Max Martin – the man with the Midas touch

2011-11-07

He’s the Babe Ruth of songwriting, with more hits under his belt than any of his contemporaries. He’s the reason mega stars from all over the world have travelled to Stockholm. To quote Simon Cowell: “If you’ve got Max Martin as your writer, you have a better chance of having a worldwide hit than with anyone else.”
 
The list of hit records Max Martin has written and produced would be next to impossible to fit into one article – and would have to be updated monthly – as he’s pretty much provided the soundtrack to our lives for a decade and a half. Matter of fact, for the past five years, rarely a week has gone by without at least one of Martin’s tracks being in the top 40 – more often he’s got at least three or four of them charting.
 
In the past three years alone he’s had 11 number ones, including Pink’s So What and Raise Your Glass as well as six chart toppers with Katy Perry – from Hot n Cold to California Gurls and Last Friday Night (he also co-wrote and produced her breakthrough single, I Kissed a Girl) – and My Life Would Suck Without You with Kelly Clarkson and If U Seek Amy and 3 with Britney Spears. He’s also co-written top 10 singles for Taio Cruz (Dynamite), Usher (DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love) and Adam Lambert (Whataya Want From Me, co-written with Pink).
 
Martin (real surname Sandberg) started his music career as the frontman of Stockholm-based glam metal band It’s Alive, in 1985. The band signed with Cheiron Records in the early nineties. Though the band failed to set the world alight with their music the owner of the label, Denniz PoP, recognized Martin’s knack for writing catchy pop songs and took him under his wing, becoming his mentor.
 
 “My advice to upcoming talent in this business is ‘work harder than everyone else’,” Martin once said. It’s advice he heeded himself, right from the start. “I didn’t even know what a producer did. I spent two years – day and night – in that studio trying to learn what the hell was going on.” Their collaboration got off to a great start, with Ace of Base’s second album The Bridge, which sold over 6m albums worldwide (a million of them in the US). This was followed by the Backstreet Boys self-titled debut album, which included multiple hit singles and sold around 8m albums worldwide. When his mentor died after a short battle with cancer in 1998, Martin took over as director of Cheiron Studios, which had by then become a sort of “Motown” of the 90s, and started working with writer/producer Rami Yacoub.
 
That same year he wrote Britney Spears colossal break-through hit ...Baby One More Time. It was originally offered to TLC and Backstreet Boys, who both rejected it. Lucky for Britney: the single entered the US charts at #1 and remains her biggest hit to date, selling over 15m copies in the US alone, certifying diamond status. The album, of the same name, sold a staggering 25m copies. Their successful collaboration continued on Spears’ next two albums and, later, on Circus and her 2011 album Femme Fatale, on which Martin and Dr Luke were credited as executive producers.
 
Backstreet Boys’ sophomore album, Millenium, included 7 songs co-written by Martin, including the group’s biggest single to date: I Want It That Way. The song was ranked third in VH1’s 100 greatest songs of the 90s. The album itself sold over 1.1m albums in the US in its first week, becoming the best selling album in the world in 1999.
 
In 2000, Cheiron Studios was closed down and Martin and Tom Talomaa started a new production company called Maratone. Four years later, Kelly Clarkson travelled to Stockholm to collaborate with Martin and Dr Luke. The result was a much rockier sound than her previous records. One of the singles they wrote and produced was Since U Been Gone, which remains one of her biggest hits.
 
With the help of his young protégé, Shellback, Martin’s rock crusade continued with Pink’s platinum selling album Funhouse, which included the hit singles So What (four times platinum with over 8.5m downloads sold) and Please Don’t Leave Me.
 
In 1999, Martin became the first non-American citizen to win ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year award – a feat he repeated in 2000 and 2001, and again in 2011 (when he shared the award with Dr Luke). He also received the prestigious STIM Platinum award in 2010.
 
“Pop music is always about now,” says Martin, and so, unlike many other songwriter/producers, he doesn’t have a specific sound. Like a chameleon he adapts himself to whatever artist he’s working with, concentrating on what makes them unique. From rock to dance to R&B, his songs hyphenates it all with pop – as in popular – peppered with heaps of great hooks.
 
“Let me put it this way – songwriting and producing is 99% about confidence,” Martin told Popjustice  “And over the years I’ve begun to feel that, well, I kind of know how to write a song now. So I’m not worried. And once you’re past that you’re at least halfway there.”

Helienne Lindvall

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Photo: Margita Ljusberg