Inside the making of a hit pop song—or hundreds of them. Stargate and Ester Dean are a producer-“top-liner” team that helps write hits for stars like Rihanna:

“The first sounds Dean uttered were subverbal—na-na-na and ba-ba-ba—and recalled her hooks for Rihanna. Then came disjointed words, culled from her phone—’taking control . . . never die tonight . . . I can’t live a lie’—in her low-down, growly singing voice, so different from her coquettish speaking voice. Had she been ‘writing’ in a conventional sense—trying to come up with clever, meaningful lyrics—the words wouldn’t have fit the beat as snugly. Grabbing random words out of her BlackBerry also seemed to set Dean’s melodic gift free; a well-turned phrase would have restrained it. There was no verse or chorus in the singing, just different melodic and rhythmic parts. Her voice as we heard it in the control room had been Auto-Tuned, so that Dean could focus on making her vocal as expressive as possible and not worry about hitting all the notes.”