A Muse's Muse Interview
with performing songwriter, Mark Mangold
conducted by: Jodi Krangle
Question: What were your musical influences when you were growing up and what made you want to start writing songs yourself?
Growing up it was the age of Beatles, as well as RandB, (Sam and Dave, Otis, Bo Diddley, etc.) flowing into Hendrix, Led Zep, Cream, Deep Purple etc. as well as Jimmy Smith on organ, all the great music before the stringent forms that have now taken hold. I was in bands and the first song I wrote was for a band I was in called Valhalla, which eventually did a record for United Artists. We had met some management people who wanted to get us a record deal but they said we had to write our own songs. So it all began, it was fun, just turning all that noodling into some form with lyrics. The band Valhalla, and subsequent bands, were more progressive, long songs, trying to do things that had never been done. Keyboard oriented, I play keys, we had fun toys like the mono synthesizers, and mellotron to play with. We only dreamed of polyphonic synths then. Now it's amazing, no limits. Anyway the bands and songs kept coming, American Tears on Columbia, Touch on Atlantic, Drive, She Said on CBS, Flesh and Blood (a blues project) etc., Mystic Healer (in Europe and Japan), At some point around "Touch" I started writing with Michael Bolton and we wrote a number of songs for his first two albums and a song called "I Found Someone" which found it's way to success with Cher when all the stars of heaven and earth lined up. From that I became more of a songwriter in the CBS loop, which was thriving then, alot of people writing with alot of other people in that circle. It was very educational and it was nice discovering the result can be greater than the sum of the parts.
Certainly inspiration and directions can be stretched with a collaboration, that neither writer may have come up with alone. It also taught me that once BOTH writers in the room are ecstatic, it is truly good, as opposed to one person liking it, the other not, and having to settle. It's better to keep on going till something comes up that both love. That is often the best part of a song, though it may have formerly been the weakest part of the song.
Now that collaboration world is a bit gone, except in Nashville where it still thrives. This is a songwriter's place, collaboration abundant. For songwriters now it seems to be be either in a band (most seem to write their own songs) or do the country or r and b thing (which is difficult when you are not one of the artists) eg. try to get an In Sync cut, etc. Hardly any country artists write very much so it's all the songwriters, though the number of records sold doesn't compare to a "pop" record unless you are with one of the few huge country artists. Bottom line it comes down to trying to write a great song with a great lyric and melody that communicates an emotion in some honest way. If we can do that, besides getting the personal satisfaction derived in the sheer process, if people can identify with that and it embodies some emotion they want to share then it will be listened to. Of course then there is production and dance groove, but the best of that still has some message that someone is getting into or thinks is cool.
Question: You sound like you've done a lot of collaboration. Have you ever run into any problems with this? If not, how do you think you avoided it? And if you have, what did you do to solve the problem? What would you do to prevent the problem in the future?
Well, if I understand the question in all it's possibilities you could be talking about;1) percentage splits and 2) creative decisions. Fortunately most of the people I have written with have become great friends and in a way blood brothers or sisters. It's quite an experience, when it's a real collaboration, creating a story and being creative together. A conversation can turn into a song. As I touched on the first question, regarding the creative side, I believe you don't stop until both people LOVE it, rather than either having to settle. In some cases one may want to just bow to the taste of the other, either because of their track record, or maybe it's their record, as an artist they of course know what they want to sing. But when you're just writing a song for a song or another artist, and those choices occur you just keep plugging through till you are both really liking it. If your name is on a song you can't be cringing when you hear a lyric go by that you just know isn't right. Of course the collaborations that are enjoyable and respectful are the ones that last and continue, remember the next song you are going to write.
Regarding the "split" side, it generally works out that if you are "in the room" you get an equal split, at the level of writers that have experience. I have seen other situations where some of the more inexperienced writers get kind of anal about it and try to come up with amazing splits, counting words, 48.6% or something. It's ridiculous and burns bridges for future collaborations. If a song is successful there is plenty of abundance to go around. It's worth it to save the wear and tear on a relationship and avoid the haggling. It all evens out in the end. I've been on both sides of the split, having written most of a song and still doing an even split, or being on the lesser side of it, which is a bit rarer for me if I may say so. I have found that the times I "gave up" more, the rewards were ten fold, the co-writer either got a cover, or whatever. It all works out. Visualize abundance, not scarcity. The important thing is that the song is great, it probably only took an hour anyway (or a few hours), and, hopefully, the result was something you would not have come up with alone. Another method, that seems to happen occassionally in Nashville, is if a lyricist writes some lyrics and the creator of the music doesn't like them, no loss, they just go their ways. So they are not committed to finishing the song if it doesn't turn out the way they planned.
It's all to avoid conflict and keep the wheel turning, it all evens out in the end and this is a "way of life" that, hopefully, goes on year after year, and reputation is so important. When you have a hit, you don't end up counting the 3 percentage points more that you got, the income can be so huge, but you do remember the writer, with the song that never got anywhere, that was a downright pain negotiating his split and reminding you of every line he thought of and melody he came up with, and probably saying they are more important and pivotal than the other melodies or lyrics in the song. "This is the line that makes it a hit, etc..." OY.
Question: What do you do when you experience that dreaded "Writer's Block"? Or do you even believe such a thing exists? I've had artists tell me they think it's all a myth. What's your opinion?
Mmm. That is fortunately something I haven't experienced that I can recall. Sometimes you just have to dig deeper to come up with something. A few things, firstly collaboration is great because it sparks you to get into something and you can be amazed when you had NO idea, that a collaboration or conversation can lead to a song that you didn't know was there.
Also, I would say "clean the slate", in other words...a friend of mine is a painter and had a "block"; he actually went to a spiritual advisor who told him to take all the paintings sitting around his apartment, and there were many, and get rid of them, that is store them, get them out of his face. He did it and immediately resumed painting up a storm. When the creative psyche senses a void, it fills it. When you are inundated in your old stuff it's hard to come up with new stuff. I remember last year, after not having written anything in a while because I was finishing up my album (eg. mixing, recording, etc.) the DAY after I finished the mixes I thought Oh my god, I have no songs. That day I wrote two songs and within a few weeks I had written about ten songs and most of the second record. The ideas were allowed to come in. But I had to "clean the slate".
Thirdly, I would recommend assigning tasks to your subconscious mind. The subconscious is so powerful and in a way is your servant, it will perform tasks for you that you can assign it and it always will come through. For instance when there is a lyric that I've not finished or a verse that needs to be written I will say to my subconscious, by "tomorrow morning I will have that lyric finished" (relax, breath and say this to yourself). I must say it has never failed me. The subconscious keeps working when your conscious mind is doing other stuff. It's quite amazing and a beautiful gift. At 6;00 AM the lyrics inevitably just write themselves, I have but to listen (to the voice) and write..allow, accept whatever comes in and just write it down or record it (judge it later not in that moment). It's kind of like streaming real audio or lyrics.
Another thing, I think it's good to treat the new song as if it's the first song and will be the best song you've ever written, take all the elements that make you think you are a good songwriter and put the best of them all in ONE great song, forgetting you may have played that chord before, or sung about that topic before, just make a great song.
Lastly, I would also recommend for some to get into a good fight with your significant other, or refrain from sex for a few weeks, that'll get you writing pretty quick. (but you'll probably only write tension songs or desparate love songs, I would suggest the first ideas before trying that) (Just kidding. ;-)).
Question: Where do you get your inspiration from? Other songwriters? Visual images? Tv? Newspapers? Dreams?
Usually it's a central idea or title, a subject and an energy or emotion that flows with it. Often the title is the starting off point for, for instance, a "cover" tune. For the solo stuff it's often piano energy, a phrase or cycle, or a title, message or idea that I want to get across. It's all about communicating emotion, so that's where it has to start, I think, whether it's blues exuberance, dance, country, new age or whatever.
Sometimes they come in dreams and I just have to remember and notate them. At some point in the dream you realize you're not in the audience at a concert of some great band, you are actually conceiving the music, though in the dream it's often hard to realize that. Then hustle to record it into your hand held cassette recorder, and decipher the mumbling later, before you forget it.
Question: My next question is asked simply because I'm curious and it sounds like you would know a lot about this: How have computers and technology changed the way you write songs? What are your thoughts on MP3's? Good thing? Bad thing?
I personally think computers are a blessing. What a wonderful time to be alive. All these toys. As a writing tool, I don't rely on them too much. As a demoing tool they are wonderful to be able to get songs demoed quickly. Sometimes it's fun to just get a drum groove going and write from that rhythm. A computer that remembers everything that you play, so you can be in "creative" (not "remember") mode, is a great tool. I don't play quitar, which in the country realm is a drag, so doing demos means working with a guitarist, etc. paying money, etc. computers don't seem to solve that problem.
Regarding MP3 I think it's great to be able to get music out there, and as a listener to have the accessability to so much music is great, as opposed to being limited to what the record companies choose to offer us. For those who choose to put their music on MP3 they make that choice knowing the upside and downside. For those who don't choose to do it and feel they are getting ripped off because someone puts it on without their permission, the fact is it's so easy to find "your" music on the web (if you can't find it easily either can other "customers" so it has to be made easily accessible) that all you have to do is press "search find" and you'll know pretty quickly if you're on the web, and if it's unauthorized you can put a stop to it. It's hard to keep it a secret. And the same criticisms are made when any new technology comes out...were made when cassettes, then CD, then dat, came out, you can always record stuff without permission, or even record it off the radio, it's just a new updated way to do it. Visualize abundance, not limitation, it's all out there and there's room for everything and everyone. Just spread the message as best you can.
Question: Can you talk a little about the people you've enjoyed working with through the years? Do you have a favourite? And how do you think working with these people has helped your own career?
I've worked with quite a few people through the years, it's always been a joy to work with someone who's creative and good at what they do. So many! I don't think about it in terms of "favorites", of course one remembers the songs that came out of it, but also the process of writing, which is also alot of fun, usually. So many collaborations have turned into lasting friendships. It's essential to be able to work with people and collaborate, it's the essence of what the "career" is, you can't really do it all alone. As a songwriter, and if you are working with an artist, your kind of hanging on their coattails, and sometimes if a song doesn't make it with them it can be covered by someone else. Songs have a life of their own. Essentially when it's a good collaboration the sparks fly and, when a void exists, one of the people jumps in to fill it, rather than both parties scratching their heads with no solutions in sight. It can happen really quickly that way. Recently I was in Canada writing with a good friend Aldo Nova, we had an idea in the car, sussed it out by the time we hit the driveway, went to the piano and it was done in about an hour, it turned out to be a beautiful ballad. Listening to the other person and having respect for their ideas is essential.
Writing in Nashville is interesting, a similar "just do it" mentality, here the goal is usually to try to finish the song in the writing "session". You type the lyric line by line in the computer and by the end of the session your on the last line and you're done. Top to bottom, boom. It's a good state of mind to write in, rather that thinking it'll be finished in 6 months, let's get a beer. Of course you re-visit the song and change stuff to make it better, but that's a productive way to write because it's hard to tell when you'll have time to get into that moment deeply again. I love writing with a current collaborator, Pebe Sebert. When there's a "void" Pebe gets an interesting look in her eye, kind of goes somewhere, and "pop" she comes out with some amazing lyric or idea that blows your mind. It's important to be able to quickly transport your mind to that creative and yet objective place where you have that overall view of where the song is going and actually hearing it "on the radio" in your mind, to see where it should go. I love writing with Michael Bolton, that was one of my first real collaborations and it taught me that every word is essential (I used to write alot of progressive spacy lyrics in the bands I was in) and I got more concrete. The hilariously funny person is, as people who know him know will tell you, is Benny Mardones. While writing a herd of songs for his record, some of which were cut by other artists, I laughed non-stop for days and usually had jaw-aches as well as head aches from laughing so much. The intensity of that writing, and Benny knowing where he was as an artist, was very productive as well as hilarious. Al Fritsch, who I was in a band with for years, was like writing with myself, we were of one mind, a total joy and amazingly talented person. Todd Googins, Fiona Flanagan, Gary Nicholson, Denise Rich, all great experiences. I can't name all the people I've written with, that would take a page, but there were so many great creative and productive moments.
The important thing is to enjoy it and don't be too much of a pain in the butt. I guess we gravitate to the experiences that are in the end enjoyable and shy away from the ones that aren't . The process and knowing this will be a lifetime work makes it important to do it in an enjoyable way... that I think is even more important than a specific questionable lyric or melody, differences should be voiced with respect and in a collaborative spirit, except of course unless you absolutely think it outright sucks, and you don't want your name on the song, and don't care if you ever see that person or anyone they know, again..mmm.
Question: What advice would you give to songwriters just trying to break into the "songwriting market"? Do you have an opinion about what city you need to be living in to get yourself heard? Do you have any favourite books you think will help? Any particular references that you would recommend? Any services you think a songwriter could benefit from?
Wow, The business of songwriting. Well, in terms of a place it very much depends on the style of music. If it's country of course it should be Nashville. I guess L.A., New York and now Florida are also big places (the entire In Sync, Brittany Spears, Back Street, thing is happening there). Of course trips are possible. Many people commute to Nashville a week or more a month, from LA or NY, etc. A book of publishers is essential. You must know the "players". Again if it's country, walk the "row" make meetings and play songs for the publishing companies. Attempt to set up co-write situations if they are not necessarily hot to sign you as a writer immediately. The people there are very receptive to take a meeting and listen. Make it good, you may not get too many shots if the first is not impressive. All the companies have offices in NY and LA also and try to get in there somehow to play some stuff. If you're into "dance" or other categories (eg. trance, etc.) the yearly seminar at Midem (they have one in Cannes, and a Latin/Dance Midem in Miami) is good for meeting folks, publishers and trying to get songs out there, and is an eye opener as to how a certain level of the music business works. If you're in a band, of course anywhere is cool, as long as you get the management, and contacts to the labels. There are directories for who is looking for songs, eg. "The Row" Fax, "New On The Charts" and many others, you may send them out cold though that's kind of taking a real shot. Of course the first step is to write an undeniably amazing song, demoed in a good way, that will blow people away and make them want to share the dream. Most importantly believe you are going to make it, and have success, visualize it specifically every day, the Universe WILL harmonize with that, it/you will find/create the way.
Question: So can you tell us a little bit about where you think your music is heading? What are you working on now and how can people pick up your music? Do you have a web page that talks a little bit more about what you're doing?
Thanks for asking. My first "solo" record, "Mirror Image" is available in some stores and certainly through the web site at IndigoRecords.com Mark Mangold-Mirror Image , as well as MP3, but it's probably easier to check it out through IndigoRecords.com, which also has MP3, streaming Real, and shock wave. That is very dear to my heart and fortunately has been receiving good response. I'm presently finishing up my second record, which should be complete and out within a few months. It is a bit more "out there" on some songs yet a few are definitely "commercial" in a 90's sense. I also re-recorded "I Found Someone" for this record, which has a rather intimate flavor and the earmarks/style of the first record.
In addition I've been finishing up some co-writes and getting some songs out there to various artists, both in the country vein as well as more pop/r&b songs, big ballads. It's a nice balance for my "solo" songs which are more spiritually- positive- message oriented; a rippin' country song or pop ballad, to balance a few days doing bagpipe, sitar, piano and celtic flute solos and communing with spirit guides.
Also will probably re-visit the 80's for a while and do a melodic metal record for a European and Japanese label, there's an active "cult" out there that still loves melody, as opposed to some of the newer alternative, angry stuff out there, and bands I've been have made a mark there that is fortunately still remembered. It takes a bit of psych to go "back" there but it's always great to re-hook up with people I used to do this with and be reminded that we do this stuff pretty well, though it may not be the flavor of the month. There are actually still some amazing singers and actually people who can play guitar SOLOS out there, it's another nice balance for the alternative, etc. music. Variety is the spice of life, as long as you truly focus on what you are doing when you are doing it. I don't think music is a language that needs to have self imposed limits and it's OK to let it stretch when you can, and if something presents itself to you, it's for a reason and you brought it in, so "allow" it.
All in all, presently just keeping the forward motion, keep on writing and trying to spread a positive word, as well as "hit that note" in a real and compelling way, it's all transference of emotion, so the emotions must be real, and the attitude healthy and positive.
Lastly I might add I completed a book during the end of last year entitled "The New Faith; A 'How To' Guide to Create the Life You Really Want". It will be released on Vantage Press within a few months, and is also on the site at IndigoRecords.com as well as PrayandVisualize.com. Pray and Visualize! Thanks so much for taking the time to ask all these questions and I hope the answers can be of some use. They certainly come from the heart and are borne from quite a few years of doing this. It's a way of life, as anyone who's doing it knows, and takes you from story to story, from the most important song you've written to the next most important song you've ever written, or maybe to some silly diversion, which can also sell a million and let you perpetuate this great fun.
Mark Mangold - from Florida via New York's Long Island - began his career as a pianist/organist with a series of rock bands, including Valhalla, a symphonic rock band that recorded for United Artists. He then did three Columbia albums with keyboard trio American Tears (showcasing his dynamic singing), which evolved into Touch, whose Atlantic Records debut had success at home and especially in Europe and Japan. Then Mark collaborated with a number of songwriters creating songs for other artists, among them working with Michael Bolton, and penning "I Found Someone", recorded by Cher. He was also a driving force behind the band Drive, She Said, whose three albums (the first issued stateside by CBS Associated) are considered classics among fans. Recently he has recorded his first solo effort "Mirror Image" a piano driven record having New Age as well as pop influences. Mark is presently working on his second solo effort, as well as songwriting and film scoring.