hit song

Tip Jar: What it Takes to Write a Hit Song

We learn to love an artist who creates lyrics that we can personally relate to. While listening to these songs, the listener begins to form a personal relationship with the artist. So, how does a songwriter create the songs that will turn views into fans and a hobby into a lifelong career? In the following article, music business veteran Jason Davis has some keen insights to offer.

1. Irrespective of time, genre, or talent, the song is king. A good song and a hit song have always separated those who hit the Billboard charts versus those who might be featured on a few local stations. Writing the right song is the hardest thing to accomplish in the industry.

With the goal being to write a song that others can’t wait to download, you have to consider structure, meaning and, most of all, emotion. The best advice is to persistently work on your craft. Don’t be discouraged when the song isn’t perfect. It doesn’t matter if others initially don’t see your talent. If you are writing daily, you naturally improve.

Success is the result of hard work and what you learn from the failures and achievements along the way. So challenge yourself and make sure to finish––write at least one song every week.

2. Dare to be crazy creative. Study the song titles and song content of the top 20 to 50 songs on Billboard’s charts to see what tactics are used by successful writers. If you’re writing for a specific genre, concentrate on the genre you’re trying to succeed in. Taking the time to study all genres can be beneficial as well. If it’s a song that has impacted people—either by its catchy tune or emotional lyrics—it is worth the review.

3. The emotion of the song is what draws in the listener. The song needs to work toward building a relationship with the listeners. Understand how your song is relatable. People want to be moved. They want to laugh, cry and relate. You need your song to be different, yet universal all at the same time.

Social media has made people impatient. Capturing the attention of fans within the first minute is more critical than ever before; consequently, it is advised to start with a short intro, have a couple sections of verse/chorus, have a bridge, climax with the highest amount of energy with a chorus, and then end with an outro.

4. Attention to detail is critical. Understand that songwriting is like athletics. In basketball, you have a hoop and a backboard. If the ball is not making it into the hoop, you know you need more work. If your song isn’t good enough, it’s not going to make it into the hoop. The problem is that many songwriters don’t recognize that their song is bouncing off the backboard.

Don’t be afraid to continue to work to change or perfect your song. Companies rise and fall on the smallest of details. If one pinhole can sink a ship, then know that digging into the key elements of your song can make all the difference. The more you do this, the more you will improve. Don’t be afraid to ask for honest opinions and grow from the comments.

5. Tear your songs apart. One of the best ways I know to identify the components of a hit song is simply to dig in and tear it apart. While studying other songs that have hit the billboard charts, listen from a new perspective to understand how that song achieved that level. Listen to the melody and lyrics, and think about what separated this composition from others.

I started my career in music as a songwriter. My first ASCAP award-winning hit was one of the most radio air-played songs 20 years ago, and the idea that practice makes perfect has never changed. By starting to write daily at 13 years old, by 23 I was making breakthroughs that changed the course of my career. That success sent me down a path that would even include an award in Latin music.

Knowing the artist’s potential for success will be defined by this product, I spend a significant amount of time torturing the details of songs that are sent to me. It’s been my experience that with the right song you can knock on doors that will actually open and change your life forever.

So, how is a hit song written? There is never a guarantee, but you can certainly increase your chances by analyzing the songs on the charts of today. Work to connect in every way possible with your listeners and lead with your strengths. As you work on your craft, you will begin to understand what is necessary to achieve your goal as a songwriter and begin to recognize what has the potential to be a hit—and what does not.

Write, re-write, repeat.


JASON DAVIS is a music business veteran with two decades of experience. He's co-founder and president of multiple companies including One One 7, Radar Label Group, Noble Management, and Awaken Records. He has worked with artists such as P. Diddy, Boyz II Men, Jay-Z, Dolly Parton, Lonestar and many more. He and his clients have secured record deal offers from several of the largest music companies in the world, including Capitol, Sony, Interscope, Island/Def Jam, Epic, Atlantic and RCA. Jason can be reached at [email protected].