We all know who the biggest stars on the planet are right now. Whether it’s Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Post Malone or Ariana Grande, their names appear loud and proud everywhere a music fan might look – from the top of festival bills to the most-followed accounts on Instagram, and, of course, at the apex of the US pop charts.
Yet not everyone who creates the tracks made famous by these and other superstars always gets their public due – something which is especially true when it comes the songwriters who pen the world’s biggest hits.
This lack of recognition is as much an industry issue as a cultural one; for example, Spotify didn’t add songwriter credits to its service until February last year, seven years after it launched in the United States and a decade after it launched in Europe. (The anonymity of professional songwriters is also, it could be argued, one reason why the likes of Spotify and Amazon can appeal a government-approved pay rise for pop composers in the US without fearing massive public blowback.)
So, in order to shine a momentary spotlight on the behind-the-scenes musicians creating today’s standout chart smashes, MBW has pulled together data that reveals who the most successful hit songwriters on the US hit parade were in the first half of 2019.
This has been achieved by monitoring the Top 10 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 chart every week in the first six months of this year: that’s the 26 weeks from the chart week of January 5th to the chart week of June 29th.
In each of these weeks, the No.1 record on the Hot 100 has been attributed with a score of 10, with the No.2 getting 9, the No.3 getting 8 and so forth, down to the No.10 record in each case getting a single point. (Stat fans, you can view a spreadsheet showing all of the Top 10 records, and their relative scores, in each week through here.)
Before we learn who were the biggest hit songwriters, let’s first see what the biggest hit songs were in the United States on this basis in the first half of 2019:
- Sunflower, performed by Post Malone & Swae Lee (175 chart points)
- Without Me, performed by Halsey (149)
- 7 Rings, performed by Ariana Grande (133)
- Old Town Road (Remix), performed by Lil Nas X (120)
- Wow., performed by Post Malone (111)
- Sucker, performed by Jonas Brothers (92)
- Happier, performed by Marshmello and Bastille (74)
- Thank U, Next, performed by Ariana Grande (68)
- Bad Guy, performed by Billie Eilish (62)
- SICKOMODE, performed by Travis Scott (51)
- I Don’t Care, performed by Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber (44)
- High Hopes, performed by Panic! At The Disco (43); Please Me, performed by Cardi B & Bruno Mars (43); Talk, performed by Khalid (43)
- Middle Child, performed by J.Cole (31)
- Dancing With A Stranger, performed by Sam Smith & Normani (24)
- Shallow, performed by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper (22)
In total, 30 tracks appeared within the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 – which is formulated each week using a combination of streams, sales and radio play – during the first six months of this year.
Why was Sunflower by Post Malone & Swae Lee the No.1 record in MBW’s calculations? And why was Old Town Road by Lil Nas X – which has just celebrated a near-unprecedented 13th week at No.1 on the US charts – not the No.1 record?
That’s all to do with longevity: Sunflower, originally released in October 2018, charted in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 every single week except one during the 26 weeks analyzed here.
The Old Town Road Remix, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, was only released midway through the chart period, on April 5. (MBW has only counted the Billboard-charting version of songs here, which in Old Town Road’s case, counts out the original iteration of the song.)
Now, let’s look at the songwriters behind the 30 tracks which reached the US Top 10 in H1 2019, and rank them.
The ideal way to calculate this would be to count the specific song ‘splits’ in each case: when multiple songwriters create a composition, it is formally agreed which percentage of the song (and the money it generates) each writer contributed. Unfortunately, the music industry hasn’t yet got its act together to offer this data publicly yet. But we can – via ASCAP and BMI’s public-facing databases – at least be sure how many songwriters co-wrote each track, and what their names were.
From there, the fairest possible system is to split each song’s total chart points equally between the credited writers. Although this doesn’t always give the ideal reflection of those writers who have penned the majority of a hit song (e.g. on tracks where one writer might be credited with 50% and another is credited with 5%), it at least reflects the number of song credits racked up by the most prolific hit songwriters in the period.
This system also rewards those writers who created hit songs in smaller pools: for example, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell were completely responsible for writing her hit, Bad Guy (No.9 on our chart), and therefore share 50% each of a song worth 62 points.
At the other end of the scale, take Travis Scott’s SICKOMODE, which has 30 (thirty!) credited writers, including Aubrey Graham aka Drake. Unfortunately for Drizzy, this means he gets just one thirtieth of SICKOMODE’s score (51 points) for his contribution – worth just 1.7 points.
Drake is actually an interesting anomaly here: the Canadian megastar co-wrote two further songs in the 30 hits which reached the US Top 10 in the first half of this year, but didn’t make MBW’s list of the Top 30 writers (see below) due to the fractional additions this pair of hits contributed to his tally. (He got 1.7 points for SICKOMODE, plus 0.8 points for Money In The Grave, plus 0.34 points for Chris Brown’s No Guidance – a total of 2.84 points.)
So, onto the big question: who was the biggest hit songwriter in the US in the first six months of this year?
It was Louis Bell, who co-wrote no less than four of the Top 10 biggest hits of the period. Two of these hits were performed by Post Malone – Sunflower and Wow. – while Bell also contributed to Halsey’s smash Without Me and the Jonas Brothers’ earworm, Sucker.
Sony/ATV-signed Bell (pictured, main) is a long-standing collaborator of Post Malone (aka Austin Post), having initially contributed to the artist’s breakthrough record, Stoney, in 2016. Writer/producer Bell has also been credited as co-writing recent smashes for the likes of Camila Cabello (Havana) and 5 Seconds Of Summer (Youngblood). He was named Songwriter of The Year at the 2019 ASCAP Pop Awards in Los Angeles in May.
See below for MBW’s chart revealing the Top 30 hit songwriters in the US in the first half of 2019, inclusive of their total Top 10 weekly chart points tally. This list includes artists who performed on their own records, such as Billie Eilish O’Connell (Billie Eilish), Ashley Frangipane (Halsey), Belcalis Almanzar (Cardi B), Ariana Grande, Khalif Brown (Swae Lee) and Austin Post (Post Malone).
Alongside Louis Bell, the MBW Top 10 includes other lauded modern pop writers such as Carl Rosen, Adam Feeney (aka Frank Dukes), Carter Lang, Taylor Parks (aka Tayla Parx) and Steve Mac.
It also includes Miles Ale at No.4… who we couldn’t find any information about anywhere online. Our sources have suggested to us this may actually be an alias for Austin Rosen, founder of Electric Feel Management – who is Louis Bell’s manager and a co-manager of Post Malone. (Both Miles Ale and Louis Bell are credited as co-writers of Halsey’s Without Me and the Jonas Brothers’ Sucker.)
Note: Any credited writers on 2019’s hit tracks are included below, including those who penned samples from yesteryear that fuelled modern-day hits – like Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose Nine Inch Nails track was sampled for Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road. You might also spot the likes of Rodgers & Hammerstein (7 Rings by Ariana Grande) and Ray Charles (Please Me by Cardi B and Bruno Mars).
- Louis Bell (83.14 total points)
- Austin Post (aka Post Malone) / Carl Rosen / William Walsh (51.37 each)
- Adam Feeney (aka Frank Dukes) (35.6)
- Miles Ale (31.77)
- Billie Eilish O’Connell / Finneas O’Connell (31 each)
- Khalif Brown (aka Swae Lee) (30.87)
- Carter Lang (29.17)
- Taylor Parks (26.58)
- Marshmello / Stephen McCutcheon (aka Steve Mac) / Daniel Smith (24.7 each)
- Ariana Grande (23.8)
- Charles Anderson / Michael Foster / Thomas Brown / Kimberly Krysiuk / Victoria McCants / Njomza Vitia (21.8 each)
- Montero Hill / Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross / Kiowa Roukema / Billy Ray Cyrus / Jocelyn Donald (20 each)
- Ashley Frangipane (19.01)
- Amy Allen / Brittany Amaradio / Timothy Mosely / Scott Storch / Justin Timberlake (18.63 each)
- Khalid Robinson (14.93)
- Brendon Urie (14.5)
- Guy Lawrence / Howard Lawrence (14.33 each)
- Oscar Hammerstein II / Richard Rodgers (13.3 each)
- Joseph Jonas / Nicholas Jonas / Paul Jonas / Ryan Tedder (13.14 each)
- Taylor Swift / Joel Little (11.83 each)
- J Cole / Allan Felder / Norman Harris / Tyler Williams (7.75 each)
- Mariah Carey / Walter Afanasieff (7.5 each)
- Justin Bieber / Jason Boyd / Fred Gibson / Max Martin / Johan Schuster (aka Shellback) / Ed Sheeran (7.33 each)
- Belcalis Almanzar / Bruno Mars / Ray (Charles) McCullough / Jeremy Reeves / Ray Romulus / Jonathan Yip (7.17 each)
- Andrew Blakemore / Stefani Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga) / Mark Ronson / Anthony Rossomando (5.5 each)
- Mikkel Eriksen / Tor Hermansen (aka Stargate, 5.4 each)
- William Lobban-Bean (aka Cook Classics) (5.38)
- Normani Hamilton / James Napier (aka Jimmy Napes) / Samuel Smith (4.8 each)
- Sam Hollander / Jonas Jeberg / Ilsey Juber / Lauren Pritchard (aka Lolo) / Jake Sinclair / Jenny Youngs (4.78 each)
- Jonathan Kirk / Darryl Clemons / Tahj Morgan (3.33 each)
If you’d like to dig deeper into MBW’s analysis of Billboard Top 10 hits in the United States in the first half of this year, please check out this spreadsheet, which details the entire list and all of the credited writers involved.
A memorable stat to finish with: The average number of writers behind the Top 10 biggest, erm, Top 10 hits in the United States in H1 2019 was 8.5 – obviously somewhat skewed by the 30 (thirty!) people credited for the creation of SICKOMODE. (Before getting too shocked by that number, remember SICKOMODE is essentially three songs in one, complete with a myriad of samples in each case.)
Remove SICKOMODE and just look at the Top 9, and that average number of songwriters-per-track falls to 5.9.Music Business Worldwide