational, and complex music is what we play looped on our phones and radios, but we are generally not that refined.

Instead, we are musical lemmings subscribing to a general formula where back-up vocals + certain instruments + popularity of artist or songwriter + a little luck = a hit.

Ultimately, does it matter that only certain types of music become hits? If I can find whatever music I want via Google or digital music stores, why care about hit music?

Well, either it doesn’t matter at all because as long as people download or purchase the music, the popularity is recorded and the music will continue to be made and available; or the music doesn’t sell enough to be voted into the cool kids club, whereas that type of music will no longer be made.

My confusion is perpetuated by the following examples: first, classical music (not hit music) will always be created and available; second, 80’s rock ballads (no longer hit music), with rare exception (Bon Jovi), is no longer made, but played.

Does this mean hit music matters or not?

What do you think? Let us know on Twitter.

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Image Credit: Flickr



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