What Makes a Hit a “Hit”?

What Makes a Hit a “Hit”?


We all remember (or perhaps don’t want to remember) when The Chainsmokers’ Selfie went viral. Whether you liked the track or not, it was inarguably a hit. But what exactly makes a hit? Filmmakers Carol Stein and Susan Wittenberg attempt to answer that very question in Hitmakers: The Changing Face of the Music Industry.


Before the Internet, a hit was determined by record sales. If a song that was played on the radio resonated with the audience, it drove the listener to buy records. Now with music mostly being consumed on the Internet on sites like YouTube, Spotify, and SoundCloud, a hit seems to be a track or video that has been played or viewed a billion times. We listeners get to control what we want to listen to. We have taken power away from music labels that used to call all the shots. We are the ones who decide which track goes viral and which artists rise to fame.


EDM’s very own cake-hurling DJ Steve Aoki is one who is featured in the film. “We don’t really need any institutions anymore,” he said. Aoki attributes dance music’s explosion into mainstream culture to the Internet. Be honest, how many times have you fallen down a SoundCloud or YouTube rabbit holes while discovering new music? Artists these days can easily become famous if the track they put up on the Internet gets the masses’ attention. Any dance music fanatic knows that their dollars are now going towards tickets to shows and festivals rather than towards buying a DJ’s tracks. Aoki acknowledges that he makes money from shows and not from your generous support of Boneless for $1.29 at the iTunes store.


In the documentary, Craig Kallman, Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records said, “Dance music for sure is one of the most important genres around the world.” You knew that already, of course, but it is worth watching the whole documentary if you care to learn about how dance music fits into the evolution of the music industry—if not only to see to Steve Aoki describe EDM to the PBS-watching audience.