What makes a good pop song great? Some of the more obvious qualities are having an interesting melody, clever lyrics, and familiar elements with an unexpected twist. But one quality we haven’t talked about is the ‘sing-a-long’ factor.
A great song needs to draw your audience in. Whether it’s humming the tune as they walk down the street or daydreaming themselves performing the song to an audience (you know who you are 😉 )…a great song needs some ingredient that makes you want to be a part of it.
Taking this idea to a deeper psychological level, we are social creatures and we want to be a part of something bigger. Music is a binding force in culture and we long for music that reinforces our connection to each other.
So how do you ensure that your song has the sing-a-long factor?
In songwriting, it comes down to an interesting melody that feels natural to repeat over and over again in your head. Lyrically, the song needs to be relatable..so that you (the audience) can feel what the singer is feeling. And by feeling what the singer is feeling, it makes you want to sing/hum/daydream that song.
On the production side, try using vocal DTs: layer different takes of the exact same vocal recording, with some left/right panning, to make the vocalist sound ‘bigger’. If the takes are less exact, then it becomes more of a back-up chorus effect — and the more it sounds like a group of people singing, the more it makes you think you should be singing it too.
Another great tactic, which has been very popular over the past 5 years, is the use of chorus’d vocal adlibs. It could be simple exclamations such as “heys!”, “oooohs”, and “aaaahhs.” A great example is the ‘hey’ exclamations on Katy Perry’s Roar:
Or it could be a fully chorus’d musical hook. One of my favorite examples is the hook in Bastille’s Pompeii:
The chorus of voices for the hook has a vaguely caveman quality that makes it very interesting and original.
How about adding a choir’d “no word” sung interlude (la’s, dee’s, dums, etc.) in the post-chorus, as done in Becky G’s Shower:
And finally, listen to the impact of the chorus in ‘Rule The World’ by Walk Off the Earth:
I don’t normally post this many examples, but there are so many ways to use chorus’d voices and they are a really important part of modern pop production.
I will finish off with one last example related to a more serious pop recording. When I first drafted this blog post, I wrote something to the effect of not using chorus’d voices in more serious records, but some thought on the matter revealed that I would be completely wrong in saying that. On some records you want to convey an atmosphere of lonelieness and a solo’d voice (with judicious delay and reverb) is effective for this…BUT!…there are times when you need to highlight important passages, and the selective use of DTs or a chorus of voices does work here. Let’s take Lorde’s Royals:
It’s a more serious song with a relatively sparse arrangement, but the track uses loose DTs in the pre-chorus to draw your attention to the clever lyrics. In the chorus itself, there is a choir of voices echoing the title of the track after the lead sings it. Why leave the audience to guess the song’s title? Use a chorus of voices to highlight it; the title is not always as obvious to the audience as it is to the writers.
So next time you make a fun (or serious!) pop record, look for places to add DTs and voice chorus’. Whether it’s a hook, emphasizing the song title, or just random exclamations…it can be a lot of fun to record in the studio and that playfulness will pop up (pun intended) in your recording.