When a pop song strikes a particular emotional chord with you, it's nice to imagine the singer sitting in his room pouring his heart into the lyrics and feeling like he totally gets you. Similarly, when you hear a mindless pop song about partying, it's easy enough to write it off as professional songwriters pandering to the public. The reality of writing pop music is typically somewhere in between these two scenarios.
Pop Music Defined
Any music with mass appeal and success is considered pop music. The word "pop" is even short for "popular," so the name encompasses anything that can be defined as popular. In the past, rock, metal, hip hop, country, rhythm-and-blues, dance and punk music have all been considered "pop." There is no universal way of writing songs across all these genres, and in fact there is no way for song-crafting shared across all writers of a particular genre.
Writing Pop Songs
The goal of pop music is mass appeal, and successful pop songs share some common elements (with exceptions): a catchy hook, verse-chorus-verse structure, three to four minutes in length and lyrics reflecting a sentiment that a wide audience can relate to. Many top 40 and pop artists don't write their own music but instead buy publishing rights to songs from teams of professional songwriters. These writers know how to craft a successful pop song because they've done it over and over for many of your favorite artists. Some writers start with a melody and fit lyrics to it whereas others write lyrics first and work out the melody and background music later. Writers of pop music largely agree there is no right way to write a pop song and that it is not something that can be taught.
Producing Pop Songs
Pop music relies heavily on the recording quality and production value for its success. Drums on many popular songs are not played live by an actual human being in a studio but are programmed into a drum machine. A small-time garage band may be able to get away with gritty, off-the-floor recording values and may, in fact, be expected to deliver such by fans waiting to accuse them of selling out if they detect the slightest hint of Autotune -- but pop fans, by contrast, expect a glossy finish to their top 40 tracks.
Crafting a Successful Pop Song
It is nearly impossible to predict which pop songs will be hits and which will flop. For writers, having songs picked up by superstars is a sign of success since nearly anything released by some of the biggest names in music will be a hit. For new writers and artists who prefer writing their own songs, there is no right way to write a hit song. The hook is key, though: it's the part that gets stuck in your head right away and won't leave you alone. If you're trying to write a good pop song, start with a solid hook and build the rest on that foundation.
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