How to Produce Hit Music and Businesses – Ask Clay Anything

Show Notes

On this special Thrivetime Show podcast episode Clay Clark and Dr. Z are breaking down the book Hit Makers by Derek Thompson while showing how the music industry and traditional business are very much the same. Learn the secret moves for creating hit songs and hit businesses during today’s podcast.

BOOK – Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction


The Book Answers Two Questions:

  1. What is the secret to making products that people like – in music, movies, television, books, games, apps, and more across the vast landscape of culture?
  2. Why do some products fail in these marketplaces while similar ideas catch on and become massive hits?

The Aesthetic Aha / Why Soft-Selling Is EXACTLY THIS – Page 7

  • In 15 of the last 16 years, the highest grossing movie in America has been a sequel of a previously successful movie or an adaptation of a previously successful book.

“In the psychology of aesthetics, there is a name for the moment between the anxiety of confronting something new and the satisfying click of understanding it. It is called an ‘aesthetic aha.”  ― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

BOOK – Soft Selling in a Hard World: Plain Talk on the Art of Persuasion – Jerry Vass


ACTION STEP – Ask yourself what is familiar to your ideal and likely buyer? What is relatable?

  1. Define your Purple Cow
    1. How are you going to do business in a way that is remarkably different than your competition?

AMPLE EXAMPLE – Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe

AMPLE EXAMPLE – Beatlemania – Read more examples by Michael Levine.


“Imitating recent successes is a game that everybody knows how to play. But seeing the next big thing before anybody else sees it is far more valuable… It means being a little bit wrong at just the right time.”  ― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

“Posting dramatic charts or funny pictures is good and giving people smart reasons to believe what they already think is great.”  ― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

“Content may be king, but distribution is the kingdom.” – Page 8

“In 2012, for the first time ever, Americans spent more time in front of devices like their laptops and phones than with television.” – Page 11

A new Nielsen Company audience report reveals that adults in the United States devoted about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media during the first quarter of this year. –

Government Rejected Billions of Dollars in Art – Page 22

Mere Exposure Effect – Page 29

When it Comes to Looks, Average is Truly Beautiful – Page 30

Big Record Labels Using Payola Schemes on the Radio Shows Distribution is Kingdom – Page 33

Bieber Makes Carly Rae Jepsen a Star in 2012 by Tweeting “Call Me Maybe” – Page 34

Hit Predictor as a Prediction Tool – Page 35

In 2016, Trump earned more than $3 billion in free media, more than other candidates combined – Page 40

What is Fluency?  – Page 43


“The trick is learning to frame your new ideas as tweaks of old ideas, to mix a little fluency with a little disfluency—to make your audience see the familiarity behind the surprise.”

― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

MAYA Theory – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable – Page 47

Creating Pop is Creating Something Familiar, Not Derivative – Page 59

Antimetabole is like the C–G–Am–F chord progression in Western pop music: When you learn it somewhere, you hear it everywhere. Difficult and even controversial ideas are transformed, through ABBA, into something like musical hooks.”  ― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular

AMPLE EXAMPLE – 4 Chords | Music Videos | The Axis Of Awesome


“This might be the most important question for every creator and maker in the world: how do you make something new if most people just like what they know? Is it possible to surprise with familiarity?” ― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular

Trying To Be Everything to Everyone & ESPN – Page 63

Wanting To Be Surprised By Familiarity – Page 65

“The line from psychologists is, if you’ve seen it before, it hasn’t killed you yet.”  ― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

The “Curiosity Gap” When it Comes to News Stories, and Why It Doesn’t Live On Forever – Page 66

Discover Weekly at Spotify – Page 69

  • Why the “bug” was the best thing ever


MAYA Teaches 3 Main Lessons – Page 70

  • Audiences Don’t Know Everything, but They Know More Than Creators Do
  • To Sell Something Familiar, Make It Surprising. To Sell Something Surprising, Make It Familiar.
  • People Sometimes Don’t Know What They Want Until They Already Love It


Savan Kotecha – Page 73

  • Thoughts on Pop and Max Martin – Page 76
  • Why Pop is So Successful – STRUCTURE

“In 2012, Spanish researchers released a study that looked at 464,411 popular recordings around the world between 1955 and 2010 and found the difference between new hits and old hits wasn’t more complicated chord structures. Instead, it was new instrumentation bringing a fresh sound to “common harmonic progressions.”  ― Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular

Repetition is the God particle of music.

Repetition of rhythm is necessary to build a musical hook. The repetition of hooks is necessary to build choruses.

90% of the time people listen to music, they are listening to songs they’ve heard before.

Creating the pull of repetition versus the push of anticipation – defines the catchiest songs.

ACTION STEP – In business and in music – Find what works and repeat it.

  1. STEP 1 – find a parade and get in front of it.
  2. STEP 2 – Hire an attorney to make sure you are within the legal framework.

NOTABLE QUOTABLE – “Find a parade and get in front of it.” – Dr. Zoellner

NOTABLE QUOTABLE – “Good artists copy but the great artists steal.” – Steve jobs

Business Coach | Ask Clay & Z Anything


Let us know what's going on.

Have a Business Question?

Ask our mentors anything.