Don’t miss Mark Bright on The Producer’s Chair, on Thursday, Sept. 29 at Sound Stage Studios at 6:30 p.m.
By: James Rea
Over the past three and a half decades since Mark Bright began his remarkable journey in Nashville, his legendary accomplishments as a producer, corporate executive, publisher and hit songwriter, have been well-documented. Knowing that, one can’t help but think about the huge array of people who have been blessed by their association with Bright.
A partial list of artists alone would include Blackhawk, Reba McEntire, Sara Evans, Jo Dee Messina, Lonestar, Rascal Flatts, Scotty McCreery, Peter Cetera, Sting, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Steven Tyler, Keith Urban, Billy Ray Cyrus, Luke Bryan, Shakira and Carrie Underwood — who, along with Bright, is over the moon with excitement about her a CMA nomination for her current album Storyteller.
Bright credits his successes to mentors like Joe Galante and Tim DuBois but what makes him unique is his willingness to share that which they taught him. And teach him well they did. Bright’s meteoric rise from the tape room, to the Vice-Presidency of Screen Gems/EMI Music, to his stint as President and CEO of Word Entertainment, provided Bright with a world of knowledge that only a handful of producers have been privy to.
But Bright’s expertise doesn’t end there. It’s been said that, to be successful in business, one must know how to cut deals and he’s obviously mastered that skill as well. In 1999 Bright co-formed Teracel Music as a joint venture with Sony/ATV. He signed Brett James, who landed over 40 cuts in the first year and sold it in 2005, reportedly for the highest multiple ever paid at the time for a joint venture.
After that, he launched My Good Girl Music, which was later renamed Chatterbox, in another joint venture with Sony/ATV and EMI. He now writes for Delbert’s Boy Music.
When asked what he’s into these days, Bright said he’s working beside his new wife Jennifer, whom he married on April 1, 2016. Also, he is celebrating his 23rd No. 1 single “Church Bells” with Underwood—as well as the one constant that has propelled the music industry from Day One … the discovery and development of new talent.
The Producer’s Chair: Let’s talk about Storyteller. You produced five songs, Jay Joyce produced six and Zach Crowell produced two. Is having multiple producers on one album something that is happening more frequently?
Mark Bright: I’ll give you my take on this. I think it’s a fantastic idea for an artist, particularly an artist that’s hugely successful, to expand their creativity by working with different producers. If I were an artist, I would want to see what it would be like with another producer to see what new direction I could go artistically.
Sometimes the process works, sometimes it doesn’t. In Carrie Underwood’s case it obviously worked very well. Don’t get me wrong, I love making whole albums and records but I think working with multiple producers can yield a better final product. I love the songs Jay Joyce produced on this album, his work was just brilliant. Also Zach Crowell did a wonderful job on his two tracks. Our processes are all quite different from each other. That’s why I’m so excited about the Storyteller album.
Did each one of you bring the songs that you produced?
No, these songs are the ones that Carrie chose. That’s really what it’s all about. Publishers and writers are pitching to all of us. We’re all playing songs for Carrie and the team. The bottom line is that these are the songs that she loves and in many cases wrote. The Storyteller album is her vision.
Are artists who don’t write, but who are great singers, still valid in today’s market?
Certainly artists who don’t write are still going to have great careers, but it’s hard to challenge the validity of a songwriter/artist. More and more artists in our genre need to be informed about the songs they are recording and how those songs relate to their lives.
There’s a much higher percentage of artists writing or co-writing their albums. This town has always been about the song and the songwriting. The best songs we’ve ever experienced in the history of country music have happened when two or more writers sit in a room and write a hit. Historically, these were mostly not written by the artist themselves. Culturally and artistically, that has been changing through the last few years for all the right reasons.
What effect do you think streaming is going to have on radio in the future?
Most agree that terrestrial radio will have a finite lifespan. I don’t know how long that’s going to be. I actively listen to our three prominent country stations. I’m a core listener. Hopefully, our format will hang on to our live programming and our DJ personalities, because it’s part of our tradition. However, streaming is here and is clearly changing our listening habits.
YouTube has been criticized for hiding behind the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Are there any solutions to that?
Yes, they can start paying a fair rate. That would be a good solution. YouTube wouldn’t be YouTube from the musical point of view if it wasn’t for creators. You can’t skirt around it. It is irrefutable. So pay a fair rate for those songs and for that artistry. We’re not asking to become the Donald Trumps of the world. We want to feed our families. That’s not too much to ask. Don’t you agree?
I wish we didn’t even have rate court. Publishers know best how to negotiate rates for their own copyrights. Also, I wish we didn’t have to keep enduring out-of-date and irresponsible Department of Justice rulings. It’s absolutely unacceptable.
Who is leading the charge? Is there a body?
Every professional organization that I can think of is doing an excellent job in fighting for our rights. It’s absolutely necessary for us as individuals and as creators of music to fight these injustices with one voice. Sometimes I feel like we have too many ideas and we all have our particular agendas of wrongs that we need righted. I get that, but I’m afraid we’re not going to be taken seriously, until we go to the Hill with one voice. Everyone’s waiting for that voice to take charge.
Have you ever been approached about starting a label?
As a person who’s had the good fortune of owning and operating several successful publishing companies and as a former label head, I am always open to opportunities like that. Maybe I am more open to it now, more than any other time in my career, because I know a lot more than I did 10 years ago. I have a lot more experience in managing different aspects of the business and inspiring people. It’s so special when you have the right team to “go up the hill together.”
What was the most exciting moment you’ve ever spent in the studio?
The most exciting moment for me was when we were working on the first Carrie Underwood album, Some Hearts. My engineer Derek Bason and I were flying to different studios around the West Coast to get Carrie’s vocals recorded because the album needed to be completed quickly. She had just won American Idol and was in the middle of touring. It was a grueling schedule for her.
I remember, we were at Electrokitty Studio in Seattle, and I was thinking we’ve got a really hard song called “Wasted” that we need to get her to sing. I was worried she might not have enough in the tank because of the grueling touring schedule. But you know, she walked in looking fresh as a daisy. And she just blew us away.
The chorus on “Wasted” is really high, but she sang through it without even a hint of fatigue. It was like she could have sung it two steps higher if we had asked her to. We were all sitting there with chill bumps. The girl is THAT good.
What’s the best advice that’s ever been given to you?
I remember early in my career when I was struggling, someone said it’s important to learn how to thrive on rejection. I didn’t know what that meant when he said it, but the thought never left me. Along the way I started understanding what that meant. You’re going to get told no a whole lot and it can be crippling. When somebody says, “You’re not good enough” or “You don’t have enough talent,” learn how to channel it and use it to your advantage. I think that was the best advice ever given to me.
After my initial success with Blackhawk, I had a long dry spell as a producer. I was told that I would never find success again. I also remember my daddy saying the same thing, because he didn’t want me to be in the music business. That made me want to prove him and everybody else wrong.
I was able to channel that negativity into working harder than I ever had in my life, and the next thing I know, I was working with this new band called Rascal Flatts. I wake up every day now, knowing that I need to prove myself, because I have something to say with the music and I’m not going to stop until somebody makes me.