Tokio Hotel America is beyond thrilled to be able to say that we got an interview with Martin. In case you do not know, Martin is the is head of A&R at Interscope Records and president of Interscope’s subsidiary Cherrytree Records. He is also a producer for Lady Gaga, Sting, Keane, and Feist. AND, he is a songwriter! He has co-written songs for Lady Gaga, and written for t.A.T.u, Flipsyde, Ai, Alexandra Burke and Colby O’Donis.
AND of course, he co-wrote Dogs Unleashed with Bill Kaulitz!
Okay, on to the interview!
Could you describe your first meeting with Tokio Hotel for us?
It was in Paris. It was in a hotel lobby. The guys were super polite and charismatic as usual.
At what age did you decide you would pursue a career in the music industry?
At 10 years old, I decided I wanted to write music and started composing. I had been taking piano lessons and music theory opened my eyes to the building blocks of music. From there, I began to write.
Do “Cherry Cherry Boom Boom” and “Martin – The Guy Running The Whole Show” have different personalities?
I don’t know that “running the whole show” guy, haha. But, I’m the same guy under the different hats which all relate to music; my passion.
Can you describe your job in 3 words or less?
To help musicians.
Can you describe yourself in 3 words or less?
Appreciative of life.
It’s clear that Cherrytree utilizes the internet and social media outlets (facebook, twitter, Cherrytree chatroom) for marketing in a very new and creative way (very different from the days of MTV video rotation, conventional “album” marketing tie-ins, and traditional radio release of singles). Is this a function of the Cherrytree team and the types of artists signed to the label, or do you see this as the future of marketing for Interscope (and UMG) as well?
Cherrytree’s online activity involves not only output but also input. We communicate our initiatives to our audience but we also gather information from them about how they want to consume music. We then apply this information (eg. Robyn releasing 3 shorter albums within a shorter period of time). The key for us is to be close to our audience so we can super-serve them. That’s our aim.
We love Vinyl Vault! If you had to pick one artist from the 80s that you feel made the greatest contribution to music, who would you pick?
Schnee note: Vinyl Vault = Martin’s radio program on Cherrytreeradio.com where he spins vinyl records from his collection.
How do you usually discover new music/bands/artists?
I keep my antennae tuned in to every possible signal. I discover new music via the internet, in clubs, from friends and colleagues and sometimes I just stumble on it. The key is to keep the antennae on at all times so that I pick up the signal when I come across it.
What is the worst job you ever had?
Selling encyclopedias for 3 days in Alexandria, Virginia.
What is a typical day like at the Cherrytree headquarters?
It’s a blast. The Cherrytree staff are talented and team-playing. Our artists are exceptional. And, our Rec’ers are passionate about music and respectful of our artists and each other. It’s a pleasure to work at Cherrytree.
Schnee note: “Rec’ers” = members of the Cherrytree Records community on their website. 24 hour chat, blogs, etc.
How are decisions made when pairing up artists for concert tours, for example: Semi-Precious Weapons with Gaga…or Kelis and Robyn. Do the artists
At Cherrytree, the artists drive all the decisions. We think on and suggest a lot but the final decision is theirs. I love that philosophy. It’s one that was ingrained in me at A&M Records where Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss built their record company on that notion. Interscope does the same so its very comfortable for Cherrytree to function in that way.
Schnee note: Random iconic Herb Alpert album cover is required.
Tokio Hotel, please feel free to get ideas for a future album cover from this
You have a very busy schedule, travel a lot, tweet, chat, Cherrytree radio shows, produce and make music, run a company. What do you do to “be away from it all”…or do you prefer to never be away?
My passion for music is really intergrated into my whole life. I enjoy what I do so that feels natural to me. I’m never really away from living, breathing and loving music. I don’t want to be. Of course, I spend time with my family and friends who also share a love for music. It’s not something from which I want to get away. That’s the blessing of working in a field you love. I’m fortunate.
You have lots of experience promoting European artists in the US. Do you think artists from other countries have to be present often in the US to be hugely popular here?
In your experience with international artists, do you find that there are cultural musical differences that don’t translate? Meaning, are there bands you run across in other countries that you like but think would never be popular in another culture or country?
Less and less. The world is truly interconnected now. I believe that if music resonates in one country, it can do so in another. That’s the beauty of pop music in particular. It’s kind of a lingua franca. It may have to be tweaked a bit in certain instances to adapt to cultural climates, but, overall, I think human ears dig pop music across borders. We’re all looking for an emotional connection. It’s an inclusive approach and I believe in it.
What has been most helpful (job experiences, education etc) in preparing you for the work that you do?
People sometimes discount the value of a college education in the record business, but I find that I use the skills I learned getting my undergraduate and graduate degrees on a very regular basis. Language skills are very useful as well.
What song or album that you have written or worked on are you most proud of and why?
Well, it’s hard to specify just one song because I pour my all into the music I make. I’m very proud of “Happy Birthday,” the song I wrote with Piper from Flipsyde. I feel it strikes a very emotional chord. I’m also proud of the songs I’ve written with Lady Gaga like “Eh, Eh” and “The Fame.” I really like the song “Fear Inside” that I wrote with Frankmusik as well a song I did with Far East Movement called “White Flag.” These last two will be coming out soon. Can’t wait for folks to hear them.
If you could pick a “dream artist” to work with that you have not yet had the chance to, who would it be?
A record label is a business, which means that sometimes you probably have to tell musicians or artists that you won’t be signing them or that you are discontinuing your relationship with them. How do you handle these difficult conversations? Do you ever recommend that they choose an entirely different career?
I speak from the heart whether it’s good or bad news. I try to be direct and succinct. I find that approach is respected and it’s how I’ve been able to enjoy a lot of long-standing relationships in this business.
How do you – and your team – determine which songs should be released as a single (which seems more important than releasing an album these days)? Do you ever have any conflicts between what you prefer artistically and what you think will, or won’t, be a hit song?
Singles decisions are made like every other decision – in concert with the artist. We try to read the market and consider how we want to launch and propel an artist’s project. We get a lot of feedback from our Rec’ers and of course we monitor sales info. In the end, though, it comes down to gut helped a bit by experience and empirical info.
Could we please have “I LIKE celery!” and “Is that a TULIP in my scotch?” Cherrytree/Robyn/Far East Movement t-shirts? Because we would like to buy some.
Wow. I love it. Fun. I’d wear them.
How and when did you discover Tokio Hotel?
I found out about Tokio Hotel online. I saw the original video for “Scream” in German and flipped out.
If you had to associate or describe each member of Tokio Hotel with just one word, which word would you use for each guy? What word do you think they would use for you?
Bill – supernova. Tom – witty. Georg – kind. Gustav – sharp. They’d probably describe me as persistent, haha!
What is the most effective way for USA fans to support Tokio Hotel? Would you recommend fans petition radio stations for airplay? What is your opinion of “Street Teams”?
I love it when fans get involved in helping their favorite bands spread their music. I do it too. Word of mouth is still the most powerful way for somebody to get turned on to music. It’s makes a lasting connection and it’s rewarding to be the one hipping your friends to music. It’s fun.
Who do you see as having the most business focus in Tokio Hotel? None? All? Who is most involved in the studio? Most involved on the marketing side of things?
I find that the group seem to make decisions as a team on all those subjects.
How would you define “traction” in terms of Tokio Hotel and the music industry?
Not sure I understand the question. Tokio Hotel have a lot of traction. They have fans that support them and their music and that’s beautiful to see and be a part of.
What is the process for getting a single into rotation on radio stations in the US market?
Radio stations have a limited number of playlist slots. Artists and record companies vie for them by trying to show the station that the song will react with their audience. Digital sales can show this. Live ticket sales. Internet stats, etc. But also, I think it’s important to spread an artist’s music outside of radio as well as via radio.
Was it difficult to secure a U.S. release for the Humanoid City Live DVD/CD? What did that involve?
No. It was important to me to make that release available to US fans so we prioritized it. The packaging presented some problems because it didn’t fit the normal configuration of product here but we worked through it and got it out. I’m very happy about that and hope the fans will support it by purchasing it!
Are there any plans for Tokio Hotel in the U.S. at the moment? In the next year?
Oh how I try. They have many commitments around the world. I am hoping they come to the US. I routinely drive them crazy with my requests to do so.
If we are able to harness USA fan power, what can we do to help get Tokio Hotel in the USA?
We can all continue to write the band and underscore that we’d love to see them in the USA. Also, we can support that by purchasing legal copies of the music.
Has TH ever spoken with you about what definitive goals they have for themselves in the USA? If so, can you share these with us?
To me, TH have talked about always wanting to give their best to their fans no matter what country they live in. They seem to really enjoy being in the USA when they’re here.
Can you describe the creative process of writing “Dogs Unleashed” with Bill Kaulitz and the other writers (Dave Roth, Pat Benzner, and David Jost)? What was the inspiration for the song?
It was kind of them to involve me in this. My contribution to that particular song was primarily the song concept and title.
What is your favorite song from Humanoid? Favorite song(s) from previous albums?
That’s hard to pick. I’ve always loved “Rescue Me.” From the current album, I love “Automatic.” It’s probably my favorite TH song to-date.
What is or has been the biggest challenge in promoting Tokio Hotel in the US music market?
The biggest challenge is trying to maintain the momentum we created on the previous record with the MTV win and the radio airplay on “Monsoon” without having the band visit here regularly.
Have you been to a Welcome to Humanoid City Tour concert? If yes, which one and what was your favorite part?
I wasn’t able to go in Europe. I’ve watched the DVD. Bill on the motorcycle is pretty kick-ass.
What do you think is the next “big opportunity” for Tokio Hotel?
I think the band continue to make great music and great videos. As they do that, opportunities form for them to keep connecting and developing a close communication and deep relationship with their audience. That’s what making music is about.
What advice do you give to Tokio Hotel on what they need to do in the USA in order to be successful here?
Come tour man!
Can you settle a bet for us? Is Tom playing a baritone guitar on “Humanoid” (the song) on the album, or is it drop tuning on a standard guitar? Or studio/ProTools magic? Pages of arguments have been devoted to this and experimental research in guitar tuning completed – but we have reached no definitive conclusions.
That’s for Tom to divulge.
Schnee note: CURSES!
We have heard that some of the production collaboration for Humanoid was done via Skype. What did this add and/or detract from creating the music or working with the artists?
Not at all. That approach is what Far East Movement have dubbed Freewired in their lingo. Humans stay in communication now via different means. It’s just as valid and rich. They talk, create, congregate via technology as much as they do physically. Human Connect to Human!
Anything specifically you’d like to convey from you – or the band- directly to Tokio Hotel’s fanbase in the USA?
I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Schnee, for inviting me to do this interview and also thank you for your support of TH, whom we love so much. I also want to thank all of the TH fans in the USA and around the world for supporting TH and also being such a great part of the CherrytreeRecords.com community. Thank you.
And from me, I thank Wampykitty and Dean and all of members and staff of the USA Tokio Hotel fanclub who contributed to these questions.