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January 18, 2013

Slate: How to make a Justin Bieber song

If you haven't yet heard the Justin Bieber song "Thought of You," it is only a matter of time. It's the ninth track on Bieber's third album, "Believe," and while it has yet to hit airwaves as a single, its earworm potential is undeniable. There's something joyous about the way all the sounds come in and start grooving together, a blend of sugary synths, handclaps and sirens. The song demonstrates the weird mix of euphoria and precision that now characterizes pop music: Every note sounds focus-group tested and groomed to perfection. You get the sense that the man behind the track is part composer, part gem cutter and part drill sergeant.

The man behind "Thought of You" is Ariel Rechtshaid. He is a 32-year-old music writer and producer who has worked with a notably diverse set of artists, including Usher, Cass McCombs, Snoop Dogg, We Are Scientists, Glasser and Theophilus London. He masterminded the 2005 platinum-selling ballad "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's and is a veteran performer in his own right: He played guitar and sang for a ska-punk band called the Hippos in high school and later helped launch an indie rock outfit, Foreign Born.

As a producer, Rechtshaid isn't as well known as Max Martin, Dr. Luke or David Guetta (they're the kings of production, he's still a prince), but a string of wise partnerships, including an ongoing alliance with Philadelphia-based hit-maker Diplo, makes him an artist to watch. He lives in Los Angeles, where like many in the business, he uses the audio production software Pro Tools to compose, edit and mix sounds. But, he told me in an interview recently, he's also stocked his studio with more old-school technologies: guitars and synths, drum machines and analog recording equipment. "I'm big into playing and recording everything, then reviewing it, cutting out moments that feel good and bringing them together, just seeing what comes of it," he says.

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