Mark Bright - Producer - InterviewPosted on January 22, 2011 with 0 comments
Mark Bright is best known as a hit record producer and a Nashville publishing company executive. His production projects include Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire, Sara Evans, Danny Gokey, and Whitney Duncan, among many others. He is also producing Cher’s country album. His success in production was launched with the group Blackhawk, which resulted in two #1 singles, 9 top-ten singles, and multiplatinum record sales for the group. Bright’s current success with Carrie Underwood has resulted in many multiweek #1’s including Jesus Take The Wheel, Before He Cheats, and Cowboy Casanova, resulting in over 13 million records sold.
Bright formerly served as Vice President of EMI Music Publishing and co-founded one of the most successful co-ventures, Teracel Music. Teracel Music had staff writers that included Brett James, Rascal Flatts, and Danny Wells; it was recently acquired by Dimensional Music Publishing. The Teracel catalog includes the multi-week #1 song, When The Sun Goes Down by Kenny Chesney, These Days by Rascal Flatts, Blessed by Martina McBride and Who I Am by Jessica Andrews. Mark previous served as President & CEO of Word Entertainment. He has recently put all his energies into Producing and currently owns My Good Girl Music, a co-venture of Sony ATV Music. The company has celebrated the multi-week #1 song, Do You Believe Me Now by Jimmy Wayne and American Ride by Toby Keith.
- You've worn many hats in the music industry. What aspect of the music business best prepared you to be a producer?
A: Working in the tape room at Scream Jim’s Music, which later became BMI music. I was hired by Charlie Feldman who is now a very high executive at BMI. When he hired me he got my name from John Briggs who was leaving the tape room to take a position at ASCAP. John and I had been friends since we met at Belmont. Anyway, Charlie explained the position to me and said I was not able to critique the songs that were coming through; I was only there to learn what a good song really was. He said, “You might think you know what a good song is, but you don’t; this is your opportunity to learn about songs.” So for a full year I just listened, and we were surrounded by these incredible songwriters: Pat McLaughlin, Becky Foster, Craig Bickhardt, Wendy Waldman etc.
They were experiencing a lot of success with these incredible songs, not only musically but lyrically as well. Then after a year he gave me a tape with ten songs on it and said, “Listen and pick out the hits; if you don’t get it right you’re fired.” I listened and passed the test, and then I became a song plugger. I was not a very good song plugger because of my producer blood; I mean, even from a kid I wanted to be a producer. I wanted to focus on one artist only instead of the whole town. But I kept my job long enough and did good enough to get enough songs recorded to keep my job. But I was really just a passable song plugger.
All through this time I stayed in the studio all hours of the night recording and making demos for these writers. I do not really remember my twenties because I spent every single night in the studio of what later became EMI music. It was an incredible opportunity, and I am so fortunate that Charlie put his faith in me. I gained the knowledge I have today through that journey. I am unbelievably grateful and always will be.
- You took a pop song called Cowboy Casanova and made it into a crossover country hit. What do you think were the key elements that made that happen?
A: As it goes with most Carrie Underwood songs, it was the song. It starts with the most perfect marriage of great lyrics and a great melody. You take all that programming and strip it down, and you have a great song left. Realizing that, Cowboy Casanova, written by Brett James, Mike Elizondo and Carrie Underwood, was set up by many great songs that came before it. So the expectation for Carrie has always been high. She will always need and will have great songs. The song bar has always been high. This song came in at a very high level, and for her purposes, knowing it was going to be the lead off single, we wanted something to really cross the line, but we didn’t want to overshoot it. If it happens to cross over that is fine, but that is something she has never been interested in doing.
She is a country singer and does not want to be anything else. But we want to be edgy in this format. We don’t want to be the vanilla wafer for this genre we really want to always be willing to push it and always give her fans something fresh. So that was the mandate for Cowboy Casanova.
- Carrie Underwood had done some very wholesome stuff before she was convinced to record Before He Cheats. Some might say that she took a big chance when she did that. It turned out to be a great move, of course. How was the decision made to move in that direction?
A: When we got the song, I must say that one of the biggest attributes that Carrie has is trusting her circle of advisors. She has a close circle of advisors that came to the party with her that are loyal to her, and she is loyal in return. This was not a song that she was comfortable singing lyrically because she says she was not raised that way and would never do those things. But I told her, “I understand you wouldn’t do these things. But you’re a story teller; and it doesn’t have to be your story. It only needs to be executed well.” Then she embraced it and owned it. I never heard a vocal tighter. She sang it and made it her own.
- Some artists have been successful with a limited amount of diversity in the types of songs they do. Others have been willing to take on many personas, Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins, for example. Between the River and Me comes to mind, a fantastic song that could never make the radio for obvious reasons. Do you think that being willing to take on other personas is attractive to fans? Isn't it similar to actors who take on many different roles? Why in your opinion are some artists not willing to do that?
A: I think some artists are reluctant to do it. I think a true artist whose artistry is highly developed is not afraid to branch out and try something new. But newer artists are a little more reluctant about taking on a new persona. Really successful country artists may go to Hollywood and take on new personas. Reba McEntire comes to mind as a perfect example. But she is a real artist, and she is not afraid to take on anything. Others may not be as secure, and if what they are doing is working, they do not want to stray too far from that.
- What projects taught you the most about producing?
A: Black Hawk. Tim Dubois handed me my career. There are a few people who get to do what they really love to do. I am so lucky to be able to do what I do. I am truly blessed. But there are so many people in the music business that do not take chances and seem very insecure about giving opportunities to someone. It was only Tim, who is an incredibly secure and talented human being, who was wiling to walk out on that limb for me. He heard something I did with a band and gave me my first real big break. He put his name as co producer on the album with me to help build my credibility and said, “Please don’t mess this up,” only he did not use those words, necessarily.
Because I was given that opportunity, I feel I will always give it my all with any artist, regardless of who they may be. I am forever grateful to Tim; he was the one who taught me and helped me. But moving from that I ruined many artists careers; ask Blackhawk, but then Rascal Flatts came knocking, and we did three or four albums together; we got them the record deal together. But as inexperienced as they were, they are three highly talented guys. So you put these three blokes together, and you get something explosively amazing. Going into the studio with them, they taught me to go from good to something really great. We sold 12 million records together before they moved on, and I owe them a great deal. Anyone who says the producer makes a star is wrong. The reality is the producer can make a living off the greatness of that star.
- What songs that you produced surprised you the most—positively or negatively?
A: I would say, I’m Moving On, even though it wasn’t a number one hit, but it was a career changer for Rascal Flatts. Granted I have Jerry House to thank for that. Jerry was great friends with everyone involved. He made it a point to say, “No, no, the last single should be this song.” The label thought it was not a single and that it would flop. But Jerry persisted, saying that it was a game changer single. Then he played it a bunch of time on his morning show, and they started hearing this reaction; he single handedly caused that song to become a single.
I think another song that was surprising in the opposite regards, was a Blackhawk song called, Postmark Birmingham. You may not remember it, but it was an incredible lyric; it only made it to 38 on the charts and died a horrible death. That always really hurt me because it should have been a huge song. It didn’t hurt me for myself; it hurt me for the writers, because it should have really been a big song. I felt like I owed them an apology.
I guess the last surprise goes back to Rascal Flatts and me getting Flatts to record Skin. They collectively fought me on that one because of the subject matter. But I know a lot of families, as well as my own, that are touched by cancer. But when we saw the radio response, and then the band saw how much it affected their fans, it was really gratifying to see the power of that song. The whole ordeal was very cool.
- What was your most rewarding experience as a producer?
A: The first time I heard something I produced on the radio. I almost had a car accident. It was so thrilling. That was good.
- Do you have any heroes, in or outside of the music business?
A: Of Course! We all do. I have many of them. Of Course Tim Dubois will always be a hero to me. In fact, a lot of my heroes are my competitors. Dann Huff is a hero to me. But we are very competitive with each other. Byron Gallimore is a hero to me; I love that a lot of my heroes are record producers, oddly enough. But the very first one would be Sir George Martin. My sister would bring home those Beatles singles, and when she would leave the house, I would sneak in her room and listen to the singles for hours. I was seven years old and thought I wanted to produce music like that.
- What would you like others to say about you as a producer?
A: What fans say about producers is generally really ugly. So I don’t read it. I don’t make records for the people; I get to make records to make the artist’s journey happy and wonderful and to please myself. So what people say about it, one way or another, is what they say. They may say nothing about it, and that is fine with me too.
- Do you have songs that you’ve held onto for when the right artist comes along, and have you had occasions to use any of them?
A: I held on to Bless the Broken Road for 11 years. Not that I owned it or anything, but when I first heard it, it blew me away. Now, in the interim, there was an artist named Melody. She recorded it, and it didn’t do very well. But I kept playing it for artist after artist, and finally it found a home with Rascal Flatts. But I finally got the mission accomplished and won a Grammy for the song. That still is one of the most special recordings I have worked on.
- If you weren't in the music business, what business do you think you might be in?
- We know your producing a Country/Pop album for Cher. How did that come about?
A: Cher is a Warner artist, and I’m in an advisory role with Warner. I have a great working relationship with them, but having said that, this opportunity came from Burbank and the A&R folks there. I have met Cher through another friend of mine named Desmond Child several times. He is a close friend who has taught me a lot and remains a very close friend today. Even though the phone call did not come from that relationship, but because we know each other, when she came to Nashville she thought of me. Cher knows that her listeners also listen to country music, so she felt it was a natural thing to develop a country music relationship.
- What question should we have asked you that we didn't?
A: I think you did a pretty excellent job. Other than the fact that, along with being a producer, music publishing has played a huge roll in my life. I have a joint venture with Troy Tomlinson at Sony ATV Music; I have had a joint venture with that company since 1999. In fact, I am the only joint venture that ATV has. Songwriting is also another thing that pulses through my veins and makes a huge impact on my life.