10 Questions with ... Mark Chotiner
January 2, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- KROQ/Los Angeles, CA - 1990-1992 - Intern
- Polygram Label Group (1991-1992) - Intern
- Mercury Records - (1992-1994)
- Polydor/A&M Associated Labels - (1994-1999)
- Trauma Records - 2000
- Sanctuary Records - 2001-2007
- Roadrunner Promotion - 2008-present
1) What led you to a career in the music business?
Growing up, I always loved music. I was constantly going to shows and scouring the used record bins at Rockaway Records in Silverlake, Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena & Neal's Records in Glendale. As much as I loved music, I had no idea that one could actually have a career working in music. I was in my junior year at Cal State Northridge (with no idea what I wanted to do with my life) when someone suggested I get an internship at a record label. My first internship was at KROQ. Then I moved on to an internship at Polygram. I worked a lot of hours for free, but it all paid off in the end.
2) Who are some of your earliest mentors who gave you a shot in the business?
I'd like to think that I took a little bit of something from every one of the bosses that I've had over the years in the music business. Lewis Largent at KROQ: Incredible passion for all kinds of music. He opened my mind to the idea that there was more to music than just Punk and Indie rock.
David Leach at Mercury Records: David was an amazing motivator and extremely loyal to his people. Loyalty was a trait that was instilled in me very early on from David. It broke my heart the day I had to tell him I was leaving Mercury to go work for Polydor.
Dave Darus at Polydor: Dave was great at teaching me how to be resourceful and how to always find a way to get tasks done. "There is no try. There is only do." Dave Ross at Trauma: Dave is one of the most intelligent promotion guys I've ever met. I approached the job in a lot more of an analytical way after working for Dave.
Drew Murray at Sanctuary: Drew is one of the classiest people in the business. He's just an all around solid dude. We had to wear a lot of hats at Sanctuary. Drew was never afraid to tackle a radio format that he had never worked before. On top of that, he was always extremely optimistic about every new challenge. You have to be versatile to survive in this business nowadays. Drew was great at that, and it opened my eyes a lot to being more than just an "alternative guy."
John Boulos at RRP: I am truly grateful to work with Boulos. I feel like my career wouldn't have been complete had I never worked for him. I've learned so much from him in the 3-1/2 years that I've worked for him. He is always the person I turn to when I'm in a situation that I don't know how to handle. He's an incredible motivator with unbelievable passion for his artists and his staff. John is an extremely loyal person, and because of that his staff will run through walls for him. He's one of a kind.
Mike Easterlin at RRP: Mike has tremendous vision and preparation. Mike has an unbelievable ability to visualize a record's lifespan from start to finish and everywhere in between. Plus, Mike has an unparalleled work ethic. Seeing how hard Mike works motivates me to work that much harder.
3) What do you feel is the most important issue facing record labels in the current business environment?
Finding a way to effectively monetize music in a generation where kids are accustomed to getting most of their music for free.
4) What are your thoughts on the current methods of research used by radio today? What do you feel is the most valuable research tool that radio should be paying more attention to?
I'm definitely not a fan of M-Scores. It drives me crazy that certain stations place so much emphasis and faith in a statistic that is so arbitrary. The most valuable research tool that radio should pay attention to is the kids. The kids are ALWAYS right. They'll tell you what's real. Mac Miller is a great example. What are the kids spending their money on? If an artist is selling albums/singles and/or concert tickets in your market, then radio should be paying attention. When people are voting with their wallets, that is valuable research!
5) What was the craziest thing you ever did to get a record job?
I had been interning at Polygram for about a year putting in about 40 hours a week with no pay. A job opened on the West Coast with Mercury as the regional Alternative guy. Everyone else who was going for the job had much more experience than me. I knew I had to do something to set myself apart from my competition. The guy doing the hiring was Tim Hyde. Tim and I met for lunch at his hotel and had a decent interview. After lunch I went to a hardware store and bought a full size (2-1/2 foot by 6-1/2 foot) wood door and an axe. I took one swing with the axe at the door so that it was firmly stuck in the door. Then I wrote in big red ink on the door, "TIM, HIRE ME AND I'LL KNOCK DOWN DOORS FOR MERCURY RECORDS!" I knew Tim had a dinner that night. So while he was out to dinner, I drove to his hotel with the door. I explained to the bellman at the hotel what I was trying to do. I paid him 20 bucks and he let me up into Tim's room where I carefully placed the door for him to see as soon as he walked back into his hotel room. As soon as Tim saw what I had done, his decision was made. I was the new Mercury Records West Coast Alternative Regional rep. That was my first paid job in the music biz.
6) Music sales are down for the past decade now. What can be done about this?
The music business is a singles-driven market now as opposed to an album-driven market. I don't know if that's ever going to change? This generation is used to only getting three quality songs (radio singles) from an album at best. They've grown up having the option to buy only those three songs if that's all they want. And you really can't blame them?
Labels need to encourage artists to start making "albums" again, not just three songs for radio and a bunch of filler. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I'd like to think people would be more inclined to shell out money for an album if they were confident that they were getting a quality piece of music from start to finish. Arcade Fire is a great example. They made an amazing ALBUM. It ended up selling well over 500,000 copies and winning the Grammy for album of the year.
7) Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and many others have recently introduced music in "The Cloud." What effect will these new music services have on the radio and music industries?
I'm obsessed with Spotify! It's definitely a game changer! I think there will be some positive, as well as negative effects on radio and music industries. The positive is that more people will have more access to more music. Music touches people and brings people together. So that's a tremendous positive. The negative is it might mean a smaller slice of the pie for radio and record labels which could result in more layoffs. However, competition is always a good thing. It makes us work harder to come up with better ideas. Hopefully the Cloud services will ultimately force radio and record companies to deliver better products.
8) How would you compare the challenges and/or the advantages between working at an independent label versus a major label?
I've always loved working at an independent label. Somehow your successes seem so much more gratifying because there are fewer of them and you've had to really earn them. You learn to appreciate every little victory. I love being the underdog and independent labels are definitely the underdog. Working at an independent is not easy, but I love the feeling of rolling up your sleeves and digging deep to find a way to achieve your goal. That being said, it's a pretty awesome feeling to take a record like Jason Mraz "I'm Yours" to #1 in four formats! I'm not sure if we could have done that at an independent label. The thing I love about working at RRP is that it has the feel of both a major and independent.
9) Who is your best friend in the business?
Jeff Marks at Hollywood. I've known Jeff for over 25 years. We used to bag groceries at Von's Grocery Store in Burbank. We both got promoted to the produce department around the same time. During college (we both went to Cal St. Northridge)we both got internships in the music business, and eventually got jobs in the music business. It's hard to believe that our careers have been mirroring each other for over a quarter of a century.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Never lose your passion for music. When you lose your passion for music, it's time to get a new career.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love going to farmer's markets with my wife and young daughter. I'm obsessed with fresh fruits and vegetables. I play football every Saturday from September to February. I do a lot of hiking and backpacking from March to September.
What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
That I used to be a batboy for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Name a record person, not on your label, that you really admire?
Brien Terranova at Capitol Records.
Do you remember the first record that you ever bought? And what was the first concert you ever attended?
The first album I bought with my own money was AC/DC's "Back In Black." I remember hearing "You Shook Me All Night Long" on the jukebox in our cafeteria in junior high, and I knew I had to own it.
My first concert was U2 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena during the "Unforgettable Fire Tour."
What are some of the artists we might find on your MP3 player?
I love all kinds of music. Here is a sample of what you would find on my iPod: The Clash, The Replacements, A.R. Rahman, The Who, Oasis, Hank Williams, Ted Hawkins, T-Rex, Fela Kuti, Tom Petty, and Sigur Ros.
What are the most important tools/resources you use to stay on top of the Hot AC format's growth and daily changes.
Mark Strickland's Hot AC page on AllAccess.com.
What's one song that you worked in your career that you feel should have been a hit, but never was?"
Without a doubt it would be Rob Dickinson, the singer of the band Catherine Wheel. Catherine Wheel's "Black Metallic" was the first song that I worked at my first job in the biz at Mercury back in 1992. That song was a big hit for KROQ at the time, but it should have been so much bigger. It's one of those special songs that strikes a nerve when people hear it. Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic
Years later I had the privilege of working with Rob again when Sanctuary released his solo album. There was a song called "My Name Is Love" Rob Dickinson "My Name Is Love" (Album Version - Re-mastered) that should have been a huge hit for Hot AC. What a voice! If I had one regret in my career it would be that I wasn't able to help give Rob that hit that he truly deserved.
Do you have a great road story you'd like to share?
Back in 1994, I was working at Mercury and we had just released the KISS tribute album called "KISS My Ass." Marco Collins was the MD at KNDD in Seattle at the time. Marco was a huge KISS fan and he had this idea to have Gene Simmons be the emcee of "End Fest" that year. The show was in Bremerton, which is about an hour and a half drive from Seattle. Gene and I left Seattle and were in the car about 10 minutes before he said, "Let's find a Toys R Us." Don't you think it would be fun to buy some water guns and squirt all the alternative kids at this radio festival?" Of course I thought it was a great idea. We spent about an hour goofing around in Toys R Us and bought a full arsenal of water guns. Gene was the life of the party at End Fest. Everything went smoothly until the end of the night. Gene had been wearing this baseball cap that said FUCT in the style of the KISS logo. Just as we were getting ready to leave, some drunk kid thought it would be funny to pull the hat off of Gene's head and take it for himself. Gene was not amused. After two unsuccessful attempts to get the kid to give him back the hat, Gene gave the kid one last chance. The kid still wouldn't give it back. So Gene grabbed the kid by the ears and head butted him. The next thing you know, blood is GUSHING from Gene's forehead and this kid's tooth is firmly embedded in Gene's forehead. It was like he hit an artery. I couldn't believe the amount of blood! I was in full freak out mode. I was doing everything I could to get the blood to stop, but nothing would work. I ran to get the car to take Gene to the hospital, but he refused to go to the hospital. He just wanted to go back to the hotel. I kept thinking, "Oh my god, I'm gonna go down in history as the guy who got Gene Simmons killed." I kept asking him if there was anything I could do to help besides taking him to the hospital. The only thing he wanted me to do was get him a clean outfit to wear for the plane ride home the next day. So I got up early the next day and went to the local Kmart in Bremerton and bought Gene a pair of jeans and a denim shirt. They looked great with his reclaimed FUCT hat. Obviously Gene didn't die, and he actually has a good sense of humor about the incident. I've run into him several times over the years and we always have a good laugh about it!