With some regularity, I come across articles noting the similarities between recent hit songs.
There are three explanations for this phenomenon:
#1. The common explanation is that someone will have a breakout single with a unique sound. Labels and artists in search of their next hit will court the writer and/or producer of this track in the hopes of replicating its success. String a few of those together, and you have a trend.
#2. The less common explanation–which works in tandem with string of events above–is that prospective hitmakers tend to cluster songs around certain BPM ranges to improve their chances of getting played in the club. Since DJs generally blend tracks into one another, it’s easier to do that when the songs have similar tempos. To that end, if you put out a track that uses the prevailing BPM, it increases the likelihood that it’ll be played–because it increases the number of songs into which it can be mixed seamlessly.
#3. Lastly, it’s easier to mix two songs if they use drum machines than if they use live musicians–owing to the idiosyncrasies of each musician’s playing. To that end, most DJs will be quicker to add a pop, electronic, or rap song into their set than a rock or country track–even if the latter ones are larger hits.
Given that these forces compel artists to work within relatively narrow constraints–in terms of production, tempo, and genre–it makes sense that the mixes featuring their songs often have the same feel.
In a club mix, this consistency can prove comforting. Most folks don’t go out every night. So, when you do, the commonalities between one hit and the next aren’t really an issue–as they help contribute to a steady vibe.
In a workout mix, however, predictability can prove monotonous–as you likely rely on these mixes more frequently.
So, when starting this site, I wanted to provide alternatives that broke from convention on all three fronts above:
#1. I started working with artists from beyond the Top 40, who had no forces prevailing on them to adopt a certain sound.
#2. Since they’re not chasing club play, these folks can also record tracks with faster tempos–without worrying it would cut into their audience.
#3. Lastly, since the mixes aren’t created live, the song selections can be more eclectic. Namely, a studio album provides opportunities to feature different genres that would be difficult blend together in a club.
On the whole, there are two different questions being answered here. When trying to make a hit record–as in the example at the top of this page–the operative question is “How can we increase the audience for this song?” As noted above, the answer is often, “Hire a popular producer. Stick with the most common tempo. And use drum machines instead of live musicians.” This approach has worked well for ages, and there’s not much there with which I’d take issue. I love a lot of the hits it’s produced, and I’ve loved playing them in clubs over the years.
But, in terms of workout mixes, the question I prefer is, “Where can we go next?” Practically speaking, it addresses the fact the folks will listen to the same workout mix more often than they’ll visit a club. To that end, a workout mix needs more surprises because it will endure more scrutiny. On a less practical front, it asks of the music the same question you ask yourself during the workout.
And, the answer, of course, is that you can go anywhere.
The latest album to emerge from all this is Blacktop Tracks. In keeping with the aims above, its 13 tracks represent the work of dozens of folks. I hope you’ll find that it matches both the speed and feel of your favorite workouts. And, if it doesn’t, I’ll issue a refund. (My contact info will appear on your email receipt, if you want to reach me.)
To take a chance on an album devoted to chances taken, you can download Blacktop Tracks here.