Do you wanna be a Rock & Roll star? Or do you want to be successful in the music business? Most featured in these pages would answer yes to both, or ask, "Aren't they the same thing?"
But Cincinnati's Mark Liggett has forged a highly successful 18-year career in music, largely outside the spotlight's glare. By being a student of what works, and by attacking it from several angles, he has ascended.
"It is my own belief that if you do not have multiple irons in the fire, and you are trying to get in to this business, you're kidding yourself," he told me recently.
This week is big for Liggett. One of his bands, Blessid Union Of Souls, is "going for adds" at "Commercial Hit Radio" with their new single, "Storybook Life" (featuring 3XL), with the full CD to follow on Feb. 27. This just means that the program directors at every Q102-type station in the country will be deciding whether or not to "add" the song to their play lists.
Early returns are crucial. Have a big first week, and you can brag to whomever didn't add your record, "Look, Boston, D.C., Atlanta -- they're all going nuts with the phones! Jump on!" And PDs are notorious followers. Have a scary first week, where Sioux Falls looks around and sees nobody else playing the song, and you can begin prep on the next single already. Blessid Union came to Liggett around 1992. He had his production company, Legend Entertainment, and his studio, Ligosa Sound. They worked on developing the act, recording songs at Ligosa and then shopping for a record deal. Three years after signing with Liggett, the band had a Top 10 single with "I Believe," released on Capitol. Ironically, despite expensive remixes with big-name cats, that held up the album's release for over a year, it was the demo of the song that scaled the Pop chart. The success has continued through 1997's Blessid Union Of Souls and 1999's Walking Off The Buzz (on Virgin's V2 imprint) which spawned "Hey, Leonardo," the band's most recent hit.
Breathtaking vistas from the thin air of high chart altitudes, though, came as no shock to Liggett's system. He'd co-piloted other smashes to lofty peaks on the dance, Pop and Latin charts. He worked with '80s diva Shannon to score four No. 1 dance records, and Pop/Latin crossover/heart-throb George Lamond had three or four Top 5 dance records in the '90s, all Liggett productions.
Now, I don't know these names either, but the point is, one doesn't achieve chart status without selling truckloads of units. The longtime studio vet has also had occasion to work with legends like The BeeGees, The Spinners, and Billy Idol, but admits, "Work like that doesn't come along everyday. So in the meantime, it's nice to have the studio to develop projects I believe in. Or it's nice to have a little publishing money coming in."
His secret for sustaining a career through hot and cold periods? "Get a piece of everything," he says.
Liggett got his start doing dance records in a popular dance genre called Freestyle. "The first key element, when you know what you want to do, is the immersion," he recalls. "I was young, single, living in New York, going to clubs every night, listening to three great dance radio stations every day and loving every minute of it. We got lucky. We found out we could do it (Liggett and his partner, Chris Barbosa). We'd write a song, and then search for the artist -- and I use that term very loosely! We'd get studio singers, invent a name or a group, and get it out! We were doing that stuff long before Milli Vanilli."
In 1998 Liggett returned home to Cincinnati with his wife, Cathy (with whom he co-authored The Complete Handbook Of Songwriting, for Penguin in 1993), following the birth of a daughter. He started his studio, which, incidentally, is co-owned by Adam Levy, the son of legendary "hitman" Morris Levy. Ligosa's studio doesn't so much stand on its own as an enterprise, rather it serves as a tool for his production company. Currently he's tapping into some fresh local talent, as both Brian Lovely and Jason Allen Phelps are contributing their skills in new capacities. He's also developing a three-piece girl group, not yet named.
Another local act Liggett has a piece of is 3XLoser, already negotiating with major labels after just a handful of gigs. 3XL, the band's singer, had worked with Mark back in NY, and its his rap featured on Blessid Union's "Storybook Life." It stands to reason that if that track takes off, 3XL is set up nicely. But since nobody quite remembers Blessid Union's struggle through the local trenches either, I ask Liggett if that process is unnecessary.
Liggett: For us, yes, it really is. We make radio records. They start in the studio. It is all about the songs. I don't care if you can draw 2000 people in your hometown. If you don't have the songs, you'll never draw 2000 anywhere else.
CityBeat: Are careers shorter for artists nowadays?
ML: Yes. It is no longer the artist that people love: It's the songs. And it costs so much to promote a record that the labels demand to feel more certain that a record will hit than before.
CB: Next Big Thing?
ML: I think Bon Jovi is leading us back to the mainstream Pop Metal of the '80s.
CB: Say you're looking for an artist. Rank these seven things in order of importance: looks, performance ability, creative ability, determination, brains, youth and business sense.
ML: (Number one is) Determination. If you don't have that you'll never make it to the point where a record comes out. (Two is) looks. It's kids buying the records. (Three is) creative ability. I want to find artists who can write and perform. I'm not out looking for someone I'm going to have to write songs for. (Four is) performance. (Five) business. What's left?
CB: Youth and brains.
ML: Right now, youth is paramount, put that behind looks. Brains ... doesn't matter.
I take him to mean "doesn't matter, because I got the brains," because smarts and determination have put Liggett where he is. Kind of a big fish in a little pond, here in Cincinnati, but it didn't start out that way. When Liggett started in the music business, he was a tiny fish in a huge pond who had a hunch he could do some things. He has.
Nobody else in this town has had a hand in so many record sales or such impact on others' careers. I found him to be very frank about his involvement and open regarding opposing views of what it is he does. But he has figured out what works for him. ©