Interview - Sep 18, 2001
“I try to find artists that have something unusual about them, that have something to say and have their own charisma.”Anders Bagge is a producer based in Stockholm, Sweden. Together with Arnthor Birgisson he forms a writing and production team that have worked with such artists as Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees and Samantha Mumba. Anders is also co-owner (together with Christian Wåhlberg) of Murlyn Music, a production and publishing company with nine studios and a dozen signed writers/producers. Murlyn Music has recently formed a new record label, MPI, in cooperation with Polydor UK and Interscope US.
HQ: How did you get started in the music biz and how did you become a songwriter/producer?
My father was a producer and he always took me with him to the studio, starting from when I was 5 years old. I loved being in the studio. I also started playing piano and trumpet at the same age. My whole family is very musically orientated, my sister is a concert piano player and my brother is a producer too. I wrote my first song when I was 13 and got my first cut at 17. At 22 I found Meja (who later sang a duet with Ricky Martin), and she sang in a group I had called Legacy of Sound who had many dance hits worldwide. I also discovered Robyn and Jennifer Brown who released on a label called Ricochet which I helped build. After that I worked at Cheiron for a year and a half before I decided to take the next step and build something for myself, something which later became Murlyn Music.
HQ: What was your break as producer?
Internationally; 98 Degrees' “Because of You”, 3 years ago (US platinum single – Ed).
HQ: Which styles do you write and produce in?
I'm kind of versatile, because from when I started to produce here in Sweden, at age 18, I had to take anything I could get since there weren’t that many things around to produce. I either got rock, soul or pop music, so I had to learn all the different genres. I'm actually not driven by any particular style, I just like it when there’s an edge and something unusual in my productions. So, I'm stylish in that kind of way. I like rock, R&B and pop and I think I can handle all those 3.
HQ: Do you write specifically for artists?
Sometimes. Right now I'm writing specifically for Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and TLC.
HQ: Which advice would you give aspiring songwriters in terms of songwriting itself?
Don't over-do the lyrics but don't make them too easy, generic neither. Write songs with meaning, with a difference. Try to find concepts. That’s very important, to have different and unusual concepts, including the titles.
Don't be afraid to experiment with the songs. If you write for Whitney Houston, don’t write something that sounds like her, write something that you think is how she should sound! What many writers do is they listen to her last record and write songs that sound the same, and that is always wrong. Look for something new, think a step ahead, follow your own mind and your own feeling of where you think the artist should go.
HQ: Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned songwriters, with regards to publishing contracts?
You should collect a large roster with good songs before you sign. Then you can always get the people to fight for you. Don't go up there saying “I'm a songwriter and I have 2 songs”. When you present yourself, you have to show the publisher you have the capability of writing a lot of good songs. Publishing companies can be both amazing and they can be very tired and not work at all. You need to be aware of that you also have to fight yourself. You can’t rely only on a publisher, you need to make your own contacts as well. This is really important.
HQ: What do you think about the producers situation in the music biz, what is good and what could be better?
I think the situation for producers is very good. Ten years ago the producer produced other songs, now almost all producers are songwriter/producers. If you have a song that is amazing, that you know is a hit, try to produce it yourself as much as you can, try to be a co-producer with another producer. It's easier to get songs on records if you are a producer because you work directly with the artist and the A&R.
I'm 33, I started when I was 17. I've had a long struggle to come where I am, but I never gave up and never lost my love for music. You can't do music and think, “Okay, I'm just going to do this and see if I can make some money”. I do music because it's my life. You need to be devoted when it comes to music, otherwise it won't work.
HQ: How do you find new talent?
We have a joint-venture with Interscope US and Polydor UK. We have two A&Rs, Jimmy Iovine (Interscope) and Colin Barlow (Polydor) whom we work closely with. We had auditions in Ireland where we searched for the new kind of rock singer. Two thousand people showed up and it came down to one guy who we think is absolutely amazing, who I believe is going to be huge because he's so unusual. His name is Mark Roach. At the same time we also had auditions in England and we found four black girls who now form a group.
The artists also find you. They look at a record, see Murlyn Music and then send us stuff, whether they live in Holland, Germany or wherever. The world has become so much smaller.
HQ: What do you look for in an artist?
I don't look for copycats. I look for people who want to stand on their own feet, to sit in their own chair, and who will not say, “We sound exactly like Limp Bizkit, or Jennifer Lopez”. I try to find artists that have something unusual about them, that have something to say and have their own charisma. We search for the odd, very different thing.
HQ: What are you currently working on production-wise and how were you approached by these acts?
I'm starting now to work with Celine Dion, I'm working with my own group and also Mark Roach. I'm writing songs for Whitney Houston, we'll see if they get on. I got a request to write for her from her label.
I have a very close relationship with Tommy Mottola, the head of Sony US. He calls me every week and encourages me to write for different projects, like Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Hall & Oates and so on. Tommy came to Sweden to meet me and Arnthor and I think we clicked. He's an amazing A&R guy, really passionate about the music. Loves talking to producers, really one of a kind. It's very inspiring to work with Tommy, which makes you want to write better songs.
But there are a lot of good A&Rs -- Colin Barlow, David Massey, Jeff Fenster and Bruce Carbone to mention a few… They are people who inspire you to work and write songs. They tell you exactly what they want for their artists.
HQ: How do you find work or how does work find you?
With 98 Degrees it was Bruce Carbone, the A&R, who called me up and said, “Do you have any songs for 98 Degrees?” I then played “Because of You” for them and it became their first single. Their old manager had said no to the song. It's a funny thing, he didn’t think it was a smash. It sold 1.7 million copies.
When you’ve had a hit, the labels always approach you, success gives success. And then you stop proving yourself which is the stress thing in this industry.
HQ: How did the song “Play” come about? What is the story behind it?
We wrote it for Christina Milian (Def Jam), together with her. But in the end we didn't think it was totally right for her. Then Tommy came and we played it for him. It was just a very rough demo but he freaked out and then he did a lot of changes, said what he wanted in the song. I went to work and I saw a… my wife had a new perfume which had “Play” written on it, so I was like, great, I'm going to go to the studio and write this song called "Play".
HQ: What makes you take on a production?
An artist who is very interesting. When they're new artists I want to meet them to see if I believe in them as artists. I need to have a feeling for their personality and also their approach. I need to feel that this is something that’s going to be fun for me. I wouldn't work with somebody I don't like, even if it sells 15 million records. I'm not in it for that.
I'm in it for the challenges.
HQ: How much input generally do the A&Rs and managers have on the productions?
It’s more the A&Rs actually, I hardly work with managers. When it comes to production, some A&Rs never even care, they just want me to do my thing, and some are very picky, like really want to be in the production. Like Tommy Mottola who's there from the first minute to the last second of everything you do, which he is very good at.
HQ: Do you accept unsolicited material?
Of course! If somebody sends me a demo I’ll listen to it. I think I'm known for being a listener, I want to listen to everybody's stuff because I love to see new talent and new things. I was there myself, I had my dreams, and it’s a pity when people don't listen. If somebody sends me 12 songs, I won't listen to all 12, but if they send me their 2 best songs, I will. I'm curious and I want to find new talent.
HQ: What characteristics do you think are important for a producer to have?
To be a very good listener, not to be too tough, to be very confident in what you want to do and always encourage the singer. Never try to be someone you’re not or try to be tough and have an attitude. I hate those kind of people and it actually just gives bad results. I think my winning concept is that I'm always happy, always a glad person. Of course, if somebody gives me attitude then I give it back, but I'm not so good at that. If somebody does that, I would just cancel the session and say like “Hey you can work with somebody else”. People with attitude, that’s the worst thing. The biggest artists you work with usually don't have an attitude.
HQ: Looking back from when you started producing, what do you think are the key lessons you’ve learnt and what do you consider you’ve improved?
You learn from every song you write, every artist you meet and every production you do, but my strength, I think, is that every time I meet somebody new, I see that as a new thing to do, I never do anything sloppy. I think it’s important that you stay focused with every song you do. It’s the artist at the end of the day who pays you, so I feel I owe them if I take up their time. I think I should do a good job.
HQ: When working in the studio, how does it happen, do you play instruments, handle the syntheziser/sampler equipment, engineer, do vocal coaching, mixing?
I play piano, keyboards and I sing. To be able to sing is very important for a producer. If you want to be in a producer team, try to have one producer who can sing. The biggest producers, all my friends that are big producers like Max Martin, me, Arnthor and everyone here, all of them can sing. They can exactly express how the vocalist should sing or not. Both me and Arnthor play the same instruments. We have to handle all of the equipment because when we started out in Sweden, the budgets were so low you had to become an engineer somehow. So I'm good at equipment and so is Arnthor. We're working with our own desks, mixing and so..
HQ: What advice would you give an aspiring producer who wants to “get into” the music biz?
Believe in yourself and what you do. If you feel you're right, keep on going. You will never become a big producer by trying to be someone else than yourself, by being a copycat. You can only become a big producer if you believe in the things you do, either you have it or you don't have it.
HQ: Stockholm is very “à la mode” right now in the music biz.. Why?
Nothing has changed. We've always been writing the same kind of music, it’s just that we've been discovered. I think there’s the same kind of talent in Germany, Holland and all over the World, its just a matter of A&R-ing the things.
It’s like in Africa where you have all these athletes that run like hell and everybody starts running. It’s the same thing, we had a lot of success and a lot of people started in the music business. Just because of me coming from Stockholm, I can’t get people to buy my records, they don't really care who produces it. It helps that there are people looking at Sweden, but then it’s up to you to prove yourself. It’s inspiring though.
HQ: What has been the greatest moment of your music career so far?
That’s hard to say. I think that every time I have something going, I'm very pleased, I thank God every time something happens, so I'm kind of humble. I don't feel I've reached the point yet where my big thing is happening. Actually, what makes me the happiest is not the success, it’s every time I come home and I feel that I've written a song which I feel very pleased with and I play it 30 or 40 times. Those moments are more important to me than if a song becomes a huge hit. And the day I don't have any more hits, I will still have that, I will still have the feeling of writing a song I like myself.
HQ: What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years ?
I think I will have just started my career as a producer in the States. I'll be producing as long as I feel it’s fun, maybe for another 5 to10 years. After that, I want to find new talent, I want to give them an easy way to get into the business, to present them to all the people I've gotten to know all over the world. A&Rs that have become friends. Stylistically I’ll move more towards rock, rock/pop and a rock/R&B kind of a thing.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman