E37 John Seabrook: The Song Machine

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In Episode #37 I was joined by John Seabrook, author of The Song Machine: Inside the hit factory. John is a writer for The New Yorker where he writes about “… the intersection between commerce and creativity in the fields of technology, design, and music.”

The Song Machine is brilliantly researched and Seabrook takes us on a journey from the heady days of record breaking album sales right up to the current era of Spotify and the artist as performer, not creator, of hit songs. Performers aside, there are two constants as we journey through the hit factory; songwriters, and producers. The role of both has evolved dramatically to give us the type of hyper-produced pop music that currently dominates the charts.

As John himself puts it: “... modern pop [produces] industrial-strength products, made for malls, stadiums, airports, casinos, gyms and the Super Bowl halftime show. The music reminded me a little of the bubble-gum pop of my preteen years, but it was vodka-flavored and laced with MDMA.

During our conversation we discussed:

  1. The chronology of the hit factory.
  2. Why performers don’t admit that they don’t write their own songs.
  3. How exclusively playing the top 20 songs can make a radio station’s listenership explode.
  4. Why we like a song more the more often we hear it.
  5. The pop cycle of Pure Pop, The Doldrums, and The Extremes.
  6. Why so many female pop performers come from troubled backgrounds.

I came to John’s book as someone who hasn’t engaged with pop music for almost 20 years. One of the achievements of The Song Machine is that Seabrook manages to dissect the pop industry without judging it, an objective stance that seemed to rub off on me. My youtube playlist is now full of Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna, Adele, and Ke$ha and while this is slightly embarrassing for a 39 year old man I’ve also just discovered Kendrick Lamar, something that wouldn’t have happened had I not read the book.

Enjoy the episode. Dave

To buy a copy of The Song Machine click here. John's most recent New Yorker articles can be viewed here. Click here to go to John's personal page. To view a short video about The Song Machine click here. To follow John on twitter click here. To see the playlists that accompany the book go here.

2 thoughts on “E37 John Seabrook: The Song Machine”

  1. As a person that has not got a clue of music or a great understanding, I enjoyed this easy to listen to episode (also thanks for the well needed music 101 in the intro)


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