The Secret Behind Hit Songs – The Musical Trinity Part 2: Songwriting

SONGWRITINGThis is Part-2 in a three-part series by audio engineer and musician, Josh Srago. Click here to revisit Part-1 (Engineering).


Songwriting is a completely subjective thing to people. While I could write about the formulaic ideas that can create a hit song, just think of yourself at the age of 14 and write to that kid – you’ll probably reach the same point. The key with songwriting is to draw your listener into the song by giving them something they can relate to, effectively creating an emotional attachment

Nick Hornby once wrote about songwriting in his book “High Fidelity” (and John Cusack embodied it) that we listen to thousands upon thousands of songs about love and heartbreak. So why is it that the most common theme across ALL musical platforms is misery over lost love? Because it is something that everyone goes through, something that everyone can relate to, and something that is a fundamental human understanding as we go through life. That topic brings together more people than anything else.

Seems like a bold statement to make, but how many of us turn on music for at least an hour a day? Next time you’re listening to the songs blaring through your speakers or headphones, count how many of them carry the underlying theme of love or heartbreak. Yes, I am including the types of songs that include lyrics like “finding my bitches in this club” – momentary love is still love – call me a romantic if you will, but it still counts. 

Beyond the lyrics, songwriting involves having the basic fundamental chords that will move with the song. As you develop the structure of a song, make sure that the chords you chose convey the message you wish to express. Do you want dissonance in your song to express tension or sadness? Do you want more upbeat sounding tones? Then stick to major chord structures. 

The last piece of songwriting goes with tempo and feel. If you’re writing a song designed to get people up and dancing in a club on a Saturday night, you’re not going to want it to be slow. The same would be true for the style of song. If the fan base you’re reaching out to listens to country, giving your songs a reggae feel probably won’t draw them in. Knowing what kind of audience you’re trying to reach can help you tailor the feel and tone of the song to maximize exposure, and it can also help you determine instrumentation.

Come back next week for the final part in this 3-part series, as Josh uncovers the final figure of the Musical Trinity – arrangement.

Josh Srago, an audio engineer and bassist that has played with dozens of acts around the San Francisco Bay Area, but his true passion lies with helping people understand the fundamentals of audio. You can follow Josh on Twitter and read some of his additional posts on his blog.

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1 Comment

  1. Hey good stuff, thank you Josh for the great insight into music and songwriting! I especially like your point about how good music talks about experiences we can relate to and also creates a certain level of attachment. I also like the point you made about how the song underlying the lyrics adds additional help in conveying the emotion of your message.

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