Since stepping out of high school in the early 1970s, Brooklyn native Mark Berry has made a name for himself in many styles and areas of popular music. From an auspicious start working with Carly Simon to successful stints with Stephanie Mills, Freeez, and Animotion, the ambitious engineer and mixer has obtained a working knowledge of the entertainment industry’s ins and outs, which he’s now applying to running his own Toronto-based firm, Attack Media Group.
When was your interest in music first sparked?
I remember riding in the car with my dad as a very young boy, asking “Why is the voice so big? How come the guitar’s over here, and the drums are over there?” From a very early age, I was influenced by Motown, Gamble & Huff, Aretha, and Sam & Dave.
What were your first steps towards actually entering the music business?
I didn’t want to go to Vietnam when I turned 18, so I did selective service. I decided to go to school and get a trade. I started going to Manhattan at night to the Institute of Audio Research. The classes were held at Vanguard Studios and taught by Al Grundy and Irv Diehl.
How did you make the transition from student to working engineer?
Well, you can’t teach compression on a blackboard. At I.A.R. we got to participate in actual engineering projects. I also started writing down the names of recording studios from the back sleeves of my favorite records—Elton John, Pink Floyd. One of the studios was AIR in London. I got my certificate and went to London that summer.
I started hanging out at AIR—getting coffee, emptying ashtrays, and coming back everyday like it was a job. Joyce Moore, the studio manager, eventually hired me as an assistant, and for the next few months I was setting up mics and instruments and dragging equipment. I was in the thick of it.
What led to your break engineering Carly Simon’s seminal No Secrets LP?
Because I was an American from Brooklyn, they put us together, and we became good buddies. Richard Perry was the producer. I engineered the guitar and percussion overdubs on “You’re So Vain.” Most of it was done at Trident Studios. Paul McCartney and Wings did “Live and Let Die” there, as well. I was an uncredited assistant engineer on that record.
I stayed in London for almost two years, and had the chance to work on projects by ELO, The Hollies, and Allan Clarke, as well as on joint sessions by Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder that never came out because of contractual constraints. But I started having immigration problems, so I moved back to the States.
Tell me about your career path once you got back to the U.S.
I was freelancing, working at studios like Electric Ladyland and The Record Plant, when I was hired as an assistant at Vanguard Studios. I served as a tape librarian there for a year—making copies of folk, jazz, and classical works for licensees. Then, I started engineering for the Vanguard label, at which point I got very involved with the disco and hi-NRG scene.
What were some of the highlights of your work during that time?
I did mastering with Herbie “Pump” Powers, who introduced me to Arthur Baker at Frankford Wayne studios. We ended up working together on Afrika Bambaata’s “Looking for the Perfect Beat.” At Vanguard, I brought in Alisha, and handled A&R, production, engineering, and mixing. She had huge club hits with “All Night Passion” and “Baby Talk” during the mid-’80s. I also did a lot of engineering and remix work with Polydor/Mercury, including Kool & The Gang, Man Parrish, and Cameo.
What is the difference between mixing and remixing?
With a basic radio mix back then, it was a matter of taking the initial production and expanding from there. As a remixer, you’re bringing a new ear on the track—percussion, overdubs. When I did 12″ remixes, I’d get all the different performances to tape and put together an arrangement with the best one.
How has the landscape of recording changed since those days?
Today, everyone has Pro Tools and uses the same vocal compressor across 20 channels to fly in the vocals, locked into SMPTE. In the ’80s, you had just one left-right compressor that you could use on one thing, which you had to patch out of the machine into the console. We used to record vocals down to the studio two-tracks, mark the tape, cut it together, create loops, put the mic stand with tape all around, and push start. Then came AMS. You could match the vocals for six seconds.
Why did you decide to move to Toronto, and how did you break into the scene here?
The dance music that I was involved with in New York had peaked. I came here in 1990, and attorney Paul Schindler put me together with a management company. I started working more in the rock vein. I made a record with Kenny MacLean of Platinum Blonde. It was nominated for a Juno, and made me in-demand as a producer here. I went on to work on two platinum albums with Headstones and a live album with Burton Cummings.
Since that time, you’ve delved into the business side of things: founding Attack Media Group. Tell me about the company.
We do developing and marketing for new artists, as well as co-publishing deals and acquisitions. I started working some time ago with the music publishing division of Alliance/Atlantis, a billion-dollar-a-year home entertainment company. They wanted to use some of my clients’ music in feature-length films and TV programs. One of our divisions is Attack Trax, We put clients’ music onto our website, and music supervisors can search for songs by mood or style. Cherry Lane bought 50% of the publishing, and they handle the administrative and accounting aspects. But Attack is proactive on its own in handling the movie placement infrastucture, and getting songs out around the world. We have a deal with Universal for distribution to online music stores.
What can clients expect when they sign a publishing deal with you?
We do a 50/50 co-publishing deal, which equates to a 75/25 income split in favor of the writer or artist. When the client’s catalog has generated in excess of a set amount annually, we’ll also do an advance.
What are some of your current projects?
We’re doing a lot of streaming deals, and also partnering with a Hong Kong-based management company to launch artists in Asia. One of the artists is Chilla, a half-Chinese, half-Indonesian pop singer whom I produced for the Shanghai Music Group.