“As long as it’s in the genre of pop, it’s all cool.”
So said songwriter-producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald explaining the secret of his craft.
It’s an appropriate motto for the hitmaker savant, who has managed to fit a number of wildly disparate elements under that pop umbrella, crafting an immediately recognizable sound out of a multitude of genres.
Sitting for an interview with Variety shortly before taking the stage to deliver a master session at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo, a day after picking up his second consecutive Songwriter of the Year honor at the org’s Pop Music Awards, Gottwald reflected on the impact of his work.
Subjected to his studio treatment, Euro trance, alt rock, dubstep, underground hip-hop and teen pop all combine to form a monolithic radio-conquering sound.
Through his work with Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Ke$ha, Taio Cruz and Kelly Clarkson, the 37-year-old has landed more than 20 Hot 100 hits in the past five years; he has two No.1s to his credit this year already.
But he disputes the notion that he has a signature style.
“What people might not realize, is that a lot of times you’ll hear, (spread out) over the course of a year, a bunch of songs that were all made over the same two days,” he said.
Which makes staying fresh easier than it might seem. “Sometimes, when you hear your sound everywhere, you kind of get sick of it yourself.”
In conversation, Gottwald projects a relaxed, almost nonchalant attitude toward songwriting and production, though his subsequent master session, which allowed a glimpse inside the producer’s ProTools sessions, painted a far different picture.
Gottwald has never been accused of subtlety, but the dissection of his process revealed painstaking techniques of almost mind-bending maximalism.
For Perry’s “E.T.” — in its fifth week atop the Hot 100 — Gottwald’s basic kick-drum sound is actually four kick drums layered on top of each other. What seems a default laser sound effect down in the mix is actually a seamless hybrid of vocal samples, distortion and backwards guitar. All told, the song contains 146 individual tracks, “which is small for me, apparently,” Gottwald quipped.
(The remix for Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends” contains 178, “stripped-down” to fit ProTools’ limit.)
Gottwald was also quick to note which parts of his songs were contributed by others — “we’re constantly trading sounds with each other” — and freely admitted recycling from his own work “all the time.”
Though it might seem at odds with the traditional producer-Svengali image, that breezily collaborative impulse is key to Gottwald’s sound. Aside from co-writing with performers and his longtime collaborator and former mentor Max Martin, he also presides over a loose cabal of colorful young songwriters and beatmakers, most notably Mathieu “Billboard” Jomphe and Benny Blanco.
This free-associative approach applies to assigning songs to performers as well.
“E.T.” was originally intended for rap group Three 6 Mafia until Perry heard it by accident in the studio. “Party in the U.S.A.,” the smash Gottwald crafted for Miley Cyrus alongside Brit singer Jessie J — whose own Dr. Luke production, “Price Tag,” is currently in the charts — is enjoying an unexpected second life as a celebratory anthem for Osama bin Laden’s death, and has similarly diffuse origins.
“On my computer, the original version of ‘Party’ is actually titled ‘KS Idea 2,'” meaning the song was intended for Ke$ha. “But I quickly realized it wasn’t a Ke$ha song.”
“I just try to make great things,” he summarized. “I sometimes don’t know where it’s going to go.”
When asked if he plans to follow fellow superstar producers Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers into film and TV scoring, Gottwald was ambivalent.
“It’s definitely something I’d like to do, and it’s something I think I probably will do, but it’s not something I want to do right now,” he said.
“I’ve met (composer) Howard Shore; he’s a little older than I am.”