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Writing hit songs

Only 307 pages left on your journey to becoming a rock star!

Rule #1: Song structure

About 90% of all hit songs (both good and bad ones) follow a VCVCBCC structure, where V stands for the verse, C stands for the chorus, and B stands for the bridge. In other words, we’ll have the following structure:

  • Intro
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Bridge
  • Chorus (double length)
  • Outro (often a fade-out)

The most prominent alternative to the VCVCBCC structure is to start with the chorus right away (think of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab for example, or the Rolling Stone’s (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction), which means that you’ll have the following CVCVCBCC structure:

  • Intro
  • Chorus
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Bridge
  • Chorus (double length)
  • Outro (often a fade-out)

Those two structures have been used to create almost all great hits ever written, although there’s a third one that was also used a few times, such as for the Beatles’ Hey Jude or Radiohead’s Karma Police for example. It’s a structure that starts with the usual alteration of verses and choruses, but then comes up with some completely new alternative part. This VCVCAA structure usually also doesn’t need a bridge or an outro:

  • Intro
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Alternative part (often fades out)

Those are the three options you usually have – if you want to write a hit song, then you will have to use those structures, unless you have some quite special idea and you really know what you’re doing. That’s the structure that helped all of the great ones to achieve eternal fame, from The Beatles over The Rolling Stones to James Brown, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Metallica, Beck, Radiohead, and so on.

All of the greatest artists of all times used one or more of those three structures.

Analyze your favourite songs, and you’ll see that it’s true for most (but maybe not all) of them. The following image visualizes the default hit song structure (note that the chorus is also more intense, and therefore sounds louder than the verse):

The hit song structure with an alternative part looks similar, it’s mostly the ending that either brings the song onto a completely new level (the nah nah nah nah part in the Beatles’ Hey Jude), or turns the song into something completely new (For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself… in Radiohead’s Karma Police). The alternative part at the end should turn the song into something like an anthem if you want, and the entire song can also be quite long (7:11 total length in the case of Hey Jude for example):

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Chapter 5.2   •   Page 4 of 20

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