John Seabrook’s lecture The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory


From 12 June 2017




Garage Auditorium
John Seabrook’s lecture The Song Machine: Inside the Hit FactoryJohn Seabrook’s lecture The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory


John Seabrook will tell his audience about the secrets of producing contemporary pop music, a real industry that manufactures hits.

John Seabrook, the author of The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, will talk about the pop music industry—which he became acquainted with through his teenage son—which differs drastically from the methods of creating rock music that Seabrook himself listens to. During his research for the book he discovered that about 90% of revenue of the pop industry comes from 10% of songs that are performed by a handful by superstars. But practically none of these artists write their own songs. It is the job of hitmakers, songwriters, and producers who, over the past twenty years, have gradually learned to produce super-hits.

According to John Seabrook, the main mystery of pop music is that the biggest hits of today and two decades ago have been written by the same people, such as a pioneer in the field, Swedish producer Denniz Pop. Pop and his Swedish collaborator Max Martin started producing local artists (including Ace of Base) at Cheiron Studios which Pop started with Tom Talomaa in Stockholm in the early 1990s. Soon, they were getting clients from America—Pop and Martin were the people behind the singles that made the Backstreet Boys “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” (1997), and NSYNC “I Want You Back” (1998 in the USA), and Britney’s debut “Baby One More Time” (1998), originally written for TLC. After Denniz Pop died of cancer at the age of thirty-five, Max Martin went on to produce hits for new clients, including Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Pink, and Justin Timberlake.

‘You’d think that in an age when anyone with basic computer skills can make a song on a laptop—no musical training or instrumental mastery is required—the charts would be flooded with newbie hit makers. The barriers to entry are low. And yet it turns out that the same handful of top writers and producers are behind hit after hit—a mysterious priesthood of musical mages.’



John Seabrook is a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1993. He is the author of Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture (2000) and Flash of Genius and Other True Stories of Invention (2008). He has taught narrative nonfiction writing at Princeton University and lives in New York City.



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Free admission with advance registration