Why Hit Songs Aren't Hit or Miss

By: Jon Weaver


Writing a song is, in many ways, like baking a cake. Almost anyone can do it. On the surface it appears to be merely a matter of selecting the proper ingredients and putting them together according to some prescribed recipe. However, in reality songwriting is not quite as simple as all that. Just as two people can use the same paint and canvas, look at the same model and yet obtain completely different results, it is also the same way in the songwriting field: the same melodic and lyric ideas may be combined to produce either a palatable hit, or a tasteless concoction.

The fact is, that while writing a song is comparatively simple, writing a good song is an accomplishment that only a few can master. Each year thousands of songs are copyrighted and thousands more are written but never sent to the copyright office. Of this wealth of creative material, only an amazingly small percentage is ever published, and an even smaller percentage ever becomes hits.

There are several good reasons for this. In the first place, the market can absorb only a limited number of songs at a time. Since it takes several weeks of steady plugging by radio and television stations and top-flight singers to put these songs across, and since the number of available plugs is limited, the publisher wisely restricts the publishing amount to the number of songs that can comfortably be handled.

There is also the matter of expense. A publisher must invest quite a bit of money on a song before they can tell whether or not they have placed their bet on the right horse. Naturally, they are cautious and, as a general rule, prefer to back those songwriters who have proven they can produce successful numbers.

The VJ and DJ has only a limited time "on the air" and must pack into the broadcast the hits that they know will be well received. They too, are not interested in taking any risks on a new songwriter unless their work shows exceptional promise.

This is not intended to discourage anyone from writing songs. Every professional songwriter was, at one time, a rank amateur and had the same obstacles to overcome. The point is that the new songwriter should realize that the road ahead is a tough one and is to be traversed with a good deal of fortitude and patience. They are confronted with the problem of not only writing a song that in subject matter, construction and treatment will stand the stiff competition with professional numbers, but they must be able to overcome the natural reluctance of publishers to accept "new" material.

To meet this competition successfully, the new songwriter must have some natural talent in devising lyric or melodic ideas, they must be able to develop these ideas into a technically perfect song, they must be willing to seek, accept and apply honest criticism, and they must have sufficient stamina and self confidence to take rejections in stride and to keep on producing songs.

This seems to demand a lot from the songwriter, but, on analysis, it is no more than is required in any other creative field. So keep plugging away at it. If you truly believe you have what it takes, then we'll see you at the top!

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