After listening to top-40 artists and bands over 40+ years, it’s pretty predictable what kind of configurations are the bare necessity for a success. There are exceptions and those are the ones I like, but very rare. Let’s see:
Take a young sweetheart girl or boy, someone parents could accept. Let them sings about the awkwards moments of first loves and heartbreaks. That’s an easy bet.
Take a rebellious girl or boy, or a band, something parents hate (harder nowadays.) Let them sing about rebellion against parents/family/society or something else. Pretty easy to sell, too. Easily becomes a parody.
Take a singer-songwriter with a guitar that writes songs about everyday boringness that is still a great mystery. Make the titles sound strange so the songs could be re-interpreted by anyone who likes to figure out what is going on. Such singer/songwriters are everywhere, go to an Open Mic. Somewhat harder to sell unless you find a unique angle to it that makes the artist pop out from the grey goo.
Take a group with misfits that are technically very good musicians, ask them to play really strange music with a pop formula. Pray someone will start a cult following. Important that they release 3-4 minute songs, not 20+ minute jams.
Take a rapper, just anyone, ask them to study what other rappers are out there and use 80% of those styles. Include a singer that sings now and then, she needs to actually be able to sing, no auto-tuning. Leave that to the rapper. Add any kind of blase rap lyrics. Still sellable, which is a surprise.
Get a group of musicians that play loud rock music, tell them to use Mesa Boogie crunch sound and tell them to sing about girls that are leaving them. This is important, the average age should be below 25. Put some design jeans on them, make a video with smoke and them playing guitars with long hair swaying with a wind machine. Yep, could be sold. Just don’t forget that Mesa Boogie sound, without it the band will sound like an alt-band which is currently not cool.
Take a band or artist that are writing rock songs, move them to Nashville, put Nashville musicians backing them but avoid the fiddle and steel guitar. Tell the singer to ‘twang’. Use Fender Telecasters. Make this a cross-over hit.
Have a one-person producer do most of the music, 99%, using all the side-band compressor/trance lead, 808-processed drums et rest. Find an under-used singer, ask him or her to sing to some blatant lyrics about vacation, girls with bikinis, clubbing and anything positive, avoid anything related to real life. For the European market, make sure they sing about ‘take me higher’, ‘tonight’s the night’, or even more astounding hooks such as ‘you’re my guardian angel.’ The more high-pitched voice, the better. Make 10 mixes, flood the market and see what sticks.
…and so on and so on… I miss Motown.