Unless you're Future, it's hard to make a hit song. You have to find the right artists to work with, you have to write a song that both stands out and blends in. It has to be catchy — even the verses should sound like choruses — and it has to be relatable without being mundane.
And that's even harder when you're working in dance music, a genre long ruled by songs without words and radio-unfriendly repetition. Of course, in the past several years, that's all changed. Electronic music and pop have never been more congruent: From big-name collaborations such as Skrillex and Diplo's Jack Ü's songs with Justin Bieber to the mellow, pop-leaning productions of Mura Masa, the catchy, hooky world of pop music is now the reality of EDM, too.
Last week, two big names in mainstream dance music released songs that defined the crossover of the genres. Frat favorites The Chainsmokers dropped their collaboration with the pop-rock band version of the "Damn, Daniel" meme, Coldplay, while pop songwriter/producer and Taylor Swift ex Calvin Harris released a summery collab with Frank Ocean and Migos.
A key difference between the tracks: one is good, one is trash.
I'll let you guess which is which.
So here are the lessons other EDM producers can take from Calvin Harris' "Slide" and Coldplay's "Something Just Like This" as they aim for pop stardom.
DO: Work with cool, popular, diverse artists.
Migos are on a tear right now — they might be the hottest rap group in music at the moment. And Frank Ocean is a reclusive enough star that anytime he does a feature, it's big news. Plus, the sheer novelty of having R&B's most sensitive crooner and rap's most energetic trio on the same track is a smart move.
DON'T: Work with rock groups that white people liked in 2007.
Musicians don't have expiration dates, but if they did, Coldplay would be way past theirs. Like a package of cottage cheese that's been in the fridge since 1996 … they stink. Sure, they're still immensely popular, but they were losing their pop appeal when Frank Ocean was just getting started in the industry — by covering Coldplay songs.
DO: Experiment with structure.
"Slide," despite coming out of Calvin Harris' pop hit sweatshop, plays nicely with the structure of EDM songs. It's loose and feels like it, featuring a weird, pitched-up intro and hooks and verses that blend into one another. The only real turning point in the track is when it switches from Frank to Migos, and even that line feels blurred in the context of the song (they're not as different as you might think). It's still a pop song, though — this isn't experimental in the way ambient and noise music are.
DON'T: Put the same drop in every song.
One fun game to play with The Chainsmokers' "Something Just Like This" is to sing the hook of any other Chainsmokers song over the drop, which sounds exactly the same as any of their songs. The point is: switch it up every once in a while. Despite the tired build-up/drop formula of most EDM songs, there's still something incredibly exciting about a unique, intense peak to a song. Not the same thing every time.
There are other lessons here, too — don't fill your lyrics with cliches, do use vintage synthesizers, etc. — but the important point is that "Slide" is in pretty much every way a superior song to "Something Just Like This." If Calvin Harris' song is Google Chrome, The Chainsmokers' song is Internet Explorer.
And that's unforgivable.