Writing a Radio Friendly Song
Even though, in general, it is impossible to tell whether or not a song will become a “hit song”, several pointers will help us understand why commercial radio hits like “Sweet Home Alabama” “ We Will Rock You”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Hey Jude”, “Stand by Me” and many others are to this day some people’s all time song favorites. Regardless of what an artist’s musical genre is (pop, rock, country, hip-hop, etc.), it is very important that he/she has at least a handful of what I call radio friendly songs in an album. Quite similar to reading a well-written book, a great song will reach out to people’s hearts and emotions, and its content will remain in its listeners even after the song is over. So lets talk about several important aspects of a song that should help you make your music more appealing to your potential listeners.
Keep it Short
First of all, it is wise to keep your song short, within 4 minutes is regularly a good length. Radio stations normally don’t like to play anything past 3:30 or 4 mins. The reason is that they like to have the most time available for commercials, the better. Also, unless you can manage to keep your listener engaged for a longer time, most times it is wiser to finish the story you’re telling by minute 3 or 4. Remember that music has an entertaining as well as an artistic element to it, I personally try to combine both in the music I make. Some of my favorite exceptions to this rule are “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. Nevertheless, keep in mind that it is difficult to listen to a considerably long song without loosing interest. So unless you have another “bohemian rhapsody” or “stairway to heaven”, keep it short.
Most music typically has at least a verse and a chorus. Some songs also have pre-choruses and bridges. It is very important to make each section different, whether you change the melody, harmony, feel, go from rapping to singing, etc. A teacher I had in college used to say that the verse is where you tell the story, and the chorus is where you show it. Therefore, choruses will tend to be more repetitive, and are normally the most catchy part of the song, or in other words, what listeners will remember even when they’re not playing the song. Verses, on the other hand, give the writer more space to actually develop the details of the story. This applies to hip hop and rap verses as well. A bridge will help show a contrasting or complementary part to your story, while a pre-chorus can help you make a smoother transition between a verse and a chorus.
Get into the details of the Story
When telling a story, it is very important to include as many details as you can. Therefore, in a song, how things felt, tasted, smelled and looked to you are important to engage the listener. It’s important to try to stay away from those generic stories. For example: I loved you very much, but you left me, and now I’m heart broken. Even though there’s nothing technically wrong with this, listeners normally find more sincerity in a song in which they can hear the details of how you felt when your heart was broken, how coffee tasted that morning, how the flowers smelled, etc. In my opinion, details enhance the listening experience by helping its audience recreate the story. Additionally, try to avoid common and overused rhymes. An example of this could be: you broke my heart, now I’m torn apart. Once again, nothing really wrong, but some of these phrases are so common today that it might be smarter investing some time in finding other more creative ways to tell your story and thus make it unique.
Make it Catchy
Even though music has very few rules carved in stone, it is a good idea for your chorus to happen around or before the first minute of the song. Some ballads will need a little more time to develop. The reason for this is that you want the catchy part of the song to happen as early as possible, without burning your fuel too early, of course. If you are able to place your chorus around minute one, You’ll be able to repeat a chorus several times, so that the listener can have several chances of remembering it afterwards. In some cases, songs even start off with the Chorus or Hook. In my experience showing music to record executives, I’ve never sat down with one that listens to more than a couple of minutes of each song. If it doesn’t catch his/her attention in the first few minutes, chances are it never will.
When you’re recording a song, keep in mind that the instrumentation plays a key role in setting the right mood for the story you want to tell. If, for example, you want people to stand up and dance to your song, you are going to need the right percussive and rhythm tracks to invite them to the dance floor. Some songs require a lot of instruments and vocals, while some others need only a well-executed piano or guitar, and its vocal.
Look for Feedback
When you are starting to write your songs, it’s important to listen to what other people think about them, preferably those listeners that don’t know you enough to care you wrote it, as they’ll be more sincere about their impressions. Be perceptive to their reactions and be ready to accept their criticism, it will pay off later on. If you’re planning on shopping your music around to publishers and record labels, remember that making a good first impression is crucial to putting your foot inside the music industry, so be patient and wait until you have something really good and unique to show. Songwriting is a process that takes time to mature and master, practice it as often as you can.