10 Industry Songwriters You Should Know

Here are 10 songwriters behind some of the biggest hits in music.

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Complex Original

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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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Planet VI

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Hits They've Written: Sean Kingston's "Take You There," The Pussycat Dolls's "When I Grow Up," Iyaz's "Replay," Miley Cyrus's "We Can't Stop"

Formerly known as Rock City—they were signed as artists to Akon's Kon Live Distribution imprint in 2006—Planet VI have been quietly putting in work as songwriting/production duo for many years. Their early credits include tracks for Sean Kingston ("Take You There"), the Pussycat Dolls ("When I Grow Up") and Iyaz ("Replay"). Last year, their profile received a major boost when they co-wrote Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop."

James Fauntleroy

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Hits They've Written: Justin Timberlake f/ Jay-Z's "Suit & Tie," Chris Brown's "Take You Down"

You may know Fauntleroy from his appearances on songs by the likes of Drake ("Girls Love Beyonce"), J. Cole ("Born Sinner"), or Nipsey Hussle ("If You Were Mine"), but when he's not trying to make it as an artist in his own right, he's penning songs for others. Last year, he co-wrote "Suit & Tie" for Justin Timberlake, among many other songs he collaborated with producer Timbaland to make both of JT's 20/20 Experience albums.

Johan "Shellback" Schuster

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Hits They've Written: Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble," Ariana Grande f/ Iggy Azalea's "Problem"

A protege of Swedish legend Max Martin, Shellback is one of the most in-demand songwriters and producers in music today. He co-wrote and produced singles "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" for Taylor Swift's Red album in 2012, and this year has put in work co-producing Ariana Grande's "Problems." He's also worked with Icona Pop on their debut LP, as well as the recently-released Lily Allen LP, Sheezus.

Savan Kotecha

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Hits They've Written: Ariana Grande f/ Iggy Azalea's "Problem," One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," Justin Bieber f/ Nicki Minaj's "Beauty and A Beat," Britney Spears's "I Wanna Go," Usher f/ Pitbull's "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love"

Pop radio has had Kotecha's fingerprints all over it for the past year or so. He co-wrote Ariana Grande's breakout single "Problem," and has also co-written a handful of One Direction songs, including "What Makes You Beautiful." Elsewhere, he's worked with Justin Bieber ("Beauty and A Beat"), Britney Spears ("I Wanna Go") and Usher ("DJ Got Us Falling in Love.").

Sean Douglas

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Hits They've Written: Demi Lovato's "Heart Attack," Jason Derulo f/ 2 Chainz's "Talk Dirty,"  Jason Derulo f/ Snoop Dogg's "Wiggle"

Douglas is the son of actor Michael Keaton, and Batman's little boy sure has been putting in work. Last year, he co-wrote Demi Lovato's "Heart Attack," and this year he's already landed songwriting credits on Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" and "Wiggle," respectively.

Toby Gad

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Hits They've Written: John Legend's "All of Me," Fergies' "Big Girls Don't Cry," Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy"

Gad is a German-born songwriter/producer who has been putting in work since Milli Vanilli stepped on the scene (No... seriously). He's perhaps best known for co-writing Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry," as well as Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy." This year, he's seen tremendous success with "All of Me," a song he co-wrote with John Legend. It has been the singer's biggest hit of his ten-year career, peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Ammar Malik

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Hits They've Written: Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," Gym Class Heroes f/ Adam Levine's "Stereo Hearts," Lady Antebellum's "Compass"

In just a few short years, Malik has put his words to some of the biggest hits in recent memory. Need proof? Just listen to Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," Gym Class Heroes' "Stereo Hearts," and Lady Antebellum's "Compass" (a smash in the Country music genre). And this year alone the Virginia native has had his hand in co-writing Pitbull's "Wild Wild Love" and Maroon 5's "Maps," the latter of which is quickly gaining steam on the Billboard Hot 100 as we speak.

Jacob Kasher

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Hits They've Written: Cobra Starship's "Good Girls Go Bad," Ke$ha's "We R Who We R," Avril Lavigne's "Here's To Never Growing Up," Avril Lavigne's "Rock and Roll," Jason Derulo f/ Snoop Dogg's "Wiggle"

Kasher rose to songwriting fame by penning Cobra Starship's classic "Good Girls Go Bad," as well as Ke$ha's slick Notorious B.I.G.-inspired flow on "We R Who We R." The Virginia Beach native hasn't been one to rest on his laurels. After writing two singles last year for Avril Lavigne ("Rock and Roll" and "Here's to Never Growing Up"), this year he's riding high on the co-writing he did on Jason Derulo's "Wiggle," which is sitting at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Claude Kelly

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Hits They've Written: Akon f/ Michael Jackson's "Hold My Hand," Miley Cyrus's "Party in the U.S.A.," Jessie J's "Domino," Pitbull f/ Chris Brown "International Love," Bruno Mars's "Grenade"

Kelly is one of the most well-respected songwriters working today; it's easy to see why. Among the last words Michael Jackson ever sang were his ("Hold My Hand"), he gave Miley Cyrus her biggest hit ("Party in the U.S.A."), and he's lent his pen game to almost every major pop artist in music. Whether it's Jessie J ("Domino"), Pitbull ("International Love"), or Bruno Mars ("Grenade"), the records Kelly writes have serious lasting power.

Ester Dean

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Hits They've Written: Nicki Minaj's "Pills N Potions," Nicki Minaj's "Superbass," Rihanna f/ Drake's "What's My Name," Katy Perry's "Firework," Selena Gomez's "Come and Get It"

One of the most in-demand songwriters working today, Dean initially tried making it as a performer (she released the Chris Brown-assisted buzz single "Drop It Low" in 2009), but found more success helping other singers write their hits. Some of her biggest benefactors include Rihanna ("What's My Name" and "S&M"), Katy Perry ("Firework"), and Selena Gomez ("Come and Get It"). She's also co-written hits for Nicki Minaj, including "Super Bass" and Ms. Lewinsky's latest, "Pills N Potions."

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