In a standard bio, this line is where all the overblown accolades and hype would go to get you interested and excited about an artist. With songwriter/producer Dr. Luke (AKA Lukasz Gottwald), hyperbole is wholly unnecessary.
The facts speak for themselves: over 20 #1 songs; 17 ASCAP Awards, including Songwriter of the Year in 2010; a Top 10 spot on Billboard's Producers of the Decade; and, most importantly, a nonstop litany of the country's most popular and ubiquitous songs - Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" and "California Gurls", Flo Rida's "Right Round", Britney Spears' "Til The World Ends", B.o.B.'s "Strange Clouds", Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A.", Taio Cruz's "Dynamite", Ke$ha's "Tik Tok" - that have dominated contemporary music the world over. In short, Dr. Luke's combination of hip-hop, danceable pop, and catchy, anthemic hooks has defined this decade's pop musical landscape. As the producer continues to rack up #1 hits quicker than most of his competitors can think up a chorus, Gottwald has quietly been building a mini-empire to rival the majors.
"Growing up, I never even knew you could do what I do right now as a job," admits the 38-year old. "I had no idea you could be a songwriter or producer."
As a teenager, the rebellious musician was kicked out of a number of schools, but always retained his passion for playing guitar and drums. Starting out, the fledgling producer made his living as a guitar player, appearing on countless commercials, jingles and as a session man for other artists. "Wherever I could get paid to play guitar," says Luke when asked where he would play. It was during these sessions that the producer/songwriter side came out in earnest. "It was when I started playing for other songwriters that I realized I had ideas about the song that I couldn't express as just the session guitarist."
After getting into the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, a strange connection led to his next career move. "I got a call from an acquaintance in 1996," Luke says, laughing. "He knew a guy that was helping 'Saturday Night Live' find people to audition for their house band. I beat out about 80 or 90 people and got the lead guitarist gig."
While performing each week with SNL (he would keep the day job a full 10 years, until 2007), the versatile musician continued his session work and started producing hip-hop beats for influential underground label Rawkus Records. (Cratediggers still check for Luke's remixes of Mos Def's "Body Rock" and the Zack de la Rocha/KRS-One collaboration "The Last Emperor.") At the same time, Luke met Liquid Todd, an electronic DJ who turned him on to dance music and club deejaying.
"I would be out deejaying at a club and mix my own music into my sets so I could see what was working and what wasn't," says Luke on his transition from beatmaker to songwriter. "You quickly realize that if people act intuitively and think they know the song, then it's good. One day, it occurred to me: instead of getting your music out to 5,000 people, how about reaching as many people as you can? I just decided, 'Fuck it, I want to reach millions of people.'" A new rung on the ladder was created.
Cut to 2004 and Luke is in the studio with uber-producer Max Martin (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears) composing what will become the biggest song of the year: Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone". The track became a worldwide hit, earning the #1 spot on multiple U.S. charts and garnering a place on numerous "Best of the Decade" lists (Pitchfork called it a "perfectly realized sing-along chorus"). Since then, Dr. Luke has been music's preeminent producer; a musical Midas who can create superstars (including Ke$ha, who the producer discovered when she was 17, and Katy Perry, who only hit superstar status upon working with Luke) and ensure that any track with his imprimatur is destined to be stuck in your head for weeks.
While Dr. Luke is far from abdicating his songwriting throne, his success has propelled him to delve into other, more business-related, creative aspects of the industry. To that end, the producer currently has built and oversees two publishing companies (Prescription Songs and Kasz Money Publishing), a production company, and his own Kemosabe Entertainment (a record label). Among his family signed to his companies are Katy Perry, Bonnie McKee, Benny Blanco, Ammo, Kool Kojak and Ke$ha, whose first single "Tik Tok" held the #1 song position for nine consecutive weeks and holds the record for highest single week sales and airplay.
"I follow my own compass, but I want to write songs that reach the most amount of people and make people feel good and spread joy," says Luke. "I want each song to be the Song of the Summer that people remember for the rest of their lives. I want to create moments in time."
Many people have written a number one song. Some have written two. A handful have written three. Then there are artists like Dr. Luke who hold the record and who reside in the upper echelon of music production. For Luke, what's coming up is exponentially more important than what's in the past. "I get panic attacks when I'm number one. There's nowhere to go after that," admits the producer. "Every time I have a hit, I just think, 'What am I going to do next?' What's happening right now is based on what I get done today. The charts are history and you're only as good as your last song. Sure, I get excited when one of my songs goes to number one, but I'm more interested in creating the next number ones behind it."
Of the songs he creates, Dr. Luke says, "You can make depressing music that's cool, and maybe I'll want to do that sometime. But for now, I want fun stuff."