10 Questions with ... Marc Ratner
February 17, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started playing music as a young kid - I was a violinist in the Minneapolis Youth Symphony Orchestra, then switched to classical guitar and eventually became a singer-songwriter. Had a single out in the 70s but found it was easier to talk about other people than myself so even though I still play the guitars scattered all over my office ... I went into the business of music. I worked in radio (MD at WMEX.Boston), retail (Discount Records) and then records including RSO during Sat Night Fever & Grease, 15 years at Warner Bros/Reprise Records ending up as VP Promotion and then six years at DreamWorks. Since then I've started two labels, consulted artists and labels, and now love running Mishara Music - a singer/songwriter label and management company. Most know me from promotion but I love the A&R process and that takes much of my time.
1. What got you interested in the record business?
Like a lot of other people who started as artists or in broadcasting - I wanted to be closer to the music. I've always loved breaking new artists (more than working established ones).
2. What was your favorite station to listen to when you were a kid?
No question - WBCN Boston. When they first began they were rocking from 10p - 2a (classical the rest of the time) and broadcasting from the back room of the famous rock club the Boston Tea Party. When bands were on stage and the jock opened the mic, you could hear the bass coming through the walls. I had to listen with my ear right next to the speaker because -- especially on school nights -- I was supposed to be sleeping way before they signed off.
3. What series of events led to the formation of Mishara What may surprise people the most about ??? Records?
I closed my previous label bigHelium when my partner there and I wanted to go in different directions (quite amicably). I had just finished a consultation project and by happenstance ran into my current business partner - Linda Baker - who I'd worked with at Warners for 10 years. She was just leaving her current management company ... we had similar ideas and musical tastes and here we are four years later with 15 albums released and a whole roster of artists that we love.
4. What type of music do you focus on with the label?
We focus on singer/ongwriters because our first love is songs. And businesss-wise, singer/songwriters can tour more economically than bands ... and they don't break up!
5. What are some of your biggest challenges as an independent record label?
Easy - being taken seriously. There's so much fear in the industry that people are often more concerned about artificial success than the music itself. Because there are so many people looking over the shoulder of programmers and judging their music choices by chart success ... it's easier to program records from the majors because of the clout they have.
The phrase I hear over and over again is "I love your record but I need to watch it." It's not that the programmers want to; it's that with all those people watching every move they make, they have to. That means that our chances of success on the charts are slim because when enough people wait on the sidelines it guarantees that you can never get to a point where those programmers can justify adding the record to their overlords, which I find interesting, because I believe the independent labels have the most interesting artists. Why? Because the people running them are like the entrepreneurs in the early days of the music business when they signed and built artists they loved because the music came first - not the financial considerations.
6. What would surprise people the most about the label?
The success of our alternative types of marketing. For example we give away a lot of free songs to build the audience for our artists. We have a partnership with Amazon and through our five Mishara Music Free Song Samplers we've given away over a million free songs.
7. How have your projects been received by the Triple A radio community?
It depends on the direction of the stations. Many, many of my independently minded programming friends like our artists individually but because of the lean of the stations, they can't understandably play them. We lean acoustic and with the indie alternative lean of so many great stations - we just don't fit. But ... where we do fit the format (and I've always felt Triple A is really 200 individual formats held together by a love of real music) ....we have great success. And I never forget the lessons of working at Warner Bros. -- those golden years where we were all about artist development. As we build the audience for our artists we build the ability for more stations to program them. Never say never. I've got stories.
8. What other avenues of exposure do utilize for your artists?
As I mentioned,Amazon has been a great partner. Constant touring and adventurous exploration of the Internet - where we try never to do things the way you're "supposed" to -- are a big part of what we do. For example, on our website free song page, we never ask for an e-mail address to download a song ... we want our music out there ... if someone loves a song they've downloaded, they'll came back. If they don't love it, the e-mail is worthless. This is especially important to us when you know that statistically 77% of people will not trade an e-mail for a download. We want those 77% of people sampling our music - especially when everyone is ignoring them.
9. Things are changing rapidly in our business. Were it up to you, what would you change in our "system" to give your bands a better shot?
Ahhh, I'm old fashioned ... I'd go back to the days when stations had full time off-air PDs and MDs who had time to listen to music and add the songs and artists that they were passionate about without having to look over their shoulders at the GMs, consultants and corporate folks who always need a reason other than "the music" to justify an add to the playlist. For me, the best stations are those with in-house programmers and music people who have a vision on how their station should be and sound, and they're allowed to execute that vision.
10. If you were to leave the music business today and you could choose any other occupation, what would it be?
If money weren't involved, it would be volunteering my time. As many people know I spent 20+ years as a member of a volunteer mountain search and rescue team - seven of those years as Captain of the team. I've been involved in hundreds of rescues over the years. There's nothing more satisfying than saving someone's life ... accompanied by the joy of knowing you're doing it for all the right reasons.
Last non-industry job:
It's been so long - I believe it was working in a book chain warehouse unpacking books from the publishers and repacking them to ship to the stores. Good practice for moving.
First record ever purchased:
My mother bought me my first 45 when I asked her to get it for me -- "Return To Sender" by Elvis Presley. My first store 45 purchase on my own was "The Lonely Bull" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - the record that started A&M Records. I still have it. The first album I owned was A Hard Days Night.
It was one of those concerts that had five bands on the bill. A whole bunch of one-hit wonders ... until the final act - where they cleared the stage and put a simple drum kit on a riser and two microphones out front. Not a monitor in sight. The two night DJs on the two Top 40 stations in Boston at the time - had been taking turns introducing the acts and said, "We flipped a coin to see who would introduce the next act" ... and not a single person in the audience ever heard the result ... because at that moment The Beatles hit the stage.
Favorite band of all-time:
The Beatles. I'm lucky enough to have lived through those 50 years in America they just celebrated and having done that there couldn't be any other answer. I'm an older, first-time dad and have an eight-year-old son that we took to see Paul McCartney last summer and he'll be able to say he saw Paul McCartney live on the 100th anniversary of their first American visit. How cool is that!