10 Questions with ... Mark Abramson
October 21, 2014
1. What made you want to get into the music business? Were there any early mentors?
As long as I can remember, music has always been important to me. Music is just powerful magic and has always been a driving force in my life. I started off, inspired by Fingers Metal Shop on WBAB/Long island, wanting to be a DJ and so went off to school to get a Broadcasting degree. School and I have never been the "best of friends," so I took the early release plan and joined the music biz and never turned back. The key mentors in my life started off with Kathie Merrit (who I was an intern for), Valerie DeLong (who helped me in so many ways in work and life), Dave Loncao, Mike Easterlin and John Boulos - each of those have played (or still play) a key role in my life - some more than I can describe properly.
2. Can you give us a rundown of the record labels and positions you've held over the years?
I started off as an intern at Roadrunner which led to part-time, which led to full-time employment. I started off as the Metal radio promo guy which led to me starting the commercial radio department of Roadrunner Records (I was it, ha ha). After seven years I left to work for The Enclave and Val DeLong as her head of Rock. When they shut us down, I went to TVT as head of Rock and stayed there for two-and-a-half years. After that I went back "home" and have been back here now ever since - running the Rock format for the best damn Rock label in the world!
3. Before we talk about some of the hot new music on Roadrunner, can you give us some of your proudest past achievements in breaking new acts with this label?
Sure - the first key and major landmark for both me and the label of course was Type O Negative ("Bloody Kisses") - a total passion project/life mission of mine that became both my and the label's first Gold record. This was before Active Rock, as it is now called, even existed and it helped break major barriers at the format. I am extremely proud to be a big part of both the Nickelback and the Slipknot storylines from the beginning. Both of those are amazing stories that are truly special. But I have to say one of my proudest achievements is my part of the story that is the development of Roadrunner Records itself! I was here when it was seven people in a room and it has been an amazing journey and the vibe we have now at WMG under Julie and Mike and John is so bad-ass and alive! This is a key cool label with a valuable brand and that brand came from lots of great artists being developed the right way to the point where so many bands dreamed of being signed here and so many people would buy the albums simply because the Roadrunner logo was on it - I am SO proud to be a big part of that history!
4. Let's talk about the success of Slipknot. This band has become one of the biggest artists at the Rock format. To what do you attribute their success at Rock radio?
The band was so very much the real deal - they hit that first Ozzfest and the world freaked out! So much of what I love is taking artists that are so very real and challenging with such a street reality to it and taking it to radio. When it got played, and it wasn't easy at first, the reaction was explosive! Once "Wait and Bleed" proved itself, the door was open and the steamroller had begun. It's exciting because the band constantly changes and evolves and pushes the envelope and it keeps the story interesting which keep them vital and relevant! The thing to remember is this - while it is true that it was difficult at the start to get that shot, it was exciting and adventurous radio that took the band to the next level and it was exciting and adventurous radio that continued to support the band and continues the journey WITH them.
5. You also have several other songs on Rock Radio now with the latest Theory of a Deadman single, as well as Trivium, Black Stone Cherry and Amity Affliction. Can you give us an update on these projects?
Sure you bet. Theory has delivered a great darker record which I think is exactly what they needed to do! "Drown" was a different sound for them and hit Top 5 with great research and worked really well! Now, we are on an ass-kicker of a second single with "Savages" It is off to a slow start simply because of how many people are still doing well with "Drown" - wonderful problem to have! Black Stone Cherry keep writing great rock songs and this new one is another powerful one in "Remember Me." It was written by Chris about losing his grandfather. I feel it has similarities to "In My Blood" and will hopefully do as well as that. Trivium are wrapping up their album cycle and are already getting ready to hit the studio in early 2015 to give us another great record in 2015. They keep learning more and more and evolving more and more and we WILL break that band - they are too good not to! The Amity Affliction is a MAJOR passion project of mine. Seriously I love them on an unhealthy level, ha ha. Yes, it is very heavy but they are powerful and important and connect with people on an emotional and visceral level. I will build that station by station if I have to - but the downloads go up each and every week and the shows sell out and people sing every word to every song - It will happen! It is not easy but those are the ones that satisfy most!
6. What else does the label have coming down the pipeline in the future?
Well - next year we will likely have new records from Killswitch Engage and Trivium (along with lots more, of course) but before that will be two VERY exciting new bands/projects. The Marmozets are starting a real buzz - they are from the U.K. and are AMAZING! They are currently out there opening for issues but we will start our real campaign to radio in the new year - they are so amazing and so exciting and perfect for where radio is at nowadays! Ass-kicking singer Becca will blow everyone away! Also, we have another real heavy raw band in King 810. They remind me in so many ways of early Slipknot or early Korn (In particular, singer David Gunn is similar in many ways to Corey Taylor and Jonathan Davis in the captivating and emotional way he bears his soul). This will be another challenge but SO worth it. They come from Flint, MI and it ain't pretty, but it is so amazing and real and emotional - they are going to take the world by storm (hopefully like Slipknot and Korn, haha)
7. What is the best live show you have seen this year on yours or another label and why?
Hmmm, hard to top the two Amity Affliction shows I just saw for the very reasons I stated above - the record is amazing and the connection is huge and packed rooms of kids singing every powerful word to every powerful song! Now, Knotfest this week should be pretty tough to beat with the return of Slipknot! This year I have seen amazing shows from AFI (their return album is amazing and the show was awesome), Killswitch Engage (Jesse's return has lit the band up - again powerful album connecting with people - just magical) and Nothing More (even better live than on album, ha ha), Wilson (from Michigan, one of the best live bands!) and Avatar (sin they are not bigger) that have blown me away as well.
8. As a promotion person, what are the most important tools/resources you use to stay on top of the Rock formats' growth and constant daily changes?
Everything is changing nowadays, so it is very important to be intelligent and open-minded. We need to look at everything; there are so many different metrics for success nowadays! Whether it be sales/scans/downloads or YouTube views or research or Mscores or Rate The Music or concert ticket sales or merch sales - you need to look for all the pieces of the puzzle!
9. Do you see a direct correlation today between Rock radio airplay of your artists and record sales?
Not enough but yes - but that is also more an issue for the industry than the format. In a country of 300 million people, the #1 record in America can be 100,000-200,000! That means everything is low and so the numbers are different. But it is a proven fact that people still get turned on to so much of their new music via radio (be it terrestrial or satellite). We can definitely see the affect for sure, be it scans or downloads. The key to remember is that at Rock everything is a long-term commitment nowadays - that is okay - that is the way I was "raised' - was long term artist development!
10. Finally, let's talk about the Rock format as a whole. You recently put out a manifesto with your take on the State of Rock Radio today. Can you give us the bullet points?
Aaah, the "Manifesto," ha ha - yeah, I re-wrote that like a dozen times before it ever saw the light of day. The key thing, in my opinion, is this: The format has gotten too stale and slow moving. We all need to develop more big-name artists - they won't develop without hard work and we need to get ACTIVE, hell, we need to go on the attack. We need to get MORE current intensive and need to get MORE exciting! Hiding in a shell and focusing on older bands passed their prime will not save us from this rut. Rock as a music art form, as a genre, is still VERY much alive and well and thriving but Rock radio needs to get mean and hungry a bit more. Rock is supposed to have a danger aspect to it and it is supposed to kick you in the gut! Now, this is not only on radio's shoulders -- no way -- the labels also need to focus on real and special bands. We can't glut the market with blasé boring bands (I am lucky to work for Roadrunner where we don't do boring and blasé, haha). I believe in Rock, I believe in Rock radio, but we are all a bit beaten down and glum nowadays - hell, we are being told we are dead by Rock "legends"! Well, to hell with that! We need to shake off the malaise and pick ourselves up. To quote Rocky "It isn't how hard you can hit, it's how hard you can take a hit and keep on moving forward" - we are Rock dammit - let's do this!! We have taken our hits, fine, let's come back for another round!
What do you like to do for fun and relaxation when you're not in your "work" mode?
Well, spend time with my family may sound like a cliché but it's so true. I also have recently discovered karate and it is fantastic for my mind and body! Also, when I started to do the Roadrunner podcast I started "researching" and have become a Podcast addict, ha ha - I listen to way too many of them.