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When we conducted an interview with Mike Stock a few years ago, we had no idea of the tremendous impact it would have on people worldwide, reaching from New York to London and Tokyo. The revelation of Mike Stock‘s personal experiences in the music industry on the Rich TVX News Network website left many aspiring songwriters, artists, and producers astonished by their stroke of luck. With the advancement of technology, we have decided to update this interview, ensuring its preservation for future generations of music producers and songwriters. A century from now, a bewildered generation may find themselves contemplating the existence of giants like Stock Aitken Waterman and marveling at how Mike Stock created such an abundance of chart-topping hits. The Rich TVX News Network takes immense pride in presenting this interview and hopes that it brings you immense enjoyment.
During his iconic interview with the Rich TVX News Network, renowned music producer Mike Stock provided an intriguing response to a pivotal question regarding Stock Aitken Waterman. Stock Aitken Waterman, commonly known as SAW, represents a British triumvirate specializing in songwriting and record production, comprising the talented individuals Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman. Throughout the period spanning the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, this trio achieved remarkable triumphs, solidifying their status as one of the most prosperous and influential songwriting and producing collaborations of all time. Their illustrious career boasts an impressive repertoire of over 100 chart-topping hits in the United Kingdom, with record sales surpassing 40 million units and accumulating an estimated fortune of £60 million (equivalent to approximately $104 million). SAW initially delved into the realm of underground club hits before catapulting into global recognition by weaving together a captivating blend of hi-NRG-inspired sounds, heartfelt Motown lyrics, and infectious Italo disco melodies. From 1984 to 1989, their distinct musical style was commonly referred to as Eurobeat, which they further enriched by incorporating elements of swing shuffle into their compositions. Over the past 39 years, Mike Stock, an eminent figure in the realm of music production and songwriting, has established himself as the preeminent creative force behind the most widely recognized songs in the world. As an integral member of the legendary Stock Aitken Waterman production and writing team, he has masterminded an astonishing portfolio of over a hundred records that have graced the upper echelons of the Top 40 charts, including an impressive tally of 13 number one hits.
The advent of Stock Aitken Waterman sparked a revolution within the music industry, forever altering its landscape as they consistently churned out one hit after another. Mike Stock’s collaborative endeavors have spanned a diverse array of artists, ranging from the likes of Donna Summer, Cliff Richard, Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Jason Donovan, Paul McCartney, Bananarama, Shayne Ward, to The Fizz (previously known as Bucks Fizz). “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” by Dead Or Alive stands as Mike Stock’s inaugural chart-topping achievement, etching its place in history as an iconic masterpiece. He went on to shape the music scene with his remarkable contributions, crafting timeless classics such as Kylie Minogue’s “I Should Be So Lucky” and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” that have become synonymous with his name. Mike Stock’s music career stands as one of the most remarkable achievements of the twentieth century, intertwining with significant events in world history. Notably, Stock Aitken Waterman played a pivotal role in producing charitable singles that aimed to support those affected by tragic incidents. “Let It Be” by Ferry Aid was created to aid the victims of the Zeebrugge Ferry disaster, while “Ferry Cross the Mersey” was recorded to raise funds for the families affected by the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989. Additionally, the trio contributed to Band Aid II, the second rendition of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to support anti-famine efforts in Ethiopia.
Mike Stock has garnered attention for speaking out about his concerns regarding the increasing sexualization within the music industry. He expressed his worry about the domination of American acts in the British pop music scene, stating that they had pushed the boundaries of decency with their sexualized imagery, dance moves, and lyrical content. In his view, music had gradually descended into a realm closely resembling pornography. Often labeled as the “music world’s most controversial trio,” Stock Aitken Waterman’s repertoire spans from “Plastic” to “Genius,” showcasing a vast range of musical achievements. Their immense success led the PWL label to become the most prosperous independent record company in British chart history, which raised concerns among major global record companies at the time. While all three members received credit as producers and songwriters on Stock Aitken Waterman records, it was later revealed that Mike Stock was the primary songwriter behind their creations. In this interview, our aim was to delve deeper into Mike Stock’s values, thoughts, and motivations, in an effort to understand the man beyond the clichés and oversimplifications perpetuated by the notorious British tabloid press. During the trio’s active years, Stock Aitken Waterman faced criticism, with claims that they manufactured pop music hits. The focus often shifted towards their financial success, overshadowing the dedication and hard work they put into their music. How did Mike Stock achieve the remarkable feat of becoming “the most successful producer and songwriter”? What led him, alongside Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, to seemingly emerge out of nowhere and gain dominance in the global music industry? Their songs are heard ubiquitously on radio stations worldwide even to this day. What pivotal choices and significant milestones shaped his improbable journey in the music industry? Furthermore, what were his most notable triumphs as a songwriter and his most devastating setbacks? What motivates and inspires him to keep pushing forward? Lastly, what valuable lessons can be gleaned from his exceptional musical abilities? We recently had a conversation with Mike Stock, discussing his ongoing journey as a songwriter and seeking his advice for aspiring songwriters.
Mike Stock: My older brother is a classically trained musician. Music was in our house as I was growing up. What I wanted to do was write songs. Music was in the air, as it is for everybody.
Mike Stock: I don’t feel there was any one single reason or moment. Old musicals like the ones written by Rodgers and Hammerstein were an influence on me and of course Lennon McCartney. I suppose I wanted to be able to move people the way the great songwriters moved me.
Mike Stock: I started out playing in pubs and Working Men’s clubs, hotels, bars and a variety of other venues. I was on my own just singing and playing keyboard and alternating on the guitar, using a cheap rhythm box. I learned lessons about what regular people liked and how to please them. The hit records back in the 1970s were always an eclectic mix. Rock, pop, reggae, old school ballads, show tunes. Every style under the sun. That’s why the charts were interesting. You couldn’t have a hit without getting a large number of people sufficiently motivated to go out into the shops to part with their cash.
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Mike Stock: I suppose that it’s more than the mere structure or arrangement. A great song has to have ‘feeling’ too. Lyrically speaking, there’s only ever two songs you can write. I’m happy or I’m sad. The combination of a tune with a lyric still has to have something extra to be special. I think there is an emotional response which is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s the magic.
Mike Stock: Normally I have just got to sit down and write to meet a deadline. A band needs a song by Wednesday, I’ll write it on Tuesday. That’s a simplified answer. But coming up with an idea in the form of a title, is an approach I will often take. Sometimes a tune or chord structure happens to me and I start there. There is not just one way of doing it. But I always wrestle with it. Sometimes for ages. Turn it around, speed it up, slow it down.
Mike Stock: I have written songs starting with a chorus lyrical idea. But I have also let a stream of consciousness take me from the opening notes through to the chorus. It can work either way. After the initial inspiration it’s all just the same hard work to knock it into shape!
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Mike Stock: I think melody just comes to me naturally. I don’t work on this aspect too much. I think it always makes sense in my head. A tune with resolution, dissonance or discord, resolving to concord. I can’t sing anything that does not have a metre or completion like a proper sentence. It has all the verbs, adjectives and nouns in the correct place without me thinking about it. Some tunes I hear from other writers don’t make sense. And sometimes I deliberately throw the listener off guard by not being predictable. There are rules to writing and making sense is rule 1. Breaking the rule is rule 2 which should only be attempted when you have truly understood rule 1.
Mike Stock: There is no real story telling in newer songs. This is probably because of the way they are made. I have a list of factors! The song concept is watered down by production techniques. Many people contribute. The ‘Loudness war’. Radio and club performances and broadcasts are less commercially important which leads to less listener engagement. Most people listen on ear buds. Attention span of the listener is regarded as minimal. Nobody’s got time to let a song’s idea develop. It has to sound ‘new’ before it sounds ‘good’. All these and more reasons why song structure is different nowadays.
Mike Stock: I was running my own band playing clubs, hotels and bars etc I needed a guitarist, around 1982, Matt came along to audition. Matt and I decided that playing hotels etc was not our future and at the end of 1983 I gave up the gigs and approached Pete Waterman. I knew him from about 1980 because he managed Peter Collins, a successful record producer, and they had produced a song of mine. We made appointments to see three record business people in London and Pete was the only one who understood or appreciated where we were going.
Mike Stock: Kylie turned up at the studio unexpectedly for Matt and me. Our business manager David Howells had arranged for her to be at the studio, having come all the way to London from Melbourne! Nobody told Matt and me. So I had to get my skates on. We wrote ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ not knowing very much about her or exactly what kind of voice she had. But she was incredibly accurate and quick and within an hour we’d written and recorded her first song with us. Not a great start to her music career in London. I had to apologise later when we realised how good she was and how badly we’d treated her.
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Mike Stock: To begin with we had her for short bursts when she was in town and not out promoting etc So we were ready with a song and lyrics and I sang her the tune and she went straight into the vocal booth and performed it perfectly each time. Then she was out the door on to a TV show or radio station to promote. Later it became a bit more relaxed and she contributed a bit more. But I felt that I could serve her best by working quickly, writing her some of our best songs, it turns out, and sending her on her way to maximise her career.
Mike Stock: Donna Summer, Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard and Kylie were all very impressive behind the microphone. More recently, The Fizz (Bucks Fizz) are really pro, talented and deliver every time.
Mike Stock: In the 80s synths were coming into their own. We struggled with some technical aspects but it was great to have, brass, strings, pianos and all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds at the touch of a switch. More recently, we’ve moved into using real instruments more often. This is because digital recording can now be manipulated and managed. The music produced ‘live’ can be converted in a quantized, programmable and usable way.
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Mike Stock: We were forever being criticised by the trendy music press or other record labels and A&R people. They called us unimportant candyfloss. Firstly, most of these people had forgotten what it was like to be 16, and exactly who the real audience was. And secondly, that Matt and I had cut our teeth on The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and all kinds of pop, reggae and rock and that we could do other stuff if we wanted. One Friday afternoon I decided to make a record in a ‘rare groove’ 70s style. We released it anonymously. Roadblock earned praise from all those critics who slated our other songs. But really what they hated was our success. We exposed their prejudice and also just how out of touch the DJs, broadcasters and record companies were.
Mike Stock: My real fascination was in writing songs. Synthesizers helped me achieve that. Synths are only as good as the song they are supporting. Early synths were difficult to programme. Later they became just a bunch of pre-sets. We liked the Emulator 2 for the piano. We liked the D50 pad. We liked the DX7 for bass. We liked JP 30 for brass. Most synthesizers had at least one good sound!
Mike Stock: I went through all the ‘plug-in’ synths a few years ago. I’m out the other side of that rabbit hole now! I will use hardware synths and real instruments where possible. Software plug-ins are a smaller part of the process. But I rule nothing out and every technological advance brings something good. They all form part of the mix.
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Mike Stock: I will always try to acquire the best of whatever is new and useful. I think I have probably got the best there is in studio equipment. But nothing really matters without a decent tune and some lyrics.
Mike Stock: Unless the business model is modified from where it is now there will be less choice in music and it will become very formatted for spotify and streaming. Artists will not be properly paid. The major corporations will cut off the money at the digital level preventing fair distribution. This may result in old catalogues gaining much more value as being both better quality and already under their control. New writers and artists will struggle to make a living from recordings. They will need to fill venues and earn a living from ticket sales. But you can’t sell tickets without an established ‘name’. This will therefore also lead to older, vintage and heritage artists being able to continue and make money. Its bad news for new starters in the business.
Mike Stock: As I said above, the distribution to artists is questionable. Dealing as they are, with fractions of pennies. It’s bound to be corrupted. It’s almost impossible to deal with the billions of bits of information daily produced by streaming outlets and have the proper recipient correctly remunerated.
Mike Stock: Start your own fanbase. Create an audience. Hire your own venues. Sell your own tickets. Make a name for yourself by starting small and slowly expanding. Don’t rush to sign any contract with the music companies. Keep the whole operation under your control. Start small, grow slowly.
Mike Stock: We are still involved with each other on a business footing. Our paths do cross from time to time. Peace broke out a few years ago and most of the arguments are forgotten!
Mike Stock: We talk quite a lot when, for example, a film, advert or theatre wants to use one of our songs and we need to give approval. Sometimes we refuse but more often we approve. So we talk on that level.
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Mike Stock: I just kept my head down most of the time. The industry became very hostile to us, so some journalists were sent over to interview me or Matt from time to time but they had an agenda. So I didn’t do that many. I learnt that no journalist was my friend no matter how sweetly they smiled at me!
Mike Stock: I have personal favourites and professional favourites. The biggest hits are my professional favourites. But some lesser known songs, like ‘B’ sides, or some hidden away on albums and some which never actually got released, are personal favourites of mine. I go through phases of liking one song and then I find another I’d forgotten about. So my personal choice changes.
Mike Stock: Not really, but I’ll just say this, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ is not a ‘happy’ song. It’s a sad song.
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Mike Stock: I was 100% pushing to write original material. I think if I hadn’t been that keen on this aspect we might not have been so successful. It wasn’t normal for producers to also write, publish and release their own music as well as find and develop the artists.
Mike Stock: Some records didn’t make it. Some songs were less good than others. But actually the biggest cause of any failure was certain problems in promotion and marketing. Timing, artists, money and industry negatives were all major problems which we sometimes did not fully overcome.
Mike Stock: Too many global issues. Too much vested interest. Too many factions wanting to gain advantage over others at the cost of human lives. World War 3 appears to be happening in instalments. Starting in the middle East and progressing as it has along the Mediterranean seaboard. It’s happening elsewhere and will likely spread in local skirmishes across the whole planet. I could go on but this is a pop interview!
The text above is a revised and enhanced transcript of an interview conducted with Mike Stock. Updated.