Max Martin — regarded by many as the most successful songwriter of this century — has revealed the secret behind his 22 Number One hits in an interview with journalist Jan Gradvall of the Swedish magazine, Di Weekend. In the interview, Martin — who will be inducted into the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2017 — highlights what he believes are the key characteristics of a hit song.
“A great pop song should be felt when you hear it,” Martin told Gradvall. “You can hear songs that are technically great, songs that tick all the boxes. But for a song to be felt, you need something else. Something that sticks to you, something that makes you feel: ‘I need to hear that song again’.”
Martin believes listeners should be able to recognize a song immediately. But they should also be able to discover something new in the song every time they hear it, so that it holds their interest and lasts over time. “You must be able to have more than one favourite part in the same composition,” he says.
At the same time, though, Martin believes new elements should be introduced into a song one at a time so listeners can get to know each one before they’re ready for the next. As he puts it: “Like in a movie, you can’t introduce ten characters in the first scene.”
Martin’s phenomenally successful songwriting process includes treating each song like a journey, with the song building as it moves along through each section. Even parts that have the same melody and the same lyrics — such as the repeated choruses — should never sound exactly the same each time, he insists. “It’s the same melody and all that,” says Martin, “but what really happens is that the energy changes. It’s all about getting the listener to keep his or her concentration.”
When constructing a melody, it’s important to strike a balance between the verse, pre-chorus and chorus. “If you’ve got a verse with a lot of rhythm,” Martin told Di Weekend, “you want to pair it with something that doesn’t.” For example, a section with longer notes so listeners can take it all in. Or a melody that might not start at the same beat. “Sweet and salt might be a description that’s easier to grasp,” he explains. “You need a balance, at all times.”
Max Martin has had writing credits on 22 songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100, the third most of any songwriter after John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. Martin’s most recent Hot 100 hits have included The Weeknd’s 2015 hit, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, and Justin Timberlake’s 2016 single ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ which won a Grammy in 2017. With sales in the hundreds of millions, Martin is considered as one of the most successful producers and songwriters of the 21st century.
You can read Jan Gradvall’s full interview with Max Martin HERE …
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