Also known as “slow jams,” ballads were HUGE in the 90s (you kids probably don’t remember them very well but I’m old so take a seat and listen to my wisdom). Lately, as a songwriter, I’ve been told not to write any ballads to pitch anywhere because everyone wants uptempo songs. But like all things, music works in cycles so eventually, we’ll see a return of the ballad. If you’re writing a ballad, what are the chances it could be a hit? Let’s look at some data for inspiration:
Of course, artists still record ballads, but they aren’t singles like they used to be. Let’s look at the top 10 songs of 1994:
1. Ace Of Base – The Sign
2. All-4-One – I Swear
3. Boyz II Men – I’ll Make Love To You
4. Celine Dion – The Power Of Love
5. Mariah Carey – Hero
6. Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories – Stay (I Missed You)
7. Toni Braxton – Breathe Again
8. Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting – All For Love
9. Ace Of Base – All That She Wants
10.Ace Of Base – Don’t Turn Around
First, kudos to Ace Of Base for having 3 of the top 10. If you don’t know about their producer, Max Martin, I highly suggest giving him a Google search because he is amazing and responsible for a ton of successful artists. But look how many ballads are on this list! You might have to stream some of these if you’re too young, but trust me they’re mostly ballads. If we compare that to 2016:
1. Justin Bieber – Love Yourself
2. Justin Bieber – Sorry
3. Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla – One Dance
4. Rihanna feat. Drake – Work
5. Twenty One Pilots – Stressed Out
6. Desiigner – Panda
7. Adele – Hello
8. The Chainsmokers feat. Daya – Don’t Let Me Down
9. Justin Timberlake – Can’t Stop the Feeling
10.The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey – Closer
So how can I write hit ballads for today?
There are definitely some ballads on last year’s top chart, but fewer than there used to be. I think the key here is that you can definitely write and pitch a ballad, but it needs to be exceptionally good lyrically in order to be a single or a hit. Like, Ed Sheeran’s lyrics in Thinking Out Loud are so amazing, it was number one for a really long time. Failing that, you’d have to have a big name artist (like Justin Bieber) singing the track.
Of course, these are the pop charts so results will vary for country or other genres. If you can cross genres and sell your song that way, try that! Or, maybe you don’t care about your song being a hit and just want to create. In that case, write all the ballads you want! A good song is a good song, and if you don’t care about the chances of “commercial success” then I’d say do whatever speaks to your heart. I would just say to always make sure the lyrics are outstanding. Use visual images and tangible emotions. Make the listener step inside your song and live your story.
How do I know if I’ve written a ballad?
Or, what makes a ballad a ballad? The term has an interesting history that I won’t get into because it’s not relevant, but if you’re bored check out the origin of the term. Ballads are subjective, and there isn’t really a set way to tell other than your own judgment. I think we can all agree though that when we think of a ballad we are thinking of a slower song. It can have a driving beat to it, but for the most part, it’s still considered “slow.”
I included this term in my book because I’m frequently told a song is a ballad and then I hear it and kind of disagree, but that’s okay because it’s just an opinion! I just wanted to mention it in my terms so that people are aware that there may be some conflict as to what counts as a ballad. As long as it’s a good song, it doesn’t really matter!
What are your favorite ballads? I love a good ballad, so let me know what I should check out!