SMC Spotlight No.1 | Mike Rogers ‘Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock & Roll Ghost Story’ Exclusive!

By Candice Anne Marshall

When we talk about Halloween, we are encompassing all it entails: witches, black cats, vampires, monsters, and…. ghosts. This leads into today’s epic launch which I personally have been beyond excited to finally be able to share. Here’s why…

In October of 2015, I promoted a video for fashion art rock band Palaye Royale for their song ‘White’ off their upcoming ‘Boom Boom Room Side A’ album. The video content included an intro from InterFM897 Japans ‘WhatTheFunday’ radio show for the band. The show was hosted in part by Mr. Mike Rogers and after tagging it in our SMC post, Mike and I connected. What a ride it’s been too! In the two years that I have known Mike, we have conversed, collaborated, shared mutual likes of the Artists we support, laughed, and networked like crazy. This has led to some of the most prominent stories on the SMC Spotlight platform with notables such as Mr. John Ferriter, The Tearaways, Stephen David Brooks, Chris Craker (Karma Sound Studios), and The Fontaines. This is just scratching the surface too.

There is so much that goes into the background of someone as interesting as Mike Rogers and this goes beyond his vast connections: it is the fact that he speaks candidly, honestly, and humorously in his own blog ‘Marketing Japan’ (see here). This is something this world really needs: honest and factual journalism and the fact that Mike is willing to write a truthful account of his experience with ‘Sex PistolsJohn Lydon aka: ‘Johnny Rotten’ in ‘I Interviewed Johnny Rotten – The True Story’ was, in my opinion, deserving of a massive applause. It isn’t often these days that many are willing to write responsible journalism, and Mike is. That bodes well in my books! Enough that I have formally invited Mike to be supported on the SMC Spotlight website and he has agreed. If you look to the right of this feature (desktop) or below it (mobile or tablet), you will see that his blog has been added to our roster with ‘The Chronicles’, ‘Little Black Book Club’, and ‘SMC Artist of the Year’. Take a moment to read it, there’s a lot to learn from someone who has the background he has…

Which leads me into Mike’s background: he’s been a Musician (The Rotters), General Manager of a major Japanese broadcasting station (TV Tokyo owned InterFM), produced smash hit programs and several of Japan’s highest rated and most famous radio programs, and most recently, Wrote and produced full-length motion picture “Ghostroads – A Japanese Rock and Roll Ghost Story“. This bringing me to the purpose of launching his first ever SMC Spotlight fittingly, today, Halloween day. This is a film, is a truly entertaining thrill ride from start to finish and has earned some serious awards and nods at prestigious Film Festivals worldwide including the Raindance Film Festival. The story line is both humorous and steeped in truths: ‘what would you do for fame?’ being the tagline. It is reflective of an individual who has not only seen the best and the worst of the entertainment industry, he has lived them.

The vibrancy and quality of this film, featuring brilliant music by some of Japans most famous bands (The Neatbeats, The Privates, The 50 Kaitenz) show Mikes serious credibility in his role of Director and Producer. I recommend anyone who is looking for something to take them away from their day to day grind or the negativity of what’s going on in the world today and turn their attention to this film. It is quickly becoming an iconic rock and roll (and dare I say, Halloween) music cult classic which I can easily put up there with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I know what you are thinking: ‘Did she just say that?’ Yes, yes I did because undoubtedly, in my mind, it’s something you will want to watch every year!

Editor’s Note: Mike, I am personally congratulating you on your accomplishment with this film. I realize and can appreciate how much strategy, planning, and hard work goes into these kinds of projects from start to finish. So, I will say to you this: I am very picky with the kinds of art I will lend my praise to – it must be exceptional. With ‘Ghostroads’, you have created a masterpiece and I look forward to supporting you on your future projects going forward. This film, honestly, gets a five out of five Starlight Music Chronicles star rating. Congrats!

Mike Rogers on the red carpet in London
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview | Mike Rogers ‘Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock and Roll Ghost Story’

SMC – Hello Mike! This Spotlight has been a very long time coming my friend! Let’s begin with a little bit of a back story on who you are and how you evolved into your career today. Can you tell us what new readers to our site will want to know about Mike Rogers?

Mike – OK. You can ask me anything. Like about the time I was the driver (and booze runner) for Burt Reynolds on the set of the film Boogie Nights in 1997. Or how about the time when Justin Beiber, in a foaming-at-the-mouth rage, tried to stab me in the shoulder with a butter knife at Mick Jagger’s pool party because a drunk and topless Selena Gomez was riding on my shoulders and screaming at him and singing “I’m so over you!”… I have lots of those!

Ghostroads Film Festival award accomplishments
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers
Official Ghostroads Movie Poster with awards
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

Ghostroads

SMC – I am going to get right into this interview with your film ‘Ghostroads: A Japanese Rock and Roll Ghost Story’, which has been getting some major traction on the film festival circuit. Which awards, or accomplishments have you won or been acknowledge for to date?

Mike – Well, the biggest thing so far is getting selected at Raindance Film Festival in London. Raindance is one of the most famous and respected film festivals in the world, so even though we didn’t win any big high-falutin’ awards, just being selected at Raindance is incredible. Many film makers try all their lives and never get into a festival like Raindance. I have to thank my “Cinema Sensei,” Stephen David Brooks, (see Stephen David Brooks interview here) who actually, has become one of my very best friends, for all the coaching and advice. Without him, we’d have never gotten into that festival. That’s not bullshit, it’s true. And a big thanks to John Ferriter for introducing me to Stephen. John Ferriter is tops too (and plays lead tambourine for the rock band, The Tearaways), as your readers already know! (see John Ferriter interview here)

We’ve been in several other festivals as “also-ran” but, actually, we’ve only won one award so far. It was for “2nd Place” in the “Best Foreign Feature Category.” I think the official award title for second-place is “The Film That Sucks Less Than the Others” award…. Or something like that.

SMC – I have personally seen this film and can NOT say enough good about it. There are no films like it on the market today which not only have appealed to foreign culture in Japan and the UK, but has also been getting attention in North America as well. (which is where we are based) What is the greatest compliment you have received on this film so far?

Mike – Hmmm? That’s a hard one. I figured out that, naturally, when someone is making their first movie, no one expects much… So, I’ve gotten remarks like, “Wow! That was better than I expected.” Or, “I’ve seen other films that friends made and they were all bad. This was really good!” Or, from my wife’s mom and dad, scratching their heads after watching the film and asking, “What was that all about?”

I guess the best compliment was from the top program director of Raindance who wrote, “Congratulations on a truly great film.” That blew my mind… I can’t imagine a higher compliment than that. I cried the night when I read that comment from her.

SMC – The synopsis of this film is basically selling your soul to the Devil (Ghost) for instant fame. We see this all the time in our industry. Is this a personal experience you have had or seen happen?

Mike – Yes. You guys are going to think I am nuts, so you can skip over this next part if you wish, but I have seen this personally. Now, I am not a religious person and I follow no organized religion, but I personally know people who made deals (by prayer to somebody) for fame… (As Bobby Dylan says, “It may be heaven, or it may be hell, but you gotta serve somebody.”)

I also saw and heard bad things that happened to them and their families…. I don’t know why these bad things happened to them. Was it because of the deal? Was it bad karma? I don’t know….

But, entertain me for a second here. What is “fame”?

If you make a deal with a Manager, Agent, label, or Publisher or, yes, even the Devil for “fame” then you’d have to damn well know and write down what exactly “fame” means. You know that guy in town whose always drunk and getting into fights down by the billiard hall? Yeah. Everyone knows who he is.

He’s famous, isn’t he?

There are conceited jerks I’ve met who played infield for a famous professional baseball team here in Japan… They were “famous.” But what is famous? You don’t know their names. I don’t know their names. The average person walking on the street wouldn’t recognize them if they saw them. But they are “famous.”

There are many levels of fame. I think that “famous,” I mean, really “famous,” means that anywhere in the world where you walked, many people would recognize you; that’s famous.

So, being in some rock band, having a hit on the charts, being a radio DJ, etc. etc. That’s not really famous…. Michael Jackson? David Bowie? Adolf Hitler? Winston Churchill? Donald Trump? Yeah… People would recognize them. They are famous.

Is this a good thing?

That’s about all I can say on this subject… I could write a book about things I’ve seen involving this person – these people – who I know made a deal for fame….

But the devil doesn’t exist, right?

As for me, I believe in these things much like the great American writer, Samuel Clemens who was also known as Mark Twain; once said, “I do not believe in ghosts, but I sure am afraid of them.”

The old saying goes, “You’d better be careful of what you wish for.”

Scene from the film ‘Ghostroads: A Japaneze Rock & Roll Ghost Story
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC – From start to finish, what was the length of time spent getting this film made?

Mike – I almost died in a hospital in Sept 2014. It was there where I decided to make a film before I died and wrote the first idea on a napkin. The film was completed in May 2017. So almost 2 1/2 years from conception to finish.

SMC – Tell us about the selection of brilliant talent you have in this film – I can see that you carefully chose some pretty stellar talent from Japan!

Mike – I chose the bands, the Neatbeats, the Privates, the 50 Kaitenz, because those three are my favorite Japanese bands of all-time. Foreigners don’t usually know good Japanese bands because the only Japanese acts that people know outside of Japan are released on major labels. Take Baby Metal (please!) these big money labels create these acts and sell them… It’s OK, I get it. When I was a kid, I liked the Monkees too… But, I am astounded at how I sometimes talk to foreigners (who are over 12 years old) who like stuff like Baby Metal.

The Neatbeats, the Privates, the 50 Kaitenz, are the real thing. They are DIY indies acts. They have all been offered deals with majors, but they do things the indies way… Why? Because everyone knows, major labels have a way of screwing up good indies acts. It is common knowledge, isn’t it?

Also, I chose those bands because they are easy to explain to a foreign audience in just a few words. The Neatbeats are the ‘Japanese Beatles,’ the Privates are the ‘Japanese Buzzcocks,’ the 50 Kaitenz are the ‘Japanese Ramones.” Simple is always best, especially when making a sales presentation… And, in life, nearly everything is a “sales presentation.”

The other actors and actresses in the movie I found because I have always been impressed by European films and off-beat movies that have strong and unforgettable characters – unlike American films which always have people who look like fashion models in them with perfect teeth. In a nutshell, in my movies, I want many to look like the circus act on the cover of the classic album by the Doors, “Strange Days.” I want people who look like freaks – because we are all freaks somewhere deep down inside – and I want strange people because, as the song goes, “People are strange.” We are all strange.

In fact, if you really stop to think about it, the more you get to know people, the stranger they become.

Besides the strangers, I also have one of Japan’s top sex symbol girls in the film, Mina Shirakawa, and Miwa Rock who is one of Japan’s most famous burlesque dancers.

So, there’s something for everybody.

Scene from the film ‘Ghostroads: A Japaneze Rock & Roll Ghost Story
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC – You also have a cameo in this film as the narrator. Is this your first role in a movie?

Mike – Oh no. I had been in many famous Japanese TV dramas in the eighties; with lots of Japan’s most famous stars! In Ghostroads, I only narrate in the trailer. That’s my voice in the trailer saying, “A struggling Japanese rocker finds a haunted amp with a ghost who promises fame.” (see at end of this interview). I am in the actual movie several times though. You know the scene where the girl throws a beer can out the window of the car? I’m driving.

In fact, that girl is/was one of Japan’s most famous actresses. She has been a big star since the 1980s. She was a sex symbol and starred in literally hundreds of movies and TV shows and commercials galore. Everyone in Japan knows who she is. But she only appears for a split second, so only a few people have spotted her so far… It’s like, well, imagine getting Lindsay Wagner out of retirement and cameo in your film? Or getting Lillian Gish to appear in Whales of August?…. That’s what it is like having this former super-star in the film.

Also, when the story teller is showing the high school yearbook and mentioning about how some jerk acts like your friend, but he steals your girlfriend and you hate that guy forever? That’s my high school senior year photo he is looking at.

SMC – Can you tell me the behind-the-scenes story while making this film?

Mike – I tried to run this film as a business with a profit motive. I am reminded of an anecdote about a very famous businessman and industrialist named John D. Rockefeller. One time, newspaper reporters were interviewing Rockefeller and they attacked him as not being especially knowledgeable about trains or the steel industry. Rockefeller responded by saying, “Perhaps I am not an expert on these subjects, but I am smart enough to hire people around me who are experts.” I never forget that.

As one of the most important jobs of any Producer (be they the manager or founder of a business, or whatever) is to get people around you who are better than you are. It is also wise for any business owner or producer to hire people who are smarter than they are. The smartest management hire smart people so that these smart people tell them what to do. Of course! What’s the point of hiring people who are smarter or more talented than we are if we are going to tell them what to do?

So, when I started out this film, and a big reason it came out so well is that, my #1 priority was not protection of my position, but the success of the project. So, I went out and got a director who was better than me; he had a much better eye for design and composition. He was a true artist. I also hired a cameraman who is really top class and stubborn as hell; he’s stubborn because he’s great at what he does. Of course, my partner, Ken Nishikawa, is a genius at editing and musical styling. Ken is one of the top in his field in Japan and the best editor I’ve ever met. So, with every job, I tried to get people better than me to do specific tasks. I think that is the core reason the film looks the way it does and has enjoyed the success it has; I could have never done this without that great team.

So, we had an Italian director; an American cameraman; a Japanese editor and actors and actresses; Darrell Harris from Nebraska (as a ghost) and me. It was often chaos at the shoots.

Oh, by the way, a guy named Yuji Wada, was our lighting “sensei.” Yuji is a famous Hollywood lighting director. You all know the Bill Murray film, “Lost in Translation”? Yuji does all the lighting for Sophie Coppola’s films. Yuji was my friend and next-door neighbor for ten years… I asked him to help and one day he came and showed us how to do the lighting. I like to think I am a fast learner and I am good at copying people, so when Yuji showed us how to light scenes, we merely mimicked what he showed us. That’s why the film has the lighting it does. Of course, if Yuji could have done it for us himself, we’d be talking about winning an Academy Award, but, beggars can’t be choosers.

Because I am a radio show host and producer, I also am a professional talker; so, I went out to Phillips Electronics (technology company) and convinced them to just give me a thousand dollars (USD) of high tech lighting equipment for absolutely free in trade for putting their name in the credits. When I went there to ask for these high-tech lights I was surprised they eagerly said, “Yes!” so quickly. I actually said to them, “Wait! What? OK? Don’t I have to grovel or something?”

The point is that if you are making a record or a movie, you need to be flamboyant and you need to overcome insecurities and your own fears. Asking for something doesn’t cost anything and there is no risk; all they can do is say, ‘No!’ But you have to have a professional presentation prepared and you must have confidence.

I was prepared for the meeting with Phillips. I had a great trailer, printed synopsis and staff and actors and actresses lists. I had mentally prepared and I knew in my heart that them giving me those lights was a good deal for them too! I know now that they were very happy with the film. I was happy to save a few thousand dollars on lighting.

SMC – You are the Producer/Writer/Director for this film. Do you feel that you had greater creative control of this film by wearing all three hats?

Mike – Yes. I always had the veto over everything… I do realize that I did fail in one thing though; during shooting, we often had a problem with important staff being constantly late. Other issues occurred with arguments over absurd things with the staff. Much later, when the editor and I finished the film and I had informed the editor that we had been accepted at Raindance, the world-famous festival, and I had sold the right for sales and distribution of the film – along with a healthy advance – to a very famous Japanese major film company, my partner, Ken, was almost speechless.

He said to me, “None of us ever thought, in our wildest dreams, that we’d come this far with this movie. In fact, the director and the cameraman were convinced we didn’t even have enough footage for a proper feature film! For a trailer? Maybe. But not a film. Only, you, Mike. You were the only one who believed from the start to the finish that this could happen.”

When he told me this, I wasn’t especially happy because I realized that I had failed in an important part of the project; I had failed to properly explain to the staff what we were going to do. I had failed to get them to realize the vision and the dream. I then understood why the director was always late; why the cameraman would complain about ridiculous things; they didn’t believe that this would become a proper film; they didn’t believe it would be entered in festivals and win awards (hell, they didn’t even believe it would be completed). They never believed for a second that the film would be sold to a Japanese major film studio. So, this was my failure; I didn’t get them to understand the dream and the vision.

We did this well, with people who had no belief or confidence? Imagine how much better it could have been if they believed and became better than themselves? I will always regret this shortcoming of mine.

But, even in the bible Jesus talks about this: I guess it doesn’t matter what others believe. It only matters what I believe. I believed we could do this and be successful.

Though, that the film has done this well and is so successful is nothing short of a miracle. Next film, will astound people even more. I really believe that too.

Scene from the film ‘Ghostroads: A Japaneze Rock & Roll Ghost Story
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

SMC – While doing my research, I came across a video of you wearing a sandwich board shaking a rattle for the Raindance viewing of your film. Great Stuff! What kind of reaction did you get from that?

Mike – When I was in London at the theater, some friends told me that they had been to some film screenings and, in a theater that seats 200 people, there would only be three to eight people in paid attendance!

I couldn’t believe it!

I was shocked. I thought about my wife. What would she say if I had spent three years of my life making a movie, spent another $2000 going 6000 miles to the other side of the earth only to have it viewed by four people (including me?)

So, with that, I decided what my mission was: I had decided to sell out our screenings or, if I couldn’t, to at least give it the good old samurai try (try or die trying!)

I decided that since we couldn’t hang posters at the theater, I’d take my biggest poster and make a sandwich sign. Then I’d stand in front of the theater wearing the sign every day.

I went to an art shop and bought the supplies for making the sandwich sign. I then went home and constructed it with more loving care than mom making Christmas dinner. The next morning, I went back to the theater with my sandwich sign and put it on and I stood there; in the heat and the sun… I would stand in front of the theater with my sign for four and a half or five hours every day.

I wondered why other filmmakers are so self-conscious and embarrassed that they refuse to promote their own films in this way? Nobody really cares what we do. Nobody watches us as much as we like to think they do.

I was a curiosity to the other people at the film festival. Many ridiculed me, some laughed; others just gawked. A few said that I was an inspiration and wondered why other filmmakers didn’t promote their films this way… One time two young filmmakers walked past me, laughed and pointed at me, and one said, “That’s what we should be doing. I wonder how much that costs?”

A few days later, I was informed that the World Premiere of my movie, “Ghostroads – a Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story” was sold out; one of the few films that were sold out!

People had laughed at me as Sandwich Man! But there also is an old saying, “He who laughs last, laughs best.” I laughed so hard I almost cried when I heard we had sold out the first night and the second night was nearly sold out. I felt redeemed.

I wrote all about it here (I think it’s a pretty funny story with an important lessons for filmmakers and musicians alike)

SMC – What was your experience like working with The Neatbeats for this film?

Mike – Before shooting started, I was very good friends with the Neatbeats and, especially their leader, Mr. Pan. But, as I mentioned above, there were all sorts of problems during shooting. The worst problem was important staff being constantly late. Being late like this is out of the question in Japan, so Mr. Pan would get angry with me about it.

You see, in Japan, for any mistake or screw-up, management will never blame the staff. I was the producer; I was captain of the ship, so if we hit an iceberg, it was my fault. This is the Japanese way. In the Japanese way of doing things, no matter what happens, the boss takes responsibility.

The top boss is always the person responsible for what goes on. The captain could never say to the crew and passengers, “That idiot navigator didn’t see the iceberg. So, we hit it.”

That would never happen in Japan.

I often had frank discussions with the critical person who was often late and told him the ways of the locals and so, he came to understand the cultural differences between his country and Japan. This is only an example of many issues that occurred with regularity.

But, in many cases, the damage was done. The leader of the Neatbeats, Mr. Pan would call me on the phone and start berating me in local-dialect Japanese (which was difficult to understand – but I knew he was mad). I know the way of the people of this country, so I know that it would be best to handle it the Japanese way: I had to take responsibility. I was, indeed, my fault. I could not blame the guilty party. Why? Because I hired him. It is my fault.

I would allow Mr. Pan to yell at me on the phone for 30 or 40 minutes straight and I would merely reply, “Yes. I know” or “Yes. I think so.” I would do this and not talk back until Mr. Pan grew weary of shouting at me and he’d finally calm down. I’d eventually tell him I would try to rectify the situation and then I would smooth things over.

That was my biggest job as producer: keeping the team together, keeping the peace and trying to keep the boat from capsizing.

I thank a famous producer in Japan named Motoyoshi Tai who showed me that the best way to handle pissed off people is to let them yell at you (agreeing with them) until they tire out and then promising that you’d do your best to remedy the situation.

I think many Americans would do themselves well to learn this way; getting into a hellacious fight and then people quitting mid-project is never a good result for anyone. A smart Producer knows how to handle it.

SMC –  What is one thing you wish you could do differently for this film if you had the opportunity?

Mike – As I mentioned above, I would have taken more time to explain to people what was going on and to get them to understand the vision. I think about it now, and I have made very famous programs and TV shows here in Japan, some of them with millions of viewers (10 million in 6 months on an internet TV show).  But I guess the staff didn’t know that or they didn’t understand or didn’t believe in what we were trying to accomplish.

Next time I will make sure everyone understands and is on board 120%. If they aren’t or they don’t “get it,” I will patiently keep trying to get them to understand. If they don’t, I will replace them.

SMC – What kind of competition is there in the film industry in Japan?

Mike – In Japan, in films, like music, the majors have total control. The difference is that, in Tokyo, there are 3000+ bars and clubs and so-called “Live Houses” where musicians can come and play and hone their craft every night of the week. Some can even break and become famous. There is no such a situation for independent filmmakers like that in Japan. I want to change that.

SMC – What do you find is the most difficult thing to do when promoting your own project?

Mike – In the case of Ghostroads, I had sold it off to a Japanese company before it was even completed, so I don’t really have any stories (besides frustration) at watching how other people handle things… I reckon the biggest problems was, is and will always be budget.

SMC – Can you tell us if there are any upcoming film festivals that this film will be a part of?

Mike – The next big festival is very soon in Europe, but I can’t announce it yet. It’s a big deal but everything seems so cloak and dagger. I’m hoping the win the Golden Tupperware Award (like Stephen David Brooks has) or, maybe I can get some 50% discount tickets on fries at Burger-O-Rama. We’ll see.

Fact: The Golden Tupperware Award is an extremely rare award, and few have ever seen one, even fewer own it.

Trivia: What’s really cool about the coveted Golden Tupperware Award for best film, actor or director is that, even though the base of the award is solid 24 carat gold, the top lid is still, to this day, made of pink plastic as engineers have yet to figure out how to make a solid gold lid malleable enough to snap into an out of an airtight fit. Once they do, the Golden Tupperware Award will truly become a proud member of the Tupperware family.

SMC – Ken Nishikawa is also the co-Director, Editor, Sound Designer, and Translator for this film. What was it like working with him?

Mike – Ken Nishikawa is the nicest guy anyone could ever hope to meet. I’m damned dead serious about that too. He never has a bad word about anyone and I have never heard anyone say anything unpleasant about Ken. No Kidding. I want to be like Ken when I grow up. Ken is a sort of legendary person too as he comes from a famous family. Really. His mom is very famous as she is one of the last true remaining geishas in Japan and Ken is almost done with a documentary about her. It is a wild story: Matsuchiyo – Life of a Geisha.

SMC – Once Ghostroads has circled the film festival circuit, will you be working on another film project?

Mike – I have already started working on another project now. Ghostroads is finishing its festival course. We got very lucky and had our World Premiere at Raindance. Entering smaller festivals (that aren’t famous) is meaningless for sales and promotion. I have a few more festivals coming up (that I signed up for months ago) but I will not be signing up for any new festivals. I will now focus on getting distribution and sales and letting some company handle the rest of the life of this film.

SMC – Who would you like to work with in the future in terms of film?

Mike – Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles and Cecil B. DeMille. But, alas, none of those guys ever answer my emails, so I wrote to Stephen David Brooks instead. Now he and I going to try to make a movie together. I say “try,” and I think Stephen will agree with me, because whenever anyone can actually complete a movie, it is a miracle.

SMC – What advice would you give to someone new wanting to begin a film project?

Mike – Run it like you would any business. If your idea is good, then you should be able to find financing and investment partners. Blowing your parents money on a crap vanity project is no good for you or your parents.

The best advice I ever received from anyone was when Stephen David Brooks told me to read the bible of script writing: “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (here) and I recommend, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell (here).

Mike Rogers (far left) interviews John Lydon (The Sex Pistols) recently.
Photo Courtesy: Mike Rogers

Career/History

SMC – You have (had) a show on WhatTheFunday at InterFM897 Radio in Japan which I believe is where we met via Palaye Royale – I believe it was after we did a Spotlight on the band for their single ‘White’ (see original post here). Can you tell us how long you have been with the station?

Mike – I can proudly say that I am the only DJ in Tokyo, that has been fired from every radio station in Tokyo at least once. You name it, they’ve canned me. But since FM radio in Tokyo is so lame, I wear that as a stinky badge of honor. I have been fired from InterFM three times now, but they keep hiring me back because I make the best shows. I have been with them since 1996.

I have a new show, The Mike Rogers Show, that starts on Nov. 5, 2017. It’s going to be like a BBC morning show on acid.

SMC – I love seeing the posts on your blog ‘Marketing Japan’ and would love to link it up to this feature as well as our site! You have some of the greatest stories, tips, and shared memories on there with some pretty fantastic people. Can you tell us some back stories that haven’t been shared on that platform?

Mike – I once had to fly to Canada and back on the same day, just so I could sleep with the editor of SMC just to get this interview. Hey! I need the promotion.

SMC – You recently did an interview with John Lydon while you were at Raindance Film Festival. WOW. This is the reason I asked you the previous question. I have to say I truly admire honesty. Way too many will write a fluff or ‘Pollyanna’ story about some of the behaviors of the ‘professionals’ in this music industry. I am happy to see you are not – you write it as you see it – for the facts. What kind of a response did you get from people after you posted that?

Mike – Oh? Mr. Rotten? That’s probably best if the readers go directly and read the entire details by themselves. The article is here: “I Interviewed Johnny Rotten – the True Story.

The festival people and the Theater Manager and staff were furious at John Lydon and his posse. But, I am not mad at the guy and he is still my hero. I totally understand his desire for respect and status. We all have it… So, just because he was drunk and rude to me (well, all of us) it would be childish of me to now say, “I don’t like Johnny Rotten because he was a right ass to me when we met.” Nothing he could do now erases what he did in the past. I just figure that he delivered what was expected of him that night in London. Nothing more. Nothing less.

SMC – I know that you have met a lot of music industry peers over the years. Tell us of a pleasant story that you have a great memory of?

Mike – I think the most formidable and imposing person I have ever met was Siouxsie Sioux. My radio show was so popular in the nineties that we presented her band and concerts, The Creatures, in Japan (the station didn’t present that the concert, my program did!) The Creatures had awesome shows. I think one of the best songs of the nineties was the Creatures’ “Second Floor”.

Siouxsie and her then husband Budgie came to the studio at InterFM. She was a dominating, imposing figure. We were all totally intimidated by her. She was a giant twenty-foot tall rock goddess made of marble, ice and ivory.

Into the studio she strode with Budgie right behind and as she sat on her chair, she looked me straight in the eye, lit a cigarette (she knows there’s no smoking in a radio studio), and said to me, “It’s alright if I smoke, isn’t it?”

We all froze. I didn’t know what to say. Wide-eyed, I gulped and stuttered, “Er, uh, the rules do not apply to the queen.”

After that, we then had a great time and a fantastic interview. She was the most awesome, fearsome musician I have ever met. Later on, we all got to hangout backstage with Siouxsie! How many people can say that?

SMC – Are there any charities or organizations that you support or are passionate about?

Mike – I have always supported Children With Incurable Diseases Charity in Japan. It is called, “Nanbyo.net.” “Nanbyo” means “incurable disease.” (Nanbyonet)

SMC – What do you think is lacking in the music industry today?

Mike – Musicians who have business sense as well as musical talent. People hate the business side of things, but a negative attitude towards an integral part of the business and success is self-defeating and short sighted. The most famous musicians knew this. Michael Jackson and David Bowie were astute businessmen.

SMC – Can you tell us your top indie bands that you like to support?

Mike – There are the rock bands from Japan that I like best (Some of these videos I made with Ken Nishikawa):

The Neatbeats

The Privates

The 50 Kaitenz

The Routes

Taffy

Su Ko D Koi

Moja

The Pats Pats

The Stephanies

The Stompin’ Riff Raffs

These are my favorite bands in Japan.

Oh, and my favorite new foreign band of the year are from Australia. A young band that plays their own instruments and rocks out? I’m in love!

Amyl & The Sniffers

SMC – You have delved in music yourself! I remember reading on your blog that an original record of yours sold for a hefty price too! Tell us about your history in music….

Mike – When I was young, I was in a “One-Hit Wonder” Punk Rock Band. The band’s name was “The Rotters.” We played with the Dead Kennedys, Fear, Black Flag, the Germs, Angry Samoans and a bunch of other 1978~79 Los Angeles Punk Band’s whose names I can’t remember. I’ve written about it here: I Was a Teenage Punk Rocker – Why Dedication Beats Fanaticism Anyday! Even for Punk Rock or Success in Any Field!

After that band broke up, I floundered in a few other bands, but never really did anything that was as exciting as the Rotters… I thought. The band I was in after the Rotters? The Wuffy Dogs? I am told that the single we made is now the “Holy Grail” of late 1970s L.A. Punk singles and sells for nearly $1800. Why? I’m guessing it’s because that band had two former Rotters, the guy who would later become the drummer for M.I.A., and the original guitarist for Berlin (who got kicked out of Berlin because he wanted screaming guitars and Berlin wanted to make pop tunes like, “Take My Breath Away.”)

SMC – What was the turning point in going from a music career to film and where you are today with radio?

Mike – After my band broke up, I wanted to stay in Los Angeles. As a suburban boy, I found L.A. exciting as hell. So, one day, I asked Rodney Bingenheimer (Rodney on the Roq – KROQ Los Angeles) if I could be his assistant. I told him I didn’t need to be paid. He said “OK” and so I was an unpaid Gofer for the World-Famous KROQ’s Rodney on the Roq for about 16 months between mid-1980 – 1981. I would clean up and organize albums that were scattered about in some rooms and also carry records for Rodney to and from his car. The best part of the job was answering the door at KROQ for Rodney and greeting guests who came to be on his show. Through that I got to meet Clem Burke of Blondie, the Ramones, and a bunch of other super famous punk stars whose names escape me at the moment. I used to get stoned with Dee Dee Ramone! I wrote about that here: “Belinda Carlisle Naked, The Ramones, Rodney Bingenheimer and Me – Another True Story

The first time I got to meet Phil Spector was Christmas of 1980 and when he arrived at the door, he didn’t look like a Punk (he looked like my dad!) so I was rude to him (like an idiot!) I didn’t find out until much later who he was!… Doh!

I used to go with Rodney to that all-night diner he lives at (Canter’s Deli) too after almost every show. There I met lots of people who were famous or to become extremely famous later…

I never told people in Japan about that because they wouldn’t believe me. But, one day, Rodney came to Japan and I got to be his tour guide and take care of him for 5 days in Tokyo, so I could pay back, a little bit, all he did for me. (I wrote about that here)

So, had I not been Rodney’s assistant, I probably would have never become a radio DJ.

SMC – I like to ask this question because it means different things to different people: What does ‘Success’ mean to you?

Mike – Being able to live and eat and have a happy family doing what you like. Diana Ross once said, “Show business is not success, it is survival.” So, if you can survive and be happy doing what you want, then that is success.

SMC – Which social media platform are you most active on and why?

Mike – I do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and I blog. As far as Social Media is concerned, I think one must focus. Social Media is like going to parties. If you are doing too much and too many Social Media (going to too many parties at once), you can’t spend time at any party getting to know people well. I think it’s better to go to a few parties and be able to spend time and talk with friends than having to rush around to a dozen parties, just say, “Hi!” and then leave.

SMC – What are the top attributes you look for when aligning yourself with industry peers for future projects or even simply to network? We all have certain ‘deal-breakers’ when it comes to a certain type of person…

Mike – I like honest people. There are so many dishonest people, it astounds me. And these people are quite easy to pick out as they contradict themselves constantly (though it seems they don’t realize it). I have a bad memory for names and tasks I have to do so I always take notes and I always try to tell the truth. Why? Because, once again, as Mark Twain says, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

It’s too much trouble lying and then having to remember what you told to who. So, it’s just better to tell the truth.

People who lie habitually, about shit that doesn’t matter, fail to realize it when they contradict themselves. They are their own worst enemy.

May I recommend two very important books?

The Road Less Traveled” and the sequel, “People of the Lie” by F. Scott Peck. Both discuss telling the truth all the time and the second discusses how some people will go to extreme lengths, even kill, in order to protect the lie. The last few chapters of “People of the Lie” are frightening.

SMC – Okay, final question: What in project you would love to get involved in or work on in future?

Mike – Now I am franchising one of the world’s most famous film festivals and bringing it into Japan. I cannot mention the name of the film festival because I have signed a confidentiality agreement. We are now setting up a consortium of some of Japan’s most famous corporations to support this project. It’s going to be huge news all over the world. We will be able to announce it later this year. Think Big!

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Social Media & Media Links for Mike Rogers (click to view)

Mike Rogers Twitter

WhatTheFunday Facebook

Robot55 Facebook

Ghostroads Trailer

Instagram

Confessions of a Sandwich Man

Sochi International Film Festival and Awards

Matsuchiyo – Life of a Geisha

I Interviewed Johnny Rotten – the True Story

The Creatures’ “Second Floor”

“Belinda Carlisle Naked, The Ramones, Rodney Bingenheimer and Me – Another True Story”

Nanbyonet

The Neatbeats

The Privates

The 50 Kaitenz

The Routes

Taffy

Su Ko D Koi

Moja

The Pats Pats

The Stephanies

The Stompin’ Riff Raffs

Amyl & The Sniffers

I Was a Teenage Punk Rocker – Why Dedication Beats Fanaticism Anyday! Even for Punk Rock or Success in Any Field!

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)

The Road Less Traveled by F. Scott Peck

People of the Lie by F. Scott Peck

 

SMC Spotlight Series No. 1 | Chris Craker: Producer, Composer, Conductor, ‘Karma Sound Studios’ CEO

by Candice Anne Marshall

In the latter part of June 2017, I was introduced to one of the industry’s most notable, influential peers and music inspirations Mr. Chris Craker. Undeniably, Chris comes from a distinctive background: he was General Manager and Senior Vice President of the International Division of Sony BMG Masterworks, Producer of the soundtrack for Director Christopher Nolan’s movie “Interstellar”, with the Oscar nominated score composed by Hans Zimmer, as well as producing the 2017 Annie Award Winning score for “The Little Prince” for Paramount, directed by Mark Osborne (of Kung Fu Panda fame). In April 2008, Chris resigned from Sony to set up Karma Sound Studios and devote more time to his own creative endeavors and management of a select group of uniquely gifted artists. Karma is now recognized as the number one luxury residential recording studio complex in South East Asia who’s first guests included three iconic global bands: Placebo, Jamiroquai, and Bullet For My Valentine.

Chris Craker has won numerous awards and received acclaim for his activities as a performer, recording artist, composer, arranger, producer/engineer, record label founder, artist manager, author, critic, industry commentator and strategic advisor. So, it doesn’t surprise us that he has plunged right into his projects at Karma Sound Studios with successful results (see our interview below). Karma, located among the luxurious sand and waterways of Thailand located just outside Bang Saray, provides a picturesque fishing village on the coast and surrounded by beautiful countryside which is perfect for inspiration.

On the Karma Sound Studios Property in Thailand Photo courtesy: Chris Craker

Accomodations

The accommodations at Karma boast 6 bedrooms which are all ensuite, four with private balconies overlooking the 60 sqm swimming pool and extensive gardens. All rooms have an in-room private safe and are supplemented by a massage room, small gym, and a private bar situated around the swimming pool and BBQ area. The outdoor dining sala doubles as a live stage area for al fresco pool-side concerts and the ultimate “unplugged” video shoot location. TVs/DVD/Games Console and full broadband internet access and a table tennis table are all available.

Studio 1 at Karma Sound Studios
Photo courtesy: Chris Craker
Studio 1 at Karma Sound Studios
Photo Courtesy: Chris Craker

Studio 1

Studio One provides spacious recording areas (200 sq metres), consisting of the main live room plus a very large drum booth / isolation area that can contain up to a twelve-piece horn or wind section, as well as a large vocal and guitar booth, and two further guitar amp / speaker isolation areas. The control room’s centrepiece is the SSL 4056 E/G Series console, supported by a 32/56 I/O Pro tools 10 & 11 HD system, complemented with outboard by BAE/Neve 1073s, Millennia, API, Great River, Emperical Labs, Teletronix, Universal Audio, dbx, Thermionic Culture, Avalon, Lexicon, Eventide and many more!

Studio 2

Studio 2 at Karma provides the ultimate ‘Swiss-army-knife’ set-up for the modern songwriter/producer. Designed with simplicity and flexibility in mind, it runs Pro Tools 10 & 11 HD Native, Logic Pro X and Reason 5 running on a UA Apollo Quad with D-Box monitoring and summing. Both studios have access to a comprehensive sample library and the latest 64bit plugins. Mastering grade ATC monitoring is an unusual but welcome provision, along with Yamaha HS8s & NS10s, B&W 805 Nautilus and Aurotones. Outboard provided by AMS Neve, API, SSL, Universal Audio, Teletronix, GML, SPL, Radial, dbx, Empirical Labs Inc. and more, mean very few studios can compete for the price.

*A full GEAR list of equipment in both studios can be found (here)

I hopped on a call with Chris last week and we spoke about some of the future projects coming up at Karma, his collaborations with some of the worlds’ top Artists (whose songs are written at Karma), and the projects which SMC will be in support of by way of press releases, interviews, and video content on the SMC Spotlight and Starlight Music Chronicles website. We are excited to share the content over the next few months and begin with our press releases on Karma Sound Studios Songwriter Retreat 2017 (click here) and the Superstar 101 for Aspiring Pop Stars (click here). Needless to say, when the website says ‘If James Bond had a recording studio it would be Karma…’, they were not kidding!

There will be much more to release over the course of the next six months on our SMC Spotlight so be sure to subscribe to our site and the Karma Sound Studios website (here)

Settle back for a few moments and enjoy this glimpse into the studio.

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Chris Craker | CEO Karma Sound Studios Thailand
Photo courtesy: Chris Craker

SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview | Chris Craker

PERSONAL LIFE

SMC- Hello Chris! We are happy to have you on our SMC Spotlight! I’m going to get right into it – I have read your bio (here) and it goes without saying that you are THE man in terms of the music industry. Your career history timeline includes that of being Former Senior Vice President of Sony BMG (among many other exceptional accomplishments!). I am certain that you have hundreds of amazing experiences that you are proud of. Can you tell us of a few highlights in your career(s) that have stood out most prominently for you?

Chris – Probably the biggest highlights we working as the Producer of the soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s incredible movie ‘Interstellar’ and the Composer (my friend) Hans Zimmer. It was nine month of my life that then cumulated in me also being engaged as the Executive Producer for staging ‘Interstellar Live’ at the Royal Albert Hall in London – a sold out show which we screened the movie with a live, 90-piece orchestra playing the score, and speakers before the show including Stephen Hawking, Chris Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, etc.…

SMC – I could probably sit and listen to your story all day (laughs), and I have so many questions that I am sure I will think of later, are you open to SMC continuing to support you by way of our SMC SPOTLIGHT Numbered Series? This is a chronicled history and timeline of your career accomplishments via interviews, ongoing support for new and current projects, and press releases.

Chris – I would love to be a part of this…thank you for asking.

SMC – You have worked with some of the world’s finest Composers and Musicians, which have you developed a kinship with and why?

Chris – Composers I’ve worked closely with include Hans Zimmer which has been inspiring; working with Lang Lang the Chinese classical Pianist was amazing and needless to say, it was a real pleasure having Jamiroquai at my Studio. Recording Leona Lewis was incredible too – watching how someone takes their artistry so seriously and setting super high standards for themselves…we all found her an inspiration.

SMC – Can you tell us what a typical day is like for you? Pick a day, any day will do.

Chris – Ha ha…I get up at 5:30 or 6 am and in the gym by 6:30 am the latest. Work starts around 8:00 am and continues all day with a mixture of either creative work or business/management issues with my Artists and colleagues. A normal day will include half a dozen overseas Skype or Facetime sessions too – which, by default, means that the working day is long so that I can coincide with multiple time zones…

SMC – I do know that with anyone in the entertainment industry, there is never a dull moment so I look forward to hearing what your thoughts are on this: is there any moment in time that stands out to you as an ‘ah-ha’ or ‘pinch me’ moment?

Chris – That’s a great question because it is odd sometimes when I think back to being in serious discussions with Christopher Nolan, Lang Lang, Benny & Bjorn from Abba, Hans Zimmer, Jimmy Page, and Actors like Dame Judi Dench, Michael Caine, and Christopher Lee – surreal really…

SMC – I heard you juggle between Europe, Thailand, and the US. Can you tell us where you feel most ‘at home’?

Chris – Actually, I feel most at home in Thailand since my studio is there – but I have family in London and always enjoy being in Santa Monica too…they are three amazing locations to spend my time.

SMC – Have you ever met an industry peer who was difficult to deal with? If so, how did you handle the situation?

Chris – Some Artists and Managers are more challenging than others and without naming names, I find the best approach is simply to be incredibly polite, friendly, and always do my job and try to exceed expectations. Then, if people are still difficult to deal with, it’s clearly them that has the problem! I try to surround myself with like-minded spirits and most of the time, working relationships are very cordial.

SMC – What are your thoughts on the music that is being created today as opposed to, say, 20 or 30 years ago?

Chris – I love what’s happening now – it’s just very different in content and the methods of creating are so different now. Also…the method of delivery to fans and the engagement with fans is so different from 20 years ago. I actually think the Music Industry is an incredibly vibrant place to be right now, and one of immense opportunity if one is prepared to think and act differently from the past!

SMC – Are there any other ventures you are involved in currently that you will be announcing at a later date? Obviously, I realize you can’t divulge full details, but perhaps even a hint at it….

Chris – I am expanding my Management and Label Activities. I am heavily involved in the field of Music Industry Education and have set up a new joint venture to forge that ahead – and later this year I will be rolling out a program that aims to help Musicians and Artists who have suffered at the hands of drug and alcohol addictions and giving them ‘Music therapy’ and a second chance at making it back into the industry.

SMC – What was your personally most rewarding experience from any one completed project?

Chris – Seeing Karma Studio open for the very first time and to see albums being created here that then have global success which changes people’s lives.

SMC – Who is your go-to team? Are you a solo thinker/doer, or do you like to bounce ideas around with your peers?

Chris – I have a small team of trusted Advisers but do most things on my own…the team at Karma is amazing – great administration and creative and technical support.

SMC – Which of your awards are you most proud of being a recipient of and why?

Chris – The award that brought me most satisfaction was winning the gold medal at an international music competition when I was just 18 years old. It was the first time I’d won anything of consequence and it really boosted my confidence to then go on and try to achieve great things in the music industry.

SMC – I read that you have been behind successful Artist projects in the USA and Asia. What draws you to Asia and where do you see the difference in the style of Pop Musicians between the two countries? Would you say Asia is more advanced?

Chris – we have amazing acts all over the world and the best ones are all unique. Styles and flavors change from country to country but I would say that I am excited at the prospect of breaking Asian acts into the west and western acts into Asia. That’s always fun to see cross pollination and true global success…

SMC – Where do you think ‘it’ is in terms of the future of music platforms supporting Artists – Radio, or alternative platforms like Spotify and Pandora?

Chris – I see Spotify dominating globally before too long. It’s an easy to use and very functional platform. I listen to the radio in the car, but more and more, I am enjoying having control of what I listen to on Spotify and then being surprised by playlists that others have created.

SMC – We often hear from industry professionals that the music of today ‘isn’t what it was’ 20 or 30 years ago in terms of quality. What are your thoughts on what the Millennial generation of Artists are creating? Do you share these same opinions of your peers in the industry to a degree?

Chris – I wholeheartedly disagree – there’s loads of great music being made now and 30 years ago, there was also great music and a lot of terrible music being made! Nowadays, everyone has access to very affordable simple technology to record and create which is a wonderful thing…then, as people develop their skills, they use the more sophisticated platforms on which to create and truly amazing music is flowing from Artists from all over the world.

SMC – Have there been any indie Artists who have wowed you in the last few years? If so, who?

Chris – Adele started out as an Indie Artist and caused a massive response from being truly authentic. I have also loved watching the rise to fame of Dagny – a Norwegian Pop Singer who has now been snapped up by Republic, but she started from grassroots and evolved as an Artist and is now wowing people all over the world.

SMC – For you, what do you find personal satisfaction in?

Chris – I love bands like Muse and Radiohead. I’ve really enjoyed live shows from Queen featuring Adam Lambert, and the Chainsmokers we fun in Los Angeles earlier this year.

SMC – When an idea comes to the forefront of your mind, do you act quickly on it or do you take the time to research and develop it?

Chris – I like to move quickly whenever possible! But I make sure to research too. That can be quick these days with access to everything we ever need to know online!

SMC – What was the most rewarding or memorable moment in your role as Senior Vice President of Sony BMG?

Chris – It was always great to see the younger acts coming through and making their mark. But, from a corporate point of view, seeing the end of the year financial reports always showing growth and always above target – that, as a result of making great music with our key acts. Also, ensuring that the back-catalogue was always being stimulated and refreshed and presented in new vibrant ways to the public.

SMC – Aside from Artists/Musicians/Songwriters, what kinds of initiatives or individuals professionally are you most likely to support or which you are most passionate about?

Chris – I take a strong interest in supporting mental health practitioners who help Musicians. Our industry is so demanding physically and emotionally and often, Musicians end up in difficult places. We need to look after them and ensure they are supported when the going gets tough, for whatever reason…

SMC – Last question before we head into the Press Release questions: What do you personally feel your greatest accomplishment is to date? Professionally?

Chris – Producing the soundtrack to ‘Interstellar’.

KARMA SONGWRITING RETREATS

SMC – When Mike (Rogers, mutual industry friend) had introduced me to you, he sent me a link to your website (here) and I was blown away! You are the owner of this venture – can you tell us what inspired you to get this project going? (for our readers, the press releases will be included with this interview below)

Chris – Having been working in London and New York for Sony, I really wanted to do a project that would get me back to making music and making records. I had always wanted to do build a strong studio and I thought about what the ideal studio should be. Naturally, there were palm trees and a beach location springing into my mind (laughs) and I liked the idea of being away from the real world in a tropical paradise – Thailand! We have subsequently developed these songwriter retreats for writers from all over the world to come and enjoy the vibe here. Fifteen writers from all over the globe, congregate and write together in the most exotic and inspiring location imaginable. Great songs flow!

SMC – What is the kind of work that goes into the planning process of these retreats? Do you have a team that organizes this for you or do you prefer to be hands-on?

Chris – I am very hands-on but we have an Administrator who looks after all the accommodations and logistics as well as amazing Producers working with the writers and programming them up, ready to pitch to major label Artists all around the world.

SMC – I feel that a studio in the middle of paradise is probably every musician or songwriters dream. As a writer myself, this inspires me to get the creative juices flowing just looking at the video of the studio (laughs)! Do you feel location for this project when you initially came up with the idea was essential to getting the creative juices flowing for the Songwriters/Artists? If so, why?

Chris – Choosing this location was all about the vibe. It was all about what would inspire Musicians. The world is full of studios in cities, and most Musicians have a set-up at home. We needed to be different and it seems to have worked! We are constantly full.

SMC – Can you tell us a little bit of history on the studio in terms of who has attended and whose music has been picked up by major label Artists?

Chris – One of the first bands to come (to Karma) was Placebo recording their album ‘Battle Of The Sun’ and since that time, we also have made records for Jamiroquai, Bullet For My Valentine, The Libertines, Enter Shikari, Young Guns, Heat, Hellions, Trophy Eyes, and amazing bands from Japan, Russia, Australia, Scandinavia, and of course, pretty well every major Thai act has been here too!

SMC – Is there one (or a few) Songwriters who have attended the retreat whose music has stood out to you or impressed you greatly?

Chris – There are a number…a young guy called Syps (Alex Sypsomos) really stands out and you will be hearing hits from him in the next none months, I guarantee. Also, Gia Koka from Holland was amazing. Also, Jackson Dimiglio Wood and Rich Craker have done some pretty awesome things too for major label Artists.

SMC – Can you tell us about some of the Artists who have had some hits that originated from the Songwriters in this retreat?

Chris – Well it’s early days, but we know that a new Artist with Avex in Japan (Momo) is about to break with a brand new single written at Karma. We also have songs on hold with Rhianna and Leona Lewis currently.

SMC – Can you tell us what kind of feedback the Songwriters who have attended the retreats have to say about their experience?

Chris – We have such lovely feedback – people absolutely love being here and they do their best work but I get looked after so well too…our staff tend to everyone’s every need and the whole thing is pretty idyllic.

Karma Studio & Superstar 101 for Aspiring Pop Stars

SMC – Was the studio built from scratch? What kind of details can you give specifically about the studio equipment and the studio itself?

Chris – Yes, I bought the land and built the entire complex from scratch. We have three studios – one equipped with a 56 channel SSL G+ Console and the other two are very sophisticated production and post-production studios with a mixture of state of the art and vintage equipment from all major brands.

SMC – Is this your first time hosting the Superstar 101 for Aspiring Pop Stars program?

Chris – Yes, it is. We are the perfect ‘destination studio’ for this kind of project. We can make such great footage here and shoot great pictures to accompany songs from hit songwriters.

SMC – Can you tell us a little more about the program and where it was incepted and why?

Chris – This is a program that enables a young singer with some financial backing to fast track into the business and to work with amazing people within a concentrated period of time. At the end of the one-month program, the Artist will have an album and all the video and image assets required to be marketed internationally. And with my connections at the major labels, we can introduce them to senior A&R teams in London, Nashville, Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York as well as release direct to market via our own label linked with iTunes and Spotify.

SMC – Although at first glance of the costs for this program seem high initially, when one looks at what is offered to an Artist in terms of career advancement, I feel this is a valid and wise investment! Can you tell us if there is any other program out there which offers what you do or is this a first?

Chris – I don’t think there are many programs out there quite like this and when one knows that quite commonly top Writer/Producers are charging $10,000 – 20,000 a track, $100,000 for an entire album with two videos and two photoshoots plus all the other ancillary help is an amazing value!

SMC – You seem like the kind of man who is an innovator in terms of unique opportunities for the music industry. Can you tell me what the vision for the next five to ten years is for Karma Studio Artists or the Studio itself?

Chris – I do indeed like to develop new things, you’re right. In the next five years, we will have a very strong and innovative management company linked to the studios, as well as the label, which has already started but we are also very attentive to the ways that the market changes and so, right now, we are making it our business to work closely with Spotify, Snapchat, Facebook, and numerous other emerging platforms. We keep on top of the latest marketing techniques and ensure our Artists benefit from these…

SMC – What determines a successful candidate for this program? What are you and your team looking for in terms of qualifications/skills from the Artists submitting their music to you for this program?

Chris – It’s simple – a unique voice and a passion for success that matches our own hunger!

SMC – In your experience, what do you think makes up the components of a truly successful Artist?

Chris – Someone who has a genuine, authentic talent, who cares a lot about every single detail ad who works incredibly hard…there is now substitute for hard work and I love it when I see young acts really giving their all and matching our own drive and enthusiasm.

SMC – What do you and your team(s) hope to do in terms of having the Artists attending your program ‘stand out’ in mainstream music?

Chris – Again, in one sense, the answer is simple: we move heaven and earth to write and produce hit songs. One song can change people’s lives…

SMC – I read in your press release for the Superstar 101 program that ‘“There’s no real substitute for working with top class, writers, producers and engineers in a high-end studio environment” said Chris Craker. “Yes, we live very much in a DIY environment for most young musicians, and amazing results can be achieved with just a laptop, a microphone, a great idea and a lot of hard work at home in your bedroom. But, really, none of the top stars are working in their bedrooms on their own… they all have a support network around them, with amazing cowriters, talented producers, skilled musicians and engineers to help make the end results truly compelling and chart-worthy! And that’s our aim with the Superstar 101 program – to give young artists the opportunity to really have the best chance of success from day one…”

How do you feel your program is superior to that of one who writes, records, and produces music in their own personal space/environment? I do see that you have a lot to offer and I know that really, $100,000 isn’t much to ask for what you are offering in terms of services and the ability to get the Artist who attends this program the ‘established’. What do you think is the main benefit of the Superstar 101 program?

Chris – Along with the exceptional Writer Producers that we have on the team here, the other main benefit is the incredible links to industry that I offer. Yes, the old adage that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ does ring true and If we have the right Artist here, I can have them in front of the right people in any major city with the very best assets to ensure they fast track to the top.

SMC – Can you tell us of a time you have had an Artist come on too strong and it was a turn-off? How did you handle it?

Chris – Well, naming no names, we did have one act that had a lot of drive and very little talent, but was not aware of this fact. I love people with passion and I always try to help, but there does need to be a base level of talent at all times!

SMC – In relation to the last question: Can you tell us of a time where there was an Artist who you felt was grateful for all the hard work you and your team did in establishing them and how did they reciprocate this gratitude?

Chris – The studio name is ‘Karma’ and actually, whenever we give our all to people, they always reciprocate in some way. We’ve built up amazing relationships with acts from all over the world, and the best way anyone can reciprocate is by recommending us to others…that’s the greatest gift.

SMC – Where do you think this kind of program becomes personal and about the Artist and their talent/art as opposed to the business aspect?

Chris – We will connect with the Artist from day one. That’s when it all starts. We need great chemistry and we work hard to develop the best environment and conditions for a healthy stimulating personal relationship.

SMC – What has been the best collaboration with an Artist from Karma Studios you have experienced to date?

Chris – Wow – there have been so many! I guess we have been instrumental in bringing a young Australian band ‘Hellions’ into the mass market but working with the new guy ‘Syps’ has been amazing. Watch this space…. he is destined for the top!

SMC – Okay, final question: Can you tell us about some of the dynamic or insightful experiences an Artist has shared with you about their time at Karma Studios?

Chris – The one thing that reoccurs from most of our most valued clients is simply, their gratitude that ‘we care’ and that we go the extra mile to make sure they have the perfect environment in which to create. The Libertines were especially grateful because we took our duty of care to the n’th degree looking after Peter Doherty (Lead Singer) for six months before he was ready to record. That’s an example of how our care and attention to detail pays off for people. They are now back playing major festivals all over the world, rising up from a long period of dormancy. It may well not have happened if they had not spent time at Karma….

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SMC SPOTLIGHT Interview | Grammy Award Winning Producer Mario Mcnulty

It has been over a year since I have spoken with Grammy Award Winning, New York-based Producer Mario McNulty. Shortly after our telephone discussion, I decided to hold off on publishing the interview about his long tenure work with Music Industry notables David Bowie and Prince (to name a few). This comes with good reason: only weeks after our interview, Prince passed away and while the world was still reeling with the loss of Bowie in January 2016, the music industry was shook up yet again with the loss of one of Pop Musics’ greatest icons.

Flash forward to present day: McNulty and I revisit our previous discussion on Bowie and Prince and also caught up on his latest projects with notables Laurie Anderson, The Last Internationale, and Earl Slick (to name a few). Other Artists he can attribute his work to presently are New Mayans, Kayleigh O’Connor, Lucy Woodward, Carol C, Anna Paddock, Nelly Petkova, and Sean Wood. McNulty has worked alongside Grammy Award Winning Producer Mark Plati (also, Bowie), has laid roots at the notable Magic Shop Studios in New York(closed now), and his Artist roster continues to grow. It is right for me to say that if any Artist chooses to have their work produced by Mario McNulty, it’s as good as Grammy Award Winning-caliber gold.

Here is our exclusive interview:

SMC SPOTLIGHT Interview | Grammy award winning Producer Mario McNulty 

SMC – Hello Mario! This is a genuine pleasure to have you featured on our SMC SPOTLIGHT! We spoke over a year ago and shortly after, Prince passed away. What a tough year 2016 was for the industry. More importantly, for you being that you personally worked with Bowie and Prince on their projects. Can you share with us your thoughts and reflections on your relationships with these brilliant Artists?

Mario – Losing David and Prince was very difficult, and more so in such close proximity.  However, with David it was different because I had known him so well, and had worked with him since 2001.  Both David and Prince stood alone in their fields, no one came close.  Such brilliant visionary artists and musicians they both were.

(l-r) Photo of David Bowie (far left) with Martha Mooke (far right) taken at Looking Glass Studio A during the Tibet House rehearsal.
Photo Property & Courtesy of: Mario McNulty

SMC – You have also worked with so many stellar Artists whose careers are still going strong today. Can you tell us which of them are your most favorite and why?

Mario – One artist I have so much love and respect for is Laurie Anderson, who continues to create.  I have always been in awe of Laurie, so when I got a call to potentially mix something for her I was floored and excited.  That was I believe in 2004 or 2005, I have been with her ever since.  Laurie is the kind of artist who makes you feel inspired at the end of every session.

SMC – Can you tell us of a moment or memory in working with the Artists you have which was the pivotal (life-changing) point in your career?

Mario – It is quite hard to answer but I feel that my working and personal relationship with Bowie is the obvious answer for me.  Everything was different after I started working with David.

SMC – You won a Grammy for in the Best Contemporary World Music category for the album Djin Djin (2007) by the Artist Angélique Kidjo. Can you tell us what it was like working on that project? Also, what was it like being up there and accepting the Grammy?

Mario – That album was pretty much a constant joy to make.  Incredible musicians and the positive spirit of Angelique on a daily basis was so much fun.  We recorded at Electric Lady studios in downtown Manhattan, in the big legendary studio A.  A fairly big ensemble of players from all corners of the world in a big room with no isolation… I only had a bass cabinet in the closet.  Guest singers for nearly every song, it was exciting.  I actually didn’t attend the Grammys that year, I was on a project and in studio in Lexington, Kentucky!

McNulty with Carol C at his studio Incognito.
Photo Property & Courtesy of: Mario McNulty

SMC – I would like to know who your favorite Artists are in the following categories and why:

Mario – I’ll have to give you a few… it’s not really an easy question as I have so many favorites over the years and the eras of modern recording.

Pop – Prince, I can’t think of another artist who I like for commercial music more.  For modern pop, so I’ll say Marina and The Diamonds.  I think her first record is the most underrated pop album I’ve ever heard.

Rock – Classic stuff… Bowie, Gabriel, Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, too many to name.  For more modern, Tool.  They are the best performing band in the world.  I love The Cult, Alice In Chains, Faith No More.

R&B – Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson.

Jazz – Miles, Coltrane.

Alternative – Japan, Talk Talk, Eno, Kate Bush, Simple Minds, PJ Harvey, Zappa… too many!!

SMC – What are your thoughts on the production quality of most music today?

Mario – It depends on what perspective, but generally the production quality of music people are hearing on Spotify or Apple music is good but standardized.

McNulty with The Last Internationale at Avatar Studios.
Photo Property & Courtesy of: Mario McNulty

SMC – What are your thoughts on the kinds of Artists Starlight Music Chronicles supports?

Mario – It looks very eclectic and glad to see these groups getting a shot!

SMC – We spoke last about your work with New Mayans and we have yet to publish your commentary on the work you did with them on their album ‘Crimes’…. can you tell us what your thoughts are on their art?

Mario – I haven’t seen the art work, but the music was a very specific vision from Joe Swigunski.  I’m looking forward to seeing the artwork!

SMC – Okay, let’s go into your Discography career highlights – what was it like to work with our beloved Bowie? Can you tell us of a memory that stands out to you most?

Mario – Too many with David but recent memory was an email correspondence we were having about my son Julian, that was nice.

SMC – With Prince, what are your thoughts on his name change, work ethics, and art?

Mario – I ever gave the name change much thought, he was still Prince to me and everyone else I knew, it was just a legal effort to annoy the record label.  His work ethics were at the highest standard, not many could work like he could.  His art was a very high period of creative output that we might not ever see again.

McNulty with Anna Paddock (left) and Nelly Petkova(right) at Avatar Studios.
Photo Property & courtesy of: Mario McNulty

SMC – Can you name five Artists today that you have not worked with that you would like to?

Mario – Tool, Simple Minds, Marina and The Diamonds, Brian Eno, Lorde.

SMC – In terms of independent Artists, which ones have impressed you over the last few years or even recently and why?

Mario – There is a Canadian artist whose record I am mixing at the moment, named Kayleigh O’Conner.  I have been really impressed with this record and her songs… I can see her going far.

SMC – What do you think is the most important thing an Artist can do to better themselves in this competitive industry?

Mario – Make it your life, and don’t stop working.  The people and groups that are successful are for many reasons, but one common thread is the drive and work ethic.

SMC – In terms of media, what do you find is lacking in media support today? What would you like to see improved?

Mario – Credit being given to the creators of the product, which used to happen de-facto on album liner notes.  This needs to be resolved for proper credit due.

MacNulty and award winning Producer Mark Plati at The Magic Shop Studio in New York City.
Photo Property & Courtesy of: Mario McNulty

SMC – Can you name some of the top Producers in the industry whose work you admire and why?

Mario – I love what John Congleton has done with St. Vincent.  I think her albums are forward thinking and unique, I think Congleton helped in that process.

SMC – I am going to say this: Peter Gabriel is one of my absolute favorite Artists of all time. Can you tell us a story about how you became connected to him?

Mario – I have never met Peter Gabriel, my only working connection is that he sang on a song called ‘Salala’ for the Angelique Kidjo album I recorded.  However, Peter sang his vocals in England, we were in NYC.  I was in communication with Peter’s engineer, but never spoke to him.

SMC – When in your career did you realize you had a real gift and something special to offer Artists in the industry? What was that pivotal ‘Ah Ha’ moment for you?

Mario – I think there was a time shortly after graduating high school where I was searching for my career calling.  I had always been an artist, and had started playing music only several years earlier.  I had taken a course in digital recording at a collage and while behind the desk I had a moment of clarity.

McNulty with singer/songwriter Sean Wood at his studio Incognito.
Photo Property & Courtesy of: Mario Mcnulty

SMC – You have grown alongside the careers of many of the people you have worked with, and even some who were world renowned way before your time. How does that feel?

Mario – It is a humbling feeling, but it is important to be thankful and gracious about who you meet and work with.  In my case since I came up in the industry at a fairly early age, I have been very lucky to be close to people who have accomplished so much.

SMC – I ask this in every interview – tell us five facts about yourself that no one knows about. (our readers love this one!)

Mario – My interests outside of music, since that is more public, are hanging out with my son Julian.  Other facts I suppose are… I am essentially both handed, I dig David Lynch, I dig museums, I dig sushi.

SMC – You work with Laurie Anderson has also been extensive and impressive! What are some fond memories or moments for you have working with her?

Mario – I have many.  One of my favorites was mixing her album in 2009.  We had spent what turned into months mixing the record at her studio.  Lou Reed, her husband, was always there with me since he had taken on more of a producer role at the end of the album.  We were working quite a bit, long days.  One day Laurie or Lou, not sure who said it first, told me to setup a keyboard and mic station for the dog, Lolabelle.  Shortly after, Lolabelle was playing keys and barking into the mic… which made the record.  True story.

SMC – Four words and I want your thoughts and reflections on them: The Magic Shop Studio….

Mario – It was a great studio with a great casual relaxed vibe.  I miss it very much, I have many fond memories that will last my entire life.

SMC – Can you tell us when your very first thought came to you to pursue a career as a Producer?

Mario – It was at some point when I was in high school.  I was listening to the David Bowie album ‘1.Outside’.  There is a song called ‘We Prick You’, which I obsessed over, listened on repeat and tried to figure out what the hell was going on.  I knew somehow then I was on my way.

McNulty in his playground.
Photo Property & Courtesy of Mario McNulty

SMC – I saw that you just finished production work on a single for Nelly Petkova…. can you tell us what your predictions are for this Artist?

Mario – I actually just finished 3 songs with Nelly, which were just mastered this past week.  Nelly has a huge following in Bulgaria already, I am hoping for good things to come!

SMC – I noted that at the end of last year, you worked with The Last Internationale – what was it like working with these exceptional Artists?

Mario – Incredible group of players and people.  We clicked immediately, I was already a fan of their music.  It always is a huge bonus when you get along in your world view.

SMC – How can an Artist get in touch with you for production work?

Mario – Easy, contact my manager Joe D’Ambrosio (here)

SMC – Are you currently taking on new clients?

Mario – Absolutely!  I have new clients of all sorts every year, both indie and major label.

Hanging with the Cool Kids:
(l-r) Earl Slick, Daniel Goodman, and McNulty
Photo Property & Courtesy of: Mario McNulty

SMC – Okay, final question: If there was any advice you could give to indie Artists today who are producing a lot of their own music, what would that be?

Mario – It would be similar to your earlier question… make it your life.  But, I would add to this, and say take things one step at a time and try to possibly be methodical about your learning process.  Producing records is artistry of course, but it’s also half technical.  There is a lot to know and learn.  Don’t expect to produce ‘Rumors’ in 3 weeks… it takes time.

SMC – Thank you Mario!

Mario – You’re very welcome and thank you!

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Mario McNulty | BIO

Producer/engineer/mixer/collaborator Mario J. McNulty began his career in NYC 16 years ago working for Philip Glass at his studio, Looking Glass.  Within a year, Mario became a freelance engineer/mixer working for David Bowie and Tony Visconti.

In 2008, Mario won his first Grammy Award recording Angelique Kidjo’s star-studded release, Djin Djin. Little did he know when he left Phoenix to come to NewYork that it would take a little less than 7 years to reach such lofty heights.  Mario has also worked with Prince, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Earl Slick, Nine Inch Nails, The Raveonettes, Imelda May, Manic Street Preachers, Kashmir, Anti-Flag, Julian Lennon, Alejandro Escovedo, Alexa Ray Joel, Antony and the Johnsons and many other artists.

Recently, for two-plus years, Mario recorded the David Bowie release entitled The Next Day.  The Next Day debuted #1 in 40 countries across the world!  Additionally, has done live sound and recorded tours for Nine Inch Nails, Prince, David Byrne, The B-52’s and MuchMusic’s Video Awards.

Currently, Mario recorded and mixed Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) for the end title to a film, recorded The Last Internationale and recorded and mixed David Bowie music for the Brit Awards.

Plaudits:

* Engineered David Bowie’s The Next Day and Reality.

* Remixed David Bowie’s single, “Time Will Crawl”

* Produced Semi-Precious Weapons debut, We Love You.

* Engineered and Mixed Laurie Anderson’s Homeland release.

* Co-Produced/Engineered/mixed Earl Slick’s upcoming 2015 release.

* Mixed The Raveonettes’ Beauty Dies EP.

* Mixed Anti-Flag’s The People Or The Gun.

* Engineered Anti-Flag’s The Bright Lights Of America, Neil and Tim Finn’s Everyone Is Here, Manic Street Preachers’ Lifeblood, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ L’Avventura and Kashmir’s No Balance Palace feat. Lou Reed and David Bowie.

McNulty with Lucy Woodward at Stratosphere Sound. Photo Property & Courtesy of: Mario McNulty

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