Often times producers of hit songs go unnoticed and unmentioned. However, in the event that the producer does get noticed, it can happen three ways. First, an artist could mention the song’s composer while talking about the success of the single during press stops. Second, the production of the single could potentially receive a musical nomination or accolade where the songwriters and producers are recognized. Lastly, the consumer of the music collection may skim over his or her name while reading the liner notes on the artists’ full-length album. However, there should be an exception for hit-maker Mark J. Feist.
Feist, born and raised in Australia, has been musically inclined since a very young age. While living in Australia, he learned how to play the drums, the keyboard, the bass and even sing. Before bringing those many talents to the States, he spent a bit of time in Asia. At age of 18, he started working at a local Japanese karaoke bar. He performed an unusual job that he credits as the stepping stone to his start in producing music. “The job required me on a Sunday to meet this guy, who would show up and be like, ‘Here’s 15 American songs. Recreate them with the vocal, make them sound exactly like original and I’m going come back in seven days and you’re going deliver all 15 records,’” Feist explains. “That was kind of my training and it was really powerful because back in the 90’s, we didn’t have Pro Tools or autotune. Everything was done on multi-track and you had to really know how to play and produce.”
In addition to his karaoke gig, he wrote and produced songs for Japanese and Filipino artists. His work eventually earned him over 40 gold and platinum selling albums.
After making a name for himself in Asia, he moved to the United States and made Los Angeles his home in the 90’s. Shortly after getting settled in the U.S., the Australian-bred producer secured his first music placement with two American singers. “It was with Keith Washington and Chante Moore, on a song called ‘I Love You,’ which was a really big record,” he says. Feist, who produced and co-penned the soulful love duet, achieved his first top 40 R&B hit (No. 33) on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart in 1998. The moderate success of “I Love You” became the catalyst for Feist’s next major opportunity to help Feist further build his musical resume.
Three years after working with Washington and Moore, Feist lent his production talent to Destiny’s Child’s song “Emotion” off their 2001 album “Survivor.” However, the song wasn’t initially in choice for the group’s album tracklist. A year prior to the group’s rendition, he was asked to recreate the record for a Filipina artist named Regine Velasquez. His team fell in love with the remake and sent it over to Destiny’s Child’s team and Matthew Knowles. From there, “Beyoncé and the girls flew out and we took a meeting and they loved it,” he recalls. Feist says that Destiny’s Child’s vocal arrangements on the song were similar to Velasquez’s rendition. However, he clarifies that, “Obviously the girls [Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams] vocally put a different twist to it.” “Emotion” went on to becoming a top ten single on the Billboard Hot 100. Feist is proud that he was able to help propel the girls’ careers and help them tap into “other [radio] markets and [other] fans that they wouldn’t have normally had.” He continues, “That record really changed my life. It was on “Survivor” [album] and it was on their “Number 1’s” album. So it was pretty thrilling to be a part of that incredible phenomena at a time when albums sold.”
While Destiny’s Child parted ways briefly after the “Survivor” album, Feist continued music ties with newly married singer Kelly Rowland. He worked on her debut album on a song called “Everytime You Walk Out That Door.” Later, the two reconnected on her 2007 release “Ms. Kelly” on “No Man No Cry,” which appeared on the album’s deluxe edition. With four albums under her belt, Feist has noticed her growth. “Kelly has always been an amazing talent,” he says. “I think the only thing that’s changed from then to now is that maybe she’s come more out of shell. Plus, she’s musically evolved. The first album [“Simply Deep”] which had the Nelly song [“Dilemma”] on there, had its pop and alternative splashes on it. Then, on the next album, “Ms. Kelly,” she went a little more R&B. Then when she signed to Universal, she really went in with the R&B stuff and later the David Guetta record. So, I think the only thing that’s changed is that she’s found herself a little bit more and she’s a little bit more comfortable with who she is as an artist, which happens to everyone.”
After achieving wonderful success with Destiny’s Child and Kelly Rowland, Feist took a different route for his next music venture. In 2004, the world saw the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami take the lives of nearly 155,000 people. A year later, Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people and left hundreds of thousands without food and shelter. To help those victims, Feist brought together artists such as Celine Dion, Anthony Hamilton, Patti LaBelle, Mya, Joss Stone, Kimberly Locke, Kelly Price and JoJo, among others to record “Come Together Now,” a charity song that reached No. 39 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. With Feist as lead producer and the genius behind the call to action tune, he felt the song was necessary because he had a special connection to that part of the world. “With growing up in the Philippines and Australia, I know what it is like living in a third world country,” he says. “Now as an American, I don’t think we appreciate the quality of life. Obviously, we have our problems here but compared to the third world countries, it’s just no comparison. It was just devastating to know how many hundreds of thousands of lives were lost.” While he knew charity songs didn’t raise the massive funds like “We Are The World” once did, he believes that “if it raised people’s attention to the cause, I think that we did our job.”
In the height of his career, tragedy struck. In 2008, Feist loss his 16-year-old child. The emotional heaviness caused him to take a four-year hiatus from the music industry. Throughout his music production solitude, he went back to his native land and performed artist development. However, he got the creative motivation to return to the music scene by reliving a cycle of life that he started during his days at the karaoke bar. “I would go to iTunes and take a Lil’Wayne record, or a David Guetta record or a Nicki [Minaj] and get in my studio and recreate it for myself,” he says. “And because I’m a real musician, I could sit there and recreate these records in an hour. It just killed me to hear other people doing stuff, so I decided to move back to L.A. and get started working on things again.”
After re-grouping and finding the inspiration again, last year he got his music mojo back by working with “American Idol” season 11 contestant Jessica Sanchez. He produced and co-penned two songs off her debut album, “Me, You & the Music.” In addition, he lent his talents to rising artist Temara Melek for her single “Cali Skies,” among others.
Feist truly credits his meeting with Crystal “Cristyle” Nicole last year as the major turning point to producing and writing hot new music again. “We just have this incredibly magical chemistry, which happened instantly when we started writing together.” He mentions that Mary J. Blige’s new single “Suitcase” is one of many songs that he and Nicole have written in the last year.
Feist has noticed the minor rift in how R&B is received by radio and its consumers. However, he’s hopeful that a record like Blige’s “Suitcase” can “start a urban ac [radio], can start at Rhythmic [radio] and cross over to the top 40.”
If “Suitcase” takes off as Feist anticipates, he realizes it could open the door for other artists to have him create them a hit record. “I don’t think there is a right or wrong to that,” he shares on artist jumping the bandwagon for a hit record. However, he believes a collaboration between an artist and producer should be more organic and not forced. “The one approach that I always try and take is organic approaches. If a new artist or a [seasoned] artist hits me up, the first thing I like to do is take a meeting with them and get a grasp of what they are trying to do, who they are as an artist because as a producer it’s not my job to dictate to someone what type of sound they should have. It’s my job to take what they have and just magnify the good points with a little bit of whatever swag my beats and production can bring. So, all of us [producers] grew up listening to Quincy [Jones], Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and I think we all take pride in what we do and try and give each artist the unique twist with whatever job we take on — especially myself. There are a few artists on the charts right now that I have taken meetings with and I just really didn’t connect with them. I think it’s important to have that connection because it really comes out in the music, you know.”
Feist also realizes that these days songwriters have to be more careful with who they submit certain records to. “You write a really good record for a girl [artist] and unlike the early 2000s, you really have to sit back and go ‘Who can really do this? Who’s out there?, which is unfortunate,” he says. He mentions that songwriters should be cautious on just handing over records to rising artists because “it might not happen” like it would with a singer more known to the world.
To the naked-eye, it seems that Feist made a smart choice moving out of Australia. He learned the art of becoming a true producer during his time in Asia. Then, he came back to the United States and scored a massive hit with one of the biggest-female girl groups ever. Even though he lost a child, Feist hasn’t managed to lose the creativity for making great music for the artists he admires. As Mary J. Blige’s “Suitcase” continues to receive positive feedback and collect radio spins, Feist plans to stay hard at work with his musical soul-mate Crystal Nicole. In fact, he and Nicole have crafted about ten to eleven songs for Epic Records.
As time passes we hope to see Mark J. Feist’s name attached to more hit single credits in the near future.
Follow Mark J. Feist on Twitter at @RealMFLtd