Ingredients Of A Generic Pop Song
Pop songs generally refer to the songs which most of the people currently enjoy listening to. These songs are usually the ones topping the charts. Contrary to popular belief, pop songs do not have a genre. From alternative rock to hip hop to EDM, pop songs keep emerging from all styles of music. What separates a pop song from the rest of the songs in that genre is its “catchiness”, and this comes from various fundamental aspects of the song.
Simple yet effective top line melodies
Strong interesting grooves to keep the listener hooked on
Lyrical content which most of the listeners can connect with
Addictive Top-line Melody
Top line melodies can either be used as instrumental hooks or catchy chorus vocals, but the important thing is to have just the right balance between repetition and variation so that the listener remembers it but doesn’t get bored of it too fast. The melody must be 'easy to digest' meaning that you don't want it to be so complex that the listener cannot enjoy it and neither do you want it to be so simple that it gets irritating or boring. However, most modern pop songs lean towards extremely simple melodies because they are easiest to digest.
It is often found that chorus melodies are higher in the octave compared to the verses. This makes the chorus sound bigger and powerful. This effect is further enhanced by using heaver instrumentation compared to the verses. This change in dynamics creates a form of excitement and keeps the listener hooked until the end of the song. For example, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” uses simple guitar strumming for the verses and builds up all the way into a full-on dance number for the chorus and a catchy riff on the main synth.
When vocals are present in the chorus, they add a new dimension to the song and give it a purpose and direction. Simple lyrics and a strong idea can carry a lot of weight and make a powerful impression on the listener. Pharrel William’s “Happy” has a very strong chorus section because of the simple lyrics and the singer’s performance.
Almost all pop songs are built upon simple, strong rhythmic elements which, along with the vocals, make a strong groove. Many times, pop song grooves are built in a way that enhance the vocal impact. Usually, a strong bass line and punchy drums form the basis for this. A good example for this would be Chainsmokers’ chart-topper “Closer”. The drums, bass line and the synth carry the song until the end.
In many contemporary pop songs, the groove is also implied by various guitar strumming patterns. This also does the job of harmonizing the vocals well, thus reducing the number of instruments required for the song. This approach of simplicity (a voice and an instrument) is used in various pop songs, such as Justin Bieber’s hit “Love Yourself”.
Instrumentation can follow any direction as required for the song, but it is important that every element adds value to the song. Using a lot of instruments doesn’t necessarily make it a better song. Understand the idea behind the song and use the music to push the idea forward.
Relatable Lyrical Content
It is very important for a listener to connect with a song he is listening to. Commonly used themes in pop songs are about relationships (happy, sad, failure, etc.), excitement and joy, finding who we are, desires and aspirations, etc. Since these are feelings that almost everyone feels at some point in their lives, writing songs based on these topics has a good chance of connecting with a larger audience.
The emotions that come through the lyrics must feel genuine for the listeners. That makes it personal and helps them connect instantly. Ed Sheeran’s songs are known for their simplicity, genuineness and emotions of the singer. If the emotions feel fake, it instantly puts people off.
A simple approach towards writing something genuine is to write about some feelings that you’ve personally felt. Try to construct a scenario based on the experiences you’ve gone through, imagine one or two characters present in that scenario and tell the story through them. Many pop songs have videos which contain the artists themselves, along with whoever additional people are required to tell the story.
In pop songs influenced by EDM which is the vast majority, you can almost immediately notice that the kinds of plucks, pads, chords, basses and leads that are used within the production sound very polished. Even when you listen to acoustic pop songs you can observe how the acoustic elements are always very well recorded, warm yet crisp and punchy. Not just the musical elements but also the vocals are very well processed which gives the song 'modern qualities'. For more info about modern qualities you might want to check out What Makes Commercial Pop Songs Sound So Good and Elements of A Typical Pop Vocal Chain
Structure And Presentation
There are several other factors apart from these three, but these are some of the essential points to keep in mind when writing a pop song. It is important to remember that the style of presentation of these three ideas makes a big impact on the listener. There is a lot of repetition of certain sections of the song that makes the song stick in the listener’s mind. This is what makes the song “catchy”. This effect is achieved by structuring the song in a way that makes it very easy to listen to.
Most of the current pop songs are under 4 minutes in length, and the first chorus of the song always hits before the 1-minute mark, many times in around 30 seconds. All the sections of the song are almost always evenly divided in terms of bars, i.e, 4/8/16. This approach makes the song easier to listen to and can cater to a wider audience because of its simplicity.
Almost all pop songs revolve around the idea of “verse, chorus, bridge” arrangement.
Some of the most widely used pop song structures are:
The bridge section is created to break the monotony and present something fresh to the listener to avoid loss of interest and also to create anticipation for the next chorus. This section is made to stand out by changing the groove, chord progression, lyrics, etc. Sometimes, they are also used as filler sections where the listener is pulled into the song by creating rich soundscapes. For example, many of Coldplay’s songs in their first few albums have bridges that either have guitar solos or vocals or pads that draw the attention of the listener and keeps them interested.
Despite being in similar frameworks, many pop songs manage to stand apart from the others by creating a unique sound palette for the song. Rich sound textures and memorable elements of the song help the listener to stay engaged, listen to the song on loop and remember it.
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