Here’s a poorly kept secret—the most popular songs in the world are often not written by the artists who sing them. Think Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Beyonce are sitting down and crafting their tunes like modern day Janis Joplins? Think again. Most big pop stars work with laundry lists of collaborators who help them write their lyrics, generate melodies, and shape their overall artistic visions. In some cases, artists are only tangentially involved, stepping in at the last second to record songs that were written and produced for them, without them even being there.

But it’s undoubtedly a system that works. The music business is built on the backs of hit records, and when artists need them, they know who to call. They dial up the biggest producers — guys like Dr. Luke and Max Martin, respectively—who bring writers and producers together to make hits by committee. A song can then change hands dozens of times—add some guitar here, change a lyric there—before making it out to the world. If all goes well—and depending on who is involved, it often does—the track performs well on the charts, sells a few copies, and the artist’s star rises. The assembly line keeps chugging along.

Here, we look to spotlight ten songwriters who are central to that framework. In an ultra-competitive industry climate where only the 1% still eats, these folks have been partly responsible for some of the biggest songs in recent memory. It’s not a definitive list—surely, no list really is—but for a primer on which songwriters to check for right now, this is where you start.

Written by Paul Cantor (@PaulCantor)

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