10 Questions with ... Braden Merrick
August 4, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
My start in the "industry" was tuning guitars on stage for various artists while on tour, then that led to raising capital and being a co-founder of redbutton.com, which sold digital downloads of unknown "curated" artists. Then I worked for garageband.com and learned a few things from Jerry Harrison and the managers of Billy Joel and the Grateful Dead (the naming rights were sold to Apple). In 2002, I landed my first A&R position with Warner Bros Records, which lead to discovering The Killers in September of 2002, which lead to my management/producer career. I've since retired from management and have consulted on A&R and Marketing for Island Def Jam, Universal, Sony Music, Columbia, and Epic Records. All of those career moves lead me to Bright Antenna, whom are some of the most passionate and dedicated people I've ever met.
1. How did you first become interested in the record business?
If memory serves, my parents still stick to this story. When I was 4, my mom said when I learned how to operate their record player at age 4 - one of those Panasonic all-encompassing wood units - I put on "Hello, I love You" by The Doors. From that moment onward, I was "in." At first, hearing music made me want to learn an instrument and get into bands. My biggest influence was watching my dad play bass in bands and when the band thing didn't pan out for me, I figured out how to earn my living from the business side. I just knew that I had to be involved with music, be as close as possible to it and nurture it because it gave me so much and continues to do so.
2. After starting your career in A&R, what led you to become President of Bright Antenna?
I've always had an entrepreneurial bug in me and I met an investor known at Carter Evans in a horse barn in North Carolina in '97. This lead us to becoming founders of redbutton.com, which was an A&R resource for the "industry" that was run out of San Francisco from 1997-2001. We just wanted to feature the best unsigned artists that we could find at the time, sell their digital downloads (before it became the norm) and invest in some, acting as their managers or publishers. One of those artists was Vendetta Red out of Seattle that signed to Epic Records, which got us a lot of attention and helped us develop relationships in the "industry." From there I worked at garageband.com, which was a web-site that had a fan voting engine. The band's that were voted to the top actually got to make a record with an a-list producer and within that organization I learned a lot from Billy Joel's manager, the Grateful Dead's manager, the former music editor of the Washington Post, and of course Jerry Harrison from the Talking Heads. It was a great experience coming to work every day learning from them. It was a real "pinch me" moment.
During that time I felt like I really developed my "ear" because I listened to tens of thousands of songs of unknown acts, stuff that was bubbling under and stuff that had broken through and become mainstream. I was doing A&R independently for my own needs like that for years and then as I developed relationships in the "industry," I began talking to Warner Bros Records about an A&R scouting position. When I got hired, I worked with Paula Moore, Craig Aaronson, Perry Watts-Russell, Andy Olyphant, Matt Wallace, Seymour Stein, "Goldie," and Tom Whalley. I learned so much from this experience. This lead me to a management/producer career with The Killers and then onto consulting for Universal (Island/Def Jam) and Sony Music (Epic/Columbia). I was in Los Angeles at the time and newly married and my wife and I wanted to move up to San Francisco and I received a call from an attorney for Bright Antenna known as David Kostiner and he convinced me to take a meeting with his new clients. After meeting with them at SXSW in 2007, I realized that this is what I've been looking for all along and that was 8 years ago.
Deep down I've always wanted to be a part of an organization that has a real passion for music, its discovery and its development. A place that could be nimble, move quickly and have a 10 year plan and beyond for its artists. I've been involved in this business in one way or the other for 20 years now and I've never been happier than I am at Bright Antenna. When you're in the bay area, come on by.
3. Tell us about how the label started back in 2007 and the artists on the bright antenna roster?
It was a former partner that was having a discussion with Tiffanie (our chief executive super goddess) back in 2006 in Italy about the state of music and their desire of wanting to hear better music on the airwaves. Those initial conversations lead to the birth of Bright Antenna, "where music is a necessity, not a pastime." with four partners in place that include Tiffanie DeBartolo, Scott Schumaker, Benjamin Heldfond and myself, we all wanted to release music that could change lives one song at a time. That led to our first 7" vinyl release from an artist know as Paul Hartnoll from Orbital. A song called "Please" that featured Robert Smith from The Cure singing the topline. Since then we've released music from O.M.D., Middle Class Rut, Beware Of Darkness, Flagship, The Wombats, Far, Cheerleader and several others with more new music coming for 2015-2016.
4. What do you enjoy most about your job?
You can't beat discovering something really great and developing a relationship with an artist to where they want to be a part of the Bright Antenna family. I also have to say that, getting to work with my team on the never ending marathon of creatively trying to help artists realize some form of sustainability is a hustle that makes me get up every morning. We want all of our artists to not have "day jobs."
5. What may surprise people the most to learn about Bright Antenna?
That we've been at this for over 8 years now and that the company name is a lyric from the Rush song "The Spirit Of The Radio". Our brilliant Chief Executive Super Goddess Tiffanie DeBartolo came up with it. We think it fits.
6. What has been your biggest challenge running an independent label?
Learning how to be really patient in the "I want it now" world of today.
7. Of all the things you have accomplished at bright antenna, what are you most proud of?
Our collective continued commitment to our artists and seeing their careers move forward. This is one story of many, but I remember seeing The Wombats play for 30 people in the lower east side in 2007 and then have their song "Jump Into The Fog" connect at alternative radio and go top 15 in 2012 and now their new single "Greek Tragedy" become the #1 global viral track on Spotify. In September 2015, the band will be headlining Terminal 5 in NYC. To say the least, we are very excited.
8. What is your favorite market to visit on business and why?
There are so many but I'd have to say London. That city has been very kind to me and Bright Antenna. I love the music fans and the industry's excitement about the future of the business. I tend to get a little "emo" when I'm sitting at Heathrow waiting to board my return flight back to San Francisco because I start to miss London immediately.
9. What would surprise people the most about you?
That I lived in Alaska for a couple of years near the Arctic Circle.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______?
Not to sound hokey, but knowing I've lived each day the best I can...
Your bio says you make a mean margarita. What makes your margarita so great?
Hahaha, it's all about the "parts." I crush key limes, make my own simple syrup, sea salt, rocks, and use Fortaleza Blanco Tequila. The glass is key. I usually serve the margarita in a double old fashioned style glass. If you like a little heat in it, check out Bitterman's Hellfire Bitters or use a half already squeezed lime and let it float on top of the margarita with a little Mezcal inside the lime. Dunk that and drink up.
I know you are a big Golden State Warriors fan. Where were you and what was your reaction when the warriors became 2015 NBA champions?
I was watching at home. I pretty much freaked out (lost my voice) and was hi-fiving with Miles Anzaldo at GO96.3 on the phone.
What are your hobbies?
Traveling, gardening, fly fishing, cooking, playing guitar, entertaining...
Last non-industry job?
Making signs for golf courses in North Carolina.
First record ever purchased?
Stars On 45 12" with my lawn mowing money. I was 9. I took it home, put it on, and I thought, "I look great in this."
My dad took me to Motley Crue in '87.
Favorite band of all-time?
The Rolling Stones.
David Bowie. I met him once.