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