How to Write a Hit Song

with Producer, Songwriter & Hit-Maker Wayne WilkinsIf “all my best songs have come from a place of chaos,” as Wayne explains, then he has found himself a goldmine. With a proliferating discography- including recent hits such as “Sweet Dreams” with Beyonce, “Hold On” with Wyclef, “Fight for this Love” with Cheryl Cole and a new record on the horizon with Natasha Bedingfield- Wayne Wilkins teaches us from experience how to apply structure to an amorphous cacophony of ideas.

Wayne’s ability to easily move around from session to session is paramount. “Everything starts getting out of control for me if you do too much,” he says, vouching for minimal and basic over the cumbersome alternatives. Along with Apple’s Logic and MacBook Pro, Wayne’s portable and studio setup consists simply of the Apogee Symphony Mobile System with a Rosetta 800. “Even when I’m in my studio, I use my laptop and Symphony Mobile on everything I do,” Wayne says. “It’s the only way I can work. I take the mobile card and Duet with me to other studios and I have everything I need with just a few hard drives and different things installed, like Addictive Drums and Ivory. Other than a few mics, a great pre amp and compressor complete my kit.”

How to Sculpt a Hit

Before a song takes shape, it has to go through a kneading process. Structure comes later. “What I’ve found, as I’ve progressed, is that it’s best not to think too much of the details of what the song structure will be ahead of time,” Wayne explains. “You want to just start vibing and coming up with chord progressions, letting the music flow. That’s when stuff starts happening. Once you have the basic idea musically, once you have the concept, then you can start applying conscious thought. It just can’t come from a contrived place.”

Wayne asserts that you have to be a vessel. “My friend Steve Kipner says when he’s creating music, he’s like an aerial picking up ideas. You just go into a place where the ideas start coming, and then you have to start applying the structure behind it,” he says. “It’s the weirdest thing starting to write a song. You’re just sitting there in a room with a bunch of people and you’re supposed to come up with this great song together. But when you think too long about what you’re going to do, what you’re gonna say, it gets so much harder. You just have to start jamming and the rest will come.”

Getting Started

At the ripe age of four, Wayne began after school piano classes and quickly earned himself a scholarship to a weekend music conservatory in Croydon, England. With superior skill steering his path, he began to play organ at cathedrals and other venues throughout London. After school, he attended the Royal College of Music on scholarship, and also later graduated from Imperial College with a physics degree. He knew he needed to get the right internship after university, so he focused all his attention after graduation on finding the right assistant engineering gig in London while he taught private piano lessons on the side.

First at Townhouse Studios and then at Olympic Studios in South West London, he worked under Mixer Spike Stent. Under his guidance, Wayne expanded his repertoire and skill set. “I had to learn every part of the recording spectrum and be knowledgeable of all the recording platforms, the top two being Logic and Pro Tools,” he says. “And I met everyone I needed to meet while at Olympic Studios to get my own career started. I’d be doing sessions and then asked to go do projects on the side with them, and that led to other stuff. You start to vibe with certain people.”
A Mixer Plays the Board

For many on the periphery, the differences between recording and mixing are blurry. “There’s the recording side, which is creative in that you must learn how and where to place the mics, etc., all of which have an art to it,” he says. “The more time you spend with it, the more you learn. But with mixing, that’s equivalent to playing an instrument. If you watch a great mixer, it’s like they’re playing an instrument. Some people have that natural ability.”

The More You Know

With experience doing everything under the recording spectrum, from concept to final mix, Wayne advocates the benefits of being able to participate in as many realms as possible in the process of making music. “I find it easier to be in the song the whole way through,” he says. “It’s so much more fun if you’re there from the beginning. You have to have great songs, of course, but I think it’s important to have a great record. The demos we send in nowadays are basically the records, so it’s crucial to have great quality demos and to understand what it is that makes a great song and a great production. You must learn how to recognize what people want to hear. That’s why I learned how to record and mix as well, so that if I wanted to do it, I was capable.”

And being capable, when the opportunity strikes, makes all the difference.

One Comment

  1. Way to go Wayne, cool article

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