Interview with MARK BERRY, producer for Joan Jett and mixer for David Bowie, Billy Idol, Duran Duran - Jul 30, 2007
"I can put one song in a movie making 30 grand back. I recoup my costs on making records many times over just by putting a song in a movie."Mark Berry, who began his career as an apprentice to the legendary producer Sir George Martin (The Beatles), has 35 gold and platinum albums to his credit, and has either produced or mixed rock and pop giants like Billy Idol, David Bowie, Duran Duran and Joan Jett.
He launched The Attack Media Group in a small one-room apartment in Toronto, Ontario as an independent record label. It is now one of the rising stars in supplying across-the-board entertainment content in music, film and television sectors around the world.
Berry Talks to HitQuarters about major labels turning to distributors with companies like his providing releases, about maintaining control over his catalogue and inserting it into film and TV, and about the need for up-and-coming artists to produce and promote their own releases before getting signed ...
What was it that triggered your passion for producing music?
Basically, it was watching George Martin. I started with him at AIR Studios as an assistant engineer. I started out as a tea boy really. And I just graduated myself up.
What was it that attracted you to the Brit sound in the ‘70s?
I went to the Institute of Audio Research in New York City. I went to the back of all the record covers and just looked up all the cool studios where all the major records were done that I loved. Like Elton John and Cream.
I said to myself. Ok, here’s ten studios I got to go check out. Trident was one of them, and I got booted out of there. Then I went to knock on AIR Studios’ doors.
I was fortunate to meet a kid named Nigel Walker, who let me in. I started hanging out on sessions, and then they hired me.
What did you learn from all these renowned British rock engineers/producers?
A lot about sound obviously, working with John Punter, Bill Price, Steve Nye, and Alan Harris, some of the greatest engineers of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
I learned a lot about song structure. What makes a good song. Working with George Martin, I learned a lot about arrangements. How to complete a song, how to make it grow, how to make it built.
I learned a lot about performances. How to make performances expand as the song continues.
Most importantly, I learned a lot about sonics and sound. Where to put the mic. How to make the artist comfortable and relaxed. That’s 50% of the equation of how to get the performance.
Was your first experience as an A&R scout at Vanguard Records?
I started at Vanguard as an assistant engineer. And then in the early ‘80s I met Arthur Baker, a renowned dance remixer and producer.
We did all the Soul Sonic Force records like ‘Looking for the Perfect Beat’, and Freeze’s, ‘AEIOU’. Lots of cool records.
Then Vanguard saw that I was doing a lot of mixing and bringing a lot of clients into the studio. So they said: “if you find something that you like and you want to produce, go produce it.”
I found this 15-year-old girl called Alisha. She had a huge hit, ‘All Night Passion’, which was the first record that I produced. Then we did ‘Too Turned On’, and that was even bigger. And then we did ‘Baby Talk’, which was an international smash hit.
How did you get to do all the mixes for those multi-platinum artists in the mid ‘80s?
I graduated into doing a lot of very high profile mixes – Yes, Kool & The Gang, The Bar-kays, Billy Idol, Cameo.
A lot of the mixes were embraced by the European community in the UK. So, I was getting a lot of UK mixes as well, like Nick Heyward and Jaki Graham.
Why did you relocate to Toronto in 1991?
I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York City. My lawyer, Paul Schindler, also represented Platinum Blonde. And they were like the Bon Jovi of Canada.
He put us together and I came up, and I mixed a record for him of this twins act 2TU. The record, ‘Stay With Me’ was very successful. It had a Top 10 single and won a Juno award.
I was doing a lot of work. I found a band called I Mother Earth, which was a very successful early ‘90s alternative rock band. It was a very large deal that we put together.
It was just when radio was changing. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction were coming in. Then I met a woman and I decided to stay.
What was your vision for the Attack Group?
Attack Media Group was formed in 1997. We didn’t start releasing records until 1998/1999. The vision was always to be a vehicle for independent clients who would hire me to produce records.
I was quite often making records for artists independently on an independent shoestring budget. They’d come back six months later and say, ‘hey, nobody wants to put it out!’ So I’d say, ‘Ok, let me put it out.’
And then TMP publishers who are owned by Alliance Atlantis, a big movie giant up here in Canada, said, ‘Well, if you have access to your masters and copyrights, we can help you financially because we can put your clients’ music into our feature length film and television programming.’
That’s how the whole thing kind of snowballed. We started doing major motion pictures and they were very instrumental to that.
Then a company called Cherry Lane Music Publishing came along, and they actually bought half of my music publishing company.
Attack is currently a fully independent media company with an international mandate for signing new & emerging artists and film/DVD content on the international scene.
Did you always want to do film as well?
Film has always been something that I’ve loved and embraced. When I got the opportunity to work with TMP, I jumped at it, because I knew that my songs were immediately going to be placed in film and TV.
It was just that time period where the independent sector was starting to take off in film and television, because they got tired of paying 30,000 Dollars for ten seconds of music. They paid me and my clients three grand, and we’d go, ‘Oh my God! This is great!’
What is important to keep in mind with placements for film and TV?
We do a so-called ‘one stop clearance’, where we control the masters and the copyrights in the same clip. It makes for a very smooth transition - one contract, one negotiation.
I got a call once eight hours before airtime on a major network program. They asked, ‘Mark, can you clear this song in one hour?’ I have the ability to say yes, because I control the masters and copyrights.
How do the music insertions work with AttackTrax.com?
AttackTrax is set up for the independent sector. An independent filmmaker comes to us with a 20-40,000 Dollar budget, and we can service their entire movie from all different genres of music.
It’s really kept in mind just for the independent DVD projects, direct to DVD stuff, and the independent filmmakers.
They can go in there and search by ‘mood’, ‘topic’, ‘genre’, ‘gender’ and literally source their entire film in one sitting.
How did you obtain the whole Attackin Tunes music publishing catalogue?
Attackin Tunes was something that I started out myself just by a few copyrights. And then it just mushroomed and mushroomed. Because I was doing major film insertions, the catalogue was starting to become a value. I just kept growing it.
Can you tell us about the lectures and workshops you give?
Besides universities and colleges, I do a lot of speaking at international music conferences. I spoke at the China AV last year in Shanghai. In fact, I gave a paper there on film and TV music.
I’m going down for the New Orleans Cutting Edge Music Business conference, where I have spoken for the last three years.
I do Canadian Music Week, North By north East. A lot of people invite me over, because they appreciate the fact that I built my company literally from my bedroom.
Is it valuable for you to engage with up-and-coming artists/producers who attend these music conferences?
Absolutely. People know about my background. I’m first and foremost a record producer. I just happen to own a media company as well, which I set up to help put out my productions.
I had a financial interest in getting certain recordings to out around the world. That was my main thing. Because I didn’t want to produce records and then have somebody just make it a shelf trophy and look at it.
I wanted to hear it on the radio, I wanted to put it in film or TV, to create some sort of value for these masters and copyrights.
What did you learn from the pitfalls and successes along the way of becoming an entrepreneur in the music business?
Basically, it’s all about staffing. If you have a great staff then everything goes great. It’s really hard to find great staff. I’m very fortunate right now to have a great staff working for me.
How do you keep being innovative in music and film?
It’s difficult. The industry changes very quickly. I can say that we’re on the cutting edge with regards to digital technology.
We’re launching our new website around September, which is going to incorporate all of our services in the company.
There’s promotion and marketing services, AttackTrax, music supervision, a record label. I’m acquiring DVD content now, where we’re licensing DVD content around the world.
Our income source is not depending on just selling CDs. Because I can put a song in a movie and make 60,000 Dollars for one of my clients.
That’s really where it’s coming from in terms of being innovative. You just have to stay on top of the many different sources of revenue streams.
What advice would you give up-and-coming artists and producers on how to think outside the box?
Anyone that starts a record label in 2007 is out of their mind. Unless they have additional sources associated with in terms of revenue.
Publishing, merchandising, get involved with that and set up a little management division. Control as much of the income sources as you can. Because if you’re going to farm it outside, then you lose control of those and you lose the income source.
How long does a project take from concept to completion?
Some projects take a little longer than others. If it’s a four piece rock band, I can get them in there and out in two weeks. Sometimes when I’m hiring outside musicians it takes me a couple of months to complete.
What artists are you currently working with?
Right now, I’m producing Rebecca Rudd. I just finished the Manmeadow record from Sweden. A great record, which we’re getting out this fall.
And I just finished the Anne Morrone record, on which we did duets with the Gypsy Kings and with Carla Buchman.
If we can bring as many things of value to the masters as possible, then that helps us in terms of licensing. The fact that Anne made a great record, but the fact that we also have the Gypsy Kings on a duet, opens up a lot of doors for us internationally.
How do you work with them?
I work very closely with them in terms of getting stuff up and running. I help find them songs. I help arrange their songs and their material. Get it ready for the studio.
We don’t go into the studio until we’re all locked and loaded and ready with the material. We rehearse the songs over and over, so that the performer knows what they have to do in the studio.
Some of these people haven’t made records the way I make records, and the pressure can be incredible.
How do you work with established artists and with new ones?
I don’t really work with that many established artists. I try to bring the established artists into the projects that I’m working on.
The deal with Anne Morrone and the Gypsy Kings came together because I met their manager at Midem. We became friends and I said, ‘hey, I got this girl and we got this Spanish flamenco type song. You think the Gypsy Kings would be interested to do a duet with her?’
If I can bring in the established artists and create value for the masters that are associated with my company, then that just makes the sell easier for me.
What game plan needs to be in place before signing?
We have an entire promotion and marketing division within the company, Deevel. We promote and market our own records. We service radio. We service our film and TV supervisors. We service the video game supervisors.
We have distribution through Universal. We license product out around the world. I go to three major conferences a year; Midem, Popkomm and the China AV for the Pacific rim.
I have control of that promotion and marketing activity. I know when something is happening. I know when something is not happening. I can make immediate moves with my staff as to how to change things around.
What’s usually discussed in the first meetings with a new artist?
The first meeting is basically about songs. They’re in my office because I like the songs. Or I like the artist.
They might be a great singer, but they don’t have great songs. Then it’s time to sit down and find some Diane Warren songs, some Henrik ‘Hylle’ Nielsen songs from Denmark and some Andreas Karlsson songs from Sweden. These are just great songwriters.
Where do you look for outside songs?
We go to all the major music publishers. I go to these conferences. I get a lot of great material given to me. I look in international territories for hits that might also work in my backyard.
We took a song for the Anne Morrone record called ‘The Moment’ that was a No.1 single in Sweden. We took it, redid it with Anne, and put it on her record.
What is a good song for you nowadays?
A great hook. A killer hook. It must have a great melody. I have to be able to walk down the street humming it. It really has to stick to me as a producer.
Do you write material yourself?
I used to write. I get more in the acquisition mode now with acquiring publishing and stuff like that. I usually just got invited to do some writing sessions, which I think I might be taken up on.
How do you find new talent?
There is a lot of great stuff out there. People approach us all the time. Either as a record company or Mark Berry the producer.
The majority of stuff that’s pitched is to Mark Berry the producer, where they come along and they need a record. That’s what you need today. You need a CD. You can’t chop demos anymore. It doesn’t exist.
But you do accept demo submissions?
Absolutely. As a review for production and mixing services. And quite often, that turns into an album deal for me and a CD for the company.
When somebody comes along and says that they have a budget and they can hire me to help mixing it or produce some songs.
I’m going to work with a singer named Pamela Vienna in October and she wants me to do three songs. I found three great songs for her and I will include them on her record.
How should unsigned acts present their material?
An EPK to the office email, the corporate email. Or a hard package. Something that I can throw in the car when I’m going home.
What advice would you give unsigned artists on how to build a career?
They have to make a 5-star recording. Get it up and running. Distribute it themselves. The day and age of waiting for the big deal to fall out of the sky because they made a great record in their basement, doesn’t exist anymore.
Market it. Promote it yourself. Get on the road. Back it up. And then if you sell 10-15,000 units on your own, then somebody comes along and picks it up. You’ve created some value there for licensing as well, and for film and TV.
Is it wise for new producers to knock on every studio door and try to find a job in this day and age?
Absolutely. You have to learn how to drive the car. If you go into a school and think you’re going to be a producer, it’s not going to happen.
It took me twenty years to figure out how to deal with people and psychology and psychiatry.
You have four personalities in a room in a band who are trying to make a record. One can’t pay his rent and the other one’s girlfriend is pregnant, and the other one can’t pay his phone bill. That’s the other art of producing records.
Who are the most important people in your network?
The international distributors. And my film and TV supervisors that take our clients’ music and create value for us by putting it in a film and television program.
How do you view the current music business climate?
I think it’s great. We just did a ringtone deal with a major company in mainland China where we’re providing video content to their phone service.
Anywhere you can create value for your masters and copyrights is a great day for us. Just to rely on signing that little piece of plastic, it’s not going to happen.
What has changed over the years with regards to producing music?
The whole ProTools set up has been a tremendous asset. Everyone can make a record now. There is a rig in everyone’s bedroom. You wake up in the morning, scratch your head, plug your guitar in, and start making a record.
You don’t have to get down to a studio and pay 3,000 Dollars a day like I used to in the ‘80s.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
The whole record business model is changing. Record companies are just going to become distributors.
If I can make a record for 30-40 grand that sounds like a 300,000 Dollar record, the majors can’t make that same record for less than half a million. And then they have to spend another half a million on a video, and another half a million on promoting and marketing.
The majors are going to become distributors. And we’re going to be the farm team. Small companies like myself that can find a really cool garage band make a great record for 25-30 grand, and then get it out.
I can put one song in a movie making 30 grand back. I recoup my costs on making records many times over just by putting a song in a movie. But I’ve only sold a limited number of CDs.
What kinds of artists would you like too see gain more popularity?
We’ve really expanded into the urban market. The urban market is a tremendous force. We just put two deals together with a Sony affiliate for two of our urban clients.
From an international perspective it’s very open to the urban market as well.
What are your future plans?
We’re redoing all the websites. That’s a major thing. We’re going to start getting into the film and television world a little heavier. Feature length films, not so much in production, more in acquisition.
I want to be able to take a movie that’s been shot, that’s of good quality, that has no music rights done on it, and then put all of my clients’ music in, and then put a DVD deal together, internationally as well.
And broadcast deals as well, because that turns the copyrights into value for my clients.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
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