Book Cover
The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory

TL;DR: Modern music, tracing its origins to Swedish beatmakers in the 1980s, is all made according to the same formulas that will please peoples’ ears after it’s been drilled into their head over and over.


Specialized teams of songwriter-producers employ a method of composition I call track-and-hook to make songs that are almost irresistable. Record labels have figured out how to orchestrate demand for top artists like katy Perry and Rihanna, relying on their close alliance and long history with commercial radio. And the public, given the ability to call up any song they choose, still wants to listen to what everyone else is playing. (26)

As Denniz once said, in response to a question about how hard could it possibly be to write such simple songs, "it's much more difficult to make it simple, especially achieving a simplicity without having it sound incredibly trivial" (49) [Tiger: you see this theme of "simplicity is difficult" everywhere! Drilled into you in software development.]

Denniz died on August 30, 1998 [...] He was buried in Solna; his gravestone is shaped like an eighth note--a symbol he had no use for because he never learned to read music. (119)

The music business slowly changed from an art-house business run by men with ears into a corporate enterprise of quarterly earnings and timely results. (143)

Guy Zapoleon observed that popular music fads seem to move in a three-part cycle. Over time, he formulated a set of laws that, he believes, drives the pop cycle. It starts in the middle, with "pure pop" [...] But pure pop eras inevitably give way to what Zapoleon calls "the doldrums," when Top 40 becomes bland and boring, and ratings decline. In response, program directors row away from pure pop, toward the more perilous waters Zapoleon calls "the extremes," in order to restore excitement to their stations. The extremes--alt-rock and hip-hop--attract younger listeners [...] but repel older ones, and so program directors begin rowing back toward the pure-pop mainstream, and the cycle starts again. (150)

Henceforth [Lee Soo-Man's] stars would be made, not born, using a sophisticated system of artistic development. Lee took Lou Pearlman's idea of putting together different personality types in a singing group and made a musical Samsung out of it, employing a method of cultural production Lee called "cultural technology". (187)

The eye at the center of this expanding ring of influence is Max Martin. (vi)