Songwriter/producer/guitarist Carl Falk (STIM/ASCAP) had a hand in two recent blockbuster singles: Nicki Minaj's record-setting "Starships" and One Direction's debut single "What Makes You Beautiful," both of which are still in the top reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 after half a year on the charts. Falk filled us in on the making of both songs, just as his Nicki Minaj co-write "Pound the Alarm" was climbing up the charts as well.
Both songs are credited to multiple writers. What part did you play in creating them?
I co-wrote, co-produced and co-mixed "Starships" and [Nick Minaj single] "Pound the Alarm." I co-wrote and co-produced "What Makes You Beautiful."
"What Makes You Beautiful" was One Direction's first single, so your work really defined how people thought of the group. What kind of guidelines did you have going into the writing/producing of the song?
Me, Savan [Kotecha] and Rami [Yacoub] wanted to do a song for them that didn't feel like the classic cliché boy band song, and Savan had the title already, so I just started to play around on the guitar and came up with the riff and we all just went along with it. With the production, I wanted it to be influenced by the Cheiron productions in the 90s, with the stabs, and the music following the melodies rhythmically, and hard, big drums, so we opened up the Cheiron sample library that we have and started to play around with some sounds. We went even more 90s with the second single, "One Thing."
Would I imagine that Nicki Minaj wrote all the lyrics to "Starships?" What did you have to do to the track to make sure that the lyrics and track made sense together?
Actually me and Rami and Wayne [Hector] did a version with Wayne rapping on the demo, and Nicki tried to record that version, but ended up doing her own rap, which is a big part of the song being a hit I think. But we already had the chorus lyrics done. So the track is exactly the same on her version as well as the demo. We didn't change anything, because they fit so well together.
Were you ever in the room with Nicki or One Direction during recording/writing sessions? Any fun stories about interacting with them?
With "What Makes You Beautiful," me and Rami and Savan recorded [One Direction] ourselves. And since it was the first song we did with them, it was more about getting to know their individual voices. It ended up being a huge amount of vocals, since we did almost the whole song with each of them to be all covered. But I think we knew that we were on to something special when we heard their voices on it.
"Starships" was recorded in L.A. with an engineer, so we weren't a part of the recording process on that one.
Both "Starships" and "What Makes You Beautiful" start off with great guitar riffs, and I've read that guitar is your instrument of choice. Is this a pure coincidence? Or was the guitar emphasis your idea?
I try to always have guitar on my songs, almost like a trademark, and I like that "Starships" has a guitar-based verse and pre-chorus, and then the chorus is completely different. I recorded it in four different parts - almost like harmonies - to create a wider chord range, and then timed them individually on the grid to get them equally tight and run them through a bit crusher to get the sound right.
On "What Makes You Beautiful," we kept the very first demo guitar recorded through a Logic amp. I like the simplicity of the guitar riffs on that song. Same thing on "Pound the Alarm." I kept the very first demo guitars on there.
So no, it's not a coincidence :)
Take a look at Carl Falk's impressive CV at flavors.me/carlfalk
Follow Carl Falk on Twitter: @carlfalkmusic