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How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies

Author Topic: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies  (Read 331 times)

Offline Dagge

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How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« on: March 03, 2020, 01:33:13 PM »
I wonder if someone here knows more inside info about how Max and those guys create melodies. Although you can teach yourself to become a good pilot, doctor, lawyer or a mix engineer, it seems to me that making hit melodies is 90% talent and 10% 'melody math' and other helping tricks that can be taught.

If you have an ear and learn about song structure rules and chord wheel, you can construct a pretty decent pop song. But it seems to me that no knowledge in the world will make you build melodies that sound like a hit. I have read many helping 'rules' that composers use from melody math, melody inversion, using melody backwards, repetition of lines, rhythmic symmetry between adjacent melody phrases , recycling, listening to 80's hit choruses for inspiration, using other hit melody phrase rhythm and put your own melody on that. But it seems to me that all that will not help one to construct a high class melody that sound lika a hit, if he/she isn't very talented in the first place.

I remember Max once said you have to be confident in your skills, so that you somehow know that a little melody that you coined and sounds banal and even silly played on the piano has potential to become a hit when properly arranged. Many ordinary composers usually immediately abandon such ideas. Funny thing is that he said that at the beginning of his career, in the mid 90's when he wasn't that experienced yet. Did Denniz told him some 'secrets' that made him confident from the beginning, or was it a pure gift?

I wonder is it really all talent that all those guys have and no 'secret' tricks. Do you think that Max all those melodies hears in his head and all other mentioned tricks are only helping hand, not very important ones.

I am really curious about that topic for many years.

Offline AlexanderLaBrea

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2020, 01:37:19 AM »
You are correct here. Melodic math is not so much HOW to write the specific melodies. More a set of guidelines to arranging melodies. Just as you said, symmetry, fast melodies followed by less busy ones etc. I don’t think Max writes very differently than anyone else. Sometimes melodies just pops up in his head (which he has spoken about) or else they probably riff over chords and tracks. He just has a very good sense of melody that speaks to a lot of people.

Obviously using the melodic math thinking Will narrow down the starting points for When writing, so that probably helps.

Offline Dagge

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2020, 11:54:30 AM »
You mentioned that melody 'just pops up' in Max's head. Is it possible that this whole gang around Max is so many times more talented than vast majority of all other famous songwriters elsewhere that also coined hits. I mean, ex-Cheirones churn hit after hit for the last 20 years and still counting. I wonder how is it possible that they have so many ideas in their head while other hitmakers are much less productive (which I am sure they would love to be). Is it possible that they use some 'mechanical' rules for generating ideas in the process, instead of awaiting for the ideas to come on their own, rules that they did't reveal to anyone outside gang yet.

I can understand that Max is a melody genius, but there are all others around him that also churn hit after a hit. Is it possible that they all are supertalented music geniuses. I somehow cannot imagine that to be true from the statistical probability point of view.

To me it is a very interesting topic, probably most important one in the whole Cheiron saga. You can build interesting chord progressions if you use chord wheel properly, you can make interesting arrangement if you feel rhythm and are meticulous, but you cannot make hit melodies like Cheironers do. That is their main distinction point from the other composers, and a main reason for their enormous success in my view. I think those two to four bars of a chorus melody actually make all difference in the world. Which if you deduct melody math rules and symmetric repetition can be striped down to one or a two bar melody phrase that makes all the difference.

But interesting point is that if we suppose that average melody phrase spans 6 tones in range and such phrase consists of 2-6 consecutive tones, there are mathematically only 50,000 different melody phrases possible. If we take into account that former composers already abandoned tonal combinations that doesn't sound good, possible phrase combination list is much shorter. Since there are millions of songs composed already, there is a great chance that those phrases that are sonically pleasant are already used by someone else  before(I am not taking into account difference in rhythmic tonal duration). If that is true, is it possible that they simply play with short phrases already used by others and tweak them a little as a substitution for waiting for a song melody to 'pop out' in the head. What's left would be a good taste for musical preference of masses like you said and a strong discipline not to give up before one coins a very good tonal result. By taking a former hit phrase you ensure that it's tonal attractiveness is already confirmed by the audience.

There are many such examples. For example chorus melodic phrase in a 1986 year famous Berlin hit 'Take my breath away' is almost identical to 20 years later Katy Perry's 'Hot N Cold' chorus which repeats first two bars of an original phrase by adding one transposed instance.
https://youtu.be/Bx51eegLTY8?t=20
https://youtu.be/kTHNpusq654?t=65

One could take Berlin's phrase, tweak tonal rhythm a bit and repeat same phrase once more by using melodic math rules, and a result could become Katy Perry's hit phrase. Taking a shorter phrase of 2-4 tones that is proven on the market and sounds good as a material to be tweaked and moulded is even simpler, and Cheiron guys (especially Max) are famous for building hits with short phrases. 'Everybody', Get down', 'I want it that way' by BSB, 'Crazy' by Britney, 'Show me love' by Robin, 'Since u been gone' by Kelly Clarkson, 'So what' by Pink, 'Last friday night' by Katy Perry etc. Funny thing is that you are free to use Robyn's 'Show me love' phrase and tweak it endlessly because 'borrowing' less than 6 consecutive notes phrase is not considered as plagiarism.

Second example is a phrase that is a part of a busy chorus from Barry Manilow hit 'Copacabana' that is identical to second 4-tone phrase in Britney's hit 'Crazy', which is a bit transposed.
https://youtu.be/7cB5VQAAOYk?t=41
https://youtu.be/Q4VK9_CfOLQ?t=44

Third example, 4-tonal starting phrase from Adam Lambert's 'Whatayawant from me', second phrase from 'DJ got us falling in love' by Usher ft Pitbull, 'Till te world ends' by Britney, 'Loser like me' by Glee Cast, 'Beauty and a beast' by Justin Bieber and 'No tears left for cry' (both distinctive phrases) by Ariana Grande are among many others that were used on numerous occasions before. If you or I use same phrase on the chorus, will we be accused of plagiarism? Hardly, yet those are strong and market proven phrases to be used in our own song. Funny, you almost cannot miss by using already market proven phrases and tweak them a bit. Why risk by using your own that are unproven yet (if you are not Max of course).
https://youtu.be/khEyoVCwQhE?t=288
https://youtu.be/khEyoVCwQhE?t=323
https://youtu.be/khEyoVCwQhE?t=425
https://youtu.be/khEyoVCwQhE?t=441
https://youtu.be/khEyoVCwQhE?t=546
https://youtu.be/ffxKSjUwKdU?t=20, second phrase compared to https://youtu.be/3gl5OEZ8j_o?t=49

There are really many such examples of phrase similarity or even sameness, and it hardly can be avoided taking into account above mentioned math. Funny thing is that Cheironers based many of their hits on tweaking short phrases that sound good on their own, and combinig them together, repeating them, transposing them etc.

If that is the true, what stops composer from using this method constantly instead of awaiting for a melody to come out of the head, an elusive process that is out of composer's control in a busy everyday schedule. After all, there is an old adage that bad composers borrow but good composers 'steal' yet are good at disguising it. There is no adage about composers awaiting for an inspiration to come. In that case stories about inspiration and muse could be left for PR and media purposes only.

I am not saying guys are doing that because I respect them without doubt, this is only an academic discussion. Market proven phrases are there for all to use. If a nicely arranged chorus phrase generated a billion views on YouTube, chances are your own version based on that one may also generate a few views. It all somehow boils down to what Max said in the early days. You have to have confidence that your (or someone else's) little phrase that sounds silly played on a piano has potential to become a hit. If you use already proven phrases you even don't need that much of a self confidence. Will power and determination combined with a bit of talent may take you far. Yet people are not very disciplined nor determined on the average. I bet 98% of composers think that inspiration is everything and are happy awaiting for The one hit phrase that will make them famous. Funny thing is if they finally found it, it will probably be a minor variation of a phrase already used by someone else before.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2020, 04:13:16 PM by Dagge »

Offline Snipes3000

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2020, 04:52:02 PM »
See for your theory on stealing a melody the book 'the hit making machine' by john seabrook. Dr Luke speaks about it in there. Also watch Max Martin interview for his 2016 award, where he speaks about getting a hunch while laying in bed for Britney Spears'  One more time. Also see john seabrook's explanation on melody & lyrics approach vs track & hook approach.

Offline AlexanderLaBrea

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2020, 10:52:01 PM »
Look, I would love for there to be a technical or theoretical explanation to all the hits and his success. But I think he's been telling the truth when asked what his "secret" is. That the collective effort is key, and that he's been choosing the right people to collaborate with. I mean, yeah, during the Cheiron years they definitely had a sound and a "formula". Where most of the song had a distinctive Cheiron flavor. But during the last decade he's had hits with whispering choruses without melody, power choruses, songs with the chorus after a minute in etc. Hit songs that doesn't sound at all like Max's other works.

I know some people that have worked with Max back in the day, and based on that and all the interviews and stuff that are out there. I think that Max happens to have an incredible ear, and a crazy work ethic. Most of the melodies of the hit songs from the last decades have been other people, but he knows how to pick them out of the bunch, and arrange them, spice them up, to make it as good as can be.

If there was a "formula" in lack of a better word for what we're discussing here, take Dr. Luke as an example. He and Max ruled the world for a couple of years that. And whatever Max knew, he sure as hell knows as well. But after they parted ways and after the whole scandal, Dr. Luke hasn't been able to produce stuff close to the quality Max's team does. Wouldn't he be able to fairly easily if he had the secret sauce? Same goes for the more "unsuccessful" Cheiron guys.

I mean, there are other people. Julia and Justin for instance who have had a lot of hits in the last 5-6 years or whatever. I think that Max has just been able to know how to pick people who can adapt to new styles very well. He has Ilya for the more hip hop oriented stuff that is trending. Oscar Görres, Mattman & Robin etc. all have unique production styles and Max seems to be a genius in taking their creativity, pointing them in the right direction and making them as good as can be. There aren't many of these people out there.

I'm rambling. It's a really hard and interesting subject! But I sincerely doubt there is some sort of "using older songs and rearranging them" thing involved. Or, of course, everybody takes inspiration from other songs, but not more than any other.



Offline Dagge

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2020, 11:27:45 PM »
Interesting points, I could agree although I was a bit surprised as you said that most melodies in the last decade were composed by others, while they say that Max is a melody king. Anyway I am aware that Max has great skills besides melody creating. But I humbly still believe melody is most important part.

Speaking of a melody strictly, do you believe that all those 100's of songs made by Max and other members popped out of head or there was some mechanical procedure involved. I remember once at Gearslutz a guy who claimed to be working at early Cheiron said that a lot was going on there. Among other he said that they listened big rock choruses from the 80's to find inspiration for a melody. Similar was done by Stock Aitken Waterman producers who closed their door to other staff members before going to compose, where a guy that worked there said that they listened old records and searched for an inspiration.

I am really curious if that was the case with Cheiron guys or do they rely on their creativity and ideas that come out of their head.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2020, 11:51:15 PM by Dagge »

Offline AlexanderLaBrea

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2020, 02:58:48 PM »
I think that he is! But I think a lot of people (I may have been there myself...) think that "this is such a Max Martin melody" and give him topline credit when a lot of times there are other people in his team and outside of it that are responsible. We know this for a fact in many cases. Pretty much all the Taylor Swift hits, that seemed a lot like Max melodies. They were Taylors, and Shellbacks. Teenage Dream - that was Dr. Luke's chorus melody. The verses in "Problem" are super Max. That was Ilya. The chorus in Love Me Like You Do, that is TYPICAL Max. Just straight staccato notes. Ilya too. Can't Stop The Feeling, Shellbacks creation etc. I'm definitely not saying that he doesn't write. Ariana's Break Free topline is supposedly all Max. I just think that it's interesting to point out that much, if not most, of the magic comes from other people in collaboration with him.

I don't think there are any more mechanical processes involved than other writers. Everyone (pretty much) who has written pop songs have probably listened to their favorite songs and borrowed or reworked them just a little bit into their own melodies. I think when it comes to Cheiron, yeah, the guys probably listened to a fair share of Def Leppard. The 80's rock influence is sometimes kinda clear, but that really stops after Cheiron ended. Max's hits post Cheiron has been so widely different sounding. From the more straight forward rock in Kelly Clarkson, to dance pop, to happy clappy pop songs to reggae influences.

I think of it like this. Take a couple of incredibly driven, creative and fairly like minded people in a room. Give the situation a purpose (write for Artist X) and add the right kind of vibe and a great work ethic plus Max's ear for whatever works for radio, you'll likely to get hits.

We also know that Max is known to work on songs for ages if needed and never leave any stones unturned. That might also be one reason. That he really really works hard to get the melodies to be as good as they can be.

Offline Dagge

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2020, 03:47:19 PM »
Re. your last part, I have entered their melodies and chords into a sequencer to evaluate appeal to me. Basic setup, only piano drums and chords because I didn't wanted to be distracted by a possible nice sound.

I consider myself having a pretty good ear for a pop music for masses, I don't like every hit but if I like a song it usually is a hit. I tried to mimic their process of composing, after I listened for 15 minutes same 8 bars of their chorus melody I have lost my criteria to recognize what is good and what sounds silly and dull to me. I have had an urge to close sequencer completely because of fatigue, there wasn't a landmark upon which you can see your progress. Although I have an ear as I said, after some time that has lost value and everything started to sound the same, even trying out different melodie of theirs.

By saying that, on this forum there is an interview with Jorgen Elofsson where he said that he recorded 350 songs and he has another 700 on a roster. I really am baffled how is he able to recognize what is good melody and what isn't with that much songs. I wonder how he manages to not lose criteria after so many listening with so many songs he created. And he has a daily schedule of other things that he has to do.

I suppose he doesn't have that much time to spend with composing and tweaking his new melodies, this is physically almost impossible taking into account his vast collection. Does he records first idea and goes on to another song, then he comes back after a week or so. Whatever the true is, so many songs require a ton of time to tweak and complete. I really wonder does he awaits for a muse or does he use some kind of 'mechanical' help.

As a meticulous person that has an interest in this I just try to understand how all this is done. Maybe he has the confidence to immediately recognize what melody will sound good on the radio, although majority of us if presented this same melody played on a piano and not knowing it was made by a pro could not imagine its potential without listening same melody well arranged and produced.

A friend of mine once said on many occasions he liked his little newly composed melody but after listening for 10 minutes while trying to refine it, he started to dislike this same melody as a silly, naive, too banal etc. I have had a similar experience. I have no confidence like those guys have, that this silly melody may possibly become a good song. But if there were Denniz, Max or some other Cheironer sitting next to me and saying which melody has potential and which doesn't, I would probably develop my own confidence in recognizing potentially good melodies. You need a proven hand to help you learn how to control your 'sillyness' radar and when to switch it off. Without such a proven professional input one cannot develop this. I think that was exactly what happened to Dr Luke after Max mentored him a bit.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2020, 04:13:45 PM by Dagge »

Offline AlexanderLaBrea

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2020, 07:47:39 PM »
Jörgen is probably a bad example. No offense to him at all, he's amazing! But he had a handful hits with Cheiron. The last almost 20 years he's had one as I recall. Stronger with Kelly Clarkson. Most of what he does don't have the quality the MXM team produces. At least not to me and not to the masses.

I think you are totally correct in the last part there. One of the hardest things with music is not to over complicate things. Some people are just amazing at picking out some silly thing and letting it shine where most people would scrap it or try to overwork it. Your point is backed up by things I've heard from people working with the Cheiron guys and Max. That one of their strengths was arranging and cutting unnecessary elements. Keeping it simple. I guess that's what's being done mostly by Max nowadays. The kids throw a hell of a lot of ideas at him, he helps them simplify and pick the best parts (this is what he seems to have done with the new Gaga song, even if I didn't like it), then the youngsters can finish production and all that.

Offline Dagge

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2020, 10:11:46 AM »
I realized that I coined best melody phrases when I allowed myself be what I am with all my specific strengths and weak points, instead of trying to mimic other people's work. When I honestly (and little naive) tried to compose my own melody that I let came as a natural process from the heart, it always sounded better than when I try to mechanically mimic Max and other famous composers. After all, we all use long ago tried and probably already recorded short melody phrases, which other composers before us already realized that work sonically. It is ok to be inspired by other people's work, but only in a way that we listen music that we like and those melodies usually stay with us in some way as an inspiration.

Max is highly probably better in this because his strengths in this creative process are better than majority of us posess. But this approach usually let me abandon my 'sillyness radar' that always tries to complicate a simple little melody. By doing this from the heart and with a bit of naive approach gives one power to let simple, silly melodies be accepted as a work of nature.

That kind of a simple melody will rarely be self-accepted if done mechanically, because in that case different criteria is used in our mind. You are comparing your 'unproven' banal sounding melody played on a piano with already produced  melody proven on the market. Of course it is not a fair comparison, a tough one for our mind. Even if you play a hit melody on a piano exactly, it is hard to convince yourself that it is equally good as one you heard on the radio.

I think Benny and Bjorn of ABBA also used this approach, and their honest looking faces in an interview confirmed their claim that they didn't knew how did they do it. They just tried and tried and it came from their heart. Yet that is something hard to be accepted, we all are looking for the shortcuts and 'secrets' (me too), in order to relieve us from the our own responsibility for the result.

I think that a famous composer as a mentor can fasten this process where he/she would encourage you to accept your own simple work. But I think it can be done without such help too, although not that fast. I remember Dr Luke said that his revealing point was when Max told him that his melodies could be targeted toward a much larger audience. So he already had a skill but he lacked confidence to use that skill and accept his little melodies. That's reason why Max himself, Shellback and probably many others would never happen if not encouraged by the successful hand, despite of their talent. Without encouraging hand they would never start to believe in their skills. Max very early said that it is hard to self-accept silly melodies and that people would be surprised how banal their songs would sound listening them without a rich arrangement. By that time Denniz has probably done important work on him already. I mean, how many of us would accept our own three tone melody phrase in 'It's my life' of Dr Alban.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2020, 10:46:25 AM by Dagge »

Offline ModernJohn

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Re: How does Max and other ex-Cheironers make melodies
« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2020, 07:49:27 PM »
Yeah, I totally agree that a lot of hit songs wouldn't sound very good without all the complicated arrangements. Have you ever listened to the top-line of a hit song before you've heard the actual song before? They usually never sound good because we aren't familiar with them and can't subconsciously add some elements of the arrangement or the lyrics to the song. I honestly think the best test is, if the song still sounds good after you've written the lyrics and performed it on a piano or a guitar; there might be some potential.