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How a Hit Song Gets Made

From inception to number-one hit, we consulted the experts to discover how the chosen few make it to the top.

Written By:  Kristin Luna

Photographers:  Supplied

For those of us not in the music biz, the process taking a tune from inception to number-one hit can be mind-boggling—especially considering that more than 99 percent of songs sit in a catalog and are never heard. We consulted Natalie Harker at Liz Rose Music, who helped give us a simplified version of how the chosen few make it from idea to chart topper.

The cowrite is scheduled. Sometimes this happens organically between the writers because they’re buddies; sometimes publishers connect them because they’ve decided that these writers would make sense together, whether they have a relationship or not. 

TwoThe cowrite happens. Around 10:30 a.m. on a weekday, everyone shows up and, amazingly, gets vulnerable with each other trying to come up with the song idea. It can be inspired by a personal experience, a current event, a story one of the writers heard, or something that happened over coffee that morning. Once the idea is pinned down, the song falls into place in just a few hours. The idea is the key. 

The song is handed in. The writers give it to their publisher, who in turn registers the song with a performing rights organization (PRO). In Nashville, there’s BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and a few indie ones.

FourThe hunt for the song’s home begins. If an artist wrote it and loves it, he or she will hold it for personal use. Otherwise, song pluggers from the publishing companies begin to pitch it. The goal: get the song to whoever needs to hear it in order for the desired artist to hear it—producers, A&R staffers at a record label, artist managers, the artists themselves, or even their spouses, siblings, friends, or band members. There’s no real set of rules for this, and there are amazing stories that involve helicopters and cherry-picking trucks.

The artist cuts it. Oftentimes, this means all the above-mentioned potential listeners have to give their thumbs up that the song is incredible. Then the artist’s team gets permission to go in the studio and record it. (But that’s usually not the case, so the process begins anew.)

The song makes the album. If it’s not chosen as a single, it will ultimately be called an “album cut,” and that’s kind of the end of the road other than live performances and album sales.

The single is worked at radio. A ton of money is pumped into promoting it to all kinds of media outlets, and the artist plays it like crazy in hopes of climbing the charts.

The song hits number one. If it gets this far, there’s a party and lots of speeches and plaques!

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