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How pop songs are made

Most people think this is how Top 40 hits are created:

An artist writes a song,

goes to the studio and records it,

and puts it out there for us to hear.

But that’s not how it typically works.

First, a producer goes into the studio and creates the beat, composes the chord progression, and arranges the synths.

Then a songwriter comes into the studio to improv over the beat.

Together, they choose the song’s hooks — the catchiest parts of the chorus and verses — but they don't write the entire song.

The process is a lot of work, and there are a lot of failed efforts. A whole lot.

Once they’re reasonably happy with what they’ve got, the producer and the songwriter record a demo track with a stand-in singer — often the songwriter — performing the vocals.

At this point, the track is rough. Maybe it’s missing lyrics, or maybe only the chorus is present. It will now be sent to major recording artists who might be good fits for it.

If more than one artist wants the track, the producer can try to turn it into two similar but ultimately different songs, or give it to the artist he or she thinks is the best match for the song.

The artist’s job is to work with the songwriter to flesh out any remaining lyrics. Sometimes the artist writes the rest of the song; sometimes the songwriter does.

Then the artist re-records the vocals, and the producer lays them over the beats.

Sound engineers mix the track to make it sound smooth and pristine. Once the track is mixed, it is reviewed by the involved parties.

If the song is explicit or long, a radio version must be edited separately.

Once the sound mixing is complete, the artist’s label takes over.

The label distributes the song to radio stations, YouTube, and music streaming platforms. It also distributes the song to stores both physical and digital.

That, in turn, pays everyone involved for their hard work. Well ... sort of.


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