An Interview by Henry Bergstrom
Thrust into national prominence when The Rolling Stones selected Long View Farm as the rehearsal site for their current tour, Gil Markle is no stranger to musicians in New England. As the owner of one of the top recording studios in the area, Gil Markle is a most successful businessman with keen observations of the music industry, both on a local and national level. In speaking with Gil it is easy to see that one reason he has become so successful is that he has the ability to put people at ease almost instantly. Visitors to his office or studio are greeted warmly and treated like his personal guests, regardless of how busy he might be. On the day we talked with Gil, the Stones were within a few days of leaving Long View for the tour and already a small crowd had begun to gather at the Worcester airport in anticipation of seeing the band.
GIL MARKLE: As far as the factors are concerned which created Long View Farm before the recording complex, they are personal in nature, financial in nature, and a bit having to do with luck and good fortune. But the personal components had to do with my upbringing which was at the hands of a man who was the chief engineer for NBC radio in New York City, my dad, Gil Markle, Sr. He was a fellow who used to bring me into New York when I was 2 and 3 and 4 years old and let me hang around with him in Master Control, where he had recently brought NBC nationwide as far as network radio was concerned. This obviously had a great and informative influence on me. My mother also was a well-known entertainer. She worked for Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey as a singer. Connie Gates was her name. And that's how my father met her and they married and I was their son. So it was no genetic accident that I found myself 40 years later doing what I'm doing today. I was around it all my life when I was a kid.
MUSICIAN'S: Were you interested in recording when you were young?
GIL MARKLE: No. More predictably still I went through a period of rejection where I felt that what my dad was doing and what my mother had done was the very sort of thing I wanted not to do. So, it took me a long time. I went to RPI as a physics major and I thought for a while I was going to be a pure scientist. I rejected that model fairly quickly at the time I got my Fulbright grant which took me overseas. And I went into a sort of humanistic phase where I wrote short stories and novels. This was in the early 60's. I became a Jack Kerouac type, a forerunner of the hippie, basically, a humanistic hipster you might say. And I rejected at that point anything I had taken temporary solace in at Rensselaer and thought of myself as a poet or writer instead. I was at the University of Paris then on a Fulbright grant. I got a degree in philosophy then from The Sorbonne; the University of Paris is where I had Fulbright. And this degree was won on a basis of a dissertation—Philosophy of Science basically—and that was my first postgraduate degree. It was either go into the Vietnam war at that time, which I didn't want to do, or to prolong my graduate school education, and I decided to do the latter – to prolong it. On the basis of my Fulbright, I was fairly saleable commodity within the education system as it existed then, and I accepted a handsome grant in aid from Yale University and went there to pursue my studies, now in pure philosophy.
MUSICIAN'S: Did you have any interest in music at all at that time?
GIL MARKLE: Yes I did. My younger brother had less successfully rejected the mold of his upbringing at the hands of our two parents and he was quite active then as a Rock and Roller. He was a good friend of Gary Wright's, well-known to you. They had a musical group together. Although that had since dissolved, Gary was overseas during the years that I was overseas and I hung out a lot with him, Gary Wright. It was then that he formed his group Spooky Tooth that you may remember. And it was through Gary that I met and hung out with Jimmy Miller, noted producer, who was producing at the time a band called the Rolling Stones. And that was my first access to that group. The first time I met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards was at the Olympic Studios in London as a guest of Jimmy Miller and Gary Wright. So, no, I was sort of hanging out with these people all along, although I had adopted no purely professional interest in it. I wasn't doing it to make money or anything like that. After Yale, I went to Clark University as an assistant professor, and I taught there for 7 years. Towards the end of that period of time it was "Philosophy of Communications Media" which was, I found, the most exciting and there, I suppose, you could point out a very definite transitional period. Where as still a philosopher, I was now interested in the philosophy of non print media and magnetic tape in particular. I started collecting tape recorders, some of which I bought from Bill Riseman, then owner and proprietor of Aengus Studios in Fayville, Massachusetts, one of the great legends of the Boston musical community. It was Bill, I suppose, who ministered most closely over the actual transition phase between an amateur's interest in recording and in magnetic tape, and what has become a purely professional interest in that. I bought a lot of gear from Bill. He helped me a lot and inspired me in large measure, I'd be very quick to point out.
MUSICIAN'S: Did you make a conscious decision that you were going to have a professional recording studio, or did it evolve?
GIL MARKLE: No, it evolved. I made no conscious decision to leave my teaching and my preoccupation with my student travel business, the American Leadership Study Groups, which you may know something about. It was a decision that occurred one step at a time. ALSG had become a great success for me. It allowed me to quit my job teaching which I really, I think, wanted to do. I was a bright, young, but mainly dramatic bombastic professor, who put on a show rather than instructed by the book. And I'd been putting on the same show for 7 years. I won tenure in function of the entertainment value, I think, of that particular show. But the show was old and I wanted to do something else. So I took a sabbatical year from my teacher responsibilities at Clark to figure out what that would be. In any case, it was about that time that I bought Long View Farm, largely at the urging of Nancy Wilcox, a former student of mine, who was then my lover, and who wanted to live outside of Paxton in a more rural setting. She found the farm. I can remember assaying the location as a possible location for construction of a recording studio. Although it was not principally and uniquely with that in mind that I bought it, it was in the back of my mind. What was then in the back of my mind came gradually into the forefront of my mind as I started tearing out walls and ceilings. I borrowed fairly large sums of money. I gave a lot of that money to Bill Riseman, who gave me a 3M tape recorder that's still out there, and the Aengus board, which has seen now, well, I suppose ten years of service and hundreds and hundreds of recording gigs. That's in Studio B. All that gear, I bought from Bill is still working great, too. It has probably recorded more gigs than any other assembly of gear in the region.
MUSICIAN'S: How long ago was that?
GIL MARKLE: That was 1973 that I bought the farm. And by 1974 I was recording at the farm. When did it emerge with such clarity that I was building a recording studio which would offer a complete interpenetration of professional and recreational area? I don't know. We're still doing it, we're still tearing out walls and changing spaces around. I suppose it was in 1974 however, mainly when Jeff and John, John Farrell and Jeff Myers, came from Provincetown to help out. It became clear than that I was not taking any passive or amateur's interest in this project, but I was prepared to take it seriously. We had the place fairly well torn apart at that point. It was torn back to the walls, back to the beams. There was no wall that did not support weight at that point that we had not torn out.
MUSICIAN'S: Is that in the farmhouse?
GIL MARKLE: In the farmhouse. There had been some work done in what we call the cottage, where Bill Wyman is now staying, where we hoped to provide a little place for people to live who would be recording there. There was the germ on the concept of Long View Farm. It was 1974. A place where people could come and live in a gracious, perhaps even sumptuous environment and have access to state of the art recording gear.
MUSICIAN'S: Is there a personal philosophy that you have that could account for the success that you've had with Long View?
GIL MARKLE: It's hard to say. I mean, you're asking what is it, what slant on things, is responsible for our success. It would be difficult for me to say, since I'm probably not familiar enough with alternative modes to contrast them to the way we do things. We have a rule at Long View that the phone is to be answered in 2 rings. Sometimes it's not. The last month (while The Stones were in residence) it's rung on for considerably more than 2 rings. But I don't know. From what I hear about other operations, I suppose ours is a particularly crisp one, a particularly well disciplined one. We take it very seriously as though each phone call or each gig or each mix was the last phone call, gig, or mix that we would be making, you know. I suppose you would call that a species of professionalism. It's hard to take credit for that though, because I can't imagine doing it any other way. I can't imagine coming into a studio and not having the immediate attention of a studio owner or its proprietor or general manager or chief engineer, in order to show you around the place. I've been told that it's not always the case; that there's some facilities in which guests are not particularly warmly welcomed or treated as individuals or, in some instances, it's hard to get the chief engineer to take his boots off the console in order to show them around. I would say those are ways not to run a studio. I wouldn't say our escaping those pitfalls is exactly responsible for our success. Nor would I say our escaping those pitfalls guarantees success. There are certain obvious mistakes we've not made, let's put it that way. We've taken the gig very seriously.
MUSICIAN'S: If you were an artist or producer looking for some studio time, what would you look for, assuming you couldn't go to Long View?
GIL MARKLE: I suppose, to be very frank with you, I would want to know only that the people who ran the place were decent, attentive, and honest. And I would want to know the gear in the recording gear satisfied certain minimal technical specs – that the place was capable of making good tape. In that connection, I would want to be assured either that the engineer I was bringing in knew the room and had made good tape there before, or that the resident engineer was capable of doing so and would be sufficiently flexible and attentive to me in order to guarantee a professional product. I'd go there and see how I was treated. I'd ask to listen to tape and I would attempt to decide just how seriously I was being taken as an individual, on the assumption that on that occasion that I would be taken most seriously as a prospective client; even more seriously perhaps than the day that I was recording there. In other words, i.e., if I had trouble gaining any sort of satisfaction from studio personnel during my first visit, I would assume that things would have to be worse when I actually came back to do the gig. I'd want to feel at home, comfortable. I'd like the people to like me. I'd like to think that I like the people who ran the place, and I'd want to know that the studio was at least capable in principle of making good tape. I believe that almost any studio with any properly chosen tape machine and console is, and it's very difficult to make a mistake there, if it's a 2 inch tape machine and it's been properly maintained, that tape machine can make good tape. And if it's a multi-input recording console unless it's been extremely badly maintained and all the switches are noisy and the patch points dirty, that console can make a hit record.
I've never been terribly attracted to the super elitist view of gear, which maintains that the thing has to be 6 months old at the oldest and at the very cutting edge of the state of art in order to guarantee that I'm going to make a hit record. That's nonsense. The stuff has to be professional format and it's got to work, but that's about it. Any professional recording studio can make hit records. There's nothing magic about the brand of copper which distinguishes Long View Farm from, say, another recording studio around here; or any other two studios from each other. Copper's all the same. It's whether or not the atmosphere, the way the place is run, coaxes forth creative efforts on the part of artists and support staff who are working for the studio. If it does, then you have a shot at making apiece of tape that could become a hit record. If it doesn't, if that feeling of ambience and support and mutual creative effort is not there, then no matter how well you can play your guitar or how closely you can hit a note, doesn't matter. You're going to have an uphill fight. The place has got to feel right.
MUSICIAN'S: In your opinion, once an act finishes their tape, do you think they should look to get a deal with a major label, a smaller independent record company, or perhaps, put out their own record?
GIL MARKLE: There's nothing wrong with all of the above. You can do all three and just see what works. Needless to say, if a major label were to become so infatuated with an act as to cough up an advance of $50,000 and to put them into the Hit Factory in New York or another exciting studio, without tying them up contractually in such a manner as to ruin the remainder of their personal and professional lives, there's nothing wrong with a deal with a major. The fact of the matter is, that those deals are very few and far between. And this business about looking for that record deal, you know, like, "When I get a deal, will I get a deal"? This is rhetoric that doesn't have a place in the 80's. There are just not that many deals any longer, for better or for worse, although I'd be quick to say if someone were offered one, I would tell them to take it right away. But it's a question of realism whether or not there are such things out there, and there certainly aren't as many (record deals) now as there were 5 years ago or 10 years ago. To the contrary, the function of the A&R guy in a large record company now is precisely to keep the local bands on the sidewalks – to screen these people away from the label, not to gather them into it. They have no money to sign new acts. These guys are told don't sign anybody. And so it's not surprising to see the open reel tapes stacked up from floor to ceiling, the unlistened to cassettes lying around. They're not there to sign acts, they're there to maintain the public relations posture of the record company, which must, by its nature, be in contact with new and young aspiring acts without offending them. Stay in contact with them, but don't sign them. You can't sign them if there is no money. If there's no money, there's no one that is going to get signed. Well, right now there's no money, right?
Still, there's nothing wrong with major labels. They're in the record business too. As for independent labels, there are many people who are in the record business, like S. E. Music, our label at Long View Farm, who are not major labels, who are not even distributed by major labels, but who are nevertheless able to give voice, basically propagate a tape, in the form of a record, nationwide, or even among international record communities. The reason we started S. E. Music was that we were working with artists who did not have deals with major labels who nevertheless were making really good records that we could turn into money. So we just did it ourselves.. You can only cool your heels for so many years in these offices in New York City before you realize that the same amount of energy put directly into the dissemination of record product that you could make and even manufacture yourself, produced better and with quicker results. The same thing goes for putting the record out yourself. You don't even need the help of Long View Farm or S. E. Music, Inc. to put a record out yourself. It's very easy to do. You have to make a good tape. You have to make a good acetate out of it, and get a good test pressing from the manufacturer. And then, give them some money, and you get the records yourself.
The point I'm trying to make is that doing these things with the records, once you get them, is the way that you would curry favor from an independent label that would bring you back into the studio, invest time and money in your act. Or, it's this way that you would attract the attention of a major label, if that's what you wanted to do. So the question is between major labels and independent labels, or just putting a record out yourself, and why you'd want to do that. The fact of the matter is, it doesn't make much sense any longer to take a demo that you've spent $1,000 or $2,000 making, and then spend another $400 making open reel tape copies of that demo and sending it out to RCA and to Atlantic and to other people like that, hoping that your phone is going to ring in the middle of the night, and a deal proposed to you. This is simply not going to occur. The deals aren't there, the money's not there. The tape is not even going to get listened to, particularly if it's sent out in open reel format. There's no way of bursting upon the music scene successfully on the basis of open reel tapes sent out in white boxes with labels on them. The effort has to be a deeper effort, directed more, in a more immediate sense, to the eventual market – the record buying public.
MUSICIAN'S: How do you promote your records that S. E. Music puts out? Do you have any particular formula that you use?
GIL MARKLE: Yes, mainly airplay. If you could get the record played by radio stations, then you can get distributors to accept records from you, and one stops to take shipments from you, and retailers to take shipments from you. And you can get your record and your music happening. Get it happening in the streets, directly. And that's the only way, right now, that a band is going to find itself with a national or international reputation. To tackle the markets directly, actually get the music into the streets. It turns out that it's not much more expensive, and in some instances it's even cheaper to do it that way.
Suppose you're spending $400 on copies and mailing of tapes that you'll never see again. Why not get 500 records that you can put in 150 jukeboxes and 300 radio stations for the cost of postage? That's one way of doing it. You can basically do all your AOR stations of any significance in the U.S. nationwide. There are 250 of them, right? You can add on 150 adult contemporary stations if you want, and you can test a song nationally; put it in the hands of every important disc jockey in the country for the same price you'd otherwise have to spend in order to get a stack of white boxes that you know are not even going to get listened to.
MUSICIAN'S: Shouldn't that be followed up?
GIL MARKLE: It's good even to follow up in advance, in the sense of sending out a little pre-mailing hype to the disc jockeys who are going to get it, telling them they're going to get it. This isn't cheap:: it costs, you know. 1st class mail is 20 cents a shot or something like that these days. And to send out the record, I think, costs $1.50 if you send it out properly, in a box. And it costs another $1.50 to phone. But, if you've spent several thousand dollars putting the act together, and several thousand dollars more recording it, it's silly to stop short of that point.
You can test a song nationally, touching all the important radio stations in the U.S. It's much easier than people think. People are needlessly mystified by promoting a record. The main and most important thing, is to have it in the form of a record. Records are played very easily. And it's the finished nature of a record, the fact that you can actually put it in a jukebox. You can actually have it sit around on a guy's desk. A finished record says this has been judged successful, that's what it says. A cassette or a tape tends to drag along with it the connotations of something that is still a demo, unproven, might be good, might not. Chances are it's not. If it's a record, chances are it's worth listening to.
MUSICIAN'S: What about distribution?
GIL MARKLE: There are countless distributors in the U.S. Some real big, some real small, some honest, some not so honest. There are a lot of young alternative distributors of new wave record product.
MUSICIAN'S: How do you find them?
GIL MARKLE: Well, if you've got an I.Q. somewhere over 100, and an afternoon to spend on the telephone, you could probably find out who they are. It's no secret about that either.
MUSICIAN'S: Is there any criteria you have to tell the honest ones from the dishonest ones? Is there any way you can tell whether or not a distributor is going to pay you for your records?
GIL MARKLE: There's no way of telling who's honest and who's not. If you have no expectations in that connection, if you simply don't expect to get paid for your records, but regard the records more as promotional instruments rather than as retail items, then there's no disappointment possible. I usually encourage people not to look to that manufacturer of their first, say, 1000 records for any financial return – any more than the same people would look for financial return from, say, printing up 36 open reel tapes. That's not the reason you're doing it. The reason you're doing it is to get your music directly out into the streets, on the radio, into the hands of the people who could eventually, were you to come up with something people found catchy, innovative, artful, creative, these are the people who would basically help you along in your career. It's a promotional effort, manufacturing a record in lots of 500 or 1,000, not a retail effort.
MUSICIAN'S: How about the Press? Would you advise musicians to send press releases out in addition to their records?
GIL MARKLE: Sure, it's easy, it's fun. It gives you a chance to practice your art in print, which still counts for something, or ought to. There are about 25 magazines, some large, some small, who will generally review a record and give you some outlet in print.
MUSICIAN'S: Is that what you do with S. E. Music?
GIL MARKLE: So many people were coming to us asking us to not just make a tape for them as a recording studio, but also manufacture their records for them, and promote and distribute these records among our friends, channels we have sort of carved over the years, that we set up a separate company to handle these requests. S. E. Music is a record manufacturing company, it's a publishing company, and, I suppose, you'd say record promotions company. We'll take a tape made at Long View, or anywhere else, for that matter, and we will see it manufactured in the form of either long playing records if it's an album, or a single if it's a 45 or a 12-inch EP. It doesn't matter. We do all of these things.
MUSICIAN'S: What to you think is the best format?
GIL MARKLE: The best sounding format is the 12-inch EP that plays at 45 rpm. That's the best sounding record, although it doesn't fit in a jukebox. The worst sounding is a 45, a regular 7-inch 45, although that still sounds really good. Better than the tape you made from, unless you made some mistakes manufacturing. And a LP sounds fine. In case, that's what S. E. Music does. It manufactures these records, using people we've come to respect, and as far as going the acetate is concerned, the cut, we generally use Bob Ludwig's firm, Masterdisc, in NYC.
The cut is very important.
That's a very critical stage – it's a stage that's often taken for granted. People say, "well, if it sounds as good as the tape, then that's good enough". If the record is mastered creatively, using the gear presently available, the record should sound better, not just as good as, but distinctly better. Once again, as in the case of studios, if the studio is outfitted professionally, it will make good tape -– if the cutting house has good gear, it will make good cuts. The difference is the help and the attention. The attentiveness of the people who work there. There are people who are using a lathe who will give you a good cut of your record. There are other people who, using the same lathe, will give you a spectacular cut of your record. The differences will be discernable on the radio.
MUSICIAN'S: How do you know who will do that?
GIL MARKLE: Well, it's easier once you have done it. You will have had good luck with certain people, and not such good luck with others. I would say, word of mouth is very good, the names you see on the back of record jackets that say "Cut By Bob Ludwig at Masterdisc", that's very important. Mainline industry clients are bringing in their tape to the guy for him to make records for them. The best thing is to go and not consign your tape to a mail order house in Texas or something, in return for 500 records 30 days later. They will do a cut for you, but their goal there is basically to eliminate spurious complaints from people who say "my record doesn't sound like my tape," so they make it sound exactly like the tape and never any better than the tape. You need to take it to a place yourself, where you can go in yourself, and have a relationship with the guy who is determined to make your record sound better than the tape. He will take a personal interest in making it sound better. Stay away from the people who want you to mail your tape in, they'll send you some records back and those are the people who don't care.
MUSICIAN'S: How about pressing?
GIL MARKLE: Pressing, we use a large Warner Brothers facility called Specialty Music in Olyphant, Pennsylvania, outside of Scranton. And then we'll take the records manufactured on behalf of our clients, and we will then give them to them for the trunk of their car, or we will keep them here for the purpose of promotional projects. And there's as many different promotional projects as there are clients. Some will be very happy if we just mail it to 75 radio stations here in the Commonwealth of importance, and mail to them only, and make some telephone calls on their behalf, period. Other people want us to test the record nationally for them, in which case we'll do that. Basically we provide these services for the convenience of clients who already have done business with Long View Farm. That is to say we don't mark it up too much; enough to cover our own telephone bill and the cost of such marginal administrative support as required, but it's not in that sense a get rich proposition.
MUSICIAN'S: Based on what you have seen in the industry, do you think this is a time to put out a record?
GIL MARKLE: I think when times are bleakest, the ball is passed most predictably to the hands of the grass roots ball players. This is a rotten time for the record business, viewed in corporate terms. I think it's a very good time for the independents, and a particularly good time for a person who believes enough in his or her music to put his or her money behind it.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.