Hit factory: Cracking the pop song formula

As a music genre, pop is often perceived as formulaic or predictable. Give it some catchy tunes, a little dangle and precise harmony, and you have a song that will most likely hit the top of the charts.

Studying the characteristics of pop music, scientists from the University of Bristol found that there is an equation to identifying a hit pop song, which includes elements such as musical taste and dance-ability.


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Based on their study, which was conducted using specialized software, it shows that there is a steady change in musical taste over the past century. Furthermore, the group revealed that music has become easier to dance to and louder over the past few decades.

A similar study in London, meanwhile, has analyzed the structure of a “perfect pop song.” The researchers believe that that some tunes, also known as earworms, seem to get stuck on people’s minds. Because of this, nearly 90 percent of music listeners experience earworms regularly through a “cognitive itch.”


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But there is more to this than what listeners know. The researchers speculate that earworms could be a consequence of the near-ubiquitous presence of music in modern life. Hence, the more people hear the music, the more they remember it—particularly those with very catchy tunes. The “stickiness” of the tunes, however, results from a certain balance of pitch intervals and particular rhythmic structures.

Putting these ideas together, it shows that there is no steady or solid formula to creating a pop song. Its magic works based on how songs are delivered, the public’s current taste in music, and, of course, exposure and likeability.

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