At the ASCAP Pop Awards in the heart of Hollywood on Wednesday night, Swedish hit maker-producer Max Martin was named songwriter of the year for a record ninth time, and John Mellencamp was awarded with the highest honor of the night, The Founders Award.
Mellencamp accepted his award by addressing the troubles of the music industry, one that has been decimated by streaming and piracy. He warned that without real measures taken, “the quality of songwriting and the quality of music and the quality of the future of young songwriters is going to diminish down to nothing important … our business will shrink to `do you remember when?’”
He also spoke about the dying art of artist development. “It was a good thing for me,” he said, “that back in the early ’70s there was a thing called artist development, when artists could find themselves and their voice. I think I made five or six albums before I sold five or six albums. Now, today, there is no artist development and I’m not sure I’d want to become a songwriter today.”
TV personality Tavis Smiley, a fellow Hoosier, presented the award. Mellencamp, accompanied by his longtime guitarist Andy York, performed “Longest Days,” a song inspired by visits with his 100-year old grandmother.
ASCAP CEO Beth Matthews underscored Mellencamp’s warnings of the crisis current in the careers of all professional songwriters and music creators: “Times are changing for music,” she said, “but our commitment to respect our songwriters and publishers remains the same.”
Max Martin’s award set a new ASCAP record for repeated wins (surpassing that of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis). Martin, who hates doing interviews or too much direct attention, ran through the red carpet as fast as he could, and joked about his awards. When his publicist held aloft a list of the hits he wrote or co-wrote just this year (including Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and more), Martin pointed with a sheepish smile and said, “I did all of those?”
When he accepted his award later in the night, he said, “You guys must be sick of me.”
OMI kicked off the festivities exultantly with “Cheerleader.” Priscilla Renea had the momentous task of paying tribute to Prince, and did so soulfully with her performance of “Purple Rain.”
Audra Mae, co-writer of Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song,” performed it with the slamming house band backing her. Walk The Moon did a stripped-down acoustic version of “Shut Up And Dance,” while James The Human paid tribute to Max Martin with a unique medley of some of his hits; James used a Les Paul guitar, along with his voice running through a sampler pedal, to create a one-man band complete with vocal harmonies and drum beats.
Poo Bear, writer of multiple Justin Bieber hits, performed a silky version of “Where Are U Now?” which veered closer to his original concept than the more well-known Bieber version.
Dave Bassett, whose first job in the music business was working the front desk at ASCAP’s Los Angeles office, performed a red-hot version of “Ex’s and Oh’s,” written with the artist Elle King. Bassett is also a co-writer of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and has written for Shinedown, Halestorm and Fitz and the Tantrums.
On the red carpet, we spoke to many of the artists and songwriters present, including Suzanne Vega. Having recently posted a letter from Prince on Facebook she received, praising the beauty of her song “Luka,” she said, “That letter has been in my life a long time. I got it in the ’80s. It just showed up in the mail one day, a letter from Prince, just saying he loved my song. It was beautiful then and still is.”
We asked Waqaas Hashmi and Jerrel Young about their song “Uma Thurman,” the single for Fall Out Boy, and the use of the theme from “The Munsters” TV show.
“We’re from Toronto, said Hashmi, “and we were hanging out in L.A. writing songs on a music trip. We were listening to a DJ who was exploring some crazy music at 150-160 bpm’s and one of the things he did was slip in “The Munsters” theme song. We were like ‘Whoa! What is that?’ and our buddy told us. We liked it and decided to work with that. We cleared the sample, laid down some drums and it took off from there. We were happy we could take something from the past and give it some new life. It’s an excellent riff. “
Asked about why they chose Uma Thurman as song content, Young said: “That came from one of the other writers, Liam O’Donnell. He actually thought “The Munsters” sample was from the movie Pulp Fiction, which it wasn’t. But it stuck and sparked the inspiration for the song so of course we had to keep it.”
The production team Captain Cuts (Ben Berger, Ryan McMahon and Ryan Rabin) worked with the band Walk The Moon to create “Shut Up And Dance.” “We definitely talked about ’80s music when we were writing the song,” said Berger. “Walk The Moon is a band in love with the ‘80s so it was a natural fit for us when we got together. The riff was a collaboration. When you’re writing songs you’re not thinking about it too much. You’re just having fun with friends.”
“The pre-chorus came last as a section in the writing,” said McMahon. “We had a verse section. The original pre-chorus built on the verse and we decided we wanted to break up the groove and give it a big ’80s rock rhythm. It definitely broke up the two vibes of the song’s section and really worked.”
“It was a two-day session,” said Berger, “and the original version had completely different lyrics. We decided afterward, and the band agreed, that we needed to rewrite the lyrics. It was the smartest rewrite we ever did. The lyrics that were there before were nowhere near as good.” Asked what the original lyrics were, Berger said, “`Your Love Is Safe With Me.’ Definitely not as memorable.”
Jacob ‘JKash’ Hindlin, who wrote “Sugar” with Maroon 5, said, “I contribute a little of everything, aside from creating the track. I’m heavy on the melody and lyrics. I have to give credit to Mike Posner and Ammo for this particular song. As a team, you write a lot of songs and sometimes one person does more than the other one day and then it switches around the next day. Those two had a big part in this song. Not discrediting my contribution, but at the same time it wouldn’t have been the song it became without those guys.”