Interview with MARC MOZART, producer and manager for producers with credits from Backstreet Boys to No Angels (No.1 GER) - Mar 27, 2006
"Some producers fall into that trap where theyíve had success in the past and now theyíre moaning about the business going down. They bring in negative vibes."
Marc Mozart is a producer and a producer manager for producers with credits from Backstreet Boys to No Angels (No.1 Germany). In July 2005 he made public to HitQuarters that they were hunting for new talented producers. At the time he was part of MPF Entertainment, but today he runs his own company Ė Mozart & Friends, based in UK and Germany.
Through the announcement he started collaborations with producers Traq Squad from Detroit and Patrick Flo Macheck from Vienna, as well as putting together a compilation, ďUrban Village Vol. 1Ē, which is being released on a completely new format Ė Mogoon. Most artists/producers on that album were found through HitQuarters.
Read the interview to find out what Marcís working process in the studio is like, why he thinks that a kick drum can make the difference as to whether a song is a hit or not and how he often finds it preferable working with new talent rather than established producers.
How did you manage to sign your first major record deal at Sony Music Germany in 1993?
When I was 14 years old I wanted to be a songwriter and music producer. I started producing r&b and hiphop. When I left high school I met every A&R in Germany, but I realized that I wasnít doing the right music because the labels wanted euro-dance music.
I was influenced by r&b acts from the 80s. Prince was one of my big idols. Nobody wanted that music in the early 90s in Germany. The market was influenced by Snap, who came out of Frankfurt and had huge worldwide success. That was the thing that would define the 90s in Germany. Because I wanted to make a living from producing music I just had to change my plan.
I got the chance to work as a DJ helping to start a new club in Frankfurt, which was a hot spot at the time. Sony had a label called Dancepool, which was the most successful label then with acts like Culture Beat and Jam & Spoon.
I started to make the records the labels were looking for. I played the records every night in the club and made little notes about which tracks worked on the dancefloor and where I would get the most requests. It took me about four weeks, then I had what I considered to be the perfect dance record.
I gave the tape of my best song to Sony A&R pop, who passed it on to Dancepool, and a week later the A&R Alex Abraham made an offer.
Polygram Germany offered you a worldwide co-publishing deal in 1994 that helped you to develop your own production company. How come?
ďLove TransmissionĒ was picked up by Sony US and UK, and had a worldwide release. It did well on all the dance and club charts in more than twenty territories. A couple of weeks later I placed all the other records I had. I got offers from Warners, BMG, Polydor. It was a logical decision to start co-publishing.
There was a young A&R guy at Polygram Songs named Volker NeumŁller, who was helping me set up meetings even before I had signed the first record. It was a logical step to sign with Polygram. I was writing a lot myself but also had a staff of writers and singers. That deal helped me to pay out advances to people and build a little organisation.
What was your main focus at that time?
I sometimes went on stage with ZED, where I played keyboards and where we finally did r&b and hiphop. But my focus was producing and writing songs.
My goal was to stay in the business. I realized that I was young and unexperienced. I had to survive the next couple of years.
Launching your concept called ďglobal online music production in the 21st centuryĒ lead up to big collaborations. Do you still benefit from those contacts?
I was looking for possibilities of reaching out to people, and wanted to work internationally. Along came an internet start-up company from California called Rocket Network, which had a huge financial backing by Paul Allen from Microsoft. Theyíd developed a system to network the most popular software like ProTools, Logic, Cubase, through Internet connections.
Weíd done a record using the system, and promoted it. We started reaching out to international executives. One of the first people responding was an A&R guy at Bad Boy named John Eaton, who became my co-producer on many of the Popstars records. John Eaton was the one who first got me over to New York, where I lived for a while.
I also helped develop a boyband called Northern Line for Handprint. One of the guys in the band, Andy Love, was a very talented writer. Weíd co-written one of the big BroíSis hits. He was later writing for Lemar, Blue and many others. Heís an established writer in the UK now, and weíve just now started working together very closely again.
Did Popstars shape you in terms of how you create hit records?
The act that they were about to create with the new Popstars TV series needed exactly the kind of music that I was producing. I continued what I started in Manhattan. I had the right music at the right time.
I was surprised on coming back to Germany to work with a fantastic group of people. I sent daily mp3s to the A&R people during production and they would immediately get back with comments. They fully trusted me that I was taking care of the production.
Swen Grabowski, who was Head of A&R at Cheyenne Records, and Tom Bohne, who was Managing Director of Universal Domestic Germany, helped to get that project on the way. Both are amongst the best A&R people Iíve ever worked with. There was a reason behind that success.
Why should people come to work with Mozart & Friends?
Iíve always had that dream of having international success with a strong team of producers and songwriters. Iíve done that with various companies, but now itís time to take it to the next level with Mozart & Friends.
Iíve learned how to develop people from scratch and Iím trying to teach my people everything Iíve learned over the years. The big difference between what Iím doing and what other managers are doing is that Iím actually a songwriter/producer myself and I know exactly what Iím talking about.
The link between many managers and producers is that they just pitch songs. They get material from writers or producers and then just try to place it. My work starts much earlier than that. Iím trying to take care of every little detail in the daily work of my team. I help them setting up their computer systems, getting organized, sorting sound libraries, backups, spending the money on equipment the right way. And weíre also working from a goal list, which is the basis.
The goal plan is necessary before we start working. When I start developing somebody I have to know what heís looking for. Once you sit down and honestly analyze what you want in life, then you can start taking action and totally commit to reaching your goal. Which takes out a lot of political problems, because you simply look at your goal list and whenever some other stuff comes along thatís not on your goal list you can eliminate that.
What styles of music do you focus on?
The biggest thing on my list is to break into the US market. Iíll do whatever it takes. Iím not focused on any specific music. Iím looking at the market to try and deliver what is needed.
How do you pick your right partners?
HitQuarters has been a big help. People who come through this website have already started making their minds up about what they want to do. HitQuarters is one of the filters. Iíve got a lot of material from producers and writers.
What is the screening process like?
It starts with the music. I mostly get mp3s on my email account and organize all that music on my laptop via iTunes.
iTunes has a thing called smart playlists. When somebody sends me music I put the email address of the sender in the filesí ID tags and add it to my playlist of new submissions. Then I use the rating system to give them stars. Sorting the playlist by rating the good stuff will automatically pop up at the top of the list. Then I would go back to these people and find out what theyíre looking for.
What are your criteria for choosing the producers?
They have to stand out from the rest. Itís got to be different. Iím not necessarily looking for somebody who delivers the full package. You hardly ever get a perfect song with the perfect vocal and lyrics. You might get perfect beats or playbacks, or you might get a perfect lyric writer who does great vocal arranging.
Iím not looking for that complete hit record because thatís rare. You get parts of it. I make sure that a great producer whoís doing amazing playbacks teams up with a good writer whoís doing good lyrics and vocal production.
A part of the daily process within Mozart & Friends is to bring people together and collaborate in all kinds of directions.
How were the songs presented to you?
Some people wanted to send CDs, but I had thousands or more mp3s through email.
I only received a few pieces of music that I would consider marketable, but I have received playbacks and beats of a very high quality. Iíve actually signed up two amazing producer teams and theyíre already working and pitching stuff, and getting great results.
Check out www.mozartandfriends.com and look at Patrick Flo Macheck from Vienna/Austria and Traq Squad out of Detroit. They first approached me through HitQuarters and I can guarantee those names will pop up on big records very soon!
What had to be set up to make a deal?
Technically, all you need today is an audio workstation and a fast Internet connection. Today you can make a great record with a laptop and headphones. I do actually work with people who do that.
Business-wise, the deals I do are simple management deals. Not even publishing or co-publishing is involved. I get a percentage from what they make.
Where did you learn the business side of things?
When I started with my first deal in 1993, everybody told me to team up with a lawyer. Over the years Iíve worked with a number of those and also some managers. But I never gave full responsibility to lawyers and managers. Iíve always tried to learn it myself. After a while you get into it and Iím negotiating many things on my own now these days.
What does the future look like for the producers youíve worked with?
Theyíre going to have a bright future. We started analyzing what they were looking for. Weíve ended up having the same goals. Theyíre all looking for international success, writing and producing for big artists. Then we started reverse engineering, which involves asking what is needed to make big records for major artists.
When you break it down, itís taking care of all the details and making sure every little thing is perfect. Starting with technical stuff in production, such as setting up software and sounds, and teaming up with the right people. We all work with Instant Messenger. I would have one of my guys work on a track, and as soon as he is finished he would drop the file and transmit it.
A whole Logic or ProTools session file would be transmitted in half an hour. I will have a look at it, rearrange it, and get it to a writer. Sometimes I would give one playback to three writers and they would all work on it not knowing what the other ones were doing. One girl comes up with a great bridge section and another guy in the UK ends up writing a fantastic hookline. The result is a great song.
How will you approach new producers and find new tracks?
Once you start putting a team together youíre not always looking for the same type. A great team consists of people with different skills. In a perfect world theyíre all complementary to each other. Today I would look at what potential there is and what is needed. I would get in a producer or writer that would help take my other guys to another level.
Whatís the difference between working with young producers and established ones?
Somebody who made good money five years ago making huge hits canít make the same money this year or next year because the turnovers in the business are now smaller. Some producers fall into that trap where theyíve had success in the past and now theyíre moaning about the business going down. They bring in negative vibes.
At the moment I enjoy working with people who are not used to making a lot of money but who are very hungry and ready to get to the top of the business. Some people who have had success tend to not want to go over that road again.
I prefer to develop people from scratch as far as Mozart & Friends is concerned. I enjoy developing people because I can develop good habits from the beginning.
What advice would you have for new aspiring producers/songwriters?
Focus on the music first. If youíve got a piece of music that has power, that fits in your time, that everybody wants to dance to and wants to hear over and over again, then you have a very good start into the business.
Itís important to stay humble, to collaborate, and to be ready to split your income with people who help you. It doesnít help to have 100% of a song that never goes out there. But if you only have 5% of a big hit, that might help you to do two more hits. And two more hits might create an energy out there that might lead you to place four more hits. All of a sudden you got a bunch of hits and then who cares what split you had on the first one.
How should new aspiring producers or songwriters present their material?
They should do everything they can think of to make the most amazing piece of music thatís ever been done. Only present it if you honestly believe that what you present is the best thing you have and the best thing youíve ever done.
Listen to it on different speakers. Play it to people. Make sure you make a perfect piece of music that youíre fully happy with. If you present something to somebody and you honestly think itís a fantastic piece of music and itís the best you can do, then if you get a negative feedback itís not such a big deal because youíve done your best. But if you werenít happy with it in the first place, then you present it and you get a negative feedback itís almost like you knew it before.
How do you work in the studio?
When we start developing a song we try not to use more equipment than a computer and software. It helps to stay flexible. I can take my laptop and travel to Spain or Sweden and produce and record music, and then go back into the studio. In the process of creating a song Iím trying to stay very flexible because a lot of collaboration is involved. Once the song is there and we know where we want the song to go then the process of final production starts, which sometimes involves much more than a computer and software. Mixing details, plug-ins, treating, everything thatís necessary.
How do you know what works and what doesnít?
Before you start finalizing a production you need a song thatís tested and proven, that everybody agrees itís worth putting the effort into. I put a lot of effort into recording and editing vocals. Before I start messing with arrangements and mixing, I make sure that the vocal itself makes the song work. I would listen to the lead and backing vocals only and make sure the vocal on itself sounds so fantastic and great that I could listen to the vocal all day long even without the music. Then a lot of effort goes into the little details.
For example, in hip-hop sometimes you donít have a lot of elements in the track. I would even go so far as to say that the kick drum sound can even make the difference as to whether the song is a hit or not.
What has to be done when something fails?
You stand up, retry and do it again. You canít always change the circumstances, but you can change your approach.
Itís about correction. Make sure from the very beginning that you stay on course. Make sure you have a goal when you start a project. Think about every little detail. Correct your course. Make sure that if youíre not happy with that vocal you do it again. If youíre not happy with that particular sound you should try another one until youíre happy.
Iím never throwing things away. Sometimes youíre looking for a specific thing and youíre working on three or four different songs. One of them is better than the rest. Thatís just part of the process.
How long does a production process take from the initial idea to the finished product?
It depends on the amount of tracks and vocals recorded. No matter how good the vocalist is, I will always do tons of tracks. The screen will be full of different takes and tracks. Because even if you have a totally amazing singer and you do thirty takes with this singer you will always get one take thatís better than the rest. You want to make sure youíre using that take for the record. Listening through those tracks takes some time. Youíre combining them together into the one youíre going to use on the record.
Vocal production takes between a day and three days. Mixing also. Sometimes you get a result much quicker. Sometimes when youíve gone off course youíve got to fix it and then it takes longer. Whatever it takes - I donít put a limit on it.
Do you build strategies on how to target your market?
A lot of business comes from the contacts Iíve built over the years. I also put a lot of effort into building new contacts. Reaching out for somebody I havenít talked to. Sending songs to somebody who hasnít heard my music.
Also, I do prefer to work from a good website. When somebody sends me something and I like it, I click on their website and get a more complete picture about who that person is and what heís looking for. A website can help you find out about the attitude a person has. But itís got to be a good one, one that really represents what you do.
Do you get unsolicited material?
Between 50 and 100 submissions per week. I collect the stuff and then when I relax for a moment I listen to the stuff and rate it. I always try to give a short feedback to everybody. I would like everybody to keep sending me stuff. People develop, and Iím trying to help as much as I can.
Youíve put together a compilation called ďabsolute Urban Village, 20 hits from the urban undergroundĒ, which is released on a new format MMC-Card by manufacturer Mogoon. How did that come about?
Iíve always been looking at new media formats. I did mp3 distribution when it first started in 1997/1998. Youíve got a lot of new gadgets in consumer electronics these days, not only the iPod, but Playstation Portable, cellphones with CardSlots, cardreaders for PC.
Mogoon are distributing all kinds of content on memorycards. The MMC-Card would fit in a number of Motorola and Nokia cellphones and cameras. We are putting the record on that format. I made a content deal with them. This hiphop r&b compilation was the first project we put out.
What are your future plans and dreams?
Weíre targeting all the major US artists. Weíve started building good contacts there.
Iím looking for a co-managing partner in the US who has top first-hand contacts especially in the hiphop market.
Iím reaching out to a lot of people. We submit stuff. We get all the info on whoís looking for what.
Iím actually more focused on business than the original Mozart was, because I donít want to end up the way he did. I try to focus on what I want to create in life and make sure I donít go off course.
In 5 to 10 years from now I will be doing the same as Iím doing right now, but just with more platinum records on the wall. This is just the beginning.
To view what their HitQuarters announcement in July 2005 looked like, click here. Marc Mozart was then a part of MPF Entertainment.
To make a similar announcement, contact HitQuarters.
interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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