Mark Ronson. Eventually getting it.
resilience & tenacity
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Born in London and raised in New York City Mark Ronson’s childhood was immersed in music. While attending New York University, he became a popular DJ in the hip hop scene, steadily evolving into one of the most commercially successful record producers in the world from the mid-2000s on.
At the 2019 Grammy Awards, Mark took home awards for Shallow, which he co-wrote with Lady Gaga, and Electricity, the collaboration between his group Silk City (with Diplo) and rising star Dua Lipa. His monster hit with Bruno Mars Uptown Funk was 2015 Record of the Year. Prior to that he collaborated with Amy Winehouse on Back In Black’s Rehab and . In total Mark has 6 grammys from 11 nominations.
When I was 14-15-16 I heard this funk revival band, this soul band and they were part of this movement that came out of London called Acid Jazz, you know that later Jamiroquai came out of, it was just amazing. It just really turned me around to the kind of music that I wanted to listen to and make and, obviously you go through phases–you don’t just suddenly hear one thing and only want to make that for the rest of your life–but it really informed me, and I realised how much I loved a beautiful R&B vocal over these beautiful sort of jazz funk chords with these great musicians playing it. It’s actually what took me back to discovering a lot of the great jazz funk stuff of the original era, things like Roy Ayers and Earth Wind and Fire, so that fresh Brand New Heavies record was a really massive deal for me. It really changed the path I was going down musically.
[Then] it was New York, in the late 1990s, and there were these New York bands like Living Colour and these bands that me and my friends loved. We were five city kids, two black kids and three white kids, playing bad-funk-rock. Then I got really into hip hop around that time and there were great DJs all over New York radio at the time, from Funk Master Flex to Stretch Armstrong and all these people … and that’s when I started DJing.
Like anything in the beginning, you just play wherever you can. Someone’s doing a gig, they’ve got 20 bucks, you’re there with your whole speaker system and turntables … You love this stuff so much, you just can’t wait to get out and do it, and you’re just like, ‘Any way that I can get discovered.’ Then after a couple years of playing in clubs in downtown New York, people like Puffy and Guru and Premiere from Gang Starr and Biggie and Jay-Z and all these heroes of mine suddenly [started] coming into these places where I’m DJing, and it was a thrill. And if you do a good job, there’s the chance they might remember who you are, and that happened with Puffy. He started to book me for other gigs and later with Jay-Z, as well, so that’s how I started to make my name.
I was DJing in clubs for six or seven years ‘cos I loved this music, and I didn’t know anything about producing. I knew I didn’t want to be a rapper so DJing was the way for me to like live in this music and then that sort of led to producing.
The reason I found producing is a bit because I was never an incredible guitar player I was never a virtuosic piano player, but I loved all these things about music and I was decent at a lot of things [so] that production just became the thing that made sense; kind of a way that these talents fit together a bit.
Maybe because I actually care[d] about a lot of things that have become a forgotten art form. I care about recording live musicians, I care about analog, I care about all these beautiful things that people don’t really take the effort to do anymore. I can make music with live musicians that still sounds good in the club because I know how to record and mic the stuff in the same way that they did in the ’60s and ’70s. […]
There’s probably also a certain amount of subjective things, like taste, that go into it. You also have to surrender your ego when you’re producing a record for somebody else.
Even the times when I saw these more successful people just rocket past me and I was like, ‘I’m in the wrong profession.’ Cause, I knew people like Kanye and Dangermouse and Chad and Pharell quite early, and I’d just be like, ‘maybe I’m not supposed to be doing this, like these guys are massive and I’ve been doing it for six-seven years, like I should just give it a rest.’
Even those times when you are filled with self-doubt and all those things, you somehow get super inspired to do something. If anything had changed or been different I wouldn’t have got to work with Bruno [Mars] or Amy [Winehouse] and all these things.
There was no way any of us could have known that Uptown Funk was going to be—even as hard as we all worked on it and as proud of it all, as we were—when it was finished you still never know. It’s still subjective, there’s so many things that need to line up.
For your song to go to number 1, for just a week still would have been the greatest accomplishment of my career, and then to see where it went after it’s ridiculous, you know. [in December 2014 Uptown Funk was the most streamed song in history]. I try not to think about it or reason it too much ‘cause it’s not something you can really make sense of. It’s something incredible that happened.
We did work super hard on it; me, Bruno and Jeff Bhasker all produced it, and we’re all like pretty tough critics of ourselves, so you put three producers in a room—even though there’s a lot of stuff we all love in common and we love each other—you know there’s a lot of egos, ideas, back and forth.
We wrote the song and we had such a moment that first night. We were at Bruno’s little studio he used to have in Hollywood. Bruno was on the drums. I was on the bass. Jeff was on synth, and Phil [Lawrence] from the Smeezingtons was in the room. To make a jam and have something be really exciting is an incredible feeling … There’s nothing more exciting than that period of the song, because the potential is unlimited. And then, yeah, like, along the way you fine-tune it because you’re thinking, ‘We need to turn this into a song.’
But to get it to the end of the line, and you’ve done the horn arrangements, you’ve written every single line—and Bruno, Jeff and myself we’re all like kind of perfectionists in some way—there were so many times that song nearly ended up in the trash.
Some things unfortunately just aren’t supposed to happen … it was like ‘Maybe this song wasn’t meant to be’ … and then I’d wait maybe a month until everyone’s nerves cooled down and be like, ‘Hey, can we get back in and try to work on that song again?’ and I got everyone excited again. ‘Cause you know it was for my record, I had a little bit more at stake. Eventually, we did get it.
Commercially, Uptown Funk topped the charts of 19 countries and reached the top 10 of 15 others. Its topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks and spent seven weeks on the top of the UK Singles Chart. The record was certified 11 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and four times platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). It reached number one on the Canadian Hot 100, topped the Irish Singles Chart, France’s Syndicat National de l’Édition Phonographique (SNEP), was number one in Australia for six weeks and nine weeks in New Zealand. The song also broke streaming records worldwide.
Image attribution: Photo by Alicia Canter for The Guardian. sourced from the guardian.com.