Do you think your child is the next Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber? Would you like a chance to help them break into the music industry but also make sure they stay grounded? Well, your child has a shot at stardom when YTV’s hit series The Next Star travels across Canada in search of the next pop sensation.
Mark knows first-hand what it’s like to be a talented kid. At just 16, he started his own record label and was the youngest person ever to head up A&R for Universal Music. He has also worked for KISS frontman Gene Simmons’ record label. While working for Universal, Mark guided and managed the careers of some of Canada’s most notable artists. But Mark is more than a behind-the-scenes guy, he’s also a musician. As a bassist for Avril Lavigne and Sum 41, he’s experienced the music business from all angles.
In fact, parents regularly email him YouTube videos of their kids seeking his advice. I spoke with Mark just as he was getting ready to hit the road for the show’s first auditions in Montreal:
Do you think musical talent is something kids are born with or can it be taught and developed?
“I think that talent is a very small aspect of it and yes, some people are born with an enormous amount of talent. But a lot of people with a lot of talent never get anywhere. There’s a lot of very great singers in the shower!”
Is there a way for parents to tell that their child has talent?
“Find people like myself. Or maybe there’s a friend who is working in something that relates to the child’s talent. Ask questions and explore the opportunities. Ask the kids: ‘Is this something you love and what would you want to do with this?’. Seeing what kind of options are out there of an organized fashion, whether it’s music school, or a vocal coach, or an acting school or a hockey camp.”
What is the number one question parents ask you?
“What can I do to help my child?‘. And I think that’s great. A parent should never be afraid to ask questions. Without being able to ask those questions first and understanding what you’re doing, a lot of wires can get crossed. Unfortunately, I’ve seen parents who are difficult to deal with who ruin the chances for their child.”
What’s the biggest mistake parents can make?
“Pushing too hard, the ‘Momagers’. I think the biggest mistake would be trying to fill a role when you don’t have the experience to fill it, because it’s your kid and you feel entitled and because you want to do what’s best. You always want to be part of a team as the parent, always be there and be checking the people that are working with your child. But it’s also about knowing when to step back and let them do what their experience allows them to do. So find the right manager.”
How do you know when it’s the right time for a child to get into this?
“At The Next Star, we want to make sure that when they’re getting through that audition, it’s their right time to win, not just to get through. A lot of times we [judges] have a lot of discussion about ‘Is it now, or is it tomorrow?‘. I think a lot of parents can take a page out of that as well. Because there’s more of a chance of success when the time is right, than before it’s fully baked.”
What do parents need teach their kids if they want to enter the music business?
“Teaching the most basic fundamentals to your child is, I think, one of the most important things you can do. Saying ‘thank you’ means the world to the people in this business. Because half the battle is managing any artists’ perception of the world, let alone a young artist. Soon as things start to click and someone’s handing [a child] a water bottle and they don’t have to say ‘thank you’ to anyone, that can be one of the most damaging things to an artist’s career. Starting with that first water bottle, you know? Because all of a sudden, there’s this sense of entitlement.
Teach them to be humble. To be appreciative of the people who are helping them on their journey. If you can keep that in your child, no matter how high they get or how far they go, that’s the quality that will determine a great artist with a hugely successful career and an artist who had a shot, may have gone for a distance, but it didn’t last.”
How should parents prepare their kids for an audition?
“Tell them it’s their moment and to try to lose themselves in it. To psychologically prepare themselves that when the lights turn on, to give it their all and to enjoy themselves. That finding the enjoyment and enthusiasm in working hard will only result in fun. Being as encouraging as possible, knowing it’s less about hitting that perfect note and more about ‘how do you smile?’. When you step in front of the judges, address them. Show you’re calm and natural and you’re being you. Kids should recognize it’s less of a job audition and more of a fun thing. We remember the kids that give us something to remember.”
Is there one quality that past winners of The Next Star all share?
“It comes down to courage. Sure, you’re a great singer but do you have the courage – in front of a sixty-people video shoot, to actually give it all and go beyond that? Can you find the courage when the cameras are on [live tv], to sing as perfectly as you do when you’re looking in the mirror of your bedroom?
Is there something specific you’re looking for during the auditions?
“More and more it’s less about the quality of the singing, even though you have to be a good singer. I always talk about identity. It becomes an all-encompassing package. What are you and how does that come across? A positive energy and a good aura…a great smile and just an innocence.”
What should kids not do during an audition?
“Don’t come in there with too much ego, or too much expectation.You can feel that in the room. When someone comes in and they’re over-confident, or under-confident, we can feel that. There’s a comfort level in someone’s identity when they’re just being themselves.”
So how can parents support their child through failed auditions and keep them motivated?
“At the end of the day, it’s about having them understand that their journey is long. If their time isn’t now, it might be tomorrow. Or it might be in a week. Or it might be in a year. But everyone has their own path. And an element like The Next Star isn’t the only answer.”
What’s the importance of timing in this business?
Timing is a huge thing for a young child. [On the show] we make sure to give the criticisms and the encouragement for them to leave with a smile, even if they don’t get through. That there’s something valuable you can take from every experience and I find that The Next Star experience is extremely invaluable.
In the end, what makes someone succeed over someone else?
“It’s less luck and ‘right place right time’ these days because the Internet has just cracked it open. It has made people like me – A&R guys and record companies – irrelevant, because the Internet will tell people what they want to hear. Now, I find it’s a sincere thickening of determination and the ability to visualize and become what you want to become. Learning when people say ‘no’ to say to yourself: ‘I’m just going to keep going and going and one day, those people will say ‘yes’. “
Auditions for The Next Star will also be held in Halifax (April 24th), Calgary (May 8th), Vancouver (May 11th) Winnipeg (May 14th). Please visit the show’s official site. The Next Star begins airing mid-July on YTV.