What a good dance track has in common with pop music

So you’re making dance tracks and think you want nothing to do with radio pop? Or maybe you’re making pop songs and think club music has got nothing to do with you? Think again. Both styles of music share common elements: they make an emotional connection with the listener, they take the listener on a journey, and both must maintain a sense of forward movement throughout the song.

The emotional connection is particularly important. In pop songs, this obviously happens primarily through the lyrics and lyrical delivery. The lyrics in great pop songs strike a balance between being specific, vivid and unique on one hand, and being universal on the other. In dance music, the emotional connection relies much more on the sounds and composition. It is often an effective melody or chord progression that makes the difference between a good dance song and a great dance song.

Both genres also take the listener on a journey – it’s not enough to simply come up with a hook or loop and repeat it for several minutes. The listener should be guided through ups and downs, peaks and troughs. As with the emotional connection, pop songs often do this through lyrics. The verses set the scene and tell the story, the chorus emphasises the underlying message, and the bridge adds depth and perspective. Conversely, dance music can often be much more dramatic – ranging from extended quiet spacey moments to fast and dense textures. This is where the song’s contour is so important.

Forward momentum is also important – both pop music and dance music should have enough change and variation to keep the song moving forward. Momentum is often enhanced in pop songs by quick changes between sections. Dance music often takes longer forms than pop songs, and often has longer sections. While this can often work against dance music (momentum is more than just fast/exciting loops – it’s forward change), it also an opportunity for more sophisticated development and more elaborate structures. Of course, this sophistication shouldn’t come to the detriment of the song’s ‘dancability’ (dance music is just as structurally constrained as pop music – just in different ways).

-Kim.

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