Atlanta Music Scene

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What makes a song a hit? Producer Mike Will Made It and author John Seabrook talk


What makes a song a hit?

There are a million variables and even more answers.

But at an Atlanta Press Club gathering on Tuesday evening on the patio of Dolce Italian in Buckhead, super-producer Mike Will (aka Mike Will Made It) and writer John Seabrook, author of the book, “The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory,” shared some of their insights.

Mike Will, an Atlanta native who has sold more than 10 million singles with artists including Rihanna, Ciara and Miley Cyrus, and Seabrook, a writer at the New Yorker since 1993, discussed with moderator Condace Pressley why hits become earworms, the relationship between hip new producers and veterans and why you should dare to be different if you want to succeed in the music industry.

“Brains like (song) hooks,” said Seabrook. “You need a hook every seven seconds. That’s the time before someone will turn the channel on the radio.”

In the video below, Seabrook talks about Stargate, the Norwegian production/songwriting team responsible for some of the biggest radio hits of the past 15 years, including Beyonce’s “Irreplacable,” Katy Perry’s “Firework” and most of Rihanna’s catalog (“Take a Bow,” “Rude Boy,” “Unfaithful,” “Only Girl [In the World]”).

Seabrook’s book explores the production wizardry that goes on behind some of the biggest hits from the Tin Pan Alley days to Ace of Base to Britney Spears to Taylor Swift.

Mike Will said he came up with his signature production style after, “Plenty of hungry nights. Plenty of days in my mom’s basement.”

Here he talks about how he started in the music industry. (Another bit of advice from Mike Will: “No teacher ever skipped the student process…if you want to be a leader, you have to be a follower first.”

The intersection of technology and art also popped up in conversation, particularly how artists are barely receiving payment from streaming services.

In this video, the guys talk about copyrights and song payment.

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About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for Atlanta Music Scene blog on

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