There are names in the dance music industry whose accomplishments are so plentiful and overwhelming it’s hard to know where to start.
“Brian Tappert” and “Marc Pomeroy” are two such names. They had their joint label Soulfuric Records (created in 1996), they established the music behemoth Traxsource in 2004, and also made records as Jazz-N-Groove, the prolific production duo responsible for some of the best music from the ’90s and beyond. They also recorded separately and together as Urban Blues Project, Soulsearcher and Cleptomaniacs (with John Julius Knight).
After Defected acquired the entire Soulfuric catalogue, the label released its compilation Defected presents House Masters: Jazz-N-Groove with many of these remastered, classic gems.
But with all they’ve accomplished as artists, DJs and breaking records, it was the business of Traxsource that turned out to be the most fascinating story of all…
I’m a little overwhelmed because there are so many angles that I can go with this interview so I’m just going to cover a little bit of everything. Let’s start with the compilation.
Brian Tappert: Basically this was after many many years of us beating our heads against the wall trying to find time to get the label to the priority it deserves, but it seems like every day Traxsource comes along and takes the priority away.
So for a couple of years we’ve been speaking to Simon Dunmore about the possibility of relaunching the label. It was a long conversation and we wouldn’t really trust very many people, maybe anybody in the whole world but him we trust! So it was a good fit.
How long was Soulfuric on hiatus for exactly?
Brian: We had some releases, but it wasn’t a priority for us. Traxsource was the priority, so anything that came out, probably post 2007/8, was (despite our best intentions) probably not handled as best as it could have been because of the way life is now with Traxsource.
I was trying to look up stuff about you guys individually, I know you met around 1992/1993 and Marc did mostly production work and Brian was mostly a DJ. Your body of work is ridiculous. Can you tell me about your production process? How it would start, what each of you did, how long it would take to do a track?
Marc Pomeroy: There really wasn’t a formula, I think it was different almost every time. We didn’t know how each one started, we didn’t really plan it that way. Sometimes it was a drum track, sometimes it was a chord progression, or we’re playing around with a vintage synth and cut it up with a sound and then a beat would come later. Or sometimes it would start with a lyric or a vocal.
Brian: It’s varied because if it’s a remix, I think you start with the vocals that you get. If it’s a new production sometimes you start with a horn line or Marc would hum a lyric melody. It was everything. Most of the job is waiting around for the moment of inspiration in my opinion. Usually it happens really fast, but it takes forever for it to come.
What would you say each of your strengths were?
Marc: I did more of the instrumentations, like more of the keyboard work and Brian definitely was more involved in getting the beats and bassline together. And sometimes we would mix up the roles. But we were both heavily involved in the arrangements, the editing, in doing the mix downs and making it sound right.
Brian: I’m going to give Marc the musical and technical genius credit, 100%. From the first day we met that was what he did amazingly. He came with the studio that I had rented and from the first minutes that we met I was like, “Wow this guy really can make the sounds come out of the speakers.” So that’s his area no doubt about it.
I just approached it from a DJ point of view, really, of what I wanted to hear. But I wasn’t necessarily the guy that could automatically make it pop out of the speakers.
Marc: That’s what impressed me about Brian: his knowledge of being able to arrange and put beats together, and that definitely was not one of my strong points.
Aside from the re-releases that have come out on Defected of your old Jazz-N-Groove stuff, are there any new ones in the works?
Marc: No. [laughs]
Brian: We’re definitely not ruling it out but it’s the same problem that we’ve had since Traxsource’s launch: that no matter what we do, something comes along and says, “I’m way more important than that.” And that’s what’s been happening since 2004.
Marc: However Simon Dunmore from Defected is putting together new remixes of the Soulfuric catalog. It’s just that we’re not doing the production.
Brian: There’s a bunch of things in the works but I know there will be new remixes such as of Soulsearcher’s “Can’t Get Enough.” Not only that but we’ll also be signing new records. In fact we just got a dedicated A&R person over there that we’re beginning to dialog with. It’s going to be a great collaboration.
So we’ll be absolutely getting new artists. There’s no point in looking at what we did before if you’re not going to put it in the context of what’s happening today.
Marc: Defected is basically going to do the bulk of the work, where we still have creative control.
Well Soulfuric is not just a nostalgia label, it still feels very relevant. The music is timeless but not dated by any means. Going into Traxsource, how big is your staff? I think I read somewhere that you have about 13 people?
Brian: It’s like 15, 16 people. We have more part time people as well these days in the A&R roles.
Marc: We have great people. Traxsource is really our life right now, and it requires it.
Brian: One of the things fans of Soulfuric and our productions love is the fact that Marc and I are very hands-on in the production process. We had our own studios, Marc rebuilt our console, all custom-built. That’s what gave us the sound we had. And people don’t realize how much goes into that. We lived it, breathed it, slept it, that was everything to us.
And now what people love about Traxsource is that we’re the same way. And in order for it to be what we love, it requires us being involved in every aspect of the business.
Marc: Producing music takes everything that you’ve got, it takes devotion and all of your time. It’s not like, “Oh I just decided to do a production today.” It doesn’t work that way. It’s 24/7/365.
It was actually Grant Nelson that said to us, ‘Why do you want to do just for your labels and your friends? You should make a whole store. What’s wrong with you?’
I was watching an interview with you Brian during ADE on the business of music. You were speaking on things to protect the problem of illegal downloading, companies like Audio Lock. This was like two years ago. What technologies are being presented? I know for example Photoshop has this thing where instead of buying the program you get the latest version on the cloud and pay a subscription fee. Is there something similar with music?
Brian: Well really what you’re asking is if there’s a solution for piracy today. And to be honest with you, I don’t believe there is an answer for it. And the reason Traxsource was even breathed into existence is because of piracy. Marc and I saw what was happening on Kazaa and Soulseek with our music. That was the fuel to create a solution. At that time you couldn’t sell CDs, but CD players were becoming more prominent in the DJ booth and no distributors wanted to deal with a digital product even if there was a demand for it. So we were just watching people cue up to download the stuff for free.
That was where the whole premise came from. We said, “We have to do something, we have to fulfill this demand.” This was before iTunes, before iPods, before all of that. We really only wanted to create a store for Soulfuric.
And then it evolved very quickly. We were halfway through development when the iPod came out in like 2001. Then the iTunes store launched and we were just blown away. And that’s when we knew we were in the right place at the right time at that moment. It was actually Grant Nelson that said to us, “Why do you want to do just for your labels and your friends? You should make a whole store. What’s wrong with you?”
Marc: We were going to give a legitimate alternative to piracy in digital form.
Brian: Piracy existed because the kids wanted CDs because of the CD players you could mix with. But with the business model then and the infrastructure that existed at the time, the line was that “Real DJs play vinyl.” And it was like well, wait a second, no they don’t because look there’s Louie (Vega), there’s Kenny (Dope), there’s Roger (Sanchez), everybody’s playing on CDJs but you can’t sell a digital product? That’s ridiculous! So this created an obvious gap in the market that someone needed to fill and that’s where we stepped in with this concept.
Marc was the main developer. He’s known as the keyboard player in Jazz-N-Groove and the musician guy… but he also lovingly created this new & improved version that we launched this year. When you go to it, you can almost hear the chords – they almost sound like ‘He is the Joy’ in a way.
Wow that’s fascinating, I never knew that. So how long did it take you to create the platform and the software?
Marc: I think a solid two to two-and-a-half years of planning. Because everything was an unknown. There was no business model to follow, no technical model to follow. We had to figure it out ourselves. We launched in October 2004.
Brian: I don’t know if you realize this but Marc was the main developer. So he’s known as the keyboard player in Jazz-N-Groove and Urban Blues Project and the musician guy… but he’s also the coder guy for Traxsource! He lovingly created this new improved version that we recently launched this year. So when you go to it, you could almost hear the chords, they almost sound like “He is the Joy” in a way!
When our distributor went bankrupt after 9/11 – that’s when we started to get really serious about the label’s business model. We tried to fix it and we couldn’t. It was like a year of saying, ‘What if we could do this? What if we did that?’ And then Marc put his head down and figured out how to do this.
But there was a year of talking about it, a whole year of trying different things. We started pressing CDs and the distributors would order 30. So their initial order would be 3000 vinyl and 30 CDs. You’re like, really? What am I going to do with 30 CDs? So there were many angles where we tried to solve the problem.
Basically, September 11, 2001 – everybody knows what happened, but one of the things that went with that was our distribution company (which was Tommy Musto’s label) went out of business. When they went bankrupt, we took all of our distribution from them, from having a P&D deal to handling all manufacturing and distribution. That’s when we started to get really serious about the label’s business model. We tried to fix it and we couldn’t. It was like a year of saying, “What if we could do this, what if we did that?” And then Marc put his head down being the technical genius that he is and figured out how to do this.
What a great story! Did Beatport come out at about the same time?
Marc: I think it was almost simultaneous.
Brian: We were the first ones to advertise the splash page. It read: “Traxsource is coming, the future of House.” But they beat us to the punch by a few months.
And look how much you’ve influenced dance music! I’ve stopped asking this next question because it can sometimes be a cringer, but I think with you two it would be very appropriate. It’s the crystal ball thing in terms of the future of the music business.
Brian: I have to say that I believe that digital is starting to make sense for people. People are starting to balance their live shows and they’re realizing how to monetize streaming services like Spotify. I can’t speak for other sites, but I know our revenues have been increasing for the last three years. So that means we’re distributing more money to our labels and we feel quite optimistic that everyone’s finally figuring out how to navigate it.
Hopefully someone won’t pull the rug out from under us like they always do. Because just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should. That’s really how the music industry continues to make the same mistake over and over again – it likes to shoot itself in the foot with new technologies and new opportunities. “Yeah let’s do it!” And then they realize it was a terrible idea when it’s too late.
But you guys are pretty adaptable right? Do you find that you have to be on your toes, constantly changing how you do things? After 14 years, my God…
Brian: I would say the only thing that’s constant is that it’s changing. Nothing stays the same ever. And if you think it does, you’ve lost already. You have to hedge every day. We have to look at every possible thing that could happen and make the decision whether to go in that direction or not. We do look at everything, we have spreadsheets that model all kinds of different scenarios. And I believe we’ve made the best decisions we could possibly make with the resources that we have.
Defected presents Jazz-N-Groove: House Masters is out now. Since this interview was conducted, Traxsource now has a new look and new interface, new features and is now mobile responsive (you can purchase music on your phone, and it will automatically send to your Dropbox as well.)