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How Many Songwriters Does it Take to Make a Hit

  • 20 July 2023, Thursday
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Songwriter iMusician

The music industry has evolved dramatically over the years with expanding genres, changing styles and lyrical themes.
With the rise of the digital age and the resurgence of Vinyls, how we consume music has also changed.

The Official UK Chart ranks songs by the total number of sales and streams from 8,000 sources every single day measuring across physical releases (CDs, vinyl, cassette etc.), downloads (audio, video, even NFTs), and streaming (audio or video).

But what factors influence singles reaching the top of the charts?

We conducted an in depth analysis of the Official Singles Charts Top 100 to determine the factors that go into creating a hit. Our study considers the artist(s), contributing writers and lyrics of the songs.

Top 10 songs in the UK charts with the most contributing writers

Most Contributing Writers iMusicain

Lyrics and melodies have a tendency of sticking in our heads, but what is the formula to creating something so memorable? By analysing the Top 100 songs in the Official Singles Charts we were able to uncover that it takes an average of 4.5 writers and 2.4 producers to create a Top 100 hit, and 5 writers and 2.5 producers to produce a Top 40 hit.

Arguably one of the most influential artists of our generation, our study has unveiled that Beyoncé’s single ‘Heated’ has the most contributing writers than any other song in the Top 100, at this time. This catchy summer anthem took 18 writers to create, alongside 9 producers. With 220 unique words in its lyrics, this shows that each writer contributed an average of 12 words each.

‘Heated’ is not the only Beyoncé track to make our list, her single ‘Cuff It’ also appears in joint third position with 10 unique writers including herself.

Simon Gardner, music expert at iMusician, says:

“Songwriters play a crucial role in the creation of chart-topping hits and have a significant impact on the music industry. Their contributions go beyond simply writing lyrics and melodies; they help shape the overall sound and commercial viability of a song."

“Many chart hits are the result of collaborative efforts between songwriters, artists, and producers. These teams often consist of individuals with different strengths, such as lyricists, topline writers (melody writers), and producers who handle the musical arrangement. Collaborative songwriting allows for the pooling of creative ideas, diverse perspectives, and the fusion of different musical styles, resulting in chart-worthy tracks.”

After analysing the current Top 100 songs in the Official Singles Chart we wanted to compare how the music charts have changed over time, looking at whether the number of contributing writers has increased or decreased.

We did this by analysing the Top 100 selling singles of each decade from the 1970s to the current day.

Top 10 songs in the 1970s UK charts with the most contributing writers

Most Contributing Writers 70s iMusician

The 1970s produced some of the world’s greatest pop hits from ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ to the Bay City Rollers’ ‘Bye Bye Baby’. On average it took 1.7 songwriters to produce a chart-topping single, however only 54% of artists contributed to their hit songs.

Spending an impressive 9 weeks at no.1 in 1975, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is only credited to 1 songwriter, which showcases the incredible talent of Freddy Mercury.

Top 10 songs in the 1980s UK charts with the most contributing writers

Most Contributing Writers 80s iMusician

Moving on to the 1980s we saw the emergence of electronic dance music and modern rock as disco fell out of fashion. ‘Karma Chameleon’ by the Culture Club and Duran Duran’s ‘The Reflex’ top our list for having the most songwriters, each with 5 unique writers.

On average it took 2.3 songwriters to write a hit in the 1980s, a definite increase from the previous decade, however 56% of artists contributed to the writing of their own songs, a 2% increase from the previous decade.

Top 10 songs in the 1990s UK charts with the most contributing writers

Most Contributing Writers 90s iMusician

The emergence of Britpop dominated the charts in the 1990s, with the likes of Blur, Oasis and the Spice Girls putting their stamp on the music charts.

Our study reveals Cher’s Believe had an impressive 7 writers contributing to the hit, whilst Queen and David Bowie are credited as songwriters on Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’ due to the hit single sampling their single ‘Under Pressure’.

54% of artists have songwriting credits on their songs in the 1990s with an average of 2.6 songwriters creating no.1 singles.

Top 10 songs in the 2000s UK charts with the most contributing writers

Most Contributing Writers 00s iMusician

Estelle’s “American Boy”, Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella” dominated the charts in the 2000s and with so many writers contributing to the process, it’s no surprise that you’ll still hear these songs played on the radio today.

The 2000s had an average of 3.3 artists contributing to its hit songs with “Breathe” by Blu Cantrell and “American Boy” topping the list with 8 songwriters each.

We also saw a decrease in the number of artists contributing to the writing on their hits with only 48% of singles in the charts featuring the artist as a credit.

Top 10 songs in the 2010s UK charts with the most contributing writers

Most Contributing Writers 10s iMusician

Pop and hip hop continued to dominate the charts in 2010, with singers like Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s popularity continuing to grow.

Our study shows a dramatic increase in the number of contributing writers with an average of 4.6 writers working on the chart topping singles, most notably Drake’s ‘In My Feelings’ had 14 writers work on the single.

However, in contrast to the other decades, an impressive 88% of artists are credited on their chart-topping singles.

The average number of songwriters per decade

Songwriters Per Decade iMusician

Our study has shown that as the music industry has progressed and developed, the number of unique writers contributing to chart-topping singles has also increased, suggesting it now takes 4.5 individuals to create a hit in comparison to 1.7 in the 1970s.

Which songs in the UK Charts today are written solely by the artists?

Written Solely by the Artist iMusician

Alongside the hits with the most contributing writers and our comparison throughout the decades, we also wanted to find out how the British public favoured solo writers and bands. To do this, we ranked the same Top 100 songs in charting order and pulled out those whose lyrics are written solely by the artists.

Only 14 out of the 100 songs were written with no support outside of the artist and/or band in question, with ‘Heat Waves’ by Glass Animals coming top on our list. Released as a single in 2020 from their third studio album Dreamland, this track ranked number 25 on the Official Singles Charts at the time of this study.

Other artists on our list include Sam Fender, Florence and the Machine, and D.O.D.

Top 10 songs in the UK charts today with the least unique words per writer

Least Unique Words Per Writer iMusician

To take our study one step further, we used Musixmatch to collect the lyrics from every song in the Official Singles Charts Top 100. We then ran these lyrics through an online tool to find out how many unique words each song had, and cross referenced it with its number of contributing writers. This process allowed us to determine a formula of unique words per writer.

The current number one single 'Sprinter' by Dave & Central Cee has 386 unique words across 5 writers, equating to 77 unique words each.

However, topping our own rankings is ‘I’m Good (Blue)’ by David Guetta and Bebe Rexha with 27 unique words across 7 writers. This song is the duo’s second collaboration following 2014’s ‘Yesterday’. Although the track heavily samples the 1998 single ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee) by Eiffel 65. It is because of this that Eiffel 65’s member Maurizio Lobina, as well as the original track's co-producer Massimo Gabutti, are given writing credits, bringing the unique words per writer to total 4.

Top 10 songs in the UK charts today with the most unique words per writer

Most Unique Words Per Writer iMusician

To continue our study, we flipped the rankings to find out which singles have the most unique words in its lyrics. British rapper, Marvin Bailey, better known as Fredo topped our chart with 225 unique words in the single ‘Everybody Knows’ and only himself as a writer.

This is followed by ‘Trojan Horse’ by Save and Central Cee with 222 unique words per writer, and ‘Mathematical Disrespect’ by Lil Mabu with 191 unique words.

Simon comments:

“The findings in our study offer an interesting insight into what factors influence the making of a chart-topping single. Whether it takes 1 or 18 songwriters, key factors include catchy melodies and evocative lyrics that can tell a story often create chart-topping hits."

"We’re an evolving industry with genre styles changing and new ways of targeting fans developing. Try and utilise digital tools, recording software and virtual instruments to enhance your songwriting process. Experiment with different sounds, production techniques, and effects to bring your ideas to life. Technology can also facilitate collaboration with others, even if they are not physically present."

"Songwriting is a creative and sometimes arduous journey. It takes time and dedication to develop your unique voice, but enjoy the process, stay persistent, and keep exploring your creativity.”

Methodology

Songs were collated from the Official Singles Charts Top 100 and consider those charting 16th-22nd June 2023. Contributing writers and producers were sourced from Spotify, and lyrics were sourced from Musixmatch.

We then collated the Top 50 singles per decade from Wikipedia, analysing the data to discover the weeks they spent charting at no.1 and the number of songwriters.

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Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.

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