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Publisher's Summary

Over the last two decades, a new type of song has emerged. Today's hits bristle with "hooks", musical burrs designed to snag your ear every seven seconds. Painstakingly crafted to tweak the brain's delight in melody, rhythm, and repetition, these songs are industrial-strength products made for malls, casinos, the gym, and the Super Bowl halftime show. The tracks are so catchy and so potent that you can't not listen to them.

Traveling from New York to Los Angeles, Stockholm to Korea, John Seabrook visits specialized teams composing songs in digital labs with novel techniques, and he traces the growth of these contagious hits from their origins in early '90s Sweden to their ubiquity on today's charts. Featuring the stories of artists like Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Rihanna as well as expert songsmiths like Max Martin, Ester Dean, and Dr. Luke, The Song Machine will change the way you listen to music.

©2015 John Seabrook. Recorded by arrangement with W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (P)2015 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

Critic Reviews

"This is a fascinating tale about an amazing phenomenon: how hits get made. John Seabrook combines a love of music and an appreciation for personalities to take us on a starry journey from Stockholm and London to New York and Orlando showing how creativity gets discovered, polished, and packaged. His book is a triumph of great writing and reporting, and the lessons reverberate far beyond the world of music." (Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators and Steve Jobs)
"Beneath the surface of today's pop music lies an industrial process as rigorous and bizarre as the one perfected by McDonald's. Seabrook shows what it takes to make a hit in a book that's beautifully written, revelatory, funny, and full of almost unbelievable details." (Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Command and Control)
"Anyone who wants to understand how the clash of cultures has shaped what we listen to should read this important book. John Seabrook has a marvelous ear for language - and perfect pitch when it comes to music journalism." (Bob Spitz, author of The Beatles: The Biography)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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  • Story

Want your music canned or in a box?

This is a lively history of pop music since 1989. If you think Katy Perry is great or you hate the Backstreet Boys, you will find out why in this book.

Or so the featured music producers like Denniz PoP and Max Martin would like you to think. This is a story about that segment of pop music where the artist is usually a pretty girl or boy whose sound and look are a creation of the producer and his team.

This is a story about songwriting simplified to a formula, where words are units of melody and melody is married to the beat.

The writer looks at sound factories in Sweden, America and Korea. He follows the careers of the major Svengali producers and the acts whose hits they have manufactured, including Kelly Clarkson (who fought against the constraints), Rihanna, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry and a more recent Taylor Swift.

Spotify, the streaming music company, also gets a chapter.

You might become cynical about the music industry after this. You might get inspiration for your Ableton compositions. You might run out to see a real loose garage band or singer-songwriter just to prove to yourself that other kinds of music are out there.

But you won't look at today's music hits the same after reading this book.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Awesome.

Best book on the music indistry ever. It was so interesting to hear how stars are made and I will probably even reread this future.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Insightful

The author did an amazing job of creating a timeline of music taste-makers over the past 2 decades. As a songwriter myself, it was inspiring to get a glimpse into the studio sessions of Max Martin, Ester Dean and Stargate, to name a few. I would recommend this book to anyone who aspires to be in the business of making music or anyone who is just curious about how one man, Max Martin, has continued to lead the industry in production and songwriting for TWO decades.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • b
  • 01-07-16

Engaging and packed full of fun facts!

Dion Graham reads this perfectly, with just enough change in his voice to give character to the many personalities in the book.
I learned a lot about the pop songs that have shaped my generation and had fun doing it!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • M.
  • 07-11-16

Rare Combo of Fun, Fascinating & Elucidating

Would you consider the audio edition of Song Machine to be better than the print version?

Yes and No<br/>Yes: I don't have time to read every book, and this was a well-read book with a coherent narrative that was chronological. So it was a solid listening choice. <br/>No: There is no information from the footnotes or acknowledgements which is particularly key for narrative non-fiction.

What other book might you compare Song Machine to and why?

Gods & Kings (on audible, which I read in print) about fashion. It's an enjoyable read but also academically underpinned in a subject that so often is over "fluffed".

What does Dion Graham bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Enthusiasm. And--also underrated--tone. Serious when it needs to be, sly or fun when the occasion called for it.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Plot twists--where someone "irrelevant" showed up again as a significant figure.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Entertaining & enlightening

An entertaining and enlightening look at the making of popular music. One can hardly call it "composing", rather picking and choosing pre-fabricated tracks, auto-tuning a singer's voice and synthesizing random sounds. Oh, yeah, and a woman standing in a booth reading words from her phone to help write the lyrics.

The narrator does a nice job of reading the text, with an occasional foray almost singing the lyrics.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Wow: All I've Wanted to Know

As an aspiring songwriter/producer I've always wanted to know the beginnings of a variety of careers of artists, songwriter and producers that I love. Seabrook goes deep and gives me all I think I need for a good couple of years. A great listen. This Dion guy reads really well and I like his animated style.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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New Insights Into My Career

Looking at pop music production/writing from the perspectives of the best in the world has really allowed me to feel the emotions that world brings. Thanks for writing this! I’m still on track but have much more insight about what it really means to make radio hits.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Pretty good insight into the music game.

As someone who creates, I head about this book via a recommendation from another music creator. Nice insight into people's processes and the struggles that go into making hits!

My only beef is that he mispronunces some names. The other voices were cool-it added some variety to the story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Food Industry vs Music Industry

At the end of the day, people will not crave "processed music" anymore and realize that the "organic" product is far healthier and viable for their health. Pop music is fun and I enjoy it but it doesn't ever cause the user to think, further perpetuating a mindless society

1 of 1 people found this review helpful