The only thing more annoying than bandwagon fans may be bandwagon haters. People who feel it is their duty as fans of a particular sound or genre to tear down whoever is currently dominating the charts because they believe it makes them unique or edgy in some way. We who embrace the hitmakers know better, as we understand there is a reason certain artists see their star shoot into the stratosphere while others must work incredibly hard for every tiny bit of success they achieve. The reasons for this are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach, but one thing that is almost always true about real music stars, and by that I mean those who are able to hold the public’s attention across multiple albums, is that they always find a way to connect with people in a way that feels personal.
To be clear, what I just said is far easier to grasp than it is to recreate. We all follow our own paths in this life, experiencing practically every aspect of existence in a way that is wholly unique to ourselves, yet for some reason there are certain songs and/or artists who have the power to make us feel as though we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Call it a community, or a culture, or a way of life, but there is something to the biggest material in history that connects with people in a deeply personal way. You may have never experienced the situation being described in the song, and you may never know the story that inspired the lyrics, but something about the way emotion is being expressed cuts through the noise and strikes you right in your soul. It moves you, as it does others, and as soon as it’s over we long to feel that connection again. That is the sign you’ve found something truly great in music, and it’s something that is completely achievable by pretty much every artist working today. That is, if they work hard enough.
The big star of the moment is Adele, and by now you’ve no doubt heard her single “Hello” between one and one-hundred times in your daily life. Her music is everywhere right now, and her new single “When We Were Young” seems poised to push her exposure even further. The production on these tracks is undeniably gorgeous, and Adele’s powerful voice is something that will be praised for decades to come, but what makes these songs work at Top 40 radio and beyond has little do with those factors and far more to do with the feeling you get when the music plays. Adele, like Drake on tracks like “Hotline Bling” or “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” has the power to make you miss people and situations you have never actually known. Something in the way the music compliments the lyrics, which are typically pulled from a deeply personal place, creates an atmosphere of turmoil and heartache that listeners take upon themselves to connect with events in their own lives. It doesn’t matter whether or not the events that inspired the song are the same as the events the lyrics are being applied to by the listeners, and it never will. All that matters is that the performer is able to capture a feeling, or perhaps a better description would be a sense of being, that translates on a massive scale.
What I’m trying to say is that the reason these artists skyrocket into the music stratosphere while others fight over lower chart positions is because people feel like the know them. When you hear the music of Adele and Drake, or even smaller acts like The Hotelier or Modern Baseball, you feel as if you are hearing an update from a close friend about what has been going on in their life since you last spoke. It’s entertaining, yes, but it’s so much more than that as well. You long for those updates, and when they arrive you click play with all the hope in the world that you and this person or group, whom you’ve never met, have been experiencing similar situations in life. You hope there is something in there story that relates to your own, and that kind of connection is incredibly hard to break. Even if the quality of the music begins to suffer, and the radio songs can’t crack the top 10, people who have connected to an artist on an emotional level will continue to follow them for as long as they are able.
I cannot tell you how to create songs that connect with people the way the latest singles from Drake and Adele do, but that is okay because writing material like that should not be your goal after reading this post. Writing music that would work for Drake or Adele is not guaranteed to work for you, at all. Your goal, or better yet your mission, should be to find a way to create the music you want to make in such a way that it connects with people like the material released by your musical peers. It’s not about copying someone else’s formula, but rather finding a way to tap into the same set of relatable emotions that has established countless artists as household names over the last hundred or so years of pop music. Even if you’re writing metal, the goal remains the same. You want to create something that is both personal and universal, which shares a part of you in a meaningful way while still allowing others to add their own meaning to the material. There is no recipe for that kind of creation, nor are the any guides I would suggest you spend time reading. The best way to make material like this is too simply keep creating, and in time you will learn to refine your skills. As your songwriting improves, so will the reach of your music, but you cannot allow yourself to get lost in thoughts of what a song could potentially be or do for you. As soon as you take your focus away from creating great songs that actually mean something to you, the artist, your chances of connecting with listeners begins to drop. Stay true to yourself and people will notice. It might take time, but that’s perfectly okay.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.