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Stav's "Mixing With Your Mind" Hit Record Formula
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#121
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
  #121
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Originally Posted by baskervils View Post
and instrumentation, and sound, and singer, and arrangement, and timing, and management, and PR, and payola, and video, and touring, and, and, and, and....

A lot of money changes hands for songs to become hits. Probably too much.

There is a big difference between writing a song that you are personally going to be happy with and think is a "hit" for you and the process of getting something on the radio.
Yes indeed.

This is a great thread anyway. I've just started a pop rocker with a really great instrumental hook as an intro. Most of these things I've incorporated into my writing and production for some time, but this serves as a reminder and checklist that hopefully will keep me from driving this one into the ditch.
#122
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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I attempted an experiment a while ago, because I found that songs with a phrase followed by a 'whooa' or 'ooh' would get stuck in people's heads because then whenever they heard the phrase they would be reminded of the song. (Ruby by Kaiser Chiefs, the 'we're halfway there' in Livin' on a Prayer) There are more examples but I can't remember them, haha!
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#123
3rd March 2012
Old 3rd March 2012
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i'm gettin on pretty late but the thread is interesting.

I think, formula existing or not, that Stav's book (and particulary the part we're talking about in this thread) is great on one thing : it pushes us to listen music beyond what we know.

i mean by writing "can you find the formula in there ?" Stav's also saying "hey guys, what if you missed something ?" the same way a teacher asked you to read your work twice before considering it done at school.

when i see people replying "music is music, it can't be reduced to a formula " in some way i agree, it depends on so many many many things, and especially some that i'm surprised i don't see here like the relation a song has with its time, the relation with the social mood at its precise release date, how the label did its marketing shit, and so on ...

but guys, where the **** is your curiosity ? are you doing your job, whatever it is, without ever questioning yourself ? Don't you ever try to give a fresh answer to "am i sure i'm right ?" ?
How can you pretend to be engineers, mixer, or whatever in this industry without taking the opportunity Stav gives to dive deep in things we don't know ?
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#124
3rd March 2012
Old 3rd March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Friedd View Post
but guys, where the **** is your curiosity ? are you doing your job, whatever it is, without ever questioning yourself ? Don't you ever try to give a fresh answer to "am i sure i'm right ?" ?
How can you pretend to be engineers, mixer, or whatever in this industry without taking the opportunity Stav gives to dive deep in things we don't know ?
I agree. I like the philosophical quest. Don't simply accept the standard. Listen to good advice, but also have the sense to critique your work.

I love Stav's description of some recordings / microphones sounding hard and soft. That has changed the way I listen to my favorite records and think about mic'ing instruments.

His book is like a college course. If you think of it in those terms, the $100 price tag is a bargain.
#125
4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Everyone here has valid arguments about the book, and what constitutes a "hit." But also take all the lesser-known bands into consideration--

Band of Horses' 2nd album "Cease To Begin" is absolutely FULL of "hits", to me. From the opening track to the second song "Ode to LRC" and all the way to the end... hooks, hooks, hooks. Simple songs, unique vocal phrasing, great vocal harmonies... and heartfelt (though at times, strange) lyrics. On a grand scale, no one cares about Band of Horses.

Alternately, the band I talk about a lot on this forum, Minipop-- their 2007 album "A New Hope" is chock full of hooks and pretty melodies and to me, the album is an album of "hits." Again, no one's heard the band.

Also, a band which is now defunct, wrote a TON of hits during their time together - The Arrogants. You can download all of their music for free from that link. Just take a listen to "Nobody's Cool" or "Why TAANG is Our Favorite Band" to hear some awesome hooks.

It's all subjective, but really... there ARE a TON of "hits" and bands that consistently write songs that make me wish I wrote them... and totally get me psyched to show them to friends and anyone else in my life. "Hit" does not mean "big money maker." "Hit" means "something insanely hooky, that you can't get out of your head."

To me, these three bands blow away anything Taylor Swift's songwriting team writes for her, or most top 40 "artists."

And I agree with one of the posters above who said something about Rivers Cuomo knowing the secrets... there are countless Weezer songs which are INSANELY GOOD, and I won't even mention the Blue Album which is probably one of the greatest "hit" albums of all-time... from No One Else to Say It Ain't So... anything in between.

Some people just have the knack to write awesome "hits" (even though staying obscure) and most of us don't. Ultimately, you can't go wrong with the major scale and the notes 1, 3, 5 in your melody and ideas. Stick with diatonic chords (I, IV, V, etc) and make your melodies "conversational" (easy to sing, say, whistle), and that's the secret.

More songs that come to my mind -- Julia Nunes "Stay Awake" from her latest record "Settle Down".... an artist who consistently writes great hooks.... Jimmy Eat World's two albums "Bleed American" and "Futures" are absolutely full of hooks and hits, but weren't great sellers, in the grand scheme of things... (sure, "The Middle" was a huge hit, but if you listen to the rest of "Bleed American" you would see that this is a band that constantly nails the "hit" formula)....

There is sooooo much great music out there. As John Frusciante said years ago... "it's all there for you to discover and enjoy, if you are open enough to it. What a shame it would be for you to miss it all", or something like that.

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#126
4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Just previewed Black Horses (via iTunes) & I don't remember a single track now. Nice music otherwise.
#127
4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Just my quick response to the OP

I think, going by memory that no claims were made just an observation the top hits could be studied and a formula worked out on an engineering perspective.
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#128
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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I like Band of Horses a lot, and yet I agree that for the most part the songs aren't really so much songs as soundscapes. I liked the latest record because it seemed to be getting a bit more songy.

Their most successful tracks (eg Funeral, Factory) are largely the most songlike. The guy has an absolutely lovely voice and they have a very particular style, which goes a long way.
#129
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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(But also you have to realize there's a whole subgenre of post-rock songless music out there that BoH fits right into)
#130
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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Personally I believe that there are "hits" and then there are HITS. Meaning that there are songs that actually become big mainstream #1 hits and there are songs that are equally good that become "hits" in some other way. Like being widely successful within a smaller scene or subgenre. Or a song that doesn't have much commercial success when it's first released but ends up getting placed into movies and commercials decades later and becoming almost a standard of a sort.

There are big differences between the two categories. Actual top 10 hits are constrained by current popular styles in a way that "hits" aren't. The boundaries and acceptable subject matter for a "hit" in some niche genre are going to be broader than they are for the billboard hot 100. And yet I believe there are commonalities between the two categories too.

I think that musical content (melody, harmony, rhythm, etc) is maybe 1/3rd of what makes a hit. Subject matter and lyrical content are another 1/3rd. And the realization of the song through performance, arrangement, recording, artist's persona and overall sonic and visual presentation of the song are the other 1/3rd. Which explains why some artists can write songs that are full of musical hooks but which don't work as hits. Or why an artist's re-interpretation of a song can become a huge hit while the original recording did nothing.
#131
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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I've never heard Band of Horses, but I just listened to their two most popular songs on Spotify, "The Funeral" and "No One's Gonna Love You". It sounds like stuff you could hear on the radio or a movie soundtrack but in my opinion what prevents those songs from being hits is that they're missing any lyrical hooks. Most of the lyrics are difficult to understand and a lot of the phrasing is really awkward and unnatural. "At every occasion, I'll be ready for the funeral" is not really the stuff of hits. "No one is ever gonna love you more than I do" is more universal, but it's kind of a generic cliche. Nothing really jumps out and grabs me lyrically.

I agree with Chris when he says ""Hit" does not mean "big money maker." "Hit" means "something insanely hooky, that you can't get out of your head."" But as musicians the songs that are going to be hooky for us aren't necessarily the same as the songs that will be hooky for the general public. Which I think boils down to the melody vs. lyrics issue. Musicians can be happy just with great hooky music, but the average listener also needs some appealing lyrical content there to pull them in.
#132
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
  #132
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Great thread.

"You will find engineers everywhere trying to impress you with the fact that “Sergeant Pepper” was recorded on a four track. This is of course is as relevant as the fact that no JCB’s were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid."

Just seen that in the manual and it made me chuckle.

So many points in the manual that need to be said. Can't believe it so old and I've only jst learned of it. Looking forward to reading stavs book too.
#133
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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I think Band of Horses sounds a lot like Coldplay. Now I'm not all that sure if all-round originality is part of the secret formula, but maybe having to compete other successful performers with a very similar style and within the same time period is not a good idea to score a hit song.
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#134
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
  #134
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jinksdingo View Post
Just my quick response to the OP

I think, going by memory that no claims were made just an observation the top hits could be studied and a formula worked out on an engineering perspective.
Stav made the claim (currently reading from book) that all hit records have at least 7 common denominators - a rule by definition, without exception. That EVERY Top 10 Hit in every decade contains all 7 ingredients -no exceptions...ever.

His conclusion is that these common factors are not defined in musical terms, but psycho acoustical ones, that the rules are used to generate a variety of subliminal conditions.

He compared Side A hits to Side B flops. Looking for traits that every Top 10 Hit on side A had, but traits which the side B's flops did not also have.

Lyrics were excluded since since Beethoven's Fifth was a Top 10 Hit. And an excellent one to use since it keeps the listening focused on melody, repetition, frequency ranges, etc...
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#135
5th March 2012
Old 5th March 2012
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#136
20th July 2012
Old 20th July 2012
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The ultimate formula for a hit is to have the radio stations play your song over and over every ten minutes until your song becomes annoying. Then the majority of the population will assume that your song must be good and that it is popular because they keep hearing your song on the radio, then they will feel the need to go out and purchase it/buy it on iTunes/Pirate it. Then when January comes, you may have a really good chance of winning a Grammy.

That is honestly how the average person is today. They like things because they are told to like them. They subconsciously want to do what everybody else is doing.
#137
20th July 2012
Old 20th July 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Benprogfuse View Post
The ultimate formula for a hit is to have the radio stations play your song over and over every ten minutes until your song becomes annoying. Then the majority of the population will assume that your song must be good and that it is popular because they keep hearing your song on the radio, then they will feel the need to go out and purchase it/buy it on iTunes/Pirate it. Then when January comes, you may have a really good chance of winning a Grammy.

That is honestly how the average person is today. They like things because they are told to like them. They subconsciously want to do what everybody else is doing.
I agree with this, but when a Nirvana, Beatles, Dylan, etc. comes along, the status quo becomes irrelevant quickly.
#138
20th July 2012
Old 20th July 2012
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Originally Posted by Benprogfuse View Post
That is honestly how the average person is today. They like things because they are told to like them. They subconsciously want to do what everybody else is doing.
No, it's honestly not.
#139
20th July 2012
Old 20th July 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by El-Burrito View Post
Have you read The Manual by KLF?
Step by step guide how to score No.1 hit. They made it multiple times and then burnt 1million pounds on bonfire just to prove a point :D

Here's documentary on how they did it and the money burning. The Manual pdf version is around internet.

Funny stuff :D
http://members.iinet.net.au/~ithomps...-themanual.pdf
#140
21st July 2012
Old 21st July 2012
  #140
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I improved vocal recording after reading his book,very detailed,compressor trick too but i have no hit formula,i just doit half-half,50% for my pleasure,50% for what's hot in market.If it becomes a hit,i'm lucky,if it's not i'm still happy.
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#141
20th November 2012
Old 20th November 2012
  #141
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ghostwriter View Post
Stav made the claim (currently reading from book) that all hit records have at least 7 common denominators - a rule by definition, without exception. That EVERY Top 10 Hit in every decade contains all 7 ingredients -no exceptions...ever....
Thread resurrected! I'm assuming someone is going to google for this just like I did.

So, a quick summary of where we are at...

We have some pretty strong opinions on this but from what I can tell nobody but Stav has actually done the experiment. Stav talks about a controlled study, which can be repeated. Therefore it can be proven or disproven. None of us have done that yet. Or if they have, they're staying quiet

Thank you ghostwriter for finding the ground rules!

Some potential candidates collected from responses so far (neither proved nor disproved):
  • The highest note in every hit song is in the chorus
  • They all have a climax near the end
  • Everybody needs periods of rest
  • Melody you can whistle - hum in shower, infectious, can play name that tune, infect others with it (aka "a hook")
  • Song length around 3:20 (from The Manual)
  • An 8th note bassline (or kicking bassline, from The Manual)
  • Counterpoint melody, call and response
  • Black background (read Stav's book - I can't explain it yet I have to re-read it)
  • Repeating patterns with note changes
  • Direct hooks and opposing hooks?
  • Groove has gravity and makes you float/feel lighter
  • The Golden progression - Intro, verse one, chorus one, verse two, chorus two, breakdown section, double chorus, outro (from The Manual)
  • BPM under 135 (The Manual)
  • From Ernest Cholakis "the high mid-range and high treble show an increase in dynamics and level over the entire song, while the bass and low mid-range are fairly constant. This is a 'sonic signature' that he's seen on many pop recordings, where the important mid-range is most subject to dynamic range changes, building steadily from beginning to end, while the bass and treble 'anchor' the experience." - you know, this last statement about base and treble as anchors directly contradicts the first part of the statement "high mid-range and high treble show an increase in dynamics". Unless Ernest means the treble stays the same but high mid and high treble change around it..

What it's not:
  • Lyrics
  • I forget the other things, I wasn't paying attention...

You know what's weird, I do feel weird posting this, like some sort of universal code is being broken.

I'm quoting details from The Manual because it's been mentioned twice.

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#142
21st November 2012
Old 21st November 2012
  #142
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I think the formulas haven't really changed much at all. Some seem to be more in-tune with it than others and know how to really make things sound great. The only difference on a typical hit record today compared to one x-amount of years ago is the advances in production and all these "new" sounds we hear being used.

That's about it really, other than that not much has changed. When I flick the radio on and listen to whats on in the charts I'm always surprised at how dated it sounds, musically, even though it's fairly new.

There's only a few songs I've heard where they've done a good job of breaking up the "formula" so it's more interesting and less obvious by making good use of rhythm and using certain notes that never end up being used on melody lines, makes things sound fresh which is the Key I think. Especially if you're competing with other songs that have similar characteristics.
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#143
24th November 2012
Old 24th November 2012
  #143
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ghostwriter View Post
Michael Paul Stavrou in his book "Mixing With Your Mind" claims he discovered the Hit Record Formula. Common denominators that ALL major hits include without exception. Every top 10 hit of every year for the last decade has these same rules applied to each of them, and he claims there are at least 7 ingredients that all of these hits have.

Has anyone broken the secret formula? Has anyone discovered traits that all hit records have in common?

Please let's try and keep on topic. Let's avoid the "I have no interest in writing formulaic music" comments. This is an exercise in the analysis of Top 10 Hits. Not a commentary on trying to copy a formula.

And if this topic doesn't interest you, rather than bashing it, please just find another thread. (I know this last statement is pointless, it's the Internet after all).
Ha ha ha. He's not written any hits. So, it's a formula, therefore, writing a hit would be expected as core evidence. Like baking a cake.

IMO he has a book to sell and wants people to talk about him that will lead to sales. It's a good read even though some bits are self-admittedly out of date already.

He claims he carries with him the Hit Record Formula but writes for a local mag every month about gigs he's recording that aren't big names (no names actually) just proves he still has to grab what he can. It must be so secret he hasn't worked out how to turn it into cash by selling it to someone...?

What's he gonna do? Tell me I'm wrong. Insist I'm wrong. Or demonstrate I'm wrong.

You can tell a tree by its fruit.

By now you prob worked out I don't believe any of it because it's too good to be true.
#144
24th November 2012
Old 24th November 2012
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By the length of this thread and the comments it certainly is a sort after idea having a formula for a hit. It has been a long while since I read Stav's book but I still carry much of what I found workable from it.

My observation is modern music tends to be moving away from melody and instrumentation back to our more rhythmic tribal roots.

In the end it all gets down to what the buying public wants.
#145
27th November 2012
Old 27th November 2012
  #145
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One of the troubles with music today is THE listeners. Too many people have become too used to hearing the same old story written in a different book. There's so many recycled ideas it's beyond annoying as most of these copied "ideas" make a lot of money. There are certain tried and tested chordal progressions (not talking vocal melody line) that have been milked so much the cows tits have caught fire. Doesn't matter what style of music, it'll always work.

The one formula I hear ALL too much is:

Pick a catchy repeating kick / snare beat in 4/4 pick your tempo.. Either around 130 or around 80 (hat's and high end percussion vary in the song, less on verses IF AT all present. They mainly come in on a chorus.

Use a strong repeating 4 chord progression such as E, B, C# A (does not matter which key)

Song structure, Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse Chorus, Mid 8, Chorus Chorus
or

Intro, Versio, Pre Chorus, Chorus, Verse, Pre chorus, Chorus, Mid 8, Chorus, Chorus, End.

With electronic / pop music. Bass, normally follows the lead instruments rhythm. (Unless they writer has half a brain to do something a little more juicy)

Lead synths, quite staccato based, mainly on the chorus. In the verses it's more sparsely played.

Throw a pad in there on a drop or for the transition to a chorus with some whoosh sounds.

Remember to have a pause somewhere in the song...

Come up with a vocal melody with a hook which is either vocally based or instrument based.

Slap an auto tuner the vocals and go wild with production = a "hit"

Hell, maybe I should sell my soul and hop on the band wagon! £££
#146
29th November 2012
Old 29th November 2012
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The Manual says a lot about what really makes a hit, yes its easy to make a chart sounding track, simple annoying beat and corny synths and wooshing noises, but a “HIT” needs something else. A lyrical hook that young people (girls) mostly identify with. So its about having a melody that is easy to sing in the CHORUS, the verse is less important, plus the chorus has to say something basic and simple and positive that kids like. “I wanna hold your hand” “ I think we’re alone now” think about newer songs also, “hit me baby one more time” everyone knows what it means!. Even kids on a subconscious level, its nearly always about sex, but don’t make it smutty.

Get a lyric like that with a hooky melody and you are way close to it.. I have not ever tried this, but this thread is giving me ideas too. Im desperate for some cash these days.
If anyone on here is reading this who has some skills and wants to collaborate with me on something crap like this with the specific outcome of a making a hit, and not for creative reasons, “you can ring my bell”

Now watch this, they got half of it right but missed the lyrical Hook. if they had done that, they would have been very close.

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#147
3rd December 2012
Old 3rd December 2012
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It's interesting reading this thread to compare some of the comments to those made about Nickelback. I have several muso friends who absolutely HATE that band with a degree of bile usually reserved for ****s.

Funny thing is, for as much as they proclaim The Formula to be the work of the Devil... not one of them denies that it does, in fact, WORK.

I am reminded too of a dozen or so interviews I've come across over the years with top artists who have, in fact, spelled out their formula for making hits... not the least of which was Berry Gordy.

Much rarer is any artist who has been consistently successful over an extended period who DOESN'T adhere to some hit making formula.

Some are more specific, some more philosophical... and therefore, more apt to be applicable to everything from "Sugar Sugar" to Bethoven's 5th.
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#148
3rd December 2012
Old 3rd December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aaronsmith View Post
Now watch this, they got half of it right but missed the lyrical Hook. if they had done that, they would have been very close.
It looked to me like all they really worked on was production and even that wasn't really there. But the songwriting wasn't close at all. It's not just the lyrical hook they missed, but a good melody too.
#149
7th December 2012
Old 7th December 2012
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I think in a hit the relationship between words / chord progression / feeling must match. Playing "happy" chords on a negative word or line seems odd for me as it doesn't underline the message. In fact it ends up sounding seldom sarcastic.

I think an excellent example of the music matching the message is (you'll be surprised) is this:

The Mamas and the Papas - Dream a Little Dream of Me - YouTube

When you break it down, it makes sense musically. Even Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus got it right, they are excellent songwriters. Good at creating very complex stuff but making it sound so simple.
#150
5th April 2013
Old 5th April 2013
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i just read the book, and have thought about it for a while. ultimately, i think finding the formula and dispersing it all over the world won't create a flood of hit singles, turning everybody into a superstar over night. so i wouldn't get your poprock panties all twisted and drenched with any formula wet dreams of stardom.

i think the formula is just an 'observation' of similar qualities found in hit songs. the reason stavrou has become aware of these qualities is because he is so immersed in the technical creation of music. he is not, however, a musician that has dedicated his life to writing hit songs.

if the formula were to be known around the world, it would only bring forth a bunch of cheese songs, a phenomenon similar to how there's a thousand wannabe knock off bands trying to emulate the music of a really big 'hit writing' band.

it's a possibility the formula is known amongst the big corporate studio and backroom song writing folk, and maybe they follow it as an aid to songwriting their puppet's next single, but i doubt a formula is not of any more use than a compressor on a killer drum beat might be. i'd be willing to bet big corporate multimillion dollar marketing campaigns do an infinity more for a 'hit' tune than any formula.

and maybe there are some tangible differences between A and B side tunes written by the same hit songwriter, but the truth is, neither of A or B side tunes would've been written if the hit songwriter did not exist. so, if you happen to learn the secret formula but still are not making hit songs, maybe it's because you're not beethoven or mccartney, and maybe you haven't paid your dues to music to the point that other hit songwriters have.

(if you happen to be a cheeseball and write a one hit wonder, consider yourself fortunate and move on. keep in mind those in control of the industry benefited an infinity more from your cheese tune than you ever will, you're more of a victim than a rockstar but at least you lived the life a while there, congrats.)

...i think maybe the tune 'teenage dirtbag' was written/recorded to a t using formula guidelines. ask yourself '...is this what i want, to dedicate a lot of time trying to replicate this skillfully created cheese pop, in this, my one and only life? ...or would i rather sit down and attempt to write tunes that will someday entertain the vast majority of people, without worrying about wasting time trying to figure out some silly formula.'
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