Has anyone else read this? Really fascinating look at how modern pop mega-hits are written/produced (which is: mostly by Swedes and Nords.) Reading it made me respect the brilliance of people like Max Martin (who's written the most number 1s/top 10 hits ever), but when I listen to the actual tunes I have this sense of disappointment with how underwhelming the end product is.
Dr. Luke talks about how he and Max Martin were listening to 'Maps' by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and it kept irritating M.M. because the song keeps getting more intense up to the chorus, and then DROPS in intensity for the chorus. I thought that was really telling, because the intensity of the sentiment expressed in the lyrics of the chorus seems to me an emotional peak. But for MM, there has to be a melodic peak. There has to be a formula. (Off the back of this, they wrote 'Since You've Been Gone'.)
- The mainstream swing between'the extremes' of rap/rock and the 'doldrums' of pure pop.
- The committee approach to songwriting. One person does melody, one person does lyrics, etc.
- 'Melodic Math' - lyrics are less important for what they express than for how they fit with a perfectly balanced melody.
Yes, the inexplicable chart success of most that's in the charts, at least for me. If you know a little bit bout music theory/are a musician yourself it's not difficult to dissect the elements of popular music which vary only a little in all the chartsmashers. Yet it's impossible to write one yourself if you don't have that extra bit of sense what the masses like. A mate of mine for instance would hear a new song/track and could immediately tell this will be a chart smasher - he was usually right - , it was outstanding.
And yeah, melody trumps lyrics, has always regarding charts music.
In general there's flaws with that book in how the producer as auteur is emphasized... It goes back to the old classic Shadow Morton / Phil Spector idea of the pop-svengali; legitimate in how those guys managed to personify a certain style of record they made, but forgets about the elements... In the Spectorian 60s pop (or the Johnny Franz team at Phillips for Dusty Springfield / Scott Walker if you want to bring it back to the UK) there's a myriad of elements... Musicians, Producer, Arranger, Engineers, and the artists in question, whether or not you'd prefer to put airquotes around whether or not a Britney or whomever is an artist.
Each of these elements are not drones, there's a certain degree of agency there... In the modern context, you have the songwriters, the co-producers who keep a Martin or Dr. Luke or whomever like figure hip... So for a record like Dr. Luke producing Katy Perry's "Black Horse", Juicy J was not only a guest rapper, but one of the assisting co-producers there because they wanted a modern rap sound and Dr. Luke is not like, in the clubs the way Juicy J might be. Benny Blanco, who's assisted a lot of Dr. Luke's music and recently now has become a solo producer working behind groups like Fifth Harmony did a collaborative album with Spank Rock waaaaay back when, so he has one foot in the more hipster worlds of electronic music and the other in the pop world (a position a Diplo has worked hard to occupy, though in his case with much more emphasis on branding himself as a producer artist rather than a background figure). Those co-producers occupy the 'musician' role often, now that organic music band structures are mostly novelty while the older establishment producers take the arranger role as described in the infamous "Since You Been Gone" analogy.
The thing is, in pop and also in rap/R&B this sort of 'pyramid system' has been long in effect... Timbaland had engineers who worked under him (such as Danjahandz) or writers (Static Major, Missy) who were occasionally featured artists on what he worked on, but primarily helped to refine who were the artists he had to work on. Eventually, they use their credits as 'parts' to further their careers, and that's what happened a lot in pop... Dr. Luke had Kesha sing on a Flo-Rida hook, the song did arguably well, and that's enough to convince the industry "OK the Kesha girl is investible". We recognize often that Aaliyah CHOSE to leave the more commercially successful R Kelly for Timbaland who was then kind of a still on the rise and not yet massively popular artist. Then after that, on the final album Timbaland is not present nearly as much, but Static Major as a writer is still very very much an integral part so he's getting moved as a songwriter into a more essential position while the 'beat-makers' are more or less disparate in reputation. You can claim of course management were integral in those decisions and maybe that was the case as well, but either way then the artist leads to that sort of shifting of the players behind the scenes of the record.
If anything, that's my issue with the book is that the Producer remains the unquestionable genius; there's a lot to be explored in the songwriters/affiliate producers, both those who remain behind the scenes figures and whom try to branch out and become artists in their own right. There's the boundaries of R&B/Pop in so much that, who gets to say Timbaland & The Neptunes can cross over into pop, but others can't. Why does rap, who do similar things much more blatantly now with ghost-writers and co-producers on beats, struggle with this sense of authenticity in the face of similar work. Who were the artists who drove their careers, who were passive? Even the sleazy aspect like, yes, did the Pussycat Dolls have that string of singles in the 00s b/c someone in the group was supposedly sleeping with Jimmy Iovine?
It introduces an idea that's been a sort of playpen for critics into the 'book world', but there's so much more to work with.
Yeah, that's a fair criticism. Saying that, I think the book does a good job of showing how the modern mega-smash-hit is created by a whole team of people, with some people writing hooks, some writing verses, etc. The producer (in the sense of 'beat maker') is presented as someone who emails 20 beats to a songwriting team, who then work their magic (or not). It also does touch on how MM has had to bring in other producers/songwriters to help him plug into hip-hop and rock. (E.G. bringing in Dr Luke for the Kelly Clarkson song.)
I also thought that the book didn't really talk about how these pop producers/songwriters are often just nicking ideas from other genres. Their 'genius' is to take the edge of these influences and package them in this ultra-effective pop format. There isn't much sense, in the book, of where these ideas are coming from. (Saying that, the author certainly does bring up the numerous allegations that have been made against MM/Dr Luke of plagiarising songs.)
The sleazy stuff you mentioned was something I also noticed was absent. The music industry is presented as being full of brutal, unscrupulous snakes, but I'm pretty sure the only time sex comes up is when Dr. Luke was accused of raping Ke$ha.
I find the whole collaborative process thing pretty fascinating. I'd love to see footage of how it all works. This is how Kanye works, isn't it? Also, one assumes, Drake, hence the Quentin Miller leaks.
Very much, and you know... When Bjork mentioned how her collaborators are always used to undermine her authority as a producer/artist and that such a thing never happens to Kanye West... It was kind of bullshit? I mean, in our Kanye thread alone people here and elsewhere mentioned how without Arca (who collaborated w/ Bjork on her last album), Daft Punk, Evian Christ, Geffsthalthenwhatever the stupid goth edm guy is named, does Kanye 'actually do anything', or when we discuss the roles of producers/figureheads who may/may not be 'talents' on the record such as Birdman, DJ Khaled or even as far back as Puffy... Such an undermining of Kanye's collaborative inspiration with left-field producers because he wants to utilize them...
I mean, we can talk about the fact that these guys 'swipe' ideas from genres and fields, but let's take an example of when rap producers tried their hands at similar sounds to dubstep like say the Lil Wayne & Pharrell record "Yes" or the Snoop Dogg hijacking of Chase & Status... Nobody finds it much more of a 'cheating' when the relatively obscure genre like dubstep draws from older genres that might seemingly have more value such as rap-influenced tracks such as Loefah's "Ruffage" or a bunch of the early Joker tracks. When dubstep draws from reggae in kind of lazy fashion, is it any better than the dubstep out now... *clears throat* Ahem, the "INSTRUMENTAL GRIME" out now made by ex-Dubstep acts now that crudely samples grime MC vocal snippets?
I think that in many ways the size, age, commercial success of the genre is one thing... its another when there's social positions of the artists. I feel a lot more issue when someone like Drake for example is drawing influence from afrobeats and whomever and the reward of his one-way patronage very rarely trickles down than when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs lose out on some co-writing credits to Kelly Clarkson.
I thought this book told an intriguing tale - bizarre to me how so much can be traced back to 'All That She Wants' (a good pop song for the record), although maybe that was authorial licence to make it all so neat. Plus an insight into how circumstantial superstardom (eg for Rihanna) is, and how it came to be that so many Mickey Mouse Club stars became household names. As to the music featured, I'm not very keen on an awful lot of it - most of the tunes mentioned constitute the arm of pop music I greet with a shrug, and I hadn't realised there was a link between them before..
Last edited by baboon2004; 16-01-2017 at 10:17 AM.
i read this last year when it came out.
theres some good playlists for it on spotify (i happen to like a lot of it lol, more than i expected).
i cant remember much about it anymore, but i think i thought the author was too surprised at how these songs were made in a modern context. i know he said he was an admitted rock guy, but does he not know much about motown, stax or any other pop songwriting teams/processes in history? that said, i was surprised at the stuff about there being dedicated hook writers. also, interesting about writers like esther dean trying to go it alone, and that age old thing about backroom people trying to make it in their own right (i still dont quite know how pharrell has done it).
the best part was finding out that dr luke started out on rawkus lol.
el-p will be making pop records in 2026.
actually no, i know he wont, hes not got the dynamics.
Last edited by rubberdingyrapids; 16-01-2017 at 11:23 AM.