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Op-Ed: How to have a hit single? Keep it simple

Popular music has produced a mixed canon of music and people will have their favorite bands and artists. Have you ever wondered why those often heralded as great lyricists in music rarely trouble the upper echelons of the music charts? Number ones for Bob Dylan are squarely in the past; and the likes of Leonard Cohen, Morrissey, Billy Bragg, Nick Cave, Jay-Z and Joanna Newsom (to pick a selection) have never reached the number one spot.

The reason for this, Psychology Today reports, is because the simpler and more repetitive a song’s lyrics, then the more likely the song is to reach number one in the Billboard Hot 100. This also applies to the chances of a new track debuting in the top 40 and also to the rate at which it will climb the chart.

The new report focuses on lyrics only; and of the course the music always matters but putting that aside for now, is there something to be said for simplicity of words and the repetition of those words throughout a three or four minute song?
For example, Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, the dance hit Uptown Funk, and many other chart-topping tracks, the review by Jacquie Itsines points out, share a similar basis: repetitive song lyrics.

The finding is based on a psychological analysis published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, which is titled “The power of repetition: repetitive lyrics in a song increase processing fluency and drive market success.”

The study concluded that “repetition as a stimulus feature matters” when influencing consumer choice. The study also shows that people react more positively to simple, fluent messages. This works in a similar way to advertising slogans. So, for aspiring musicians out there take note: if you want artistic credibility, reach for the thesaurus; if you want a sure-fire hit, keep it simple, keep it slow, keep it tight.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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