Of the 30 most-consumed songs featured on the 2018 Hitmakers list, several credit more than 10 songwriters and a few, like Travis Scott’s epic “Sicko Mode,” utilized as many as six producers. Some might scoff that it takes more than a dozen people to come up with a few minutes of music, but the truth is, in a lot of instances, it does.
Like making a movie or a TV show, creating a hit is a collaboration. It often starts with an idea — it could be in the form of a riff, a beat, loop or a simple voice memo. From there, a songwriter or artist will begin to think of melodies or lyrics that both stand out and work together. Other times, a chorus or phrase may come first, onto which an artist or writer will seek out a beat to start to develop a song.
But making a hit is hardly a solitary experience. Most listeners don’t see how much work goes into constructing a successful record — many also don’t bother to look up the credits, a laborious process that desperately needs databasing. Hits require a team of producers, sample-makers, topliners, programmers, lyricists, melodists, engineers, songwriters, managers, A&Rs, and of course the artists themselves.
All of these team members need to be working on the same page simultaneously. The best producer in the world cannot make a hit alone, unless that person is looking to create the best instrumental (worth noting: 0% of No. 1 hits have been instrumentals in the last 10 years).
When the music, lyrics, and melody come together, it creates something greater than the individual parts. The relationship between the song and the artist is the final piece to the puzzle. This may seem nonsensical, after all, the song is for the artist, right? Yes, but the song does not necessarily belong to the artist until there’s a commitment to it.
In my experience as a music executive, I have dealt with many crazy situations and epic battles over songs. Particularly, when it comes to artists and labels competing over Starrah’s work, most of which I cannot divulge. One story I can share, however, relates to the Maroon 5 hit “What Lovers Do,” which I pitched to the band almost a year before it was selected. During the course of that year, other artists and labels tried to secure the record but we held off. Starrah and I both sensed that the song was meant for Maroon 5 and steered clear of other opportunities for that reason. I was persistent in following up and pushing for that record. The lobbying worked. Maroon 5 took it and it became a multi-platinum hit. It also led to a second successful collaboration with Starrah, “Girls Like You,” which topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks.
Finding a creative chemistry — and recognizing it when it happens — is one of the most important parts of my job as a manager. I look to facilitate relationships, like connecting Starrah and songwriter/producer Frank Dukes who worked together on Rihanna’s “Needed Me” and then again on Young Thug and Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone.” They teamed up once more on Camila Cabello’s seven-time platinum “Havana” — along with a team of eight other songwriters and co-producers.
Another of my clients, Alex Da Kid, has taken collaboration to the level of a multi-album label commitment over several years with his artist Imagine Dragons, whose “Thunder” lands at No. 20 on the Hitmakers year-end list. The band spent many months working in closed sessions on the album “Origins,” which was exclusively produced by Alex. Even in that situation, other producers like Mattman and Robin and songwriters like Justin Tranter contributed to individual tracks.
Other artists opt to work with different producers, topliners and songwriters on every album cycle.
The key to being a successful connector in the industry is not to set up random studio sessions and cross your fingers that something magical happens. It’s not luck as much as it is smart navigation. I look to create timeless songs through creative collaborations. These creatives should be inspiring each other and the work they create should inspire the world.
Teamwork, good vibes and close collaboration is the magic that allows for hits to happen.