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Interview with Marc Ribler
Master Seven Interview by Tom Beninate
Copy Editor: Susan Castellano
Marc, tell us about your successful weekly show “Marc Ribler & Friends” that is held at McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park, NJ.  What is your objective in bringing together these talented singers and songwriters?

Well, it started out as an avenue to play original music every week. I can play my songs and introduce friends of mine who are great songwriters and singers. There is an original music scene in NJ but it’s not like Greenwich Village or other fertile places like Nashville. I figure a great way to get people [to go to] a club initially is to have a different tribute theme each week. [We] also introduce a new crowd to original music, new artists, and known artists.

When you and I were growing up there was a very vibrant Jersey Shore area music scene that has since faded. It seems like you may be trying to rekindle that atmosphere. What changes at the Shore have you seen over the years?

… I started playing at the Jersey Shore when I was 15 years old…. I got involved in the scene when it was the most fertile it ever was. I played with some popular Shore bands. I played with Bystander. At the same time I was becoming a songwriter. The thing I loved about growing up at the Jersey Shore was that there were many opportunities to go out and play and make a living as a musician. At the height I was working five or six nights a week. But these were all cover bands. I was aspiring to [be a] songwriter.  [Most] of these bands [had] their hands tied because they were all married to the paycheck … so original music took a backseat even though some of them said they wanted to do it. Bystander [also] said they wanted to do it but they weren’t devoting enough time.  So I had to leave…. [Also] during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the drinking laws were very lax…. This made it a lot easier for people to go out and drink and not have to worry about … a cop pulling them over…. In the mid-‘80s I started phasing … out of that scene…. I moved back to New York City and started writing [music]. The first cut I got as a songwriter was a song called, “Step into My Line of Fire.” An artist from Canada named Lee Aaron recorded it. That was 27 years ago. The mechanical royalties have come down a lot but I still collect checks on it. It’s amazing that something from so long ago still generates income.

That shows the power in successful songwriting. I’m sure you remember the band Twisted Sister from where we grew up.

Twisted Sister, as you know, was from Long Island.

Yes, but they had a substantial presence in the Jersey Shore clubs.

Yeah I remember that.

They played mostly cover material. Their lead singer, Dee Snider, wrote their breakout song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and began collecting nice royalties while the other band members were still getting regular salaries. This obviously created an issue which among other things broke the band apart. But the point is, as you know there’s good money in writing hit songs. And of course, Dee Snider is doing well today.

He is one of the more successful ones. When I was a kid I used to play at the Fast Lane. Bon Jovi and The Rest used to play there. Of all of us kids Bon Jovi was certainly the most successful. But yeah, Dee Snider came out of that scene.

Bruce [Springsteen] came out.

Yeah. Absolutely.

And a lot of people associated with him. You came out of that scene.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some success. I haven’t had the extraordinary success that Bruce or Bon Jovi have had. But I’ve made a living as a singer and songwriter my whole life. I’ve been living my dream.

That’s terrific! In the old days New York City had Tin Pan Alley and later on the Brill Building, where talents like Carole King and Neil Diamond honed their skills as songwriters. There was a comradeship where skilled writers could learn from each other. Is that one of your objectives in bringing together the talent you do at McLoone’s?

No. That’s not part of it. It’s really about sharing the experience of music. We express the song to an audience and it’s just like an exchange of energy. For example … one night we did a soul night with my friend Layonne Holmes. Layonne plays with Bon Jovi in his solo project. She’s a great singer. Her mom, Delores, who passed away a couple of years ago actually played with Springsteen back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The point being, a few years ago I wrote this HIV and STD awareness song for Trojan Condoms. It was on television for a couple of years. When I first won the spot, they asked me to do an alternate soul version of the song, so I called Layonne to sing the soul version. That kind of sharing the experience and performance is what the [McLoone’s] show is about. We’ve been really fortunate that the audiences have been absolutely brilliant and are building every week. We … sometimes explain [to the audience] the essence of a song or talk when inviting guests up to join us.

So audiences get to hear your music and your guests’ original music that they may or may not be familiar with.

Absolutely.
That’s great. Marc, are there any differences in your approach to writing CDs versus writing for a TV commercial?

Well, when I write songs for myself I like it to be as organic as possible. I try to keep my intellect out of the way as long as I can. Usually the intellect comes in when I’m refining lyrics or when the editing process starts happening. Initially you put up your antennae and hopefully something comes through. When I’m writing for another artist I’m thinking of who that artist is, what they relate to, what experiences they may have had, and what their soul is. Then I have that be the theme of the lyric … whether [it] is somber, happy, or maybe … haunting. I’m very auditory. Everything ultimately becomes sound for me. When I write a commercial, I usually get a call like, “Two hours from now we need a thirty-second or one-minute piece of music. This is the product.” I still approach it as a pop song. The first thing I come up with is a hook. I think about what the product is. Now when I was sent the Trojan Condoms [request] I had a piece of music that I had lying around for awhile. [When they rolled the video] I looked at a black screen that said, “One out of four people with HIV don’t tell their partners.” Then it opens up and there is a couple holding hands and having a deep conversation. I was completely, emotionally drawn to this. So I thought of the song that I had which had the lyric, “This is our love, this is our life. It’s the perfect chance to get it right.” I was thinking those words sound like this video.

What recommendations would you have for someone trying to get into writing for commercials?

First of all, they need to be very clear that that’s what they want and realize it’s a very challenging business. They have to get into this business for the right reasons. If they want to be rock stars or they want to be famous, that’s not a good reason…. They should realize whether or not they are talented in music. They need to be clear about this and not by what their friends tell them. They need to be able to pursue this for years on end. Are they going to be satisfied … just to express themselves in music without winning a grand prize in two years? … To stay in this business you need diligence and perseverance. You have to have a thick skin – you cannot personalize every little thing that happens to you otherwise you’re going to need a truckload of tissues. You also need to be open to all of the changes going on … and to come up with new ways of getting your music out there.

Artists tend to frown upon the business end of the music industry, especially dealing with music executives and managers.  You speak highly of your longtime manager, Barry Bergman. How did that relationship evolve?

When I was twenty-one-years-old, I was hired to play guitar in a session. It was for an artist in New York City and at Penny Lane Studios which was a big jingle house. They recorded bands and made a lot of big commercials. Barry was the manager of the producer on the project whose name was Steve Sharp. Steve has been successful and in the business for years. Steve was telling me about this guy Barry Bergman who has amazing integrity, is very protective of his artists and producers, and has a wealth of experience. [Barry] was vice-president of publishing at United Artists Publishing [at the time] and he just went out on his own to pursue his management career and to become an independent publisher. I was very intrigued. [At that session] … Barry came to the studio and said, “Who … is playing that guitar?” And I said, “Who’s this guy?” Then I realized this is Barry Bergman and I had to pinch myself. So, that’s when we met…. A couple of days later, Barry called [me at] my house (in New Jersey) and asked me to come up to his office. Generally I didn’t trust people that I was meeting in the business. There were a lot of sleazy people that I was meeting. I met with Barry … and played my songs and he said, “I hear a lot of potential here but you need to keep writing. I think you can write a hit song but I don’t hear a hit song here.” So I went home and spent the next month or two writing feverishly every day. I had a mission. I had to prove myself to Barry that I could write a hit song. A month or two later I brought him ten new songs that I recorded in my studio. For one of the songs he said, “Now this could be something. It still needs a little work.” I went back to the drawing board and came back and he said, “This is a hit song.” He brought it to Epic Records … and tried to get me a cut. That song didn’t get a cut but I thought I made a breakthrough and got my finger on the pulse. Then I wrote another song called “Hypnotized by Love” and this guy Alex Sadkin loved the song for a new act that he was going into the studio with. But then Alex passed away, so that never happened. It was just a weird chain of events. But at this time I’m starting to get very positive feedback about my songs. Then I [brought] this other song to Barry [who] felt the chorus was a smash but the verse needed work. He [connected me] with Bob Halligan who [Barry] thought might have some verse ideas. Bob wrote, “Take These Chains” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” for Judas Priest, and had written for Cher and Michael Bolton. Bob would come to my house and I would record his song demos for Screen Gems Publishing. So Bob loved the chorus [in my song] and said, “I have an idea for the verse.” … We put it together and recorded it. I gave it to Barry. Two weeks later (in May of 1985), [Barry] got me my first cut with Lee Aaron. So, two years after I met Barry he got me my first recording. Since then we’ve gotten almost 40 cuts. I’ve had songs that charted in Canada, in Europe and in the States. How do you find a person that believes in you? I don’t know. I just haphazardly ran into Barry Bergman one day.

That’s a great story. You mentioned people in the business that you didn’t trust. But you trusted Barry. Maybe you went with your gut.

Exactly. You have to go with your gut. If things don’t feel right you’ve got to know when to walk away. But you also have to be lucky in life.

And you want to build relationships that lasts for decades.

And you cannot plan those things. It either is or it isn’t. You can’t manufacture that.
Marc Ribler has written and produced about forty songs for major label artists throughout the world. As a vocalist and guitarist, Marc played in a number of bands and has performed with Ian Anderson, Roger McGuinn, and Carole King. But that’s not all. Well, let’s have Marc tell us.
In addition to songwriting you’ve had experience producing yourself and other artists. Tell us about your current experience producing music for the very talented Christine Martucci.

We’re in the writing process. On one song Christine sent me a couple of lines and I wrote this song. I usually send her the demo and [if she likes it] … I’ll have her come over and we’ll figure out what key she would sing it in. Then we’ll redo the demo and give it to the people in the band. We haven’t gone in to record her record yet…. We co-wrote a song for the Red Bull Soundstage contest. It was one of the songs chosen as a finalist. There were 40 finalists out of thousands of submissions. When you go to this site it takes you to [a] page where you vote for the song.

So you’re producing the project and collaborating on the songwriting?

I’m writing the record with her. I feel like it’s the most emotionally connected stuff she’s ever done. She’ll attest to it. She feels that it’s really the right thing for her. She’s on the top of the world about the music we’re coming up with. In the next couple of months I’ll take her into the studio to record it. Right now I’m developing the songs and making sure we got all the right stuff. When the schedule quiets down a little bit we’ll go in and make the record.

I’ve heard her music and would look forward to hearing this effort.

It’s quite different. It’s much more organic. It’s got the guts and the edge. I feel more connected to her soul.

Well she could certainly belt out the lyrics.

No shit!

Marc, lead guitar players and bass players obviously have different styles. Since you play both lead and bass do you ever mix those styles?

They are two separate parts…. I use them in two totally different concepts, purposes, and roles in music. The bass is the center of the harmonic universe. Lead guitar can often be busy and weaving in and out of things. The bass has got to hold down the fort unless it’s a bass solo or an amazing James Jamerson or busier bass thing. I see bass as the harmonic and rhythmic anchor along with the drums and the rhythm. There’s a lot more freedom generally with guitar although there’s a time and place for bass to peak its head out and say something more melodic…. My favorite bass playing is [the one that] if it wasn’t there you would fall off your chair. It’s the thing that’s keeping you in the chair.

What else do you have coming up for this year?

In addition to Christine’s record I’m writing and producing my own record. I’m about 60 percent complete with it. I’m very excited about that. I’m very excited about the summer of shows at McLoone’s Supper Club. I have a couple of performances that I’m very excited about. On August 18th Marc Ribler and Friends will be performing at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey. I’ll be playing at a 400-seat theater. The [name] of the show is “He Sang, She Sang.” I’m going to be doing the show with Christine Martucci. Aside from playing some of my and Christine’s original music, the theme of the show is the great singers and songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s à la Bob Dylan, Carol King, Neil Young, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, and Stevie Nicks. That’s going to be a great show with a great house band. Today I started talking with the people from Mary’s Place, which is a charity that benefits women with breast cancer. They cover 100 percent of the bills for women that don’t have the funds for their treatments and seeing doctors.

That’s great.

Mary’s Place is located in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. I believe [that show] will be on September 15th but I’ll let you know what the date is. They asked me to be the Music Director and get the talent for the show. It’s going to be at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, New Jersey. It’s a big benefit and it will be a pricier ticket but they are looking to get an older demographic to the show. Another show I’m working on is The Rolling Stones Tribute. It’s going to be a great band. It’s Shawn Pelton on drums (from Saturday Night Live), Graham Maby from Joe Jackson’s band on bass, and Jack Daley is going to play bass on a few songs. He’s from Lenny Kravitiz’s Band. It’s going to be Link as well [who’s] a great singer. We’re working on getting Darlene Love and Lisa Fisher from The Stone Pony Band. That’s going to be a great show. Also, I got a show with Glen Burtnik at the State Theater. I believe it’s on July 30th. We are doing Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday. There’s a lot of stuff going on for 2012.

Marc, this has been a tremendous pleasure conversing with you today.

You’re an absolute gentleman, Tom. It’s been a total pleasure. Your questions are to the point. They make me think. I’ve done a bunch of interviews in my life and this is a highlight. I really appreciate your effort in this.


You can buy
Marc Ribler's This Life CD at:
http://www.marcribler.com/music.php

May 17, 2012

Marc Ribler's website:
marcribler.com

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Hi Marc. How are you?

Hi Tom. I’m good. You know when it rains it pours, right?

Absolutely. We wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?

No , I don’t think so. In this business it’s all or nothing. It’s learning how to deal with the ebb and flow and the roller coaster ride and the nothingness and the everythingness. You know, it’s crazy.

Well, that’s an interesting way to start an interview. Do you find that in the ebbs of the music business you can get some productive songwriting time in?

The whole thing about being a songwriter, an artist, and a musician is finding balance in a business and a world without balance…. There’s a passionate and addictive side to my nature. It’s what drives me. That thing can be directed in a positive way or a self-destructive way. Music is the thing that has kept me on the planet. So, when I have downtime, in the ebb, I generally use that space to write songs, focus on a new record, or channel that into a constructive thing.

That’s great, because for all of us whether we do something or not, time goes too fast.

Absolutely. I’ve had songs running up charts. I’ve had TV commercials. I’ve performed with some of my heroes. But then I’ve spent months in a hospital bed. So life is all that and everything in between. It’s fulfilling dreams and living nightmares.
Marc, what is the current state of the major record label business?

You should talk to my manager, Barry Bergman, who has tremendous insight into this. Barry signed Meatloaf and AC/DC for their publishing deals in the ‘70s. Essentially, the only purpose record companies seem to have now is to be a big machine if something is making noise. This machine can propel [the act] to a higher level on a good day. When the record industry didn’t embrace Napster in 1998, I believe they signed their suicide note. They weren’t willing to change and grow with the times…. Nowadays, most kids expect to get their music for nothing. That puts a hand right in my pocket. So by undermining themselves, they undermined everyone else from the old regime that was involved in the music industry. Everyone has to reinvent themselves now.

The record industry has always been notorious for not accepting new technology. They were largely very much against airplay on the radio in the ‘20s and against introducing CDs in the early ‘80s. Yet both of these technologies allowed the record companies to prosper.

Now, with the Internet, people can open up their hard drives to the entire planet. So kids that are under 35-years-old expect to get their music for nothing. When I was a kid … [I took my] money I earned on a paper route and went to Two Guys [to buy music from my] favorite artists….
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Pop music generally has this structure. In other genres there might be something different. But your writing tells me that you understand this format and as a professional you are qualified to release this material.

Yes. I’ve worked with many artists. I’ve produced artists. I’ve produced myself. I’ve been recording music since I was young. This is something I’ve spent a good portion of my life refining. It’s very important to me. There’s an emotional connection made from me to the melody, to the lyrics, to the arrangement, to the production, and to the listener…. I’m fortunate enough to have my antennae up every once in a while and catch a nugget that becomes something that I can be proud of and that people can relate to and get an emotional feeling from.
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Marc, I recently read Tony Iommi’s book, Iron Man. In the book, Tony talked about early in his career (before he founded Black Sabbath) when he had the opportunity to audition for Jethro Tull. Tony wrote that he was concerned about meeting Ian Anderson because Anderson had a reputation for being difficult and demanding. Tony did get the job and has since spoken very highly of him. Tell us about your experience with Ian Anderson.

It was amazing! … It came about because Barry was friends with the guy that ran the record company Ian was with. Barry had sent the manager … my first album Life is but a Dream. He happened to play it for Ian. Ian loved the album and invited me to play with him at Town Hall in New York. At the time [Ian] was doing something called “The Rubbing Elbows Tour.” The reason he called it “The Rubbing Elbows Tour” is because a woman went to shake his hand once and almost … broke his hand. So he doesn’t shake hands anymore – he rubs elbows. When I went over to shake Ian’s hand he told me the story and put his elbow out. Anyway, Ian Anderson is incredibly generous. When I was on stage, Bob Buchmann (program director at Q104.3, NYC’s #1 classic rock station) was interviewing me in front of Ian Anderson’s audience. He asked how I became a songwriter and how long I’ve been doing this. Then I played my song with Ian and his band. It was absolutely brilliant. Ian played a flute solo on my song. I had to pinch myself. [I remember back] in 1975 when I went to see Ian … at Shea Stadium. [Now] here I am and the guy is playing on my song. It was very surreal.
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Let’s say an artist releases a CD with four, five, or even six really good songs. I mean hits. Let’s also assume people would continue to download and freeload this CD. Do you think people would also want to own a physical copy?

Well, when I was a kid, I could buy … a beautiful album with artwork on the front. I could open the album and inside I would know every musician that played on the record. I would know who the engineer was, who the assistant engineer was, the producer, and the songwriters on every song. Kids today buy a Kelly Clarkson record and think she wrote everything. There’s no information about who the people are behind the scenes. Kelly Clarkson is the vocalist. Years ago an extremely successful record sold 10 to 20 million copies…. Now, if something sells a million that’s extraordinary.

Yes, but how many hits are on that one million?

There are probably five hits.

Five hits on one record?

Yeah, look at a Michael Jackson record. Those were five deep with hits.

Oh right. I thought you meant to say that today, something with five hits would only sell a million copies.

Yes! Today it would have to have five hits to sell a million copies unless it was some quirky indie thing that had a tremendous buzz about it. In other words, anything selling that much would have to have five hits on the radio.

Okay. Then let’s add to that five-hit record some nice artwork and a booklet packed with lyrics and information just like your CDs have. After all, an iPod cannot show artwork nor can it play true CD quality sound. Would people want to buy that physical CD?

Well the file size is smaller but I think people have gotten used to hearing a degraded quality. There are not a lot of audio files around. People listen to their music on their laptops without really any bass response. So I don’t think people are buying things for artwork anymore. Unless there is some new invention where people are getting a product with some sort of virtual experience…. People’s attention spans are so low with all the stimulation between cell phones and laptops…. People are so distracted and over stimulated that it’s really hard to keep people captive for more than a few seconds.

Marc, one thing that simply jumps out about your CDs, Life is but a Dream and This Life, and I’ve listened to tons of music in my life …

Yeah, you know, you’re a fan. I could tell. You’re like from the old regime like I am. You care about music. I think it’s great.

I do care about music. I listen to today’s music and I listen to music that goes back 400 years.

You’re a music lover.

I am. But I especially like really good music in all genres. Every genre has great music. People clearly recognize a songwriter’s best compositions verses their mediocre stuff. The top 25 Beatles’ songs are far superior to their other stuff just like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony overshadows his 8th. Getting back to your work, the thing that obviously jumps out is that you know how to write a hit song. You know when to start with an intro. You know how long a verse should be and how it dovetails into the chorus. You work with hooks and bridges. Did you develop your technique from listening to music or through formal training?

Well, I grew up listening to WABC in New York. I grew up listening to pop music. Pop music at that time was everything from the Rolling Stones to Jackson Five to Deep Purple. The airways were filled with such broad musical styles…. This was at a time when hooks were very important because that’s what sold pop music. It’s something people could latch their ears onto…. [With] those songs you listen to them once and you walk away humming them. I also listened to some jazz and bebop.  My roots were in rock’n’roll à la Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman and Dickey Betts and Johnny Winter. As a teenager I got interested in songwriting. It was always a natural inclination to write things that were catchy…. I wanted to be a great songwriter. I spent a lot of time understanding what [song] structure is. I did all of the work on my own….. I met Barry [Bergman] at a young age. He was someone who I could bring songs to. He was super critical. He didn’t coddle me. He never held any of his feelings back about anything I brought to him. That’s what I needed. I needed someone to say, “This is a great hook. There is no hook. This needs to be stronger.”  So I got a lot of wisdom by working with Barry. I’ve been writing songs my whole life. Lyrics, melody, structure, and the way things build have always been very important to me. I appreciate that you hear that. You’re a very intuitive and learned listener. You understand this structure.
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