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Melodic Math - Max Martin's Song Writing Formula

Max Martin is the music producer behind so many of the billboard hits of the last decade. This post explores some of his techniques which can be a powerful learning aid for all of us and help us to create memorable and professional pop music. 

Melody Is King 

  • Writing the melody first gives more freedom than doing it the other way around.
  • Don’t make it too complicated, keep it simple silly (KISS).
  • Fit the syllables to the notes of the melody.
  • Lyrics make sense but getting the syllables right is of primary importance.
  • Lyrics are meant to serve the melody.


  • It’s very mathematical, a line has to have a certain number of syllables and the next line has to be it’s mirror image.
- If you add one syllable or take it away, it’s a completely different melody to Max. You can write something clever, but if it doesn’t hit the ear right then max is not really interested.
- This is one reason why Max songs are catchy.
  • The chorus hits before you’re 50 sec into the song.
  • Use only 3-4 melodic parts per song and introduce one part at a time.

Arrangement & Mixing

  • SIMPLICITY: There must not be too much info in the sound stage. Aspire for minimalism and clarity in the mix, even if you want it to sound huge. Every sound used in the production must have a purpose. Keeping it simple means stripping the arrangement to it's most basic elements and building it up from there. 


  • ONE AT A TIME:There must be no new items coming in at the same time. Add one thing at a time, like in a movie. You cannot present 10 characters in the first scene! You want to get to know one before you’re ready for the next one. Introducing elements one at a time also ensures that people hear the new layers coming in and subconsciously enjoy the build of elements. 


  • LESS PARTS:Get the most out of  a small number of parts. Take the arrangement of the song and strip it down to it’s key elements. This removes any possible distractions and makes the song as catchy as it can be, focussing only on the core elements of the song. Make the production sound groovy with simple but great melodies and use memorable riffs so that less parts don't create boredom. 


  • RECYCLE PARTS: Use the melodic parts again and again to create familiarity. People are attracted to something they are familiar with. This makes them feel like listening to the song again and again. Don't overdo it though. Too much repetition makes people get bored. Balance between the familiar and new sections to keep the listener engaged. 


  • CONTRAST IN ARRANGEMENT: Create contrast between using shorter and longer notes, on and off beat, etc between verse and chorus to create contrast. “ Sweet and Salt might be a description that’s easier to grasp. You need a balance at all times. If the verse is a bit bit messy (off beat) you need to be less messy (On Beat) right after. It needs to vary. “ Shake it off “ is a good example where the math behind the drama is pretty clear “. If the chords change a lot over the course of the song, it’s better to stay within the same melodic structure.


  • CHOICE OF SOUNDS: Have you noticed how most pop songs employ the use of the same kinds of sounds to build a strong foundation? For example,  snaps, claps, kicks, bass, pads, plucks and leads are some of the most widely used elements in mainstream pop music. Max Martin suggests to deploy a combination of familiar and unfamiliar elements to catch the attention of the listener. For 180+ modern pop serum presetscheck out the ACE Serum Bundle


  • CONTRAST THROUGH MIXING: If everything is bright, nothing really stands out as being bright. There is bright if there is no dull. There is no near if there is no far. Creating contrast in the mix by making use of psychoacoustic principles and creating contrast using tools like reverb, delay, EQ and compression can really make your mixes sound a whole lot more professional.  


Hope you found the post useful. Check out for more info and music production resources like sample packs, sound banks and templates to take your productions to the next level!