Interview with MARKUS MOSER, one half of dance duo iio (UK Top 5) - May 15, 2003
“Once you reach a successful level, instead of buying equipment, invest in a good lawyer.”
Songwriter and producer Markus Moser is based in New York and makes up one half of dance duo iio, who scored a UK Top 5 hit in 2001 with “Rapture”. The track was released on Made Records, which was set up by Markus and his partner, Mike Bindra.
How did you get started in the music business?
I started as a DJ about ten years ago, then I got into remixing and then slowly moved into engineering, writing and production.
Which of your experiences as a songwriter and producer have been the most significant?
As a producer, definitely the DJing. You learn so much about what works on the dancefloor when you play day in, day out. It’s very different for somebody who has studied music, for example. I don’t focus on delivering something that shows off my skill as a musician; I want to make something people can relate to and like, and that I like as well.
What did you do to showcase your material early on in your career?
I never ran around shopping my stuff, I played in the clubs and was approached by people who asked me whether I wanted to go into the studio with them. I went, but I had no idea what I was doing. I just told them what I thought worked and what I didn’t like, which in a way was almost producing. I was just so happy being in the studio. Then at some point, managers and publishers started approaching me and once you're in, it runs without much effort.
What is the story behind Made Records?
Made was set up two years ago by my partner Mike Bindra and I. He used to have a label called Twilo Records; Twilo was a famous nightclub that he used to manage. When the city closed the nightclub down, it didn’t make sense to maintain the label. We had been friends for many years and I had done tracks for him here and there, so we got together and decided to start a label. At that point, I already had the first iio record and that became our first signing on Made.
How many people work at Made and what are their functions?
We’ve got a small number of staff, but lots of freelancers. All in all, about twenty people are involved in managing the label, including vinyl production, graphics, the web site, studio engineers, etc.
What styles of music do you focus on?
We have two imprints and at this point everything that we do is dance-related, although we’re in the process of branching out and we will shortly have one label dedicated to dance and underground stuff, and one to pop, which will be go under the name of Made. We've signed lots of artists in the last three months and they should all be coming out this year.
How does your release setup work?
We’ve done everything ourselves, from the start when money was tight up until now. To run around and shop stuff to labels isn’t working anymore. Sony has just laid off another 1,200 people and these are crazy times, so we do it ourselves. We have the studio where I’m involved with all the production, then we press our records, and because my partner runs one of the best nightclubs in the city, called Arc, the best DJs come and play for him. It's a very good promotion tool: we hand out our promo vinyl and if the record is good it creates a buzz. We have distribution agreements in all territories, so we go on to release it worldwide. The agreements were all set up when we released "Rapture", our first success.
How do you market and promote your releases?
We can't spend money on everything that has potential. First, we try to create a buzz on the dancefloor. Every record gets the same shot: we press it, remix it, press a thousand copies and distribute them to DJs. If the reaction isn’t positive, we have to move on. The feedback has to warrant what we spend, and if we get a positive reaction we move on to stage two, which involves fully-fledged promotion, including TV, radio, independent promoters, publicists—the works. For instance, this summer we’ll promote some of our dance-oriented products in Ibiza and we’ll proceed according to the reactions we get.
What artists do you work with?
We’re getting ready to release our third iio single, and the album is done. Then we have a band called Nymph: we just dropped their first single and we’ve had great feedback. Those are the two big projects for the upcoming two or three months. Other projects are still in the developing stages.
How did iio get started?
Two years ago, I was looking for a singer to demo a project for another band and a friend of mine recommended Nadia. Nadia worked at Versace, the fashion company, answering the phone. The girl that recommended her was a personal friend of mine and she told me about this crazy receptionist who was always singing. Nadia really believed in herself and just sung on the job. I started working with her and I really liked what she brought to the table, so we decided to do something together.
After a few months Mike asked us to deliver a dance track for the Twilo label and we made "Rapture", which was never to be released on Twilo because it went belly-up. I wrote the music and played it for Nadia, who thought it was great and came up with the lyrics. We then took the demo with us to Twilo, the nightclub, on a night when some famous DJs were playing. They heard it and thought it was amazing. It was just a quick thing and we had no big plans for it, but it became so successful that we stuck with it.
How did Pete Tong (leading UK DJ – Ed.) get hold of the track?
I finished the track in February and, in mid-March, Mike, who is a friend of Pete Tong’s, gave him the track at the Winter Music Conference in Miami, Florida. That was two years ago: he was one of the first people to hear it and he just went crazy about it. He loved it so much that he played our demo on the air (BBC Radio One UK – Ed.) and at first I was upset because it was still just a demo, but that feeling quickly washed away when we got great reactions to it. Once Pete played it on his show it went crazy and we started getting offers, of which we in the end had about ten.
How was it marketed?
We went to Ibiza, where we have a summer house, and Mike handed it out to the right DJs: Sasha, Danny Tenaglia, Sander Kleinenberg, etc., who all played there at some point that summer. We only handed out records to ten of the crème de la crème DJs in order to keep up the mystique. When they started playing it, so many people from all over Europe heard it; these people then went home and started inquiring about the track, which made it take off. It was at that point that our UK label, Ministry of Sound, started regular marketing in the UK.
When you pitched the track, did you plan for it to become a mainstream hit if it was a hit in Ibiza?
Yes, we had that in mind, but we were still surprised by the enormous mainstream feedback. Initially, we just wanted to keep it like a cool thing in the dance community; we thought Ibiza was our pinnacle, but it was unstoppable. After Pete played it on the radio, people told me to go to the Global Underground web site forum where they were talking about our song. They had different topics with about 300-400 posts each, but ours had 5,000! It was insane, and that was when I realised that it had outgrown us all. But would it have been a hit without Ibiza? I think so, because at the end of the day what it really boils down to is the quality of the song.
Why did you sign with Ministry of Sound?
They heard it on the radio when Pete played it and we signed with them that August. They are a very aggressive, tenacious young label and they really wanted it, which is why we signed with them.
What are your current release plans for iio?
We’ve finished the recordings for the album and it’s due out this summer. We’re just releasing the second single in England, which took a while, but in the US we’re already done with the third.
How do you find new talent?
I receive thirty to fifty CDs per month and also stuff over the web, and I listen to everything. Other stuff is referred to us from people we know. Sometimes I meet people in clubs: I met this singer the other day in a club and she just started shaking right there. Usually I'm not that blown away by things like that, but she was amazing and I'm probably going to start a project with her.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes. A lot of people send us mp3s via the web and if I connect to the ideas and feel the song then I’ll ask them to send me the CD. When I get it, I then gauge the quality for production, which you can’t really do from just listening to an mp3 file.
What advice would you give aspiring artists?
Above all, don't give up. It sounds cheesy, but it's really true. It's hard, and lots of people get frustrated because in this business you really depend on positive feedback. You have to really believe in yourself, and for most people that’s probably the hardest thing to do.
Protect your rights as far as your writing is concerned and always register your songs. And once you reach a successful level, instead of buying equipment or whatever, invest in a good lawyer. To have a good lawyer is very important, because if you don’t have one, the major labels and the publishers will eat you alive.
Do you have your own studio?
I’ve always had my own studio. I started putting it together with the first money I made and it was really small at first, but now it’s really nice. I never bought a fancy sports car or anything like that; I was always buying computers and synthesisers. For the kind of music I make, I need to work on a computer, and I have some old 80s synthesisers that I love. I mix in Pro Tools, which has revolutionised my way of working, because nothing is ever finished. It's only virtually finished, which is great, because you can always go back and change the tiniest thing in a mix without it affecting the rest.
As a producer, what have you improved over the years?
My strengths are that I can really relate to people and I know what works. Initially, I just made stuff for myself and I wanted to do it in a certain way. Now I'm constantly learning about music and the equipment: I know the equipment so much better than when I started and that’s a really important factor.
Do you have your own publishing company?
We have two. One is for my songs and it’s administered by EMI, and the other one is ours and isn’t administered by a major, because it’s for underground music and obviously the majors aren’t at all interested in that.
What are the pros and cons of being self-published?
I don't think there are any cons. Of course, if you're looking for big advances you need a major publisher; if you have a solid relationship with them, they will push to get your music into movies and commercials, which is a good thing. Our sub-publishers around the world got us into TV shows and commercials but, as I said, you have to be careful with major publishers.
How important are the lyrics in dance music?
That’s where I consider us different from the rest. I’ve always thought that the lyrics in dance are really cheesy. "Come on, let’s build a castle in the sky"...I'm sorry, but that’s just corny. Perhaps the rest of the dance world doesn't feel that way, but in any case I never wanted us to be a label purely for dance artists. There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't want to be pigeonholed. The words are very important to me and if you play our songs on guitar, they won’t sound terrible.
How much do you consider the rhythm of the text and the relationship between consonants and vocals?
I think it's very important, because it needs to flow, it needs to lock in properly, and if that’s not happening then nothing is happening.
Are iio managed by Kurosh Nasseri?
Yes, he used to be my partner's lawyer and now he has a management firm. We had a good feeling so we signed with him. He looks after us worldwide; he goes through all offers we receive, makes sure that the promotion runs smoothly and generally makes everything happen as it should. He's the hub.
What do you think of the relationship between US radio and dance music?
It's really bad. I don't know whether the overall situation will change much, although in a few places, such as Florida, where they’ve come up with dance channels that are doing really well, things seem to have improved. Here in New York, it's still hip-hop that’s going strong. US radio pigeonholes dance music, they don't understand that it’s just a form of music and that it’s powerful throughout the world.
What would you change about the music industry?
What bothers me the most is the way things work with radio. Radio is just the Top 40 and they’re just after the money; I think it should be a lot more open. It would be great if there were stations that just played good music, and artists who don't have deals, where people could submit their songs to be played and get paid for it. It might be possible; perhaps at some point the web will become representative of what’s out there, and become a place where people just play good music.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Other than the chart success, playing live. Being out there in front of thousands of people really gets your adrenaline going!
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years’ time?
What I'm doing now, which I love. I'd also like to take people under my wing and show them how I do things in the studio, to the point where they start to do their own thing.
interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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