Mark Merren: Boston’s master motivator
Apparently Dorchester native Mark Merren was paying attention during those kindergarten lessons about sharing. In the dog-eat-dog world of the music business, the hip hop producer and MC who’s in the midst of building his own career has decided to share the wealth.
Merren, who released his solo debut “Motivate” last year through his company Authentic Lifestyle, has been producing a number of events that provide a place for up-and-coming artists to push their music forward — not the typical move when you’re still trying to make a name for yourself.
Motivate Mondays, Merren’s weekly showcase of Boston’s hip hop and RandB talent at Fenway music venue Church, has become one of the key destinations for artists looking to hone their craft. (Motivate’s monthly sister showcase, Branded Authentic, has a loyal following as well.) Merren sees the altruistic attitude as a needed part of Boston’s musical growth.
“I’ve seen the climate of the city as far as music and something is not working,” he said. “We can’t just recognize ourselves. We have to recognize true talent [throughout the city].”
The fan base for that talent is growing. After reaching its first anniversary this summer, Merren recently turned Motivate Monday from a monthly showcase to a weekly event in order to meet the demand.
The Banner recently talked with him about Motivate Monday’s success, the Boston urban music scene and having the confidence needed to share the spotlight.
The music business is usually cut-throat. What would make someone who is trying to push their career forward take on the role of providing a place for other artists?
First off, I’m confident in what I do. But secondly, there was just a need for me to create an avenue for myself. It didn’t make sense to not include other artists on the scene. I figured it was time for us to cultivate an artist community in Boston. In order for us to thrive we have to eliminate the cliques.
What was the most challenging part of putting the shows together?
That was the hardest part. Getting everyone together. It kind of came out of nowhere, so some people were skeptical. The other difficult part was finding good venues in Boston that want to rock with hip hop. You’ve got to show and prove.
What was the turning point for you? What made people start coming out?
I think just the persistence of it. That and there were limited options. It started as me trying to create a platform for myself, then it became a platform for everyone else in the city. It became [in the eyes of artists] “Mark is an option. We have to rock with Mark.”
One of your nicknames is “The Mayor.” Now that you are in that leadership role, do you ever feel pressure?
No, I don’t feel any pressure. It’s natural for me to do what I do. I’ve always been a person that’s been about bringing people together. Even on a social level. I’m real family-oriented. It just takes a certain amount of energy. But I’m willing to do that because it benefits everybody. A thriving music scene in our city benefits everybody. It also draws attention from outside.
What made you make the transition from monthly to weekly?
It just made sense. People were constantly reaching out about performing. So it was like let’s just go weekly so people will have a place where they will be able to get a consistent quality show. And it was also the demand. People thought we were weekly from the branding. I would constantly get messages and tweets (on the off nights). So that meant there was a demand for it.
Is it hard for you to split time between the events and your career?
They complement each other well. It’s about balance and taking my time to focus on each thing. When I work on shows that’s what I’m working on. When I’m in my beats zone then I am in my beats zone. When I am in writer’s mode then I’m in writer’s mode. It’s helped my music career more than anything because it helped my name.
Where are you at with your projects?
Now I’m working on “Motivate 2.” I have enough joints to put out a project. But I want to make it bigger. I’m taking my time. I want to elevate the game with this one. And the events are a way of keeping my name out there in the city of Boston.
Do you have to fight the urge to go up on stage every week, especially when you see a struggling act?
I just remind myself that it’s not about me. It’s about creating an audience for people and the people are the judge. So sometimes when I’m looking onstage [at a struggling act] I’m more about encouraging them. That’s why we call it Motivate Mondays. We understand that every artist is not going to be ready. They aren’t fully developed. That’s why I balance it out with people I know will knock it out the park and people who are on their grind. That way they will get examples.
Who are some of the people you’ve seen emerge locally since you’ve been doing the show?
Of course you have the Famous Nobodies, Dutch ReBelle. Natural. [I’m impressed by] the progression [Natural] has made from where he first started from. Of course the City Slickers come through and show love.
What is the next step for you?
I definitely envision Motivate … becoming a music festival. That’s been one of my visions from the beginning. I want to create some type of outdoor music festival out of this and draw artists from other places. And also taking the brands on the road, making it become a nationally recognized showcase. I think we are on pace. I see big things coming this year.