Saturday, September 11, 2010

Anatomy of a Hit

Scott D. Parker

On the adult alternative digital music channel the other day, the new Train song, "Hey, Soul Sister," played. It's a good tune, catchy melody, and a chorus that stays in the brain long after you've heard the song. I am not ashamed to admit that, when I first heard this new song, I realized it had been a number of years since I had heard a Train song. I wondered what they had been up to since 2001.

But less than an hour later on the same channel, an earlier Train hit, "Drops of Jupiter," was broadcast. Hearing the two songs close to each other helped me realize how similar the two songs are. In my short bout of research to discover what Train had been doing since "Drops of Jupiter" was a hit, I learned that they had recorded a few albums and had taken a hiatus. In listening to the tracks of the other albums, the sound of the band is essentially the same.

Which brought up the obvious question: how did "Hey, Soul Sister" become The Hit where the half dozen other contenders that could have had success but didn't?

The same concept applies to books as well. Why did Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code strike such a magnificent chord where Angels and Demons (before) and The Lost Symbol (after) didn't? Why did John Grisham's The Firm take off and carve out a new sub-genre (Scott Turow aside)? Ditto for the Twilight Saga.

Is it the vicissitudes of the buying public? Is it timing? Or is it the creator trying so hard to duplicate what was a proven hit that they stop trying to be original?

What do you think?


Joelle Charbonneau said...

I've still yet to figure out what makes a book a "hit". Often, when I break down and read the HOT book that everyone is talking about I can't figure out what the big deal is. I think a lot of it has to do with timing - being at the front of a popular trend that no one saw coming.

Joni Rodgers said...

I can only shake my head, thinking A) hand of God or B) deal with Satan. But if there was a formula for success, if any of the people who pretend to have it figured out actually could figure it out, if the bat-s#*t industry climate became predictable and rote, I think a lot of energy would bleed out of the art. The high risks and rewards of the writing life in combination with the vagaries of the publishing biz leave only one prudent way forward: To thine own self be true.