Dr. Luke's Prescription for Pop Hits and Jingles

The Producer Behind This Summers Biggest Songs Explains Why He Has No Problem With Licensing His Tunes

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- You may not know Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald by name, but you've certainly heard his songs. If you've listened to the radio at all lately, you've probably heard at least three of them in the last 24 hours alone.

Since kicking off the year with the inescapable "Tik Tok," the debut single from Ke$ha, a breakout artist signed to his Kemosabe Entertainment label (a division of Sony Music's RCA Records), Dr. Luke has created a meta-portfolio of party songs about partying, the unofficial pop music soundtrack of 2010. This summer alone has seen his production or co-writing stamp on top 10 hits, including Taio Cruz's "Dynamite," B.o.B. and Rivers Cuomo's "Magic," 3OH!3 and Ke$ha's "My First Kiss" and the season's most ubiquitous singles, Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls."

The latter recently broke "Tik Tok"'s record for most radio plays in a single week, logging 11,816 spins (roughly 90 per station), according to Billboard. Couple that with other recent hits for Pink ("U + Ur Hand," "Who Knew"), Miley Cyrus ("Party in the U.S.A."), Kelly Clarkson ("Since U Been Gone," "My Life Would Suck Without You") and Flo Rida ("Right Round") and you have a string of hits not seen since the late-'90s teen-pop heyday of his mentor, Max Martin (the Svengali behind Britney Spears, N Sync, Backstreet Boys).

Now Dr. Luke wants to cut a prescription to an advertiser -- under the right circumstances, of course.

"If somebody gave me complete control, I'd be up for it," the producer said recently of his interest in jingle writing over drinks at Hollywood's SoHo House. "I've had a lot of success trusting my friends' and colleagues' judgment on stuff that it would be hard to relinquish that creative control."

Making music for ads would bring his career full circle, having gotten his start playing guitar for jingle houses in the mid-'90s before an extended stint as the lead guitarist for the "Saturday Night Live" house band from 1997 to 2007. He's also seen his songs appear in ads by the likes of Victoria's Secret (Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl"), Clean & Clear in Australia (The Veronicas' "4Ever") and Canon in Canada (Avril Lavigne's "I Don't Have to Try"), while Ms. Perry's "California Gurls" was selected as the official song of the CW's summer prime-time lineup.

His innate commercial appeal has also started to affect his songwriting. Dr. Luke recently penned a song called "Price Tag" for his new artist Jessie J, with the idea of potential ad placement in mind.

"I thought, 'Hey this could be a commercial.' Some people are like, 'You're compromising your artistic integrity,' but no actually I just really like it. I don't really think about it, I just try to make really good songs that pay off," he said. "The only reason I thought about it for this particular song is that it might be really hard, But when you're thinking about a song that's going to potentially take off someone's career I don't want to leave anything to chance."

Madison & Vine caught up with Dr. Luke to discuss jingles, toothbrushes and his fear of the inevitable end to his hit streak on the eve of the release of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," which he executive produced with Mr. Martin and just broke last week atop the Billboard 200 with sales of 192,000 copies.

M&V: "California Gurls" recently became the most-played song on the radio in a single week, while "Tik Tok" broke the record for most digital downloads in a week by a female artist. What revenue do you see from milestones like that, if any, as a producer?

Dr. Luke: I don't really know to be totally honest with you. I never had a straight answer to what a play is worth because they're not all equal. A play on Z100 is [worth] more than a station in a smaller market. But it's based on the station's advertising revenue -- if they make $200 million on advertising vs. $10 million in advertising, I guess I get a bigger percentage. But no two hit songs are created equal.

M&V: What's the most ridiculous request you've had from a brand or company to license one of your songs?

Dr. Luke: There was a toothbrush that played [Kelly Clarkson's] "Since U Been Gone" when you brushed your teeth. I approved it because that makes total sense to me -- the song's ear candy by definition. I used to review all these license approvals, but now I tend to just say yes a lot. I want my music to be used -- if you can get a single on a TV show before it comes out, that's great. I've had songs on "Project Runway," "Gossip Girl," "iCarly" that have all had great exposure.

M&V: You have two publishing companies, Kasz Money Productions and Prescription Songs, your own record label, Kemosabe Entertainment, and are largely credited for helping establish the careers of artists like Katy Perry and Ke$ha. What's the value in artist development these days vs. writing songs for established bands?

Dr. Luke: There's a huge prejudice against record producers for being able to do that, so it's something I take seriously. If you start thinking you're the star in your mind, it doesn't work. I like working with new artists because it's the most exciting part of their career. I feel like I've seen the rise and fall of this enough that hopefully I can help them know what's important to survive. The business has changed and the rules have changed. With Katy, there's a lot riding on "Teenage Dream" because the second record really defines you. A lot of people have first record that defines them, but if the second record is really successful, that can last you an entire career.

M&V: Katy and Ke$ha have also developed reputations as outspoken personalities. What do they bring to the table creatively as artists?

Dr. Luke: Katy has a good sense of what she wants to do, so my job was to help her manifest those ideas and challenge her in a good way. But she's not going to accept whatever you write, she'll make you work for it. The Ke$ha record is a Ke$ha record I happened to produce. There was no way I could write lines like, "Wake up in the mornin' feeling like P. Diddy." I really like strong women personalities, someone who has a bit of an identity already.

M&V: You've had the No. 1 song in the country for several months' worth of time this year alone. How do you sustain that momentum?

Dr. Luke: Right now I'm scared to change my underwear. The minute you think you're invincible is when it's all over. If your end game is to make money, the music starts to suffer. But if your end game is to make great songs, that tends to pay off. I put everything into everything I do. I really spend the time to make sure it's a hit. I don't know if I have a secret other than trying hard and paying attention to what else is out there. I see many people who do many things better than me.

M&V: What songs on the radio right now do you wish you'd written?

Dr. Luke: That B.o.B. song "Beautiful Girls" ["Nothin' on You"], Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love Again," which Max Martin wrote for him. I'm really stoked for the success of RedOne -- everything he did for Lady Gaga has been great. But because of my publishing companies, I got some of the best producers in the world working with me, like Benny Blanco. I really feel like the people under me and growing with me, and my team is going to be leading this business.

M&V: Are you sick of "California Gurls" yet?

Dr. Luke: I'll admit that "Teenage Dream" is more of an actual song. But with "California Gurls," we wanted something that was uplifting and fun. All of the music I make I want it to transmit that feeling, and I think we really achieved that. I don't wanna do dark. Maybe that's a life choice.

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