the sound of sci­ence

Sun­day Night Mu­sic Club host Danielle Perry de­con­structs some in­ter­na­tional megahits to re­veal their magic for­mula. It’s all about chord pro­gres­sion, ap­par­ently…

Q (UK) - - Incoming -

Ev­ery­one knows ra­dio sta­tions run off playlists most of the time. The records are fed into the dig­i­tal sys­tem with cod­ing and mark­ers to en­sure a bal­anced and var­ied ex­pe­ri­ence for the lis­tener. That’s a very brief over­view, of course, but I’ve no­ticed dur­ing the past 15 years while sit­ting be­hind a mi­cro­phone that while trends may come and go, there are also those mas­sive hits that, quite frankly, will sit com­fort­ably on any playlist. Re­cently I was sat at work play­ing Rag’n’Bone Man’s Hu­man and re­alised that not only is it in­stantly recog­nis­able but it also ticks all the right boxes to make it a bona fide mod­ern clas­sic. Back in the day I did a mu­sic de­gree, writ­ing for or­ches­tras and also dis­sect­ing clas­sic songs to de­ter­mine their process and for­mula in or­der to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how and why such mu­sic pushes cre­ative bound­aries. And here’s the sci­ence to it: the “pop­u­lar song” is clas­si­cally con­structed by a chord pro­gres­sion known as I-V-vi-IV. What that means is, if in the key of C, I is C, then V equals the fifth de­gree of that scale – in this case G, then vi= 6 (Am), then along to F… What do you mean I should stick with the day job?! Some of the all-time clas­sics are made this way: U2’s With Or With­out You, Bob Mar­ley’s No Woman No Cry, Let It Be by The Bea­tles, Adele’s Some­one Like You… the list goes on but you get the pic­ture. These megahits aren’t nec­es­sar­ily my favourites, but you can’t deny their in­ter­na­tional ap­peal. Such songs have a sci­ence be­hind them which, if you can un­lock the for­mula, all one then need do is sprin­kle some hun­dreds and thou­sands on top and – voila! – you’re on your way to (pos­si­bly) hav­ing a world­wide smash. These ac­cou­trements could be in the form of gospel back­ing singers, re­lat­able lyrics (that are also in a key and range that is easy to sing along to), lots of rep­e­ti­tion, and, ideally, a lead singer who gen­uinely makes you be­lieve they mean ev­ery word. Hitch that to a huge Net­flix synch and you’re in busi­ness. That said, ra­dio would sound very bor­ing and for­mu­laic if it solely fea­tured this style of mu­sic. But all power to those push­ing the “I-V-vi-IV” chord pro­gres­sion and the me­dia which sup­ports it. This for­mula worked for The Bea­tles and Queen back in day, so there’s no rea­son why such a song­writ­ing tra­di­tion shouldn’t con­tinue, how­ever sci­en­tific it might be.

Lis­ten to The Sun­day Night Mu­sic Club from 8pm ev­ery week on Ab­so­lute Ra­dio.

Good sci­ence: Bob Mar­ley’s No Woman, No Cry was made with a win­ning for­mula.

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