The 6 rules of commercial music success

Arts Entertainments

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with music artists about commercial music, usually leading them to reveal their disdain and hatred of it. Some refer to pop music (“Pop”, as in what is popular now) as commercial music.

Others think that all that is getting heavy play on the radio is commercial music. Whatever its definition, one thing is often overlooked: commercial music is the heart of the music industry that pumps the blood that keeps it alive.

So why are so many music artists resistant to making commercial music? The answer I often get is because they don’t want to “sell” their creative integrity by conforming to some industry version of what’s popular (ie what’s selling right now). It becomes very obvious to me that the problem is not commercial music, but the perception and definition of it.

The misconception is that the music industry created this superficial definition of commercial music to take away the art and true identity of artists in order to make money; forcing the artist to create songs that the “masses” will enjoy. That fallacy is often perpetuated by music artists who are generally unable (or unwilling) to create commercially viable songs. The truth is that the public, not the industry, dictates what is commercial, and for decades they have gravitated to, embraced, and bought songs that adhere to a commercial music format.

If commercial music is the rule for success and sales in the music industry, there will inevitably be some exceptions, but unfortunately, the tendency is for music artists to try to become the exception, rather than abide by the rules. and why exist.

Simply put: the rules of commercial music success have not changed and will not change. Not in the time of your life or the lives of your children. They exist because it is human nature to reject the unknown; in the music industry, similarity is the cornerstone of acceptance. This is the reason why so many popular songs sound similar and contain familiar elements.

It is a rule that prevails in all genres and on all continents. There are those artists who do a masterful job of observing their own artistic values ​​while delicately balancing the demands of industry professionals for commercial music. Artists like Prince, Sting, and Bjork have been pushing the boundaries of creativity for years. But artists of his caliber who possess such sublime talent and vision are rare.

For the sake of clarification and argument, I’ll offer my explanation and industry definition of what commercial music is; based on 25 years of listening to recordings as a music lover, music industry professional, and music critic. They are songs that have the following:


If no one knows what your song is called, they can’t ask for it when they hear it on the radio. More importantly, they can’t buy it at retail… or track it down on the Internet to illegally download a copy of it.


Commercial music is characterized by good melodies (i.e. verses, choruses, and sometimes bridges that get stuck in your head and make you want to sing along). To what can the best-selling hip-hop acts of the last 10 years (Tupac, Notorious BIG, Jay-Z, Eminem and 50 Cent) attribute their success? Good tunes (not cool beats) that increase the commercial value of your music.


Coming from an R&B background where producers are a critical part of the success of commercial music, I didn’t realize until I became a consultant that many rock bands don’t use or value producers like R&B music artists. Maybe they should, since the record company often assigns top-notch producers to improve the quality of the songs (through their musical expertise) and enrich the records (through their experience and skill in the recording process), making them more enjoyable to listen to and listen to. , you guessed it… more commercial!


The lyrics don’t have to be deep; people just have to be able to emotionally connect and mentally relate to them. If you have a way of saying common things in an unusual way, your lyrics will have an advantage over the composer whose song is about the same subject. Write about what’s closest to your heart for credibility and sincerity, and others will be able to relate to your songs, especially if it’s a subject they know or have.



Keep the length of your songs to a maximum of four minutes. Jazz and world music are exceptions. A song that is well written makes people want to listen to it over and over and over again. The longer the song, the less likely that is to happen. You do not believe me? Check the duration of your favorite songs.


Most featured vocalists are often surprised at how low this rule falls on the list. The fact is that there are more mediocre songs performed by outstanding vocalists than there are mediocre vocalists performing outstanding songs. A good song that’s performed well gives you an edge, but if the song is lacking, all the screaming and vocal acrobatics that singers tend to use to make up for it won’t make it a better song… although it can help. the singer to attract better songwriters to work with. If you’re lacking in talent and it’s a really good song, someone with more talent can (and will) sing the song and make it better.

Now that you know the 6 Rules of Commercial Music Success, hopefully you can use this information to your advantage and create songs that will increase your chances of success in your professional music endeavors…or you can ignore them and move on. I wonder why no one (aside from your friends and family, all of whom listen to commercial music) like your songs.

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