Blake Slatkin on Making Hits for Lil Nas X, Kid Laroi, 24kGoldn, more
At just 23, songwriter and producer Blake Slatkin is defining the next decade of pop music – and he already has the # 1 songs to prove it.
Slatkin, from LA, rose to prominence in 2020 as a writer and producer on 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s pop-rap banger “Mood,” who spent eight non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. The The song’s catchy hook and the backbone of the guitar made this one of summer’s most must-have earworms – and almost exactly a year later, Slatkin did it again with “Stay” by Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber.
The fast-paced, synth-based track debuted at No.3 on the Hot 100 and rose to No.1 on August 14, holding the position for four straight weeks. According to Alpha Data, the song won the title of Song of the Summer of this year with 1.5 million units. For Slatkin, the secret to the song’s success is simple: “It’s the ultimate example of working with your friends; work with people you love.
And Slatkin isn’t slowing down. He also appeared on Lil Nas X’s debut album “Montero” as a writer and producer on “That’s What I Want,” which entered the Hot 100 this week at No. 10. If one thing is clear, c is that Slatkin – and his anthemic and contagious melodies – are in high demand.
Before speaking to his alma mater, the Clive Davis Institute at New York University, Slatkin spoke to Variety about his songwriting process, working with girlfriend Gracie Abrams (daughter of JJ Abrams), and dreaming collaboration.
How did you get started writing and producing songs?
My dad introduced me to a lot of music when I was young, and I started playing guitar when I was 10 to have daughters. It didn’t work, but I did. I played in a bunch of cover bands, I used to play in the streets and play in farmers’ markets. I wanted to be a rock star, of course, and then I went to high school and found out what a producer was and had a crazy love for the art of production. I’m so fascinated by the people who might be behind the scenes, but who are part of so many different music and genres. The idea of someone who could do this for a job changed my life, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What were some of your influences growing up?
Brian Eno, Rick Rubin, Max Martin, Benny Blanco, Pharrell, Timbaland, the Neptunes.
I first heard your name in association with Omar Apollo in 2018. You worked with him at NYU, didn’t you? What did you learn from this process?
We did all this music in my apartment. Omar really taught me that I love to find someone I’m passionate about, do whatever I can with them and get involved from a larger point of view, [rather] than seeing them just one day and doing a song. He made me love the community part, the human aspect. Omar was really the first time I got to work with someone I admired and really loved, and work with someone from the start. Like the two of us, we hadn’t really done much before releasing these EPs, and it was so amazing for me to see Omar get to where he is now.
You’ve definitely exploded since then, with “Mood”, “Stay” and now “That’s What I Want” with Lil Nas X. In your opinion, what is the theme or the common sound between all these songs that made them successful?
I wouldn’t even say there is a common sound, and I think that’s what I like about these three songs – they don’t sound like me at all. These three songs are all songs where you can’t even really describe them; it just gives you a feeling. You just have a feeling in your chest, guts, and heart – it just makes you want to jump and run screaming and telling everyone what you’ve got. It’s like you’ve found buried treasure. This is the common denominator of all these songs; each made me so excited and I felt so proud to be a part of the team that made it. There is no feeling more rewarding than having these songs on my computer, being able to listen to them when I want and have a feeling about them, then seeing them come out in the world and having so much. other people having the same feeling. It’s the best feeling ever.
You and your fellow writer-producer Omer Fedi are like the dream team right now, having worked together on “Mood”, “Stay”, “Without You” and “This is what I want”. What makes you such great collaborators?
Omer is one of the most talented people I have ever met, plain and simple. Seriously, watching it in the studio is one of the most awesome things I have ever seen in my life. It is literally like magic every time. When I first met Omer, it was the first time I had met someone my age who felt the same as me. So meeting someone as passionate as you is first of all an insane gift, and meeting someone as passionate as you who complements your skills. [is even better]. We met in a 24kGoldn session. The first time we met we did “3,2,1”.
What is your writing and production process?
I’d say it’s really never all on its own, but other than that the reason it’s so exciting and fun is because it’s different every time. All of those songs we just mentioned have happened in different ways, and they will continue to happen in different ways. And I like it, because I never want to feel like I know how to do it. Every time I sit down to do a song, I get a little freaked out because I’m like, “I’m forgetting how to do this. And from there it’s just a journey to make it the best it can be. But there’s no rhyme or reason at all, and I like that about it.
Just about everything I do is incredibly rooted in real instruments, if not completely in all real instruments. Minus the battery, but all the instrumentation is real. It’s important for me to have old stuff in the studio – old guitars, old synthesizers, stuff that had a life before I got it. I feel like there’s an energy in it, and it means a lot to me that I don’t have a sound that someone else can pull out.
Do you have a signature piece of equipment?
I have a few guitars that I have had for a while that I love more than anything. I have a Roland Juno 60 which was the first piece of equipment I bought. This is a piece of equipment that many of my heroes have used; it’s my favorite synth and that’s what we did “Stay” on. So this is definitely the one that I will keep forever. It fits on everything I’ve ever done, this Roland Juno.
Let’s break down “This is what I want. What was it like working with Lil Nas X and how did this song come about?
Nas is a different human – he’s not a human. You can’t even imagine how hard it is to do what he does. No one is more devoted. On that one, when I got involved, they had a first demo of the song, and from there we just worked to make it sound as good as possible. Honestly, it was a time when I remembered how to produce music. Omer, me, KB [Keegan Bach aka KBeAzy] and Ryan Tedder, we all knew what it had to sound like, and we just worked really, really hard to make it happen.
Normally Nas – as he should be – is really particular about all of his production, all of his sounds. I remember before we played the final production on him, we were all set to tear it up and do it all again. He came to my house and we played it, and I was so nervous because I really had no idea how I was going to change everything if I had to. And it ended and he just smiled at us and said, “Amazing”. And that was about it. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. It was the craziest sigh of relief ever.
What about “Stay”? There’s a pretty stacked production lineup on that one – you, Fedi, Charlie Puth, and Cashmere Cat.
It was not a scheduled session at all. Me, Charlie and Omer were at my house on a Sunday afternoon, relaxing, talking about music. Laroi called us and said it was five minutes away and came over. Charlie and Laroi had never met, so we were all sitting and talking and Charlie said, “Turn on the Juno. It was the first thing he played, that riff, and Laroi said, “Wow, I think I hear something with that.” We hadn’t even planned to record, I certainly never thought we were going to do a song that day. Watching Laroi and Charlie make that initial idea was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen, it was crazy. He has just left Laroi. He played that, and Laroi’s melody and lyrics came out, first take.
And honestly, that’s when all of my best deals happened. Not as planned at 1 p.m., let’s all be in the studio. I think the best things happen when you feel comfortable, and that’s why I love working with my friends. We all know what others are going through; we all know what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s such a vulnerable thing that we do – being comfortable with everyone is such a much easier way to do it.
You also do a lot of writing and producing for your girlfriend, Gracie Abrams. What is your dynamic in the studio?
With Gracie, it can be amazing, and it can also be very difficult. We’ve released a lot of songs that talk about some really tough times we went through together. Gracie, above all, is the best at wearing her heart on her sleeve and writing her feelings in music and melody and singing in a way that will break your heart, every time. I had to work on songs when we weren’t in the best place; I had to work on songs when we broke up. We had to write songs about things that we had never talked about together and we talked about it through the lyrics, writing them together. It’s both the most cathartic and really difficult but truly rewarding thing of all time … I’ve been in love with this girl since I was 18, you know what I mean?
What’s the most exciting thing about being a songwriter and producer right now?
I think the writing, the production and the music are now more open than they ever have been, in the sense that there are a lot less gatekeepers. I was lucky to have a few hits, but I’m about to go to my old college in Clive Davis for a lecture in an hour, and I don’t feel like I’m having better luck anymore. to make a hit song than them. With TikTok, we both have equal opportunity. You do something amazing, it’s going very well. I firmly believe in it, no matter what. It keeps me more on my guard than ever, because you have to keep doing amazing stuff. No matter who you are, you can’t get away with it.
What is your dream collaboration?
Larry David. I don’t know what this collaboration looks like, but Larry David.