It was an excellent read, albeit lengthy, so I want to share some of the main points I took away from it:
- Perhaps showing some ignorance for the hit machine approach to pop music, I had never heard of Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, the team of Norwegian writer-producers known as Stargate. These guys have written the music behind some of the biggest tracks in recent pop / RnB including "Rude Boy" ("Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?") and “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na-na come on”) from Rihanna, "Irreplaceable" from Beyoncé, and Katy Perry’s "Firework".
- Stargate are one of a relatively small number of highly successful hit maker producers, who write custom backing tracks to many of today's Top 40 songs. However thevocal lines are generally composed by an almost exclusively female group of "top-liners".
- The top-liners listen to the music created by the producer and within a short amount of time come up with the main melody, lyrics and the general "catchiness" of the songs we end up hearing. The outcome of this is a demo track which is then shopped out to keen stars such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga.
- Importantly this helps explain why so much Top 40 and commercial radio music is so same-y, familiar, and to many (including me) - mundane. The music is not drawn from a planet full of inspiration but from a very small pool of highly efficient producers and top liners, a small pool of professionals who survive by churning hits out quickly.
- Because of this, sometimes the musical output on the charts can be too similar. In 2009, both Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson had hits (Beyoncé’s "Halo" and Clarkson’s "Already Gone"). Both were created from the same track from producer Ryan Tedder. Clarkson wrote her own top line, and Beyoncé co-created hers with Evan Bogart. Tedder didn't mention to either artist that the other was working with his track, so both went to market and both were hits. Crazy.
- Successful top-liners include Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, and Skylar Grey - none of whom are household names like the performers who make their work famous. However it is pointed out that creating the hit melody does not mean the top-liner wants (or deserves) the fame of the stars we know - after all, the Rihannas of the world are the ones everyone looks at when they walk into the room, dealing with manic publicity and touring, and needing to produce live what people come to expect from a highly polished studio album.
I enjoyed reading at the end of the article the reality check felt by these hit-making producers, especially in the wake of the monstrous success of Adele and her huge single "Someone Like You". The emotional lyrics and raw acoustic accompaniment in this track are nothing like the digital, arpeggiator-created, effect-laden music typical of the charts and these producers.
With an arsenal of studio equipment and production hours, it is still not possible to formulate a timeless "classic" that will really connect with people.
When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?