Category Archives: Martyn Croston

The Essential Features Of A Hit Record

We have all heard those hit songs that can be considered ‘timeless classics’.

Whether it’s a hip hop track, a rock classic or an 80’s power ballad, these songs share some essential features that ensure they will be on the airwaves for years to come. Obviously there is not one hard and fast rule for this as every song is different, but here is a list of features that many of these hit records share.

A ‘catchy’ song

Starting with the obvious, a hit record must be a great song. Above all the melody must be strong, as this is what a listener focuses on and this should be accompanied by some great lyrics and a good groove. You can apply the best production techniques possible, but if the song is weak then the record will sink without a trace!

A strong vocal

Having a great vocal is a real asset to any record. If you have a quality song and you have a strong vocalist to sing the melody, then this can be the golden ticket to creating a hit record. A great vocal does not necessarily need to be technically proficient, but more to do with how a singer can successfully interpret the emotion in the song i.e. how they can convey the message in the lyrics.

A creative arrangement

After the song and the vocal, you need to ensure you have a strong arrangement. This involves using the right structure and ensuring each section of the music is interesting for the listener. This can be achieved by adding extra instruments, adding a counter melody, changing the drum pattern, or changing the key etc. Have a listen to some hit songs, and pay attention to the subtle differences between each section. How is verse 2 different to verse 1? How is the last chorus different to the first?

An accomplished performance

You may have the heard the crude expression “You can’t goldplate a turd” and this definitely applies to creating a hit record. A track must sound like there is ‘life’ in the performance and no amount of editing in the studio, fiddling with EQ’s, compression or reverb can replicate this. It can be hard to put your finger on it at times, which is all the more frustrating, but sometimes one take just sounds better than another. If you have musicians who put there all into a performance and play with real emotion and intensity, then the production phase becomes far easier!

A well produced track

Although there are examples of hit songs which don’t technically sound very good, generally the really big and timeless records do sound excellent. A well engineered record does not guarantee it will be a smash, especially if the song, vocal, arrangement and performance are not up to scratch, but it can add an extra dimension to the overall sound, if the EQ’s are well balanced and the right amount of reverb and compression is applied.

The timeless factor

Despite having all the previous factors in place, if the track sounds like the last trend, and the musicians or band members look like it too, then the record might not take off as you would like. Having said that, a ‘retro’ look and sound to a band can work out really well if you go back two or more trends.

Are all the above factors essential for every hit song?

Well, in short, no.

There will always be some songs which become hit records and cannot be explained. You will find some songs with weak vocals and melodies which take the charts by storm.

However, on most of the really big hits, you will find they contain the majority, if not all, of the factors in this article. Songs like “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade will be heard every December in shopping malls and on the radio. Other hits like “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson and “Imagine” by John Lennon will be played all year round for many years to come.


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How To Make Money From Songwriting Royalties

Making money from your music.

All those hours spent working out tunes on the guitar, or those long nights in front of the computer finishing your hip-hop track. You obviously enjoy making music, but you would like to see some financial reward for your effort. We all know making money is hard work, but this article looks at songwriter royalties and some of the issues you need to be aware of.

If you are a songwriter and wish to earn money from your songs then you will most likely need to sign an agreement with a publisher.

If you find a publisher who wants to publish your song, then you will need to sign a contract which transfers the ownership of the original composition to them. Don’t worry this is standard practice, but in return the publisher will pay royalties to you and handle the business side of things.

How much will they pay you?

Typically it should be around 50% but below are some things you need to be aware of regarding the contract.

Catch All

In some contracts, it might state that the songwriter receives 50% of the money from ‘mechanical, synchronization and transcription income’, or something like that.

As you can see, this is a smaller list of revenue streams than what is possible nowadays; i.e. the Internet for one, so potentially there could be a chance that the publisher receives money that it won’t have to share with the songwriter!

Now, although this is unlikely and most publishers should realise this, to protect yourself and for any future changes in music technology which can affect your income, make sure you add the words ‘catch all’ at the bottom of the list.

This will mean you will receive 50% of all income sources not referred to in the contract, in addition to all the sources clearly outlined in the agreement. This way you are earning 50% on everything the publisher makes. Much better!

Is the publishing company affiliated with your record company?

You have to watch this because the publisher might licence your songs to your record company for a reduced rate. Yes, they will make less money because of this, but the record company will more than make up for the loss, and unfortunately you won’t see your share of this money.

If you think this applies to your situation, make sure you add something in the contract to prevent this from happening.

Share of Advances

If the publisher receives any advances for its collection of songs, that’s fine. However, if an advance specifically relates to your composition, then you should get your share otherwise you will miss out on what the publisher makes from this.

Finally, you should check your publisher’s deals with any sub-publishers are ‘at source’. This basically means your publisher’s income, which you share, is the largest amount.


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How To Avoid Serious Mistakes When Choosing An Agent

The Role of an Agent

If you want to succeed as a live act in the music industry, you will likely need an agent. Agents strive to find great gigs for their clients at good venues and earn a nice commission in the process. Although they are also often involved in commercials, television events, tour sponsorship and other areas, music agents don’t generally have quite the same status or influence as those in the film business. This article contains some useful information on selecting the right agent for you.


Agents should not receive income from any aspect of recording or songwriting (with the possible exception of film music) and they should NEVER ask for this.

In the US, music agents are regulated by the union AFM (American Federation of Musicians), which allow them to charge a maximum of 10% (it can be more in some instances, but agents should agree to this 10% limit)

Some agents will take a lower percentage at around 5% for artists who generate substantial revenues at concerts. This rarely happens for film and TV unless you are a big player in these areas. They may also offer a sliding scale where they drop their percentage as you earn more, which can work out really well for both parties.

It is very important you check what is right for your situation.

Negotiating a contract

The agency will probably ask for 3 or more years, but you should only grant them one year. This way, you can ditch them if things don’t work out, or try to negotiate bringing their commission down if you start to really progress as an artist.

If you do decide to go for more than a year, make sure you have a clause in the contract so you can exit each year if they or you don’t meet certain targets.

Choosing an agent

If you have a manager, you’ll only deal with your agent occasionally, meeting them at your gigs or to discuss setting up a tour. Most of the time, they will talk to your manager. You should feel confident in allowing your manager to find an agent for you, although you should make the final decision.

If you don’t have a manager, you should be very particular about choosing an agent as they will report directly to you. When you pick an agent, ask yourself, how hard will they work on finding great shows and concerts for you?

Are they powerful and well connected, with one or more major clients and happen to be extremely enthusiastic about you and your music?

If you’re a megastar, this should not be a problem, but if not, then it is very unlikely they will have a keen interest in working hard to find those lucrative gigs for you or your band.

Remember it takes more work to establish a new artist compared to one already at or near the top and which one do you think pays more?

Although you can find a reputable agent like this, it is rare and you may find it better to find a young and enthusiastic agent who will work day and night on getting shows and concerts for you. Check their credentials and find out if they come recommended from a trusted source.


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Eight Steps To Compose Music More Effectively

We’ve all been there.

Struggling to come up with a melody or working out that perfect ending for your song.

This is one of the most frustrating aspects of composing music, especially when you are working towards a deadline. This article contains a few suggestions on how to compose more effectively.

1) Don’t disregard your ideas too quickly

This happens all too often with composers and songwriters, who do not persevere with their ideas for long enough. If you start over too often, you will go round on circles and not get anywhere. This quote by one of the most famous inventors of all time is certainly very true when it comes to composing music.

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”- Thomas Edison

Obviously there are occasions when you should start again, but only do this after exploring all the different ways of developing your ideas.

2) Write something every day

This follows on from the previous point in displaying perseverance as a songwriter. Unfortunately, you cannot assume you will write X number of bars each day. Composition does not work that way as you will have more productive days than others.

However, by doing just something each day, no matter how little, you will feel a sense of progress that will keep you motivated to finish your composition.

3) Go for a walk before you start composing

Rather than dive straight into your music making at the crack of dawn, go for a walk first. The extra oxygen from all the fresh air helps you focus better when you compose and you may come up with some interesting musical ideas or lyrics from just being inspired by nature and your surroundings.

4) Listen to your music with fresh ears

Take regular breaks when you compose as your ears get tired listening to the same repeated loops and musical ideas. Have you ever wondered why you create some music one day, and the next morning you sometimes feel deflated with what you hear? If you work for too long on the same passage of music, your ears learn to accept what they are hearing. This is especially true for mixing your tracks using music software.

5) Write out a structure

Planning a composition in advance really works wonders in certain situations. If you are writing some film music, it is essential to have a structure in mind in order for your music to fit the scene. However, it could be argued that planning too much can stifle true creativity. You should try composing both ways and see what works for you, but it generally helps to have a rough plan in mind when you write music.

6) Seek the advice of other musicians and friends

Often you need a second opinion on your work. If you hit a dead end with your composition, ask your friends to hear your music and ask their advice on what to do next. Even people you regard as non-musicians can often surprise you with their suggestions. Ensure you take any criticism constructively and ask what they like or don’t like about your music.

7) Write in a style you have never done before

This can really help to improve you as a musician and develop a real interest in composing. If you write hip-hop music, have a go at writing a jazz composition. If you compose film music, try your hand at creating a dubstep track. This may seem a bit off the wall, but it keeps you fresh as a composer and exposes you to new and interesting styles of music. Just spend time listening to new genres of music and go for it!

8) Learn from other composers, songwriters and producers

Figure out how your favourite musicians develop their ideas, as it will certainly help you create ideas yourself. You could visit their websites to see if they offer any advice on composing or producing.


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