by Alex Cosper
Alex: Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is music industry veteran Marc Nathan, who has identified acts such as 3 Doors Down, Barenaked Ladies, Meryn Cadell, King Missile and Kon Kan for labels that led to successful signings. We'll be discussing his A&R career in the music industry and some of the stories behind hit records. It's for my website Playlist Research. Thanks for joining me, Marc.
Marc: It's my pleasure Alex. I also like seeing myself looking so young.
Alex: Marc, first of all, tell us what it's like to know Robert Plant.
Marc: I worked with Robert for a few years (85-88) while doing radio promotion for Atlantic Records. The man was a gentleman, and of course a brilliant singer and recording artist. He's just one of many that made up what was probably the most prolific roster of talent in the US music business in that era.
Alex: Prior to joining Atlantic in the 80s, you were at other labels and worked with Todd Rundgren .. tell us about that.
Marc: I was 16 (1971), in New York City, in high school and a huge fan of pop(ular) music. I bought records with my allowance, and was going to concerts at the Fillmore East almost every weekend. I was a huge fan of a band called Nazz, and then Todd Rundgren went solo. I purchased his debut album (Runt) and wrote a fan letter to him. His roommate answered the letter, and I went up to Ampex Records to thank him, I never left. I was a promotion man about 3 days later. I worked for Bearsville, Casablanca, Playboy/Beserkley, Mushroom, Sire, I.R.S. and Modern Records before joining Atlantic/Atco in mid-1983.
Alex: I understand you did radio promotion for many years with various labels until you became an A&R guy for Atlantic in the late 80s. I remember playing the record you found called "I Beg Your Pardon" by Kon Kan when I was on KWOD.
Marc: Yes, I was a radio promotion man from 1971 through 1988. In late 88 I was in Toronto and met a club DJ named Barry Harris and he had made a record ("I Beg Your Pardon") and released it in Toronto. I thought it was a smash, so I bought all the copies I could find and brought them back to NY, sent it to some radio people and gave a copy to the A&R department, and we signed the song, it became a hit, and I changed offices and became an A&R man smile emoticon.
Alex: That record was ground breaking because it was the first electronic record I can think of that featured a sample of a country hit.
Marc: It was really the first pop chart record to incorporate a popular sample.
Alex: Wasn't the idea of sampling up in the air back then as far as copyright and getting permission to use song samples?
Marc: Absolutely. There was a lot of legal wrangling to secure the rights to the Lynn Anderson sample. Fortunately, I was not in the legal department. I just had to get the record played, and even more fortunately, it was a BIG hit.
Alex: Kon Kan came from Canada .. What became of them?
Marc: Barry Harris became a very *(VERY) successful remixer of dance music with his partner (who I had introduced him to, Chris Cox) - They became "Thunderpuss" and remixed ALL the divas in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Alex: You left Atlantic in 91 and managed Meryn Cadell, who went on to get signed. Did you go into management to support certain acts or more to learn that side of the business?
Marc: It was an interesting time for me. I actually got "sent home" (read: fired) by Atlantic, when I tried to sign The Cowsills, who had hits in the 60s and here it was the 90s and people were not signing 40 and 50 year old acts. While "on vacation" (read: unemployment) I went to a Canadian Music panel at the New Music Seminar in NY and heard about an act called Barenaked Ladies that were causing a lot of excitement in Canada. I also met Meryn Cadell, who had a song called "The Sweater" getting played on CFNY in Toronto. One thing led to another, I ended up managing Meryn and getting both her and Barenaked Ladies signed to Seymour Stein and Sire Records.
Alex: We played "The Sweater" on KWOD and it was a monster one hit wonder for us. That was an unconventional record. At some point in the 90s you got involved with hip hop and actually brought the label Cash Money to Universal .. Explain how you became aware of that label and why you thought it could be successful.
Marc: After getting fired and later re-hired by Doug Morris, then at Universal, I was heading up the A&R Research department. I had found a few records that had success, including Merril Bainbridge.
Alex: The label Cash Money certainly lived up to its name and became the home of many huge hip hop hits.
Alex: Another against the grain type artist you found was King Missile. What was the story behind their hit "Detachable Penis"? Seems like a lot of alternative stations played them then they disappeared.
Marc: I was living in New York City, and King Missile was a local "underground" alternative act that was on a label called Shimmy Disc. They had an album called Mystical Sh*t and it featured a song called "Jesus Was Way Cool." The leader of the band was a brilliant poet named John S. Hall, and I felt they would reach a wider audience if I could get them signed to Atlantic. I did, they did, and after I was gone from the label, they released their second Atlantic album called "Happy Hour" with said song. It got a lot of airplay in LA on KROQ, and a bunch of stations had success with it. MTV had a great run with the video as well.
Alex: At the turn of the century you helped 3 Doors Down get signed. Tell us about that.
Marc: 3 Doors Down was a local band in the Gulfport-Biloxi, MS area, and they had recorded their first song, "Kryptonite," and somehow it found its way onto the local rock station there, and was just a gangbusters #1 hit. I flew to Biloxi, went to five or six record stores (can't do that anymore) and in each one people were coming in looking for the record. I flew home having never seen the band live, talked to them or their management, but I'd seen and heard the fans ... it was a no-brainer, and their debut album sold 5 million copies (again, can't do that anymore.)
Alex: I think the rock format needs more songs like "Kryptonite" .. groovy beat, fun to sing along with .. interesting story and it rocks .. Where do you see rock music today? Can a band like 3 Doors Down still get signed?
Marc: You know, "rock" is not selling like it did many years ago. I think streaming and stealing has a lot to do with that, but there are bands like Nothing More, Shaman's Harvest, Halestorm, Pretty Reckless and Highly Suspect that have hit songs at the format, and that does lead to some ticket sales and a fan base. It's smaller, so bands have to manage their expectations better, but rock is not "dead" per se. Just lagging a bit behind pop, country, hip hop and EDM.
Alex: Seems like rock never died but the music and radio industries keep finding ways to ignore it .. Does the position you held for many years called A&R still exist or is it consolidated with other label departments?
Marc: A&R still very definitely exists. A&R Research - the brand of A&R I championed at Atlantic, Universal, MCA and later, Capitol/EMI - still exists as well. As I said before, it's about managing expectations. Smaller budgets, smaller commitments, and in almost all cases, smaller successes.
Alex: You were with Capitol's A&R team through 2010 and since then you've been doing independent A&R research, back again with Doug Morris at Sony .. Tell us about why you decided to move to Nashville a few years ago.
Marc: Honestly, it was economics. I was tired of LA, and was financially strapped. I sold my home, sold most of my possessions, scaled it back "a bit" and knew I couldn't afford NYC (my home), so no NY, no LA ... let's try Nashville. Great music community. I'm a coastal guy, but I'm making the best of it.
Alex: So to be clear, you're in Nashville because it's a music town and not necessarily because it's the country capital of the world?
Marc: Absolutely. ALL kinds of great music, a whole lot of great people, and affordable at this point in my life.
Alex: Will music always be your life and do you still expect to find big names for labels?
Marc: Music is not going away. I am not going away. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that I do and will expect to find something that the general public will like. I've been successful for years, and don't see a reason why I'd lose sight of the formula now. There are just different variables these days. Social networks, and metrics replace record stores, etc.
Alex: A&R sounds like a super fun job, like being a talent scout. Tell us what a typical day is like for you as an A&R research consultant.
Marc: Honestly, my personal typical day involves sitting in front of a computer with multiple windows open to YouTube, Soundscan, Mediabase, Next Big Sound, Hits, Facebook and wherever else the internet takes me to find some great sounding music.
Artist: Once you find something you like, how difficult is the next hurdle for the artist?
Marc: For the artist? They better have a smart manager, a good attorney, and if they have a fan base and play live, a decent agent. The days of "the deal" are LONG gone. The hurdles remain the same. Build a fan base, interact with your audience and play gigs. LOTS OF GIGS.
Alex: Marc, you've shared a lot of great information about the music industry. Any closing thoughts?
Marc: I have had a 44 year run and I'm still feeling the passion. I've enjoyed knowing you for close to 30 years. I've read the interviews you've done with long time friends like Bob Catania and Marc Ratner and want to thank you for keeping us all in your thoughts and keeping us all relevant to your readers. I would say the three of us know "hits" a LOT better than the kids coming up, because they just never had the experience of watching a song go on the radio and explode. Kinda like when The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. There were 4, maybe 5 channels on the dial. Now there are hundreds. Things get diluted pretty easily and attention spans get shorter and shorter. It's a different world, but there will always be hits. Take care!
Alex: Marc, thanks again for this interview.
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