Yes, There Is A Formula For A TikTok Hit

TikTok hit formula on the Music 3.0 blog

We’ve seen how much a social platform can influence music over the last ten years as the emphasis has travelled from platform to platform. First it was MySpace, then YouTube, then Instagram, with the latest being TikTok. In each case there’s a way to stage a song that’s more agreeable to listeners of the platform, but usually we learn this through empirical evidence. Now Dr. Ari Katorza, Amir Graitzer and Doron Gabbay of AI music analysis platform MyPart (as outlined by Music:)ally) have analyzed hits from around the world to see if there really is a formula for a TikTok hit. Hint – there is.

There have been 176 songs that have passed one billion views on TikTok alone, making its influence felt throughout the music industry. 15 tracks that trended on the app in 2020 have landed at the top of the US Billboard Charts. 75% of TikTok users say they discover new artists through the app, and 63% of users heard songs for the first time on the platform. There’s so much power for music there, if only it can be harnessed.

But can you design a song to be a hit on TikTok? It turns out you can, and some very famous music celebrities are doing just that.

Simplicity Sells

Here’s what their analysis found.

  • It turns out that TikTok viewers like their music simple. SongCrunch did a computational analysis and found that most TikTok hits had a limited number of chords and most of them were diatonic in nature. Surprisingly, many hits where based around minor chord structures, and they arrive at the chorus faster than most songs.
  • When it comes to melodies, TikTok hits have lots of repeating the same note consecutively, and have longer sequences of vocal hooks. Repetitive and easily memorable are what sells.
  • The vast majority of the app’s most widely-shared videos feature some sort of dance or choreography, so something danceable at a higher BPM is favored. Most songs used electronic production for this.
  • Most hits feature female or high-pitch vocals even though the songs span a wide range of genres.
  • TikTok hit lyrics tend to be more about breakups than the average chart song, and top tracks tend to deal more with pleasure and sex, success, and fun. And they have more perfect rhymes at the ends of lines that in many cases seem trite.

Used By The Stars

It may be true that many songs end up as TikTok hits by accident, but don’t kid yourself – the music superstars are aware of what works and will weave that into their songs in an effort to score on the platform.  Olivia Rodrigo has said that she intentionally added a section into ‘drivers license’ that she thought could work well as a TikTok transition, and Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” has such a repetitive simple melody and lyrics because it was built for the platform.

Songwriters and artists have been using whatever the current formula is for a hit for decades now, so there’s nothing new here. It’s not as easy as it seems though, so anyone that has any success writing that way definitely deserves it.


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