At the height of the bootleg / mashup trend (2003/04), a bunch of music producers, including myself, were caught up in the phenomenon and getting work out of it.
In one month in particular, I spent three consecutive weekends in other countries, returning to my day job each Monday with an increasing feeling of “what am I doing here”?
Around this time, a few of us were approached by MTV to submit ideas for a new TV show by a producer called Howie Jaffe. I sent in a collection of my mixes which I felt were not too out of time / tune (of which there weren’t very many). He seemed to like them.
Howie was a rare beast in the media. He was a chap who could talk to you enthusiastically about music without making you cringe. His drive was genuine, and not contrived PR gusto. On a trip to London to DJ, Howie casually asked me to drop into the MTV offices off Oxford Street. Ultimately, we’re talking about offices, but I was still buzzing at being asked to go to MTV.
I’m not very good at meeting people for the first time. I’m okay in writing and online, but the first impression I must generally give is of a bumbling, short buffoon who trips over his words like a pair of tongue shoes with the laces tied together. Just say that metaphor out loud and get an idea of the nonsense I talk when I meet new people. As a consequence of this anxiety, waiting at the foyer of the MTV building’s lifts to be met for our meeting rendered me nervous and unconfident.
Nevertheless, I made my way to Howie’s desk without falling over or accidently offending / killing anyone. I’ve had worse starts to a meeting.
The day I went in, Madonna was playing in the HMV next door. She came out of the side door causing the whole office to rush to the windows to see her enter her car. It was an additional layer of surreal to an already odd day.
We started chatting about the premise of the show. We (the music producers) would create the mixes from a list of tunes cleared by the lawyers for use. We wouldn’t get the studio parts (ie, bare vocal recordings) to do the mixes. If the tunes were suitable for the show, then MTV would mix a video for it, and it would be included within the show.
Howie sold it well. The reek of cheese that came off a lot of music industry professionals was absent. The cynical side of me still thought that I wouldn’t ultimately benefit much from the show, but I nevertheless had respect for what they were doing.
The phone rang and Howie answered it. Unbelievably, he said the call was for me. Apparently, someone in the marketing section wanted to talk to me, which I was not prepared for.
It was explained to me that the show was being sponsored by Motorola. As part of the deal, they wanted ring-tones (it was ten years ago) to tie in with both the show and the various MTV stations. Would I be interested in writing the tones? I replied that I would. I had lots of experiences in the midi / tech stuff that they needed, so I thought, why not? Then the crucial question. How much would it cost them per ringtone?
I was going to say £50 per ringtone and I thought that was cheeky. The reality was that the ringtones wouldn’t take me long to do once I was up and running with the technical side. I could probably have done a couple a day without breaking a sweat. I’ve never been good with quotes, however, and I always undersell myself. I still do with blogging with companies actually upping the payment figure from my quotes because I undersell.
And yet, I didn’t give them that figure. The words that actually came out of my mouth were “well, what is your budget per ringtone?”
To this day, I don’t know where those words came from. It wasn’t me. Perhaps it was the confidence of making it as far as the London offices of MTV. Maybe it was the fact that someone from MTV was asking me how much money I wanted for work. I don’t know. Wherever it was, it paid off.
The reply was “well, our budget is £800 per ringtone”. I didn’t skip a beat. “That sounds fine. How many ringtones do you need?” They needed FIFTY and would be delighted to work with me. And with that, the whole MTV thing became real.
I did lots of tunes for the show. Dozens. I knew when I was submitting them that some were rough ideas that would work if they wanted them too, and that some were really good articles that immediately sparked to life.
Some tunes were given the nod only for lawyers or artists themselves to step in and nix the mix. Guns N Roses’ lawyers changed their minds, for example, which was a shame.
I knew most of the other music producers contributing to the show. We discussed the tracks and the company, but there was still a slight competitive edge to it. I wished my friends nothing but success and for us all to get something wonderful from this opportunity, of course. I was also well aware, however, that they might find a great recipe from the music ingredients before me. This drove me on.
The tunes were supplied by us and MTV did a great job of making the videos. And, in time, the show was broadcast. We generally didn’t know which shows would include our mixes. We’d tune in and then get a buzz seeing either our own mixes, or mixes from our friends.
Here’s a couple of examples of videos from the show.
My favourite mix from the show was with a European band that I’d never heard of and Wayne Wonder. It just worked so well. The band, who’s name I can’t remember, got in touch to say that they liked it. Lots of people did, actually, and I got a lot of extra work and recognition as a result of the show. Lots of gigs in Europe, as did a lot of the other producers involved.
MTV had some bizarre ideas for ways to promote the show. They toured Europe, and I think South Africa too, with DJs dressed as wrestlers with decks inside a wrestling ring. What that had to do with bootlegs, I don’t know.
I once DJ’d for them in Slovenia. They couldn’t arrange a flight to Slovenia itself, so they flew me to Venice and had an Audi R4 pick me up at the airport to drive me. That’s the closest I’ve been to feeling like a rock star.
That gig was odd. It was corporate. I was one of three special guests, the other two being a member of the American Chamber of Commerce and a famous Slovenian singer. The local PR people were drunk and annoying. They had hired dancers who were demanding that I play a certain sort of music. The sort of music that had nothing to do with me, or the show.
That prompted me to play the complete opposite style of music, which amused me greatly. I had a great time.
At the end of the night, the drunken PR folk asked me to leave my CDs behind so they could continue to party with the businessman. I declined with gusto.
Two days later, I was DJing at the MTV European Music Awards in Edinburgh. It was hosted by Vin Diesel and the other DJs included Gary from Snow Patrol. Strange days.
Howie left the show as producer around the start of series two, and I think he took the heart of the show with him. In his absence, it became a lot more corporate. We didn’t know who was making the decisions or what MTV really wanted from us. The relationship had gone. It stopped being fun and became a job.
By the time series three came around, they had ran out of money for mixes, but they didn’t tell us. We therefore kept spending time submitting the mashups. Rather than having 1 in every 5 ideas developed for broadcast, it became that I’d sent in about 30 with no response. I was spending the same amount of time dedicated to the show, but was getting no recompense.
It wasn’t just me. In the end, the biggest contributors to the show were me and two producers based in Paris called Loo & Placido. This affected us a great deal.
Similarly, I wasn’t getting paid for the ringtone work anymore. Again, I’d invoiced them for 10 or 11 ringtones and the pay day had come and gone. They were a couple of months behind and so I asked them whose name I would include for a request to the Small Claims Court. I got paid within the next two days.
Eventually, the producer of the show admitted they’d been asking us to write tunes that they could never buy. That was the end of that.