Prolific Hitmaker Max Martin Tells His Story

Max Martin
Max Martin (photo credit: Axel Öberg)

Martin Sandberg, a.k.a. Max Martin, recently sat down for a rare and exclusive interview with the Swedish magazine, Di Weekend.

A native of Sweden, Martin made a name for himself in the ’90s by writing and producing hits for the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and Britney Spears (his mentor was the producer behind Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” and “The Sign”). The 45-year-old has since crafted hits for Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, The Weeknd, Maroon 5, Ariana Grande, Ellie Goulding, among many others. His most recent number one single is Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!

According to Di Weekend, “Max Martin has seen 58 of his songs place among Billboard’s Top 10. 21 of them have made it to the #1 spot. Only Paul McCartney and John Lennon have had more. As a producer, Max Martin has had 19 number one Billboard hits. Only Sir George Martin can boast of more.”

The extensive conversation, Martin’s first since 2001, provides an in-depth look at one of the most successful songwriters and producers of all time. It also offers valuable songwriting and production insights.

Below are some of the things we learned from the interview, which we recommend reading in its entirety.

He believes the greatest pop songs are multi-dimensional.

“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…”

However, as a producer, his main concern is the vocals.

“I’m very present whenever we record the vocal track. Some producers let technicians handle that part, while they themselves chill out on the couch. But I like to be there myself, handling everything on the computer myself. I want to know exactly what went on and I need to be able to recall it 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. Helping them perform at their very best when it’s game time. One way to get them there is to bring them out of their comfort zones. To coach them a little, get them to try new stuff.”

He credits being a singer as his greatest asset.

“From day one, the one thing that I’ve had the most use of in this profession is my background as a singer. To be able to sing and demonstrate your vision when you record a demo has been crucial.”

He pays attention to the body language of his listeners.

“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. Something also happens when I listen as if with other people’s ears. I get nervous and think to myself, ‘Shit, this part is a bit too slow.'”

He believes that collaborations have kept him relevant over the years.

“It’s my collaborations with others that have made me able to stay on beyond the average lifespan of a songwriter. I’ve been blessed to work with so many young people. How do they do it? They make me work hard to keep up. I feel so humbled by this fact.”

He keeps his ego in check by staying grounded.

“My wife has been the greatest help. In making sure I stay grounded. My wife and some of my friends. But it’s hard. I can certainly understand artists who suffer because of their egos. This is also why I’ve chosen to stay away from what we’re doing now (the interview context). If nobody recognizes you, if nobody cares, it’s easier to avoid getting carried away. That’s way harder if you’re a famous artist. I’ve seen many examples of when things have gone really wrong.”

He doesn’t understand jazz, but he loves it.

“I’ve also started listening to jazz. A lot. I don’t understand jazz, and I find that liberating. The music stays just music. I just listen instead of listening to what kind of bass drum they’re using, you know? I’m simply not musically equipped for jazz, but I love listening to it. I love Chet Baker. It’s driving my daughter crazy. ‘Oh no, not Chet Baker again.’ She’s heard me play his music so much that by now she knows all his songs.”

Related: A-Trak Discusses the Business of Remixing