Melodies and Structure

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“I like it when a song is like a journey, building up along the way. Then, at the end, euphoria.” Max Martin

“Its funny he has this formula going on, like ‘never use more than 3 melodic parts in a song’ or ‘recycle parts of the verse in parts of the chorus’ and ‘minimize information for the listener'” Arnthor Birgisson

“People criticize Max for being too formulaic, but I think his secret is – the simplest thing is the most effective thing”  Adam Levine

“Max is amazing at making earworms.” Justine Timberlake

“A great chef says the most important ingredient in the recipe is one he leaves out, and that’s what (Max) brings.” Pink

For the past 20 years, Max Martin and his amazing team have been writing the most widely spread and hummed tunes in the world. His first international hit, “Baby One More Time”, skyrocketed Britney Spears to fame. Since then, Max Martin has written and produced 22 #1 songs in the Billboard, shortly behind Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26).

Not wanting to draw attention to himself, he has said “no” to almost every interview by a newspaper, magazine or TV-channel – until an interview with DiWeekend in Sweden, where he opened up his life and his songwriting.

Read the Whole Interview

Interesting takes on songwriting, directly from Max Martin himself, from the interview:

"When you’ve listened to a song four-five times: there needs to be stuff left to discover that makes the song last over time. You must be able to have more than one favorite part in the same composition. First out, you might like the chorus. Then, once you’ve grown a little tired of that, you should long for the bridge..."

"Dagge always said: "After just one second, you should be able to recognize the song." He brought that way of thinking with him from his days as a DJ. In order to keep people on the dance floor as you switch songs, you should never leave people guessing. You should be able to hear right away what’s coming."

This is so true of Britney Spear's "Hit Me Baby One More Time", Max Martin's first worldwide hit.

When I play a song to someone and ask ”So how do you like this?”, I don’t care all that much about what they say. What I really pay attention to is how they act, their body language. People who lose their concentration give themselves away very quickly. If they start fiddling with their phones as the second verse kicks in, there may be something about the tune that wasn’t good enough.

"If the chords change a lot over the course of a song, it’s better to stay within the same melodic structure. Once again, it’s all about the balance. Another theory is that you can also sing the chorus melody as a verse. The verse and chorus of that song are exactly the same. But as a listener, you don’t really notice since the energy of the chorus is completely different compared to the verse."

"If you listen to the first, second and third chorus of a song, they don’t sound the same. It’s the same melody and all that but what really happens is that the energy changes. It’s all about getting the listener to keep his or her concentration."

"I Want You Back" by N'Sync can be a good example.

"I’ve learned that things change. The whole boy band thing almost turned into a stock market crash. Then, there was a period when we thought that Pharrell (Williams) and the others came and ruined it all for us with their super cool beats. My first thought was: people are idiots for not understanding how great our stuff really is. Then, in the end, I realized: the world has moved on, we’re the ones who’re stuck in one place. So I started listening to other kinds of music."

"Well, I can only say what I think. I think that a great pop song should be felt when you hear it. You can hear songs that are technically great, songs that tick all the boxes. But for a song to be felt, you need something else."

"The vocals are always my main concern. It’s all about how the artist sings the song. That’s the most important thing of all. Singing involves a great deal of psychology. If the artist isn’t having a great day or finds it all boring. My role becomes that of a coach. Getting the very best out of the artist. One way to get them there is to bring them out of their comfort zones."

"Melodies may appear wherever. It’s never like 'Now I’m going to sit down and write this or that kind of song'. The melodies may show up in the car, in the shower. From then on it’s all about how you manage the melody, how you make sure that you’ll be able to hear it over and over again without tiring of it."

"The structure of songs change all the time. We’ve just made it out from the marshlands of EDM. Nothing wrong about EDM, great songs came out of it, but there was a period when everything had to have a pace of 128 bpm and be DJ-related."

These days, there’s no dominating trend among the Top 40-songs, and I really enjoy that. A hit can be someone just singing to piano music, anything."

"Pop music follows the evolution of society in general. Everything moves faster. Intros have gotten shorter."

"There should never be too many new elements introduced at the same time. One at a time. Like in a movie. You can’t introduce ten characters in the first scene. You want to get to know one before you’re ready for the next."

"Lately, I’ve written a lot of music where there’s already a set background. There’s already a completed track. In those cases, it’s more about working with the dramaturgy of the melody. It should never get repetitive. I like it when a song is like a journey, building up along the way. That they start out smaller than they end. Along the trip, you add elements that make the listener less likely to tire. Then, at the end, euphoria."

"Vocal Melody? I have lots of theories when it comes to this. If you’ve got a verse with a lot of rhythm, you want to pair it with something that doesn’t. Longer notes. Something that might not start at the same beat. As I say this, I’m afraid it might sound like I’ve got a whole concept figured out…But it’s not like that. The most crucial thing is always how it feels."

"Theories are great to have on hand when you get stuck. 'We can’t think of anything, is there anything we could do?' In those cases, you can bring it in as a tool. If you listen to "Shake It Off" with Taylor Swift (0:30 in the song). After that segment, you need a few longer notes in order to take it all in, otherwise it’s simply too much information.

If there would have been as many rhythm elements in the part right before the chorus...Sweet and salt might be a description that’s easier to grasp. You need a balance, at all times. If the verse is a bit messy, you need it to be less messy right after. It needs to vary. "Shake It Off" is a good example, where the math behind the drama is pretty clear."


Do you have a song which you feel fits the advice of Max Martin above? For example:

  1. A song with a very recognizeable and strong introduction.
  2. A song with the same melodic structure for the verse and the chorus (though unrecognizeable).
  3. A song that introduces various elements gradually in the song to create build-up.
  4. Balance in a song : interchanging fast rhythmic sections and slow long notes in a song.
  5. Others...

Please send your song to us. Once again, A&R, Judges, and Mentors, if they feel that the song doesn't fit well enough with this category, have the right to return the song and ask artist to improve. Likewise, if the song has tremendous potential, if mentors have ways to improve it, can send their advice to the artist. Artist then has the choice to re-film the song or not.


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