Updated: Apr 18, 2019
By Curtis Havynne
For the past 20 years, Max Martin has been at the top of the pop charts. He’s responsible for the past two decade's best pop songs. With a resume that drips stardom, you’d think Max would be in the spot light. The Swedish producer and songwriter likes to keep a low profile. An impeccable ear for melody and musical elements, he doesn’t listen to the radio.
So how has he accomplished what he has in the past 20 years? Martin has been working at the top since the late 90’s, he co-wrote Britney Spears’ 1998 hit ‘…Baby One More Time’ and NSYNC’s 1997 ‘It’s My Life’. He’s arguably best known for his work with Taylor Swift – responsible for hits including ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, ‘Shake It Off’, ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Style’. Max has also teamed up with the beautiful and talented chameleon Katy Perry (‘I Kissed a Girl’, ‘California Gurls’), Justin Timberlake (‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’) and Kelly Clarkson 2004 anthem (‘Since U Been Gone’). If an artist wants to experience pop platinum status, Max Martin is a pop stars sure bet. A man who doesn’t listen to the radio, an admitted introvert and says his reclusiveness is a key to his success…how has he done it? With brilliant insight into how to pen the perfect pop song, his perfect pop top charting equation is simple. Here’s are five lessons:
1. There’s no golden rule
Max believes a great pop song should be felt when you hear it. A pop song can be technically great-have all the boxes checked but it needs something else for the song to be felt. In Max’s craft it’s incredibly important you remember a song after the first or second time you hear it. That something sticks to you, something that makes you feel: ”I need to hear that song again”. Its fundamental, if you listen to the hits he’s helped to carve their place into history, you remember the beginning and can probably sing all of his pop hits.
2. Create a sense of familiarity
When I first read Max Martin’s theory that you can also sing the chorus melody as a verse. I found it hard to digest because listeners are smart. There have been songs with that type of repetitiveness and they made it no where near the top 10. Where Max’s brilliance is demonstrated is he changes the energy of the chorus when compared to the verse. For instance, take ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ with Prince'. Once the chorus comes, you feel like you’ve heard it before. And you have!
3. Always change the chorus
This lesson alone has completely changed the way I’ve listen (studied) and written music. You will discover in your own songs how differently your songs feel after you have done this. Songs such as Justin Timberlake’s (‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’) is a great example. Listen to the first, second and third chorus of a song, the melody is the same but Max and JT have added different elements of energy. It’s about getting and keeping your listener’s concentration.
4. Vocals are the most important part
Max Martin, though a songwriter and producer has to be a coach sometimes to an artist. “Singing involves a great deal of psychology. If the artist isn’t having a great day or finds it all boring, my role becomes that of a coach. Getting the very best out of the artist. Helping them perform at their very best when it’s game time. One way to get them there is to bring them out of their comfort zones. To coach them a little, get them to try new stuff.” 5. Don’t overwhelm the listener
If you’ve got a verse with a lot of rhythm, you want to pair it with something that doesn’t. For example, pair it with longer notes or something that might not start at the same beat. For a man who has repeatedly produced pop hit after hit, he mentions he doesn’t have it all figured out. Max Martin circles back around to what he feels is the most crucial thing-how it feels. As a songwriter or producer, when you ask yourself ‘Is there anything else or is there anything we could do?’ Theories are great to have on hand when you get stuck. If you listen to the verse melody ‘Shake It Off’ with Taylor Swift, after that segment, which has a lot of rhythm you need a few longer notes, otherwise it’s too much information.
It goes without saying, because Max Martin for certain wouldn’t say it himself, he is a visionary. I’ve gone back and listened to many songs he has been a part of and all five of these lessons are apparent. Experiencing-feeling them has shown me how, as a songwriter and producer we can over complicate the process. Next time you pick up your pen and pad implement these lessons and no doubt your skills will take a huge leap forward.