Jay Frank and Cee-Lo

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

When I first picked up Jay Frank’s book, Futurehit.DNA, I couldn’t get past the first line in the prologue. It read, “Technology dictates music creativity, not the other way around.” I was so appalled at that idea it took me another year to read the rest of the book.

Actually, inside contains a very interesting treatise on popular singles, the record business, radio programming and the digital music landscape. Frank’s argument is that successful popular songs have similar elements in songwriting. He deconstructs the songs and reveals their common threads. In fact, Frank has 15 different points for songwriters to create hit songs in today’s fragmented marketplace.

For instance, Frank maintains that hits should impact listeners in the first seven seconds. He argues that today, radio programmers are not the only gatekeepers of hits. Anyone can make a snap decision using the skip button on their iPod, on YouTube or on Pandora.

Familiarity is critical, and Frank recommends repeats often in a song. Frank also argues that one can create a hit single, using false and incomplete endings, creating a yearning sensation in the mind of the listener. He urges songwriters to appeal to more than one genre of music, allowing the artist to dominate multiple airplay charts simultaneously.

He knows hit music. Jay Frank has had senior management posts at The Box, Yahoo Music, and now at CMT.

But perhaps some of the best elements of a hit song can be found in the new single by Cee-Lo. The title of the song can’t actually be said, much less played on radio. Let’s just call it “Bleep You”. While radio hasn’t really touched it yet, it’s become one of the fastest growing viral videos on YouTube. It generated almost three million views in five days. Given the adult nature, YouTube requires viewers to log in special to view it. The song has many of the hit elements Jay Frank has noted.

Cee-Lo has an immediately recognizable voice and the song is reminiscent of great old Motown with a modern songwriting twist. The introduction is fast – four basic chords into a vocal in eight seconds. The chorus is repeated 12 times in the song, and the song ends abruptly, causing listeners to hit the repeat button on YouTube.

Of course, can a song really become a hit single without ever getting radio airplay? The explicit nature of the chorus of “Bleep You” mandates that all broadcast radio never play the original version. Cee-Lo has considered that. The single will be released to radio, with the name changed to “Forget You.” And the official song will be released on Cee-Lo’s upcoming full length solo album, titled The Lady Killer to be released in December. It’s a brilliant five-month wind-up for consumers.

This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat for KCRW.

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