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R&B/Soul: Hit Songwriting Characteristics

Dance/Electronic, Hip Hop/Rap, Pop, R&B/Soul and Rock.  These are the five primary genres that comprise the songs that land within the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 from quarter to quarter.

This article features a small number of highlights and takeaways from the Hit Songs Deconstructed Genre Report. The full report provides you with a comprehensive analysis of how different genres and sub-genres are shaping the sound of the songs that are topping the charts. To read the full report, click here.

Dance/Electronic, Hip Hop/Rap, Pop, R&B/Soul and Rock.  These are the five primary genres that comprise the songs that land within the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 from quarter to quarter.

Here we’re going to spotlight some of the key characteristics that defined the R&B/Soul genre during the second quarter of the year.

R&B was the second top performing primary genre of the quarter behind Pop, accounting for 26% of top 10 hits.  It yielded the most #1’s, specifically thanks to John Legend’s All Of Me and Pharrell’s Happy.  Columbia was the top “R&B/Soul” label of the quarter, representing half of all songs including the aforementioned Happy and All Of Me, as well as the Beyonce/Jay Z duet, Drunk In Love.

An average of five credited writers crafted the R&B/Soul songs of the quarter, which is the second most behind Hip Hop/Rap, which featured an average of 12.

While it seemingly performed well at  first glance, a deeper look reveals that the growth of the R&B genre stagnated during the second quarter.  After seeing all five of its representatives entering the top 10 for the first time during Q1, only one song, Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” was the sole new arrival during Q2.  The others, which include All Of Me, Drunk In Love, Happy, The Man and Talk Dirty all carried over from Q1.  While there was only one new R&B arrival in the second quarter, the fact that four carried over shows that these tracks had  staying power.

As a secondary (sub-genre) influence, R&B was  again the second most popular, after Straight-Up Pop.  It played a role in shaping the sound of 57% of all top 10 hits, traversing all primary genres.  Examples include Summer (Dance), Loyal (Hip Hop/Rap), Problem (Pop), and Ain’t It Fun (Rock).

As for the different genres and influences that shaped the sound of the quarter’s R&B/Soul hits, there were nine – the most popular of which were Gospel and Hip Hop/Rap. This played a role in exactly half the songs, for example, Stay With Me (Gospel) and Drunk In Love (Hip Hop/Rap).

Love/relationships was the most popular lyrical theme of the quarter, and was primarily conveyed with a solo male lead vocal.  Interestingly, none of the songs featured a solo female lead. Beyonce was the  only female R&B/Soul representative of the quarter thanks to her duet with Jay Z in Drunk In Love.

The majority of R&B/Soul hits feature primarily electric based instrumentation within the mix.  Prominent bass and drums/beats were the most popular, each playing a key role within 83% and 67% of songs, respectively.  Other key instrumentation of the quarter include claps (e.g. Happy), sax and brass (e.g. Talk Dirty and The Man), and even harpsichord thanks to The Man.

In regard to structure, the A-B-A-B-C-B form was the most popular (verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus).  All of the songs contain an intro, the majority feature a bridge, half contain a pre-chorus and outro, and none contain a prominent instrumental and/or vocal break within the mix.

On average, the chorus was allocated by far the most amount of time relative to the other sections (and the most amongst all of the primary genres of the quarter).  The least, as you would expect, went to the intro.

To view the full Q2-2014 Hit Songs Deconstructed Genre Report, click here.

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