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Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX, Meghan Trainor and more share the secret to writing a number one single


So, lately we’ve been thinking.

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We’ve been thinking about pop stars who have gone on to create mega hits.

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Now, not everyone writes their own songs and that’s totally cool. But some do and they’re really good at it. So good that their own songs end up going to number one.

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We’ve done some essential research and discovered all the important notes you need to know about writing a number one single. In fact, here are the nine top tips on writing a number one hit – direct from the pop stars themselves.

1) Don’t think about it too much: Charli XCX says she wrote both ‘I Love It’ (which eventually went to Icona Pop) and her own single ‘You’re the One’ in less than two hours.

“Patrik Berger, the producer, sent me two beats. He sent me “I Love It” which I wrote for Icona Pop and he sent me “You’re The One.” I wrote both of them in an hour, or hour-and-a-half. I feel like I write my best songs when I just say, “I’m done.” I was happy that day.” – Charli XCX; Complex, 2013

2) But sometimes songs don’t happen overnight: During a conversation with Song Explorer, Carly Rae Jepsen revealed that she collects bits of songs, sometimes over a year or more before creating a fully formed song.

“I’ve found in my life that I collect song pieces and fragments as I go and then later on – even years later- I’ll plug them into a new idea.” Carly Rae Jepsen; Song Explorer, 2016

3) Don’t be afraid to experiment: Ne-Yo wrote ‘Irreplaceable’ for Beyoncé in 2006 after being told that he should remain in his “R&B box” and not experiment with country styled guitars.

“There’s a multitude of points throughout my career that re-inspired, where everybody will start telling you that this will never work, that will never work, probably don’t want to experiment, [don’t] give people what they don’t know, don’t go too far outside of the box. We took country guitars and put a hip-hop verse over it and wrote a country-hip-hop song and it works. We experimented with something and it worked.” – Ne-Yo; Behind The Music, 2012

4) Being a writer and a pop star is totally fine: Tove Lo has written for Ellie Goulding, Hilary Duff, The Saturdays and many more. On multiple occasions, she’s been told to quit being a pop star and concentrate on writing.

“No one believed in me and they were like, “Stop doing your artist thing and just be a writer.” But I was like, “Well, I kinda want to do this for myself.” I released “Habits” on my own, without a label. I was just like, “Let me do this for me and then I can work with other stuff.”” – Tove Lo; Complex, 2015

5) Watch loads of reality TV: Sia gets much of her inspiration from inanimate objects (like chandeliers or perfumes) and watches loads of reality TV.

“I just lift these concepts from crap television and it’s so fun! I then just apply them to music.” Sia, ABC News; 2014

6) Always have an open mind: Meghan Trainor wrote ‘All About That Bass’ when signed solely as a songwriter. She had no intentions of singing it herself.

“I went [to the writing session] as a songwriter – I didn’t have a [record] deal, I never thought I’d have one – and I met this songwriter [Kevin Kadish], I was a fan of his. I knew the songs he’d written before. I wanted to show him I was a cool writer! (Laughs) So I said, ‘man, let’s just write something that’s amazing and fun for the world – let’s not have an artist in mind’. Because if you have an artist in mind, then you’ve got rules – you can’t swear, you can’t talk about boys, whatever. He was like, ‘I’m down’.” – Meghan Trainor; Popjustice, 2014

7) Life can be your biggest inspiration: Kesha (previously known as Ke$ha) wrote her breakout hit ‘TiK ToK’ about her own life and ended up writing nearly 200 songs for her first album.

“I was hearing it everywhere, I was broke, my bike got stolen, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t make my rent. I was stealing canned vegetables from the dollar store. While I’m stealing them my voice is coming out of the radio. I thought that was ridiculous. But my friend said, ‘Whatever, you don’t need money, you are money’, and that’s a good attitude to have. I have myself no matter what – you can’t buy that.” – Kesha; Herald Sun, 2014

8) You can have a hit without following the “rules”: MØ helped write (and features on) Major Lazer’s massive hit ‘Lean On’ and says the song came naturally.

“I love working with him [Diplo]. I really love it, because it’s always such a free and fun and open process. It’s never like you’re being put into a room and “Now you make a hit, and you have to follow these rules and do like this.” When working with him it’s just like, “blah, woah, yeah, cool, okay, blah, blah, blah, blah woo!” you have a track. I love that. It makes me feel so happy, and that’s also what’s so nice about music. It should be a free thing. And when I started writing songs so many years ago, it was because it made me feel so happy and made me discover things about myself. When we work, it’s like this “ahh!” exciting place where everything is possible. And that’s just how it should be I think.” – MØ; Radio.com, 2015

9) Record all your sessions: Ryan Tedder, also a member of band OneRepublic, has written for everyone from Beyoncé and Adele to Ella Henderson and Ed Sheeran. He records EVERYTHING that happens so nothing is missed.

“I did a session with (Australian singer) Sia recently, who is amazing, In a 45-minute window, she had recorded 45 different approaches to the same track. And this is modern songwriting. You have 20 completely different melodic approaches to the same eight bars of music, then you turn off the creative part of your brain, and turn on the more receptive, objective part. And, with a room full of people, you play back each take and listen to it as a fan. And you’ll go: “OK, the second two bars of that pass are amazing – mark them, keep them.” And literally you can go through and chop together two bars from take three and two bars from take 11, and you’ve got your verse.” – Ryan Tedder; BBC, 2014

Hopefully we’ve managed to help give you some songwriting ideas and you’re well on your way to crafting a number one. Let us know @maximumpop if you have.

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