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Why haven't you had a Hot 100 hit yet?

Anyone with a home recording studio now has the means to create a hit. So why haven't you yet?


I've been listening to a lot of pop music recently. No, I don't think I've been too damaged by it, but I've decided that two 30-minute sessions per day, for me, really is enough. There's something about the relentlessly pounding beat, and the equally relentless repetitive formulae that make extended listening unadvisable.

Not that I disrespect pop music. Quite the opposite in fact. This is the most competitive area of the music business that there is. Anyone who succeeds has done so against truly massive competition. And getting to No. 1 - well that's like winning the 100 meters at the Olympics.

I'll have a few things to say about pop music over the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to start with the feature that struck me most...

It's all so doable. (Yes, that is a word, and it doesn't need a hyphen.)

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Equipping Your Home Recording Studio

Nearly everything in the charts over the last few years has been constructed from synthesized, sampled and looped sounds. With a vocal over the top of course. You may hear the occasional guitar or other solo instrument, but nothing that couldn't be recorded at home.

Hardly anything that makes it to the charts requires anything more exotic. Once in a while you might hear a string or horn section, perhaps a whole orchestra, or something recorded in a really nice acoustic. Once in a while too you will hear an instrumental part played by a shit-hot session musician. But on overwhelming evidence, you don't need these musical elements to make a hit, just the basics that any home studio would have, or could easily obtain.

So what are these basics? Here's a rough listing...

  • A decent microphone, although a tube microphone would be better as many pop records have the 'tube' lead vocal sound
  • Audio interface with integral preamp. Don't bother being too picky as any small differences won't make it through mastering.
  • A separate tube mic preamp to make your vocal more tubey, if you wish.
  • DAW. Take your pick.
  • Drum software instrument. There isn't much in the charts that couldn't be done with Native Instruments' Battery or equivalent, perhaps with additional sample libraries.
  • Subtractive synthesizer virtual instrument. There are plenty available with a wide enough range of textures, and of course that ever-popular sawtooth waveform.
  • Sample library and player. Native Instruments' Kontakt and its factory library, or equivalent, will be fine.
  • A decent, easy-to-use, compressor plug-in such as the Waves CLA set.
  • A decent harmonic generation plug-in, such as the FabFilter Saturn.
  • Monitoring, and somewhere quiet and calm in which to work.

I'm guessing that you have all of this, or equivalents, already. Note that you don't need to be able to create any sound imaginable. You need to be able to create a wide range of sounds and use them with imagination.

So why haven't you had a hit yet?

So, given that all the equipment and software you need to create a hit is easily and reasonably cheaply available, why haven't you had a hit yet?

I can think of plenty of reasons, but I'm going to limit myself here to two.

The first and mostly blindingly obvious reason you haven't had a hit yet is because you don't have access to an artist of the caliber to make it into the charts. By caliber, I don't just mean how well they sing. It is their ability to connect with the market. Think Justin Bieber as an example. He might not connect with you, but he connects with plenty of people who are willing to pay money for his records. Yes there are a lot of chart records made by 'no-name' artists or groups, but they have the backing of industry insiders, and that's important too.

The second reason you haven't had a hit yet is that even if Rihanna walked into your studio, you couldn't write or produce one. No really, you couldn't. Not unless you had put in the 16-hours a day effort over many years to learn and absorb exactly what it is that will please the listening public. You're competing with people who think of nothing else than pop music, pop music, pop music. It's a whole different world to the endless discussion of what's the best preamp or convertor in audio forums online. This is the real arena of combat and the writers and producers are primus palus among gladiators.

But you can do it...

So ask yourself the question, do you want that hit record? You have the equipment. All you need to do now is put in the effort. You need to live, breath, eat and sleep pop music. You need to write and produce, write and produce, work with the best people you can find. Increase your awareness of what pleases the public and get closer and closer to being in contention. Even this isn't a guarantee of success as you will be competing with other people who are putting in the same amount of effort. But the goal isn't an unachievable dream; it's there for the reaching, and perhaps the grasping. And you probably have all the equipment and software you need right now.

Time to get started...

By David Mellor Friday May 17, 2013