Interview with Mark Meeuwissen, A&R at Black Hole Recordings. We continue our quest to get to know the hard work involved behind the scenes within the hectic world of a record label with our second interview focusing on the globally known record label ‘Black Hole recordings’. They have amazing artists on their roster including Tiesto, who is one of its founders, with his amazing unforgettable classics, along with Arny Bink, Cosmic Gate BT, JES, Julie Thompson, Andy Duguid, Richard Durand and many more. The music released on the various sub labels stay true to the credo “Captivate, Communicate and Celebrate”!
For our second interview we chose to talk with Mark Meeuwissen, A&R at Black Hole Recordings, well known as DJ and producer in his personal career under the name Mark Green. Mark talks about how he ended up working with Black Hole Recordings, and the work he does at Black Hole headquarters.
He mainly listens for endless hours to demo’s from established as well as young and hopeful artists, who aspire to see their music productions released on one of the most successful record labels in the business. In the following interview you can read his very deep and insightful answers. So if you always wondered what an A & R is doing in a record company, here is your chance to find out.
Dimitri: First of all Mark it would be cool to tell us about your music background. What kind of music were you listening to as teenager, and do you remember your first ever big dance event which you attended in the Netherlands?
Mark: I bumped into “house music” (mellow) at a local club “Spock” where Tiesto was having his Thursday, Friday and Saturday night residency. Before that period I was already specifically interested in electronic music, but not limited to any sub-genre. I also played a lot of 'mainstream' music from the Dutch charts like every kid. In my really early days I had 6 years of classical music education, not sure if that really influenced me though. I think the first big event I attended was ID&T’s first “Mysteryland” in 1994, or “I Love Techno” in Belgium around the same period.
Dimitri: How did you end up working for Black Hole Recordings? Was this your ideal work environment from the beginning and was it your secret aspiration to work for a record company like Black Hole?
Mark: I had been working part-time in “Magik The Record store” since the shop opened. After a few years of working full-time as a construction engineer I decided it was time for a change. Black Hole’s owners Arny and Tijs heard about this and asked if I would like to join the Black Hole team full time, giving A&R and promotional support on a variety of projects. A dream came true and everything fell in place.
Dimitri: Black Hole Recordings handle many well known and globally respected record labels like Magik Muzik, In Trance We Trust and the main label Black Hole. Is it hard to raise the bar that fans are accustomed to on those labels by finding only the best tracks of the highest quality?
Mark: It can be difficult since there is so much (great) music coming out every day. Before the internet, sending a demo to a label was an investment and not something you would do if you were not 100% convinced about your production. These days 99% of the demos I receive are from producers who just give it a shot, simply because they ‘can’ and have nothing to lose. We just have to go through a lot of demos to pick the best. When I select tracks/artist for a release I simply trust my ears. I've been involved with Black Hole for a long time, and feel confident about what's suitable or not for our label.
Dimitri: What is your opinion about the explosion of the EDM scene in the USA and do you feel that this development has affected your music policy decisions for your labels. Do you feel obliged to follow the EDM trend in order to be financially successful as record label, particularly in the USA?
Mark: 60% of our music is sold in the USA so 'yes', we have to keep an eye on that as well. Still, if we do not like the music enough we are not going for a release. Because we have such a great and respected label (with trend setting artists since the beginning) we can 'follow' and 'try to affect' the current sound.
Dimitri: Last year was very successful for Black Hole recordings as you released albums from many well known artists like Solarstone, Zoo Brazil, Robbie Rivera and Richard Durand. You also struck a deal to handle Manufactured Superstars in USA, along with Big Beat/Warner Music. Can you reveal to us the albums that we should expect to get in 2013 on your labels, and pin point your future personal favourite, and why you like it so much?
Mark: That's a tough question for an A&R since I basically like all the music we put out. We have new albums/compilations lined up from Cosmic Gate, Richard Durand, Manufactured Superstars, Sied van Riel, Emilio Fernandez, Andy Duguid, George Acosta, Solarstone, First State and bunch more pending. 2013 is going to be a great year.
Dimitri: One of the labels that is expanding rapidly with quality tracks is AVANTI. What kind of music are you are mainly releasing on that label, and in what ways is AVANTI differentiated from other in house record labels like Wildlife or Fris?
Mark: I am focussing on Progressive House and Tech House for Avanti, but we do have some Electro House and Techno releases as well, since these genres sometimes come really close. All the releases have a more 'Techy' feeling and hardly feature vocals.
Dimitri: AVANTI releases come from top artists like Ido, Jesse Vorn, Paul Veth, Spix and more. Are there any more artists that you would like to include in your AVANTI roster? Can you give us examples from other artists that don’t belong to your label but their music seems to be suitable for AVANTI, and you would be happy to have a release from them?
Mark: Well, I try not to focus too much on the artist names for the Avanti releases. The music has to be great, and if it’s been made by a ‘big’ name then it’s a very nice extra.
Dimitri: FRIS! is another very promising underground deep tech/house record label that stands out from the rest. What kind of music do you aspire to release on FRIS! Is there a motto or mission statement that you follow with Fris releases?
Mark: The mission is to let people know that Black Hole is not limited to trance and to show off our diversity as well as possible, focusing with Fris! on quality releases in the more ‘minimal’ genres.
Dimitri: Are there a considerable number of fans who support this label and sustain its presence in the market? Have you managed to find the right way to communicate with them and become part of their subculture and music appetite?
Mark: Well, that’s the hard part for a label like ours also. I have noticed that some people still have problems with us releasing tracks in these genres but we’re getting there. The promo feedback looks promising and the support expands every month, so it’s just a matter of time to be become a really familiar and appreciated face.
Dimitri: Next legendary record label at Black Hole family is the magnificent Songbird. Is the tracklist of the compilation ‘In Search of Sunrise’ the definition of the music that you can find on this label? What kind of tracks are you are searching to release on Songbird?
Mark: I think the ‘In Search Of Sunrise’ sound indeed is leading the way for the Songbird label output; as most of us will know, the more laid back vocal and non-vocal trance and progressive house is what you will find here. It’s a successful label, so we’re going to stick to this so that should answer the question on what kind of tracks I am looking for.
Dimitri: Can you choose from the Songbird back catalogue the top 3 tracks that define the Songbird sound absolutely and is representative of it?
Mark: Always tough to come up with these kind of lists since we’ve signed every track with the intention of matching 100% with the Songbird sound. Here’s a few very successful singles that really are Songbird proof IMO; 1. Deadmau5 - Arguru / 2. Emilio Fernandez - Reynosa / 3. George Acosta featuring Fisher - Beautiful.
Dimitri: How many demos do you receive every day and how many you can check out within your office hours? Do you usually hear the whole track or do you skip through to the parts that sound more interesting?
Mark: On an average I receive somewhere between 100 and 200 per week and no, I can’t listen to them all but I consider that as a luxury. I skip through tracks like I do in a record store. If a track is great it should get my attention in just a few seconds but hey, I am human so I am making mistakes here and there and probably miss a lot of songs that would have been worth releasing.
Dimitri: Can you give us your advice on the way that the track should be emailed to you in order to attract your attention so you will listen to it carefully? Is it worthwhile for the artist to follow up with email or telephone call to ask if you like the demo or not?
Mark: I love Soundcloud links and I do not need full biographies etc.. Just a small introduction and of course properly named tracks are sufficient. A follow-up email after 2 weeks is ok. Calling the office does not help I am afraid.
Dimitri: I have noticed that many artists find it easier these days to set up their own record labels, as the simplicity of the digital format allows them to do this. Can you outline the benefits that any artist gets when he/she is releasing his/her music on Black Hole recordings labels, rather than releasing it on his/her own independent small record label?
Mark: When you start your own label you will have to start working on your network from scratch, and that’s something we already have had up and running for many years. Your release will simply get more attention not only from music lovers but also from other labels concerning licensing.
Dimitri: Black Hole recordings is based in the Netherlands but its fame is spread all over the world. Are there any labels from Black Hole that have had bigger success in particular continents or countries?
Mark: Great question but I will have to owe you the exact answer. What I can say is that we are putting out the most music from USA related artists on our Magik Muzik imprint, so we definitely see a peak in sales there.
Dimitri: One of the best ideas in my opinion is the themed EP’s released on Black Hole Recordings. So far we have been treated first class with trance/progressive house/electro house. Are you satisfied with the success of those EP’s and how did the idea of these top EP’s came about?
Mark: The idea is to release great tracks per genre but we’ve noticed that it’s hard to brand a release when there’s no well known artist involved. The EPs all feature four upcoming artists, and by combining their social forces, the release will get noticed more easily. Cross-promotion is what we tend to do.
Dimitri: Black Hole Recordings, and many other labels have lately become more active on Soundcloud with teasers of their forthcoming releases. Do you feel that Soundcloud is still an unexplored asset that has a lot to offer, and can work hand in hand with YouTube music videos for your online promotion and presence?
Mark: The Soundcloud interface is just great and tracks are easy to share with other music lovers. The only reason why it’s not really being embraced by labels is because nobody is making any money on the streams like they do with YouTube. So that’s definitely something they should be working on.
Dimitri: The label boss Arny Bink was nominated at the IDMA awards as best label executive. Why you believe Arny is so highly regarded and respected within the record industry and by EDM fans as well? Can you recall the most valuable piece of advice that Arny gave you for your career?
Mark: Arny took a very big part in building some of the biggest names/brands in EDM and always stayed honest, down to earth and reliable to everybody. What I copied from him is to always treat people with respect, give them the attention they deserve, and you will get it back one day.
Dimitri: You have worked with Daniel Wanrooy on some amazing remixes. Are we going to get a solo single as Mark Green soon, and in if so in which style?
Mark: There’s only a small chance this will happen since I am lacking proper spare time. After a day listening to demos the best way to clear my mind unfortunately is by not going to the studio.
Dimitri: Last question should be about the current situation in the music industry which is highly saturated by the likes of Universal, Sony and Warner. What is your forecast for the future of the music industry? Do you believe that independent record labels like Black Hole can easily survive against that oligopoly?
Mark: The big advantage small labels have is their flexibility to adjust to market changes in a short time. We see people using paid streaming services increasing per day so my guess is that in a few years everybody will be using streaming audio just like they use their internet or television subscription. This is good for our industry since people that are using streaming services stop downloading illegally. Releasing quality music will be even more important than ever. If you’re subscribed to a streaming service and have a few million tracks available at all time, why listen to crap music?!
Dimitri: Many thanks for your time replying to this interview, despite being so busy with all the A&R work involved.
Mark: Thanks for the interview Dimitri!
Many thanks to Arny, Mark, Hugo, Jeroen and the rest of the Black Hole recordings crew for their support through the years.
Many thanks to Paul Aldridge at 1mix Radio for proofing this interview
Interview was written and conducted by Dimitri Kechagias, Music Journalist, Radio/DJ