[Editors Note: This article was written by Omar Zulfi of DeviantNoise.]
Let’s be real – there’s not really a blueprint to writing a hit record. It’s an extremely tough thing to do. And of the thousands of songs put out every day, an extremely tiny amount manage to rise to the top.

To be fair, not everybody wants to make mainstream music that reaches the masses. But if you do, there’s one way to increase the odds of creating that next hit song.

Analyze current hits, and incorporate the same trends into your music.

So, in this article, we’re going to dissect modern music to see what makes a hit in 2018.

If you’ve never sat and analyzed music, it’s one of the most eye-opening and useful exercises a musician or music producer could do.

But it does take a lot of time to do properly. Thankfully, there’s a great service called Hit Songs Deconstructed that analyzes all the hit music out there and boils it all down for you into different reports. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Song Structure and Arrangement

Most songs that really popped in 2018 followed some of the same arrangement “rules” that have been popular in music for a while.

In short, the arrangement of a song satisfies our culture of the “quick fix.”

For example, a lot of modern hit songs tend to only be 3 minutes to 3:30 in length. Sure, that could be a hold-over from the “radio era,” but it’s still relevant today. In the age of unlimited distractions and choices, we move fast.

Want more proof of this? Check out song intros.

You won’t hear an intro that lasts more than approximately 15 seconds in music that charts well. And in a lot of cases after the intro you get the first chorus. That’s because you don’t have long to hook a listener nowadays. With so much music out we need to know if we like the song or not, NOW.

If a song does start off with a verse instead of a chorus after the intro, you’ll notice that the first chorus will always come in within 60 seconds.

And there’s another thing you can blame on our social media addicted lifestyle. Our attention spans are shorter and flakier than ever before.

What does that mean for music? It means you have to give your listeners something new very often to keep them from getting bored.

A good rule of thumb is to change things up (add/remove things, melody/groove changes, additional harmony, etc.) every four bars. This helps keep things interesting. It doesn’t have to be a major change, either. Just something to keep the energy and movement of a song flowing.

Finally, in terms of arrangement, most hit songs follow a similar overall structure. They:

  • start with a short intro,
  • have a couple sections of verse /chorus (and possibly a pre-chorus),
  • have a departure section (like a bridge),
  • climax with the highest amount of energy (usually a chorus),
  • and then end with an outro.

Many times, especially in genres like hip-hop, artists are used to thinking of 16-bar verses and 8-bar hooks/choruses. But that’s changing, too.

Most music that charts well usually has 12 bars of verse (including pre-chorus for “pop” music) and an 8-bar chorus. There will usually be an 8-bar departure section too before the final chorus and outro.

Sounds, Moods and Influences

2017 became the first official year that hip-hop overtook pop music as the most prevalent genre in mainstream consciousness.

And as such, you’re seeing most of the music that charts and streams well to be heavily influenced by the genre, especially the sub-genre of Trap music.

The sounds of modern Trap music include:

  • Prominent sub bass instruments (like the heavily processed Roland TR-808 bass drums)
  • A very bouncy drum groove with “marching band” style syncopated snares
  • Slow tempos, but composed in “double time” (i.e. recorded at 140 bpm for a 70 bpm feel)
  • Fast, rolling hi-hats (usually 8th notes accented with 32nd and 64th note rolls)
  • Dark, minor melodies

Take a look at the Spotify Top 50 or even the Billboard charts and you’ll notice that a majority of the music (even stuff that’s not “Hip-Hop”) has the sub-genre’s signature influences incorporated in it.

But 2017 and 2018 saw some other very influential sounds too – namely Island (i.e. Reggae/Dancehall) and Latin music.

Some of the biggest songs of the last year – in any genre – were heavily influenced by Trap, Reggae and/or Latin music.

There are also some popular choices when it comes to instrumentation, as well. Some of the most popular sounds used in modern hits include electronic drums (especially claps/snaps/snares), mallet instruments, melodic synths and synth basses.

Of course, mainstays like piano and guitar are always popular choices for producers and artists alike.

When it comes to listeners’ favorite moods, it used to be that most pop music was composed in major keys. That’s not the case anymore. A lot of popular music nowadays is written in minor keys, particularly F minor.

Bringing it All Together

Really, it all boils down to this – keep your music interesting and relevant to today’s sound.

You don’t have to incorporate everything discussed into every song you create.

Knowing all that stuff isn’t about chasing fads or making the same music everyone else is making. It’s also not meant to box you in or make your music formulaic.

But it’s useful to know where music is, and where music is going so you can incorporate what fits for you, into your own style. Your music should still be YOUR music and true to you.

By recognizing the above trends, however, you can stay modern, relevant, and increase your chances of mainstream success.


Omar Zulfi is the owner of DeviantNoise.com – a one-stop shop dedicated to helping rappers, singers, songwriters and music producers create their best music. Learn about everything from singing better to making beats and much more.

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