Category Archives: Songwriters

IDENTIFYING THE SUSPEX

Since the release of “Right Now” in 2000, Mitch Allan has been responsible for some seriously catchy tunes. Although “Right Now” may not be as ubiquitous as other power pop songs from the same era, like “All The Small Things” or “My Own Worst Enemy,” it’s equally strong in terms of craftsmanship. As part of the band SR-71, Allan co-wrote and produced “Right Now” with a name that might be even more familiar, Butch Walker. “Right Now” was included on SR-71’s debut 2000 release, Now You See Inside, which also included production from John Shanks. Along with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, Walker and Shanks helped define pop/rock music throughout the 2000s, writing and producing hits for A-list artists like Avril Lavigne, P!nk, Katy Perry, and Kelly Clarkson.

During that time, Allan also churned out some (hugely underrated) singles for artists like Jessie James and Katharine McPhee, contributed to platinum albums from Daughtry and Disney’s successful Camp Rock and Hannah Montana soundtracks, and was perhaps best known for writing Bowling for Soup’s ultimate guilty pleasure hit, “1985.” He also wrote American Idol’s 2009 coronation single, “No Boundaries,” with two equally talented songwriters, Kara DioGuardi (“Ain’t No Other Man”) and Cathy Dennis (“Toxic”). While on paper that sounds like it should have been an absolute smash, DioGuardi later admitted the song almost “destroyed” her career, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Although never quite reaching the status of superstar hitmaker like some of his contemporaries, even if he stopped there, Allan still would have achieved more success as a songwriter and producer than most could ever dream of. Lucky for us, he didn’t.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Suspex, that’s okay. I didn’t know exactly who–or what–it was until today. I heard the name associated with Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” and Fifth Harmony’s “Miss Movin’ On,” but never bothered to Google it. The best surprise is when you look something up you know nothing about and end up finding something familiar–which happens a lot in this industry. It’s even better when that something familiar is Mitch Allan, who has long deserved the kind of success as a songwriter and producer that he’s about to get. Paired with Jason Evigan, similarly from the alternative rock scene, the best pop music of the year is coming from a somewhat unlikely source. While the name might not yet sound familiar, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard their work.

Heart Attack” (co-written with the phenomenal Nikki Williams), dominated the pop charts this spring. From the explosive opening (complete with strings!) to Lovato’s impressive layered vocals, the song is filled with hooks and legitimized her standing as one of the reigning teen queens in pop music. “Miss Movin’ On,” Fifth Harmony’s debut single following their third place finish on The X Factor, follows a similar sonic blueprint and looks to make them the first success story from the U.S. edition of the show–a female One Direction, if you will. Taking a page from other reality show successes, the single is reminiscent of Jordin Sparks’ powerful “Battlefield” and Kelly Clarkson’s sassy “Miss Independent” (maybe they were all screwed over by “Mr. Know It All”?), while still maintaining a fresh energy. Like Allan’s earliest pop/punk productions, the song kicks off with an intensity that builds throughout, complete with “we mean serious business” stomps on the bridge. The lyrics are also pretty clever and the way “So call me, call me, call me miss movin’ on” is structured will be stuck in your head for days, believe me.

Although not yet a single, “Save the Day,” The Suspex’s track on Selena Gomez’s new album, is the clear standout. Gomez apparently won “Save the Day” over J.Lo, and it’s clear to see why they both wanted it. The track has a similar world dance sound to some of J.Lo’s most recent work with RedOne (and even evokes the pinnacle of her dance pop material, “Waiting for Tonight”) except… it’s better. The guitar and drums remain prominent against a throbbing dance beat, elevating the song from the tired crop of rehashed, uninspired electropop tracks. And, thankfully, there are no jarring dubstep breaks.

Already responsible for three of the best pop songs of the year, according to their Facebook bio, the duo is currently working on tracks with Cassadee Pope, MKS (a.k.a. Sugababes 1.0), Lea Michele, Rita Ora, and Sia–just to name a few. Perhaps the go-to songwriting/production team for this decade have been positively identified?

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THE WORD OF THE LORDE

I was recently tipped off on New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde, who I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more from in the near future.

Although her music may best be described as alternative, in the same vein as artists like Ellie Goulding, Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machine, there’s certainly a radio friendly, melodic element to the tracks posted on her site. She has a haunting, ethereal tone and unique singing voice, but also shows off a competent flow on songs like “Million Dollar Bills” and “Royals.”

Although most of the songs on her debut EP have relatively sparse instrumentation, there’s something about them that sounds epic. What’s even more impressive, at only 16-years-old, she wrote the tracks herself. If they’re any indication of what’s in store for her debut, we have a lot to look forward to. Lorde strikes the balance between cool and accessible, in terms of lyrics, sound, and image–hitting the sweet spot for pop success. With the buzz growing in New Zealand, it’s only a matter of times before she breaks internationally. Watch this space.

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THE NEW BOYBAND SOUND


The boyband is back. With The Wanted and One Direction successfully crossing over to America, it made me take a closer look to who’s behind them. No, I’m not talking about Scooter Braun and Simon Cowell. I’m talking about who’s actually behind the music. While we’ve all seen boybands come and go, the writers and producers who create the irresistible pop confections often stick around. The Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC brought us Max Martin. Will the new batch also launch a superstar pop producer for the next decade?

Three producers are responsible for sharping this generation’s boyband sound: Steve Mac, Rami Yacoub, and Carl Falk. It’s no surprise that Yacoub and Falk, like Martin, are Swedes. Scandinavians seem to have a knack for creating irresistible pop melodies and hooks (see also: Robyn, Stargate). Together, Yacoub and Falk produced “What Makes You Beautiful” for One Direction and “Lose My Mind” for The Wanted, among others. For pop fans, Yacoub should be a familiar name. He also helped usher in the teen pop explosion of the late 90s, co-producing songs like “…Baby One More Time” and “Larger Than Life” with Max Martin. However, as the pop/rock sound became more popular, Martin seemingly traded Yacoub for Dr. Luke, and his career cooled off. Never reaching the status of the aforementioned superstar producers, this could be the time for Yacoub to breakout. In addition to his work for One Direction and The Wanted, he’s also recently produced Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” Nicole Scherzinger’s “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” and The Saturdays’ “White Lies.” In case you haven’t been keeping track, they’re all great pop songs.

Yacoub’s partner, Carl Falk, is a little newer to the scene. Not around for the first boyband influx, Falk began producing for mostly European artists, like Westlife and Dannii Minogue, in the mid-2000s. For the rest of the decade, he collaborated with former boybanders and some artists you’ve probably never heard of. During that time, he also worked with Kristian Lundin, another talented Swedish producer, responsible for songs like “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want It That Way.” Falk obviously picked up some of those pop sensibilities, and continued to work in Europe, where pop music never goes out of style. However, as pop music has exploded internationally, so have his productions. He’s collaborated with Yacoub on tracks for One Direction, The Wanted, Nicki Minaj, and Taio Cruz.

It would be remiss to acknowledge Yacoub and Falk without also mentioning songwriter Savan Kotecha. Kotecha co-wrote six songs on One Direction’s debut, including three with Yacoub and Falk. Like Falk, Kotecha started working in the industry around the mid-2000s, writing for mostly European artists. Serving as an A&R executive for Simon Cowell’s label, Kotecha has written for many other former X Factor contestants, including Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, Cher Lloyd, and Shane Ward. It’s no surprise he’s riding the boyband wave, as his writing style pairs perfectly with bombast pop productions.

While Yacoub, Falk, and Kotecha make a powerhouse pop trifecta, there’s also Steve Mac. Mac scored his first hit single in the UK over twenty years ago and has racked up a number across the pond since then. He’s had some international success with songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” and O-Town’s “All Or Nothing,” but has mostly worked with British artists like Boyzone and Westlife. For years, Mac seemed to be the go-to guy for big pop ballads. While that may still be his wheelhouse, as he’s responsible for One Direction’s “Gotta Be You,” his sound has certainly evolved over the past few years. Mac produced The Wanted’s breakout international dance hit “Glad You Came,” along with other electropop influenced tracks for the group, “Lightning” and “Gold Forever.” He also produced Cobra Starship’s “You Make Me Feel…” and upbeat pop hits for The Saturdays and JLS. Already one of the UK’s most successful songwriters and producers, it will be interesting to see if Mac brings his signature sound to more artists as the boyband craze heats up.

Will Rami Yacoub, Carl Falk, and Steven Mac join the ranks of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, and RedOne as go-to pop producers? Although they’ve proved they can bring the heat for boybands, I think it will depend on who else they work with in the meantime. Both Yacoub and Mac are established and have been paying their dues in the industry for years. However, if history repeats itself, One Direction and The Wanted only have a few albums left in them before they embark on solo careers or fade into oblivion. Although Max Martin was racking up the hits with the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, he branched out to work with Britney Spears. With boybands making a comeback, the market is ripe for a new female popstar. “Call Me Maybe” proves that female pop will sell, but Carly Rae Jepsen is 26. In order for one of these producers to follow in the footsteps of Martin, their next step is to find a new teen queen that can have some longevity after the boyband bubble bursts. The question is, which one of them will do it?

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