Louis Marks and Brian Smiga, TEDxAsburyPark founder, talk about Ropeadope and how Marks has evolved the label. Louis Marks will deliver his TED talk at our Spring 2021 conference. 

Brian Smiga: Hi, this is Brian Smiga, the host of TEDxAsburyPark, coming to you at the Two River Theater, Red Bank, New Jersey. Newly renovated.

Joining me today is Louis Marks, the founder of Ropeadope records, a beautiful label on the web and on streaming services. Welcome, Louis.

Louis Marks: Brian, how are you?

Brian Smiga: Great, man, it’s great to be talking to you.

Louis Marks: Thanks

Brian Smiga: David Cieri and Sarah Charles are two artists you’ve sent us to speak and perform at our TEDxAsburyPark conference. David’s actually going to create a soundscape where he does an overture for each of our three acts, which is really exciting. And he’s also flexible enough to collaborate with some of the other artists that are coming, like Two River Theater and Sarah Charles. Let’s get started with you, Louis. You’re a Jersey person like me and like most of us at TEDxAsburyPark, and you’ve been a daring pioneer and an entrepreneur creating Ropeadope. What is Ropeadope all about?

Louis Marks: Ropeadope is a record label by definition, but has evolved into much more than that. We occupy a space of artist’s support in the independent space. So we have traditionally released records from a variety of independent artists, and now we also offer services for those artists to build their own businesses and have full creative control.

Brian Smiga: Wow. So give us some examples. Do you help them get gigs, paid gigs? You help them connect with universities? Do you help them sell merchandise? Do you help them sell a physical product? Like CDs?

Louis Marks: Kind of all of the above. But basically, we start at the beginning with them. First, as a record label, it’s unusual to even, and I hate to use the word allow, but that’s kind of where we have to start, is that traditionally record labels did not allow artists to control their creative output. So we start there and then we share data with them and tips and tricks and knowledge of how to navigate as an entrepreneur. Basically, you know, once they have created great content.

Brian Smiga: Wow. The greater New Jersey Metro scene it’s filled with talented artists. Which kind of artists ought to be coming to you that you’re seeking?

Louis Marks: Well, we’re getting more and more in different genres, but traditionally the label was centered around jazz, and not specifically jazz music, but jazz players. People who are trained in jazz, but are experimenting with different types and blends and genre-crossing.

Brian Smiga: Yeah.  I’ve been sampling Ropeadope and the two artists you sent us. I’ve listened to much of their works and I’m just blown away. As we were talking about earlier, I can’t wait for the day when the tools are out there for long-tail publishers and labels who can publish their own subscription, because I would subscribe to Ropeadope in a second. It’s exactly the kind of jazz fusion, jazz-inspired, and sometimes contemporary jazz classics — guys like Ramsey Lewis — that I long for and that I don’t need to own. I just need to have that stream catered for me when I’m working when I’m at home when I’m out in my kayak. So I hope that day’s going to come.

There had to be a moment when you decided to go down this road. Can you share that story?

Louis Marks: Absolutely. I mean, the key moments are,  first when I became involved with Ropeadope, and purchased a company in a very challenging time, and kept it alive, so to speak.

Brian Smiga: Music had really gone, gone down deeply due to digital and streaming, and now it’s starting to come back up.

Louis Marks: Yeah, the 2000s were very challenging. The business shifted completely from an older model too, ‘we don’t know what the new model is’. But we’ve added some things, and the key point for me personally was, and it came through as sort of an epiphany, where I was meditating on nature and looking at the diversity and realizing that it’s the connections between things that foster both creativity and growth. So, I had that ‘aha moment’ back in 2009, at a time when people said that record labels aren’t needed anymore and won’t exist in the future. And it was at that moment I started connecting people and providing them with tools and resources to strengthen them independently.

Brian Smiga: Yeah, I’d like to unpack that a bit and then get to your two artists that are coming to TEDxAsburyPark. Firstly, as an investor, we all say, Warren Buffett, says, invest when there’s a fire, invest when there’s blood in the streets. And that’s what you did. You took the risk, 2009, on an industry people had written off, and I think it’s still springing back, and we can’t even foresee the ways it’s going to spring back. And then secondly, it sounds like it came out of a moment of joy, which is what our conference is about, but where you were meditating and you were seeing the promise and the diversity and the connection of the long tail of things. And that’s kind of how I see Ropeadope and why I’m so excited to listen to more of your music.

But for now, in the interest of time, let’s zero in on the two artists that are coming to TEDxAsburyPark. Let’s start with David Cieri. Tell us one story about David, who is going to compose an overture for each of our three acts and interact with our other musicians during the day.

Louis Marks: Well, David, I mean, David is one of the most wonderful humans that I’ve met. When we begin a process with an artist, some people have a worldview or an approach that might be modeled by the way they were raised. But David seems to sit outside that, and he has a model of gratitude, and he’s really looking at the world and attempting to transform, and almost document musically, the challenges of the world, and turn them to joy, turn them to something positive. But he’s one of the ones that really embody it fully. Every interaction that I have with David is always positive and ends with an appreciation statement from him. So, it’s really beautiful to work with him.

Brian Smiga: And he’s got quite a large oeuvre on the web. I listen to him often when I’m rowing or working out. Tell us about a couple of his bigger known projects.

Louis Marks: Well, David is well known for doing quite a bit of the music with Florentine films and Ken Burns. So if anyone’s ever watched a Ken Burns documentary on TV, then you’ve heard David’s music.

Brian Smiga: Absolutely.

Louis Marks: It’s not just, here’s the documentary, you know, give me some music. He’s intimately involved. And sometimes even the film changes based on the style of music that he’s created. He told me that sometimes the music comes first before the filming.

Brian Smiga: Wow. So you can literally go to Alexa or your home robot. (Oh, there’s my Alexa waking up. Sorry, my Alexa just woke up.) You can say, ‘play songs by David Cieri’ and you’ll really be jazzed. So, and then in closing, tell us about Sarah Elizabeth Charles, who’s also coming to perform at TEDxAsburyPark.

Louis Marks: Sarah Charles was introduced to us by another great human, Christian Scott. Sarah is a really interesting human as well, very reserved at first. And over time I found that she’s not volunteering her entire world and self-promoting all the time, but the more we talk with her, we find out more wonderful things about the work that she does, work at Sing Sing Correctional, work in Haiti, with nonprofit NGOs, and it always seems to be in the interest of helping humans.

Brian Smiga: Wow. Well, we can’t wait to meet her, to hear her TED talk, to hear her views on joy, and joy through service and music. These two artists are perfect matches for what we’re trying to bring to the stage and bring to life. Thank you for listening and thank you, Louis, for being here.  

Louis Marks: Thanks for having me.

More info at the links below:

NOTE: TEDxAsburyPark 2020 was postponed and is in the process of being rescheduled for Spring 2021.

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