The popularization of rap and hip hop in mainstream culture has meant a heightened sense of rhythm that was not necessarily present before. Though rhythm has always featured prominently in music, the past fifty years of music and examining the songs that have been most successful, melody has arguably played a more prominent role. Arguments examining which element is more important in music have long been debated.
According to many, melody is more important. Melody can express a wider variety of emotion than a rhythm can, in most cases. The performance of a melody, to some, can be more captivating than the use of rhythm. For example, Somebody That I Used to Know featured melodies by Gotye and Kimbra that hit huge in 2012. Another example comes in the form of Rolling in the Deep by Adele, which featured a big, strong chorus and a build throughout that arguably ended up as the template for subsequent Adele hits.
To the other side of the argument, rhythm has been of prominent importance to many massive hits in the past few years. Calvin Harris’ work on We Found Love provided electronic dance music with a huge hit in 2011, all built around the build of the rhythm combined with the song’s melodies. Pharrell’s work on Blurred Lines in 2013 was put together using a 1970s-inspired rhythm that garnered huge popularity. Though many songs lean on melody at times, the rhythm is arguably more important because of the fact that it gets people moving and opens up a whole new set of creative, production-friendly tools.
Regarding the debate of what is more important, rhythm or melody, the answer is in the relationship between them and is not necessarily in saying that one is more important than the other. Each of the songs mentioned thus far – in addition to hits such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, Lorde’s Royals, Katy Perry’s Dark Horse, Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Thrift Shop – are all relationships between rhythm and melody. No matter the genre, arguably each piece of music that has attempted commercial success in recent memory is built off of a mix of rhythm and melody. At times, the melody overtakes the rhythm. At other times, rhythm is put in the front seat, with melody in a supporting role.
Though this is a field where production quality is among the highest of factors guarding whether a song hits or not, if an artist fails to take into account the role that rhythm and/or melody has to play in their music, they are failing to take into consideration major determinants of success. As a producer and/or artist, what else to take into account is the percentage of the audience that is attracted to melody and the percentage that are more attracted to rhythm. It does not matter if it is a track predominantly of rhythms or a piece of music leaning towards a strong, classic melody – as a creator, you need to be aware of what place you want your rhythm to have and what place you want your melody to have.