Head of Nervous - An Interview with Michael Weiss

Head of Nervous - An Interview with Michael Weiss

by Nico Agrusa
07.26.2011


Any struggling DJ or producer knows if there's one man that can skyrocket their career, it's Michael Weiss; head of Nervous Records. Nervous has been one of the major players in house and electronic music ever since it began in the early 1990’s. Now, 20 years later, they're stronger than ever and continue to provide some of the most infectious tracks stateside. Responsible for creating the label, Weiss continues to bring the company to new heights every year.

Clubplanet caught up with Michael to talk about Nervous Records, how it was started, and what the plans are for the future.

Clubplanet: Nervous started in 1991 and has been on top of their game ever since.  There are so many record companies and producers, how have you managed to stay successful when you’re in an industry filled with competition?

Michael Weiss:
Everyone, including myself, has always been involved in the company and really involved with the music itself and the scene that it entails; the nightclub scene. They like going out, they like knowing DJs, they like being with DJs, some of them are DJs. So, I think people do things for that reason, for the love of what they do. That’s how things last. Also, the business has changed so much that it’s not that easy, from a record label standpoint, to make great amounts of money these days. Now if you’re doing a record label, especially an independent label, you’re doing it because you love what you’re doing and you like the music. We do house and we do events and those are really a lot of fun to do. It’s not easy to produce a great event but it’s another great challenge. It seems like a great way for the way that DJ’s have become the big stars now as opposed to the way it was before when the artists were the stars and you had to focus on the CDs. Now the DJs are the stars and we do their CDs and it just feels like producing the events goes hand in hand with making sure the CD gets a good response as well.

Clubplanet: Nervous records has gained popularity in a variety of genres, from house, to hip hop, to electronic music. Are there certain earmarks of a track that make it great or do you think that each artist and song bring something different to the table?

Michael Weiss:
One thing we’ve done throughout all this time is be connected to our audience and basically the genres that we’ve dealt with through the years have always been representative of the East Coast American nightlife culture. We were doing hip hop, and that was a really big music for the nightclub scene. Then we were underground house in the early 90’s, and then the big room sound emerged. We're really just trying to represent what we feel like the best possible sound of the moment is. The best way to know if something works is to test it where it counts most, in a club. When you’re doing music for clubs you have to make sure it’s going to work there. There was a time when, especially in this genre, the music was transmitted onto radio. There are a lot of pop songs that are “dance tunes,” that are big radio records, but they’re still not representing nightlife culture as we know it. They may play it in more commercial spots, but we’ve always been about the essence of big urban late night scene in New York. We want to make sure that all our songs can get played by the DJs that are associated with the label.

Clubplanet: Without a doubt, the music today is very different from that of the early 90s. How would you compare the electronic music industry specifically today with the way it was when you started Nervous back in 1991?

Michael Weiss:
A big difference for us is that, in the 90’s, it felt like America; whether it was from New York, the Todd Terry thing blowing up, and then you had Murk blowing up out of Miami, and then the Chicago thing. America had these pockets. Every city had their moment. It wasn’t that the people involved in these scenes were blowing up into worldwide stars, but it was a little gold mine. Every city would all of a sudden emerge with these big hits. Now we have pretty much a geographic reversal, where we are becoming the importer of these act. Our clubs and the biggest tunes are coming from oversees. So that’s a big change. We have always been about local talent; we like to have good relations with the people we work with. Obviously now with communication and the internet it's easier to have a good rapport with people oversees as well. But still all this time we have always tried to be the ultimate New York label repping the sound of what’s happening here.

Clubplanet: There are thousands of DJs and producers across the world that never really blow up, yet Nervous seems to acknowledge ones that have an impact. How do you find new talent and is there anything you look for in an upcoming artist?

Michael Weiss:
I mean, it’s pretty organic. The producers with the label and the DJs are often the best A&R staff. If you have good relations with the people that record for you, they can often lead you to great situations, as long as you’re doing the right thing. In a situation where not as many people are releasing CDs by artists anymore, we just try and put out a very professional product. We make sure the music is current. We give our DJ’s a lot of Leeway with compilations to do what they want to do, even though it can be very expensive to get tracks from other big producers around the world. It just feels organic. As long as we are doing the right thing by the people involved in the label, then the product flows pretty well.

Clubplanet: The Nervous Records logo has grown an identity of its own and even developed nervous merchandise. Where’d the idea for the logo come from, and did you expect it to become such a staple of Nervous Records?

Michael Weiss:
I really created the logo during a time when the idea of logos wasn’t so big in the industry. Back in 1991, no one really had a logo with a character associated with it. Now of course, like I said, it’s become a pretty common thing. But back then we were pretty innovative in doing that. No one could have expected that kind of attention on the shirts too. In the very beginning of the label, we actually sold more units of t-shirts than vinyl in the very beginning. It became a crazy sensation in Europe. But I think we’ve done a good job over the years maintaining it. In 1999-2000 we were doing a huge amount of record bags and CD bags. Even now we're doing a lot of t-shirts, especially because the fan base now is a little younger. So we do the t-shirts so we can relate them a little more with crazy references to nightlife activities. But it feels like it’s a really important part of what we do.

Clubplanet: Now that you’ve hit the 20th anniversary mark, what does the future look like for Nervous. Any new projects in the works that you can talk about?

Michael Weiss:
There are a lot of longstanding DJs that are at this mark as well. Oscar G., for example, has also been doing this for a while. I’m hoping that, obviously along with working with new talent, it would be really exciting if the people who lasted with us during this term have the ability to make a viable product with us again. Oscar G is a great example of a guy that can always make it work for the scene that's happening at the moment. Danny Krivit is another guy who, was a big disco DJ in the late 70’s, but even now still alters his sound a little bit so it can be disco funk and appeal to more people. Kenny Dope is going to do a disco album for us that's going to combine disco and house. That's really interesting for me because I know all those guys so well, so it’s really fun to work with people you know that well. Along with that, the life blood of any entertainment entity is fresh talent. There are a lot of good prospects. People that have emerged. It helps that we already have a great catalogue. It gives new producers something they can work with right away, in terms of remixes and new versions of things. Everyone already knows what Nervous is about. It’s always been about what’s the hottest most innovative sounds of New York City after 3 a.m. Having that really helps so people know exactly what they can do for us.
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