If 2021 Grammy Award-winning Producer Of The Year Andrew Watt has learned one thing from his years of making music with today’s top artists, it’s that a hit song doesn’t happen by accident. And seeing as his career achievements include several chart-topping singles, Watt should know better than anyone.
In his time as a producer, Watt has worked with an eclectic array of artists. His genre-spanning portfolio has had him laying down hard beats for Cardi B’s Invasion Of Privacy and Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding. On the other hand, he’s learned how to prioritize improvisation when making rock music — something he kept in mind while producing Eddie Vedder’s first solo project in over a decade, Earthling, which is out next month. But no matter the project, Watt always has one simple goal in mind: “I’m just trying to make the best songs I can possibly make.”
Today’s music fans are more connected to their favorite artists than ever before. And with millions of songs readily available at their fingertips, simply uploading a track onto a streaming platform isn’t enough to capture someone’s attention. “You can’t spoon feed people sh*t,” Watt says over the phone. “It’s not just as simple as song’s out and that’s it.” Rather, it takes a label, a producer team, a management team, an artist’s connection to their fan base, impeccable timing, and most importantly, genuine belief in an artist for a song to truly become a hit. “How many times have you heard a song you think, ‘Wow, that song is amazing.’ And then it just never becomes a hit?” he asks. “That’s because someone didn’t do their job.”
Now sitting down with Uproxx, Watt describes the process of making five of his hit songs with artists Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Camila Cabello, and Shawn Mendes.
Justin Bieber – “Peaches”
Let’s start with Justin Bieber’s song “Peaches.” I understand that you have a really close working relationship with Justin. You’ve toured with him and you’ve been making music with him for a few years. Can you walk me through how “Peaches” was made? Was it a fairly breezy recording session?
Justin lives very close to me and I’m very good friends with him and his wife. He FaceTimed me one day, he’s like, “What are you doing today?” He rode his scooter over and we were just sitting around and he started playing these chords on the piano. I was like, “Alright, let’s record that.” I caught him on the drums, and he laid down this amazing beat.
Then I picked up a guitar and he was telling me, “Play it like this.” He got on the mic and that “Peaches” hook flew out of him. It was so amazing just to give him the space to create it and be comfortable and have the mics on for him, I didn’t need to do much. The ideas didn’t come from me. They were all coming from him, but I made him feel good enough and comfortable enough to get it out. That first initial day was just me and him and two friends jamming, no thought involved.
Young Thug – “Hate The Game”
I want to ask you about Young Thug’s song “Hate The Game.” You once said Young Thug is so prolific that he can write the most amazing song ever in just 15 minutes. What was collaborating with him on that song like? Was it that quick of a process?
I had a whole bunch of beats that I had made for him that I thought would be so interesting to hear his voice on. [“Hate The Game”] was one of the first ones I played him and he was like, “All right, send it to my engineer. Let’s go.” Without thought, the beat is on his headphones and he just starts spitting lyrics out. There’s no conversation before, there’s no nothing. The concept comes to him as he’s saying words as he’s singing melodies.
His cutting process is so interesting. He can engineer, so he’s got his engineer and he’s right next them cutting vocals. He’s moving his vocals around himself, nudging sh*t to the left, to the right, using a different take, using a different word. He’ll sing a line 12 times in a row and pick the ninth take and just knows which one’s right.
Ed Sheeran – “2Step”
You produced Ed Sheeran’s = (Equals) song “2Step.” Ed Sheeran is one of today’s top songwriters, and he not only writes music for himself, but he also writes music for other artists like BTS. What was it like producing “2Step” with Ed Sheeran since he’s used to making music for other artists as well?
I don’t think that changes his work, but what is true is that he’s a very self-contained songwriter. He can do it all on his own. We wrote three songs in one day. It was this amazing spitfire thing. We both had guitars in our hands. We were making riffs, laying down the guitar, and then he started singing melodies to himself and started writing stuff. He just starts firing off, it’s almost like a mental workout. It’s like a form of exercise, he’s got his routine and he’s so good at it. It’s high-performance songwriting.
Dua Lipa – “Break My Heart”
Let’s talk Dua Lipa’s track “Break My Heart.” And I loved how her album, Future Nostalgia, was very ’80s disco-inspired. Can you talk about producing the song?
It was the first time we ever worked together. Whenever I’m working with an artist for the first time, I always try and make a simple recording on my phone of a guitar riff, just a place to start. I showed them to her and she was really cool, sweet, and respectful and listened. She then said, “That doesn’t really feel like me. Let me show you some of my stuff that I’m making.” That album, that perfect album, she played us half of it, so I started to hear what vibe she was on.
I just picked up the bass and I started playing this lick. It came from what I equate funky music to be, and she said, “That, I love. Record that.” Melodies just started flying out from all of us, and we came up with the idea to synchronize the hook with the bass line. It doesn’t happen often, but that song was written, tracked, and produced all in the same night. We were just on fire and we nailed it. She was in such a confident place and she brought it on another level. When an artist knows what they want and can give you vision, the sky’s the limit.
Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes – “Señorita”
You produced “Señorita” by Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes. This song is different than other typical collaborations because it’s a song that puts an equal amount of importance on both the singers’ lines and also has a lot of interplaying vocal harmonies.
That song took a long time — opposite of the Dua Lipa song. Shawn and Camila’s relationship speaks for itself. Those two are clearly bonded and will be very close friends for life. They kind of fell in love over the song or admitted that they were in love in this process of the song. I don’t pretend to understand anyone’s relationship, but I was seeing what I was seeing from it during the process. And those vocals are reflective of that, the desire and the passion comes through in the song.
Both of them were very militant in how they produced their vocals and how many times they wanted to sing it until it was great. They’re songwriters that take their craft very, very seriously. We pushed it until it was the best it could ever be, and when one of them would call and want to sing it again, the answer would be, “Okay, let’s do it and see if it’s better.” And it was always better, every time. As effortless as the song sounds, a lot of time and effort went into that song to make sure it was the best it could be.
Eddie Vedder’s Earthling is out 2/11 via Seattle Surf Co/Republic. Pre-order it here.
Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.