The Science and The Formula: The Music We Don’t See

By Arianna Williams

Producers D-Vo, Santi, and Armoni Taffe

CHICAGO, Ill.- Music producer and owner of Culture Chronicles record label Santiago Tamez sat with his producing equipment on Friday, the same as any other day. As he paused and played the beat he was making a realization. He realized the music he was making is more than music. It is a science. 

Santiago Tamez is a 20-year-old south side native from Chicago, Illinois. He is from a prominently Mexican background that presented the opportunity to interact with other brown skin minorities like him. Tamez currently owns a record label and is a sophomore at Grambling State University. 

“Every song that does well on the Billboards there is a science or formula that makes the song a hit,” Tamez said. 

When making a song according to Tamez the beat is essential to this formula. In a song, a beat is the pulse of the music called rhythm. Making a song is more than creating a good beat but creating a beat using the hit song formula is different. A hit song consists of harmony, rhythm, texture, melody, and form. FL Studios and Pro Tools are some of the few producing programs that are used to create a hit song. 

Armoni Taffe, a 20-year-old sophomore at Berklee College of Music and co-founder/ producer of independent label Rated by Greatness, attempts this formula every time he makes music. Taffe has played the guitar and arranged songs since grammar school. While building his interest in music, he has played two House of Blues events with the other co-founders of Rated by Greatness. Taffe has always been able to expand the breakdown music of popular songs today. 

“Not only does a song need harmony, rhythm, texture, melody but, it needs to catch the listeners’ attention in the first 20 seconds, a hard-hitting beat that has or implies anticipation, impactful lyrics, and a catchy chorus,” Taffe said. 

Billie Eilish hit song Bad Guy and the Billie Ellish and Finneas Break Down Her Hit Song ‘Bad Guy’ posted by the Rolling Stone on Youtube is an example of a song that follows this formula. In Bad Guy Eilish has a hard-hitting obscure beat that catches listeners’ attention right away and keeps it this way throughout the song. At the beginning of the song, she stacks harmonies by saying, “White Shirt, Now Red, My bloody nose.” Though she sang these three parts of the song they all have different harmonies. The three different harmonies did its job by bringing together the obscure beat. The melody is various notes sung or played in an order that makes the song memorable. In Bad Guy, the known melody is the music break before she says, “I’m the bad guy.” The melody in this song  Bad Guy is a mix of the theme song for Disney’s Wizard of Waverly Place and the video game Plants Vs. Zombies. There are many other small sounds Eilish and her producer used to make this song, but the form allowed them to piece it together to make the song one. 

Combining these factors together creates many of the hit songs on the Billboard Top 100. Taffe and Tamez believe that the hit songs that follow this formula impact people’s emotions. According to Kazuma Mori and Makoto Iwanaga’s 2016 article, Two Types of Peak Emotional Responses to Music: The Psychophysiology of Chills and Tears, the formula that creates music impacts people’s emotions causing them to exhibit chills and tears. The chills and tears factor plays a role in psychophysiology and how music changes one’s emotion. Chills are shown if the song makes one happy, while tears happen when a song makes one sad. 

“Emotion in music requires harmony. Harmony is the big storyteller within music,” Taffe said. 

The harmony also known as the big storyteller behind the music depends on the cords and the order it is placed according to the beat. Each beat consists of different factors. There are Low fidelity beats like the song After Hours by Jhove that is for a calmer mood. Low fidelity isn’t the only kind of beat. Trap Beats like Lemonade by Gucci Mane consist of heavy-hitting drums and instruments that make a person react differently from a low fidelity beat. The beats contain a different harmony that tells the story and inflicts emotion among a person.

The science behind music relies on music and one’s brain. The brain connects music with different memories within life, but what happens when you can no longer remember those memories? A science documentary released in 2014 by Michael Rossato-Bennet, Alive Inside takes a deeper look at how those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia can slowly bring their memory back with music. Several Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients in a nursing home took music therapy. At the end of the therapy session, they were able to recall parts of their life that they forgot about. Devon Fields believes connecting music with a memory is nostalgia. 

Fields is a 20-year-college student majoring in music at Columbia College Chicago. He is one of Rated by Greatness’ co-founders, artists, and producers along with Taffe. Fields have achieved many of the same accomplishments as Taffe. Along with those accomplishments his project, Be Great received an award for 2019 Rising  Star Honor Roll.

“Music is nostalgic. A song can play, and you think about when it was released or it makes you think of a time in life where the song was significant to you,” Fields said.

Fields, Tamez, and Taffe share one thing in common. This one thing is producing music that inflicts a change of emotion and creates memories for the listeners. Listeners hear one thing while the producers hear and construct the science behind it all. 

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