LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — He’s one of the music industry’s biggest hit-makers, helping craft music for the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, Jack White and Elton John. Despite his success and accolades, however, he says he’s just a good listener.
Mark Ronson allowed CBS2 News to catch a rare glimpse at his Los Angeles studio ahead of Sunday’s Grammy Awards, where he joined Lady Gaga onstage for her emotional performance of “Joanne.”
One of his top-billed collaborators Bruno Mars won Record of the Year for “24K Magic,” and he did the same back in 2016 for his monster hit “Uptown Funk,” which has Ronson’s fingerprints all over it. These are only his latest triumphs.
The 42-year-old Brit has been making hits for more than a decade, producing Amy Winehouse’s legendary album “Back to Black.” That record earned Ronson a Grammy for Producer of the Year in 2008 and put him on the musical map.
That wasn’t his first time at the Grammy’s, however, he says he was a seat filler at the awards ceremony when he was 13. He even managed to score an interview with rapper Vanilla Ice.
It’s part of life lived in the music industry, and his music reflects that past.
Much of his sound, including what he made with the late Winehouse, includes classic Motown, classic rock and funk vibes, making him a coveted producer and earning him the chance to work with music’s greatest chanteuses like Adele and Lady Gaga.
“I don’t know really know why I’ve had this success working with such important, incredible female artists,” Ronson says. “It’s just probably a bit lucky, and then, I’m just good at listening and turning on mics.”
Ronson turns those mics on in his Hollywood studio that has hosted musical greats like The Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye.
“This is a kinda legendary place,” Ronson says. “The Jackson 5 cut records here. Marvin Gaye mixed “What’s Going On” here, and then in the 80’s, “Walk Like an Egyptian” — all these great records. So it’s just nice coming in a place already has some history.”
It also has part of Ronson’s own history. He grew up in the studio, following in the footsteps of his stepfather Mick Jones of the band Foreigner. He says he draws inspiration from that upbringing.
“When your stepdad, like, writes, ‘I Want To Know What Love Is,’ for your mother, it’s, like, a pretty humbling thing,” says Ronson. “And you’re like, ‘I’m never going to write something that good, but I’m going to try and carve out my lane on this side.’ And you know the other songs that he’s written — ‘Hot Blooded,’ ‘Cold As Ice,’ ‘Urgent,’ you know — they’re just, like, classics.”
Now, Ronson’s works are modern classics. “Uptown Funk” is a worldwide phenomenon, and the music video is the fifth most-viewed YouTube video of all time, but laying down that track literally made him ill.
When he was working on the song, Ronson hit a wall, stressing him out so much he got sick.
“I was sick all over the place,” Ronson recalls. “Needless to say, I’m never allowed into the McDonald’s in Kings Cross again, and they actually had to carry me out of the restaurant. And then I went back, and I took a half-an-hour nap, and I played the guitar. So then we got it, and it was kind of cool.”
Thirty takes later, he nailed down the song you hear today.
“I met Peter Gabriel once, and he was like, ‘I heard that story. Did it really take you 30 takes to play the guitar on “Uptown Funk?”‘ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘it was worth it,'” Ronson chuckles.
Ronson, who’s admittedly no one-take wonder, likes to work privately, but documentary cameras captured his collaboration with Lady Gaga for “Joanne,” her most personal album to date.
‘I would say something like, ‘What do you wanna do on this record?’ — just getting her to be honest, because she’s so smart, she can write about anything,” says Ronson.
“She can do so many things, I was like, ‘Let’s just write like what you’re feeling right now, and she would say, ‘Wow, nobody’s ever asked me that,'” he says. “I’d be, like, just blown away that, after three albums, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, no other producer that I had known of sat and just said, ‘What do you want to write about?'”
That’s Ronson’s secret: listening to his artists, and then giving them everything he’s got.
As for what’s next, Ronson says he’s collaborating with producer Diplo and working on his solo album, which he says is inspired by his work with others.
“I’m not an artist in the conventional way, like I sit down at an acoustic guitar or a piano write 10 songs,” Ronson says. “I end up producing a bunch of records for other people, and then that gives me the inspiration to go on and make my own thing.”