Every now and then, I like to tape the entire country top 40 and analyze the songs in terms of song structure and various timing considerations. In this column, I wanted to share with you the results of my most recent survey.
1. Song Form. Everyone says write your song in a song form. Maybe you’ve wondered just how important that is to making the top 40? Well as usual, out of forty songs on this particular week when I analyzed them, every one was written in one of the well established song forms.
Form Number of Songs in the Top 40
As has been the case the past three years, the majority of songs in the top 40 used the simple verse/chorus structure (though some included instrumental sections). Second place was very close, with the AABA’s getting the nod by a slim margin, followed closely by the V/C/B structure and the V/L/C structure. As you might expect, there were no AAA songs, although one or two a year usually make their way into the top 40.
II. Length Of Introduction. How long should an introduction to a song be? The introduction should be long enough to establish the feel and tempo of the song, and possibly introduce a motif. Anything longer, and your introduction is simply taking up valuable space in the song and probably hurting the song.
Length of Introduction # of Songs in the Top 40
< 10 seconds 8
11 – 15 seconds 25
16 – 17 seconds 7
> 17 seconds none
Average length = 12 seconds
The fascinating statistic here is that twenty-five of the forty songs fell into the second category and no songs had introductions longer than seventeen seconds.
III. Time To Get To The Chorus (including the introduction). Okay, so we’ve all heard the expression, “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”. Let’s see how the songs in the top 40 compared on this very important timing issue.
Time To Get To The Chorus # of Songs in the Top 40
< 30 seconds 4
30 – 40 seconds 10
41 – 50 seconds 11
51 – 60 seconds 10
61 – 75 seconds 5
> 75 seconds none
Average time = 45 seconds
There were only five songs in the top 40 that took longer than a minute to get to the chorus. Out of those five songs, three were written or co-written by the artist. Take a tip from the top 40 and get to the chorus in under a minute.
IV. Length Of Song (including the introduction). Finally, let’s take a look at song length.
Length of Song # of Songs in the Top 40
< 2:30 none
2:30 – 3:00 11
3:00 – 3:30 25
3:30 – 4:00 4
> 4:00 none
Average time = 3:17 seconds
This category changed the most from last year. Last year, the average time for a song was right around the three minute mark. This year, the majority of songs were in the 3:00-3:30 category. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.
V. What It All Means. So what do all these statistics mean? While I don’t recommend putting your song under a microscope during the writing of it, it is interesting after your song is written to see whether or not it falls into the “pocket”. If you notice that your song takes over a minute to get to the chorus, you may want to consider getting there quicker. If your song is in an obscure song form (like one you made up yourself), be aware that not many of those make it to the top 40. In the end, there are always exceptions to the rule and knowing the above information should not be a guiding factor in compromising the writing of a song. But it can help give you a healthy perspective after the writing of the song. Most of all, just keep writing the best songs you possibly can.
Hope to see you on the charts.
About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical “Urban Cowboy” which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 70 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities.