Most high school bands yield little more than a handful of embarrassing memories. Not so for music lawyer Doug Mark, whose teenage stint as the singer for Shadowfax, a band formed at Universal High School in West L.A., led to his eventually meeting Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, who was putting out the band’s first album on his own label, Epitaph.
The lawyer and the rocker “bonded immediately,” according to Mark, and 19 years later he still reps Epitaph and stays connected to the indie world through clients like emo heroes Dashboard Confessional and the brand-new Mercy Records out of Silver Lake.
“First and foremost,” says Gurewitz, “Doug’s a music guy, and I think what grows from that is the fact that he’s an artist’s advocate.”
Mark echoes his friend’s assessment. “Artists will always be the most valuable piece of the music industry puzzle,” he says, reeling off some of the acts that inspire him: longtime client Michelle Branch, whose first foray into country as part of the duo the Wreckers, has gone gold; or Sebastian, a new R&B artist who’s “like Stevie Wonder”; or Idiot Pilot, two 18-year-olds from Bellingham, Wash., who made their own record. “They’re absolute geniuses!”
Fortunately, the lawyer’s personal passions have also benefited his legal career, as did his move to Barnes Morris in 2000, just in time for the digital revolution. Mark allows that digital downloading has hit the major labels hard, but the indie sector continues to grow. And his own business has more than doubled since he joined the firm.
On any given day, Mark’s got contracts being signed, artists in the studio, records coming in, and records being released. He says he can often feel like an “island” within the firm, but it only takes a few minutes for him to start naming huge crossover projects in the pipeline: Scarlett Johansson just made a record deal, Minnie Driver is making a second album, and the New Zealand comedy/music duo Flight of the Concords is working on an HBO series and an album for Sub Pop.
Stephen Barnes, with whom Mark is currently working on a deal for a TV musical along the lines of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical,” notes that synergy is often a matter of perception. “There are plenty of times when synergy is diverse elements coming together to make something happen, but it can also work the other way around: A common thing can create synergy around a number of diverse elements, and that’s the client.”
This month that client is JoJo, a star of the films “RV” and “Aquamarine,” who is releasing her sophomore album. “And it will undoubtedly debut at No. 1 in the country,” Mark adds with utter confidence.