Martin Kierszenbaum – The Genius Behind Cheerytree Records

cherrytreerecords“A mom and pop shop in a department store.” That is the way Feist describes Cherrytree Records. Ten years ago, Martin Kierszenbaum started Cherrytree under the Interscope-Geffen-A&M umbrella at Universal Music Group, but it was a long road getting there. His love of music began as a child. Since his mother was a piano player he began lessons at eight years old and at ten he started to learn music theory and began songwriting. From there he started bands in high school and college where he was not only writing songs, but producing and mixing their work as well as being the manager of the band that dealt with the club promotors. This allowed him to hone his skills as a negotiator at a young age as well as meet people in the industry at a personal level. Kiersenbaum is one of the few music executives I have discovered so far that has finished school.  He went to University of Michigan for his bachelors degree and University of Southern California for his Masters in Communications Management (Songwriter Universe, Dale Kawashima).

During graduate school was where his music executive climb began.  He got an internship at Wing/ Polygram Records where he eventually got a job in the mailroom.  In 1989 he was hired as a publicist in the International department at Warner Brothers Records. He spoke Spanish because he grew up in Argentina which was the tipping point that got him the job. At Warner Brothers Records he worked with artists like Madonna, Jane’s Addiction, Devo, B-52s, Prince, and Rod Stewart.  He eventually moved to A&M Records where he was a publicist that work with Sting, Sheryl Crow, and Bryan Adams. In 1998 A&M was bought out my Universal Music Group and Interscope-Geffen-A&M was born. Kierszenbaum was kept on as Head of International under Jimmy Iovine. At this level he was able to work with artists like Eminem, Vanessa Carlton, and the Black Eyed Peas.

Kierszenbaum is the best of both worlds. “His advice and mentoring come from being a musician and not purely from a business standpoint” (LATimes, Melinda Newman). Jimmy Iovine recognized this and Kiersenbaum began doing A&R work for Interscope while managing his international publicist responsibilities. His first signing was an Italian Opera singer, Alessandro Safina. Safina didn’t do well in the U.S. partly because the PBS special that was create for the artist’s coming out was released around when the September 11th attack happened. It goes to show that it is all about timing. On a positive note Safina sold 250,000 copies in Sweden so Interscope looked at as a success.

In 2005, Cherrytree Records was born. Kierszenbaum signed artists such as Lady Gaga, Far East Movement, LMFAO, Roybn, Ellie Goulding, and Tokio Hotel. In the LA Times he stated “I don’t sign things of the moment, I sign things of the moment to come.” He has a gift of signing artists that are ahead of the curve, but still can connect to the mainstream.” Let’s take Lady Gaga as an example. She was a young kid who decided to drop out of college for a music career, but she had a vision for her music. She wanted to create an identity and a brand like Prince. She was the future and Kierszenbaum knew that because he was able to connect with her on a personal level. With his publicity, musicianship, and international background he was able assist in co-writing four songs on her album (The Fame), do a 40-part series introducing Gaga to the world, as well as break her to number 1 in the Swedish market before she became big in the U.S.

I think Jimmy Iovine said it best, “His musical background gives him a feel for the records the artists want to make, and his international mindset gives him the advantage in breaking them on a worldwide level” (Hollywood Reporter, Ashley Lee). Kierszenbaum is constantly on the look out for artists who have a point of view, a distinctive voice, and an extraordinary repertoire. In 2013 he signed a band from Vancouver Canada named Marianas Trench. Led by Josh Ramsey (co-writer of Call Me Maybe), he has great musicianship, a way with words, and heart in the last three albums the band has created. I look forward to the plans that Cherrytree has for Marianas Trench and if it is anything like Gaga everybody better be on the lookout for the fireworks.

Click here for a playlist of the artists that have been and are on Cherrytree Records.


What Makes A Hit Song?


What makes a hit song?  For the past four days I have been listening to the hottest hits from the 80s, 90s, 00s, and today to try and see if any pattern emerged, but each decade had it’s own focus of popularity from 80s hair bands to 90s grunge, garage bands and boys bands to 00s pop/ punk artists.  What I discovered is that many producers and writers from past decades are still writing and producing hits for today’s artists and a lot of them have work with one another in some capacity; either producing on the same album or even on the same hit song.

First, you have Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins.  He worked on Brandy and Monica’s ‘Boy is Mine’ in 1998, Destiny’s Child’s ‘Say My Name’ in 1999 as well as with Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Janet and Michael Jackson, and most recently on Ariana Grande’s new album My Everything.  Another well-known producer and writer is Max Martin.  Think of the most popular pop songs from the 90s through today, Max Martin probably was involved as either a writer, producer, or both.  He worked on Ace of Base’s ‘I Saw the Sign,’ Britney Spears ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time‘ to today’s artists such as Maroon 5’s ‘One More Night‘ to Taylor Swift’s current hit ‘Blank Space.’  I have mostly touched on pop and R&B producers but what about rock?  Well, for Rock it seems that Desmond Child is your man.  He has worked with artist such as Aerosmith, Jon Bon Jovi, Chicago, Joan Jett, and KISS, but he also has crossed over into the pop genre with artists such as Katy Perry, Jesse McCarthy, and Ricky Martin (Click here for hit producer playlist).

I could continue to give you a list of other reputable producers that have helped created some of the most recognized music  of yesterday and today, but let’s switch back to my original question and that is “What Makes A Hit Song?”  What I have discovered is it is an artist’s team (artistic and business), how the mass public relates, and what is currently the popular genre in today’s youth.  The teenage years are when you start to find yourself, discover who you are as a person, extremely emotional, as well as being more open-minded to music.  The fans and the branding are what guides the success of the next superstar.

So, what about the artists that have an amazing sound, but don’t have a Billboard hit?  In the music industry, if you have become popular in America you have “made it” in the industry, but what about those bands that have an amazing sound and their lyrics are like poetry?  Mariana’s Trench is one of those bands.  They were signed to Cherrytree Records (associated with Interscope Records) in 2013.  Mariana’s Trench has a huge following in their home country (Canada) selling out arena tours, as well as become a multi-platnium and award winning artist, but in the United States they haven’t even touched the Billboard Charts as a band.  It should just be all about the music.  If you have great music then it should be recognized on all levels, in every country, but unfortunately that is not how business works.  It seems to come back to branding and building an image as well as how that image is perceived by the fans.  Continue to discover new music.  Check out other artists that your friends are listening to, and become a promotional fan for a new artist that you have created a passion for in music.

Check a Marianas Trench Playlist here, as well as other music lead singer and guitarist Josh Ramsey has done collaboratively written and produced with other artists.