machine Due out on October 8th, John Seabrook’s new book The Song Machine is an expansion of a New Yorker article from 2012. It describes the modern method of putting together hit songs deployed by producers such as Max Martin – who has scored 56 top ten hits since 1996 – more than Madonna (38), Elvis (36) and The Beatles (34). In brief, producers work on a backing track of chord progressions, drum track and synth sounds and pass this on to “top  line” writers that might either be session singers, who come into the studio and improvise until they find some hooks, or star singers themselves such as Beyoncé, who do the top line work themselves. Lyrics are often derived from collections of common phrases culled from magazines and television. There must be multiple hooks, not just one, if the song is to become a hit.

Seabrook highlights a case where one producer, Ryan Tedder, inadvertently sent out the same backing track to both Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson in 2009. Few people noticed, Seabrook points out, and both became hits – “Halo” for Beyoncé in April and “Already Gone” for Kelly Clarkson in August.