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A Tribute to Max Martin: Why Does all Top 40 Radio Sound the Same?

Updated on July 2, 2015

Max Martin

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Biography

Born February 26, 1971, in Stockholm, Sweden, Max Martin is a pioneer in the field of American pop music. Max Martin, originally Martin Karl Sandberg, began exploring music as a teenager. In his early teens, he would sing with various local bands before starting his own glam-metal band called It’s Alive while performing under the stage name Martin White. After dropping out of high school to pursue a career in music, It’s Alive signed a record deal with Cheiron Records and producer Dag Krister Volle (a.k.a. Denniz Pop). While recording and touring with his band, Martin began writing pop music with Volle who soon became his mentor.

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In 1992, Martin began writing songs for Cheiron and spent several years learning about writing and producing under the guidance of Volle who received international acclaim for his work on Ace of Base’s album The Sign. It was around this time that Volle changed Martin’s name from Martin White to Max Martin because he felt that it was a stage name better suited for the pop music industry. The two would continue to collaborate writing hit singles for artists like Rednex, Ace of Base, Bridge, 3T, Amy Lovers, and Leila K. Due to their great success, Volle and Martin were approached by Jive Records to write and produce songs for a new boy band called the Backstreet Boys. The two were uncertain about what kind of success they would have, but nevertheless wrote several songs for their debut album. The album failed in the U.S. market; however, it had great success in Europe. In 1997, the Backstreet Boys were re-launched in the United States with Martin writing and producing “Quit Playing Games (with My Heart),” “As Long as You Love Me,” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”

Everybody (Backstreet's Back) Official Video

Martin and Volle continued their collaboration in writing songs for 5ive and NSYNC. Unfortunately, though, Volle died before the completion of these projects in the summer of 1998 which forced Martin to take on a leadership position at Cheiron. Martin found a new partner in Rami Yacoub who contributed to Britney Spears’ debut album, Baby One More Time, a year later. That year, Martin also wrote and produced music for Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, and the Backstreet Boys’ follow-up album, Millennium. The following year, he collaborated with Bon Jovi in addition to his continued services to Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. As a result of his consistent output of popular, chart-topping songs, he was awarded with ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year award in both 1999 and 2000.

In 2000, Martin closed the Cheiron studio and disbanded its affiliated songwriting teams to open a new studio called Maratone with his partner Rami. Subsequently, Martin once again collaborated with Britney Spears, and Celine Dion thereafter. In 2004, Martin wrote and produced for Kelly Clarkson on her album, Breakaway, which established her as a Grammy Award-winning artist with the single, “Since U been Gone,” ranking as the number one international hit song.[1] Since then, Martin wrote eighteen more number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 list which include, but are not limited to: Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” in 2008, P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass” in 2010, and Taylor Swift’s “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” in 2012. He has written the third most number of number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 list with twenty-one songs which puts him behind Paul McCartney who has thirty-two songs and John Lennon who has twenty-six songs. He has also produced the second most number of number one hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 list with twenty-one songs which puts him behind Sir George Martin who has twenty-three songs. His most recent number one hit single is Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do” in 2015.

I Kissed a Girl

Writing and Producing: Cheiron and Maratone

As a producer for Cheiron, Martin completely changed the image of producing music. The original model established by artists in the 1960’s who typically present with a musician who has written a song, but needs a producer to assist in shaping the song and giving it direction. Martin has done the exact opposite. When approached by an artist, Martin and his group of writers and producers at Cheiron will write and mix a number of songs for the album, and the artist will sing the song near the end of the recording process. In the case of Britney Spears, the writers and producers at Cheiron composed seven songs for one of Spears’ albums. Near the end of the recording and mixing process, when all of the instrumental tracks had been finished, Spears arrived at Cheiron and spent only one week finalizing the vocal tracks for each of the songs.[3] Martin once asked his colleague, Luke Gottwald, “Instead of making tracks for five thousand people, why not make tracks for a million?”[4] “Martin and his team are like a band that alternates singers. ‘Albums sell better with Britney’s face on the cover.’”[5] Another one of Martin’s colleagues, Savan Kotecha, said, “We’ll spend days, sometimes weeks, challenging the melody. The goal is to make it sound like anyone can do this… I was One Direction’s vocal coach on The X Factor… Once we saw what ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ did, we wanted songs that kids could play on guitar and cover on YouTube.”[6]

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The Max Martin School

In the same way that Martin was mentored by Volle, so too did Martin mentor his fellow writers and producers. Three colleagues have been specifically singled out as his disciples which include: Savan Kotecha, Luke Gottwald (a.k.a. Dr. Luke), and Johan Schuster (a.k.a. Shellback). All of whom have been successful in their music careers writing songs in a similar style to that of Martin.[7] Kotecha even goes as far as to call the relationship between Martin and his disciples the Max Martin School. Martin has also been called the grandmaster of the group of musicians with whom he surrounds himself.[8] In addition, Martin has also been called the Obi-Wan Kenobi of pop music song-craft whereas Gottwald is considered Luke Skywalker.[9] Perhaps this is a modern day Les Six, and Max Martin is their Jean Cocteau. Martin has surrounded himself with a group of talented musicians who “credit him for changing their work ethic, their approach, and their ears.”[10]

America's Ignorance

The reality of the situation is that radio stations have been flooded with music written by Martin and his colleagues. Martin and his disciples have admitted that the music they write isn’t meant for just the one singer, or band. It’s more like Martin and company are mass producing songs the way automotive companies manufacture cars. Essentially, Max Martin is the Henry Ford of pop music. Since this is the case, it is difficult to determine which of today’s artists deserve the accolades that they receive. Since most of the top charting singles are written by a group of songwriters and producers, it is reasonable to assume that the term artist should be reserved for Martin and his associates while the likes of Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and P!nk are, in fact, mere entertainers. In essence, screaming fans are praising the entertainer who performs the music instead of appreciating the genius who wrote the music that they love so much.

Raise Your Glass

For example, when Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” was ranked as the number one hit single in the United States, listeners and critics were either reacting to the musicianship and creativity that Max Martin and Johan Schuster exhibited in writing the song, or Taylor Swift’s voice. The only issue with praising Taylor Swift for such a song is that Martin and his team write songs in such a way that anyone can perform them. If anyone can perform them, then listeners should applaud even the attempts made by amateurs on YouTube. In fact, that’s how Justin Bieber was discovered.

Justin Bieber Discovered

It’s rather ironic that “Shake it Off” was chosen for this example. In an interview, Swift talks about what the phrase “shake it off” means. “I've had every part of my life dissected: my choices, my actions, my words, my body, my style, my music. When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off.”[11] The issue here is plain and simple. She didn’t write “Shake it Off,” but she insists that it’s her song. Vladimir Horowitz, a piano virtuoso, has never taken credit for Beethoven’s Pathetique. Itzhak Pearlman, a violin virtuoso, has never taken credit for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Taylor Swift suggests in her interview that the performer should receive credit for writing the song. This doesn’t make her a bad singer, but it does mean that she’s freely accepting accolades that should rightfully go to Max Martin and Johan Schuster.

Itzhak Pearlman (Vivaldi's Spring from The Four Seasons)

The purpose of this article is not to denigrate the importance of pop singers. They’re just as important as the troubadours and trouveres of France, and the minnesingers of Germany. One might say that they are the pseudo-virtuosi of contemporary art song. However, it is important to identify who are the musicians and who are the entertainers. Comparing Max Martin to the likes of Vivaldi and Beethoven is no stretch by any means. Max Martin’s total output of published music numbers at over three hundred songs. For comparison, that’s more than the number of songs Robert Schumann, one of the greatest song writers of the Romantic Era, wrote in his life time. In addition, Max Martin is only forty-four years old at present and wrote these songs in just over twenty years. His music writing career is far from over, and he could easily write another three hundred songs before he retires.

Max Martin's Grammy Award

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The reason why this is an issue is because Max Martin’s contributions are not recognized by the general public. In fact, he has written fifty-four songs that ranked in the top ten hit singles on the U.S. charts which have garnered many Grammy Awards for the entertainers who sing them as opposed to Max Martin who wrote them. Unfortunately, he was only just recently recognized this year at the 2015 Grammy Awards with the Producer of the Year award. Despite his accomplishments, and his overwhelming influence on the pop music industry, he was presented with this award prior to the televised ceremony.[12] If he really is the Henry Ford of the pop music industry, then the American history textbooks forgot to credit him with developing the assembly line.

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Top 40 Radio

Many like to say that they are eclectic because they listen to a number of different artists, or that they love Top 40 Radio. Based upon what has been discussed, it is most likely that a large portion of the artists that people say they listen to, or the songs that are played on Top 40 Radio are written by the same group of people, Max Martin and those under his mentorship like Savan Kotecha, Luke Gottwald, and Johan Schuster. The following is a list of songs that have been featured on Top 40 Radio that were written by Max Martin. It should be noted that this may not be a complete list.

Songs Written by Max Martin

Year
Song
Artist
1996
Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)
Backstreet Boys
1997
Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
Backstreet Boys
1998
I Want You Back
NSYNC
1998
Tearin' Up My Heart
NSYNC
1998
Baby One More Time
Britney Spears
1999
Larger than Life
Backstreet Boys
1999
I Want it That Way
Backstreet Boys
1999
Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely
Backstreet Boys
1999
The One
Backstreet Boys
1999
(You Drive Me) Crazy
Britney Spears
1999
That's the Way it Is
Celine Dion
2000
Shape of My Heart
Backstreet Boys
2000
It's My Life
Bon Jovi
2000
Stronger
Britney Spears
2000
Lucky
Britney Spears
2000
It's Gonna be Me
NSYNC
2001
Overprotected
Britney Spears
2001
I'm not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman
Britney Spears
2004
Since U been Gone
Kelly Clarkson
2004
Behind these Hazel Eyes
Kelly Clarkson
2005
Just Want You to Know
Backstreet Boys
2006
Who Knew
P!nk
2006
U+Ur Hand
P!nk
2008
I Kissed a Girl
Katy Perry
2008
Hot n Cold
Katy Perry
2008
So What
P!nk
2008
Please Don't Leave Me
P!nk
2008
Whataya Want from Me
P!nk
2008
If You Seek Amy
Britney Spears
2009
My Life without You would Suck
Kelly Clarkson
2009
3
Britney Spears
2009
Whataya Want from Me
Adam Lambert
2010
Blow
Kesha
2010
California Gurls
Katy Perry
2010
Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
Katy Perry
2010
The One that Got Away
Katy Perry
2010
E.T.
Katy Perry
2010
Dynamite
Taio Cruz
2010
DJ Got Us Fallin in Love
Usher
2010
Rais Your Glass
P!nk
2010
F***in' Perfect
P!nk
2011
Hold it Against Me
Britney Spears
2011
I Wanna Go
Britney Spears
2011
Till the World Ends
Britney Spears
2011
What the Hell
Avril Lavigne
2011
Wish You were Here
Avril Lavigne
2011
With Ur Love
Cher Lloyd
2011
Domino
Jessie J
2012
Part of Me
Katy Perry
2012
Wide Awake
Katy Perry
2012
Va Voom
Nicki Minaj
2012
One More Night
Maroon 5
2012
Daylight
Maroon 5
2012
Scream
Usher
2012
Beauty and a Beat
Justin Bieber
2012
We are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Taylor Swift
2012
I Knew You were Trouble
Taylor Swift
2012
22
Taylor Swift
2012
Your Body
Christina Aguilera
2012
Tonight I'm Getting Over You
Carly Ray Jepsen
2012
C'mon
Kesha
2013
Roar
Katy Perry
2013
Birthday
Katy Perry
2013
Unconditionally
Katy Perry
2013
Dark Horse
Katy Perry
2013
This is How We Do
Katy Perry
2014
Wild Wild Love
Pitbull
2014
Problem
Ariana Grande
2014
Break Free
Ariana Grande
2014
Love Me Harder
Ariana Grande
2014
Bang Bang
Ariana Grande/Jessie J/Nicki Minaj
2014
First Love
Jennifer Lopez
2014
Blank Space
Taylor Swift
2014
Style
Taylor Swift
2014
Shake it Off
Taylor Swift
2014
Bad Blood
Taylor Swift
2015
Love Me Like You Do
Ellie Goulding
2015
Ghost Town
Adam Lambert
2015
Can't Feel My Face
The Weeknd

Things to Ponder

These are the author's final questions for the reader:

With so many chart topping songs, how is it possible that the songwriter only received one Grammy Award? If you like Top 40 Radio, is it possible from the list of songs provided that you might just be a Max Martin fan and not a Katy Perry, a Taylor Swift, nor a P!nk fan? Are you convinced that the quality of a song is a result of the person who wrote it, and not the person who sings it? Are you convinced that Max Martin is a genius songwriter who deserves recognition?

The author certainly is...

Which Max Martin Song is Your Favorite?

See results

References

[1] Huey, Steve. “Max Martin: Artist Biography.” AllMusic. 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015.http://www.allmusic.com/artist/max-martin-mn0000394427/biography.

[2] Trust, Gary. “Ask Billboard: Max Martin Notches Another No. 1.” Billboard. November 25, 2014. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/6327746/ask-billboard-max-martin-notches-another-no-1.

[3] Boucher, Geoff. “Practicing the Fine Art of Production.” Cyptron Industries. Last modified June 5, 2000. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.maxmartinfansite.com/CyptronLATimes.htm.

[4] Seabrook, John. “The Doctor Is In: A Technique for Producng No. 1 Songs.” The New Yorker. October 14, 2013. Accessed June 24, 2015.http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/10/14/the-doctor-is-in.

[5] Boucher, Geoff. “Practicing the Fine Art of Production.” Cyptron Industries. Last modified June 5, 2000. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.maxmartinfansite.com/CyptronLATimes.htm.

[6] Wolk, Douglas. “One Direction’s Songwriters: They’re What Make the Boy Band Beautiful.” Time. November 13, 2012. Accessed June 24, 2015.http://entertainment.time.com/2012/11/13/one-directions-songwriters-theyre-what-make-the-boy-band-beautiful/.

[7] Nelson, Michael. “30 Essential Max Martin Songs.” Stereogum. March 26, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.stereogum.com/1788251/30-essential-max-martin-songs/franchises/ultimate-playlist/.

[8] Wolk, Douglas. “One Direction’s Songwriters: They’re What Make the Boy Band Beautiful.” Time. November 13, 2012. Accessed June 24, 2015.http://entertainment.time.com/2012/11/13/one-directions-songwriters-theyre-what-make-the-boy-band-beautiful/.

[9] Seabrook, John. “The Doctor Is In: A Technique for Producng No. 1 Songs.” The New Yorker. October 14, 2013. Accessed June 24, 2015.http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/10/14/the-doctor-is-in.

[10] Nelson, Michael. “30 Essential Max Martin Songs.” Stereogum. March 26, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.stereogum.com/1788251/30-essential-max-martin-songs/franchises/ultimate-playlist/.

[11] Kreps, Daniel. “Taylor Swift Dismisses the Haters, Dances with Fans for New Song 'shake It Off'.” Rolling Stone. August 18, 2014. Accessed June 24, 2015.http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/taylor-swift-dismisses-the-haters-dances-with-fans-for-new-song-shake-it-off-20140818.

[12] Ostroff, Joshua. “Max Martin Just Won His First Grammy After 54 Top 10 Songs (20 More Than the Beatles).” Huffington Post. February 9, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015.http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/02/09/max-martin-grammy_n_6249984.html.

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    • Malcolm Massiah profile image

      Malcolm Massiah 2 years ago from Bristol, England

      A fascinating and informative hub about an interesting man. An enjoyable read with entertaining audio/visual content :o)