From Amy Winehouse to Barbie and the Oscars: Why Mark Ronson is a Young Legend

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

If you’ve been tuning into this award season, you might think Mark Ronson is a fresh face enjoying a sudden rise to stardom. It might look like “Barbie” is his breakout hit, and now he’s basking in the glow of Oscar nominations and Golden Globe wins, all thanks to this movie.

But let me tell you, that’s far from the whole story. Sure, “Barbie” is a fantastic success and it’s definitely rocketing Mark’s career into a new stratosphere.

As a long-time follower since 2003, I’ve got to say, it’s been quite the journey. I even met him when he was a DJ in the Big Apple, and some of my artist buddies were part of the musical ensemble on his debut album.

The reason I’m comfortable calling Mark Ronson a young legend is because he hasn’t just achieved success–he’s earned it. It’s one thing to enjoy success because you’re well-connected, lucky, or surrounded by a top-notch team of producers and songwriters.

It’s another to achieve success through high-quality, artistic, and intriguing music. And that’s exactly what Mark has done.

I believe Mark deserves heaps of credit. Like his hero, Prince, he’s a jack-of-all-trades, excelling as a beat maker, guitar player, engineer, and arranger.

So, let’s go on a journey through his diverse musical upbringing and explore the evolution of the signature Mark Ronson sound. It’s a tale worth telling.

From Hip-Hop to Pop – Many Influences

Beginnings as a Celebrity Hip-Hop DJ

There’s no doubt that a sprinkle of luck, and being born into a musical family, gave Mark Ronson a bit of a head start. His mum married Mick Jones, the guitarist for Foreigner, after all!

Growing up, music was always around Mark. He was often at the recording studio with his stepdad, and from a young age, he got a sneak peek into the life of Grammy-winning musicians.

I remember seeing him DJ at some swanky events when I was living in New York City in the early 2000s. What really impressed me was his deep knowledge of old records.

For a young white kid from a well-to-do family in New York City, he was probably the best hip-hop DJ around.

Even big-name artists like Puff Daddy and Q-tip from A Tribe Called Quest would drop by just to hear him spin some of the most wonderfully obscure funk records. It was through these DJ nights that he met many of his future collaborators, including Q-tip.

And because he had such a profound understanding of funk and hip-hop music, his production style started to incorporate a lot of vinyl sampling. This, combined with really awesome MPC-style beats and live instruments, created a truly unique sound.

Record Deal With Elektra

Mark’s DJing journey sparkled with collaborations with some seriously cool musicians. The culmination of these experiences? His debut album, affectionately titled ‘Here Comes the Fuzz’.

He got an amazing opportunity when he signed with Electro Records, working with hip-hop heavyweights like Q-tip, Rhymefest, and Daniel Merriweather. Sadly, the timing wasn’t quite right for his sound and the record label expressed disappointment with the sales.

But, you know what? Mark bounced back. He parted ways with them and kick-started his own record label, the awesome Allido records.

With his new path, Mark focused on what truly mattered to him: producing music that he absolutely adored. This led him to produce singles for Lily Allen, Christina Aguilera, and then he met her. His muse. The girl who would rocket his career into the stratosphere… Amy Winehouse.

Amy Winehouse

Initially, Winehouse experimented with various producers, uncertain of her musical direction. However, everything fell into place when she met the Dap Kings.

Renowned for their Motown style and for backing up soul singer Sharon Jones, they were not the typical top 40 sound. They were pure Motown and American funk, and Winehouse fell head over heels for it.

However, she wanted to add a touch of hip-hop, pop, and British flair to this American soul sound. This led her to collaborate with Ronson, who she knew could perfectly blend these elements.

Together, they produced the iconic song, “Rehab”. Not only did Time magazine hail it as the best song of 2007, but it also won the Song of the Year award and earned Winehouse the title of Best New Artist at the Grammys in 2008. What a journey!

His Band – The Business Intl.

What I truly admire about Mark Ronson, is his relentless passion for innovation. Even after winning a slew of Grammys, including Producer of the Year for his work with Winehouse, he didn’t rest on his laurels.

He didn’t simply start pushing his sound onto any artist who came his way, or any artist who wanted to work with him.

Instead, he took a thoughtful pause, carefully considering his next career move. This led to the formation of his own band, The Business Intl.

He reunited with his early collaborators from his electric days, Q-tip and MNDR. Together, they crafted an incredible album, “Record Collection.”

While it may not have achieved commercial success, it played a pivotal role in shaping the evolution of the Ronson sound. This evolution would later reach new heights in his collaboration with Bruno Mars on the massive hit, “Uptown Funk.”

Uptown Funk and Bruno Mars

Here’s a fun tidbit for you! Did you know that Mark Ronson was actually in a relationship with Quincy Jones’s daughter, Rashida, for quite a while? And speaking of Quincy Jones, he’s renowned for being one of the greatest producers of all time, especially notable for his work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

When it came to Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson pulled a genius move, something Quincy Jones did for his own career. He released Uptown Funk as his own single, not just as a track produced by Mark Ronson. It’s a Mark Ronson track that just happens to feature Bruno Mars.

Imagine if he’d done things differently and just stayed in the background as a producer and songwriter, making it a Bruno Mars track. He might not be where he is today.

That song was a colossal hit, making it into the top 10 and even securing the number one spot in over 20 countries. It also racked up an impressive 4.6 billion views on YouTube.

So, it’s pretty safe to say that Uptown Funk, even more than Rehab, is responsible for making Mark Ronson a household name, at least in America.

Grammy Awards

On top of the Grammys that Ronson scooped up as a producing songwriter for his work on Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” album and her hit single “Rehab”, he’s also started to bag some Grammys as an artist in his own right. That’s a pretty big deal!

This is an achievement that very few producers can boast about. One notable exception, of course, is the legendary Quincy Jones.

Ronson scored big at the 2016 Grammys with “Uptown Funk”, hauling in the Record of the Year award among others. This is the Grammy equivalent of taking home the Best Picture at the Oscars. Wow!

Lady Gaga “Shallow” – His First Oscar

Uptown Funk not only boosted Bruno Mars’ fame to a whole new level, but it also brought a lot of joy to music lovers everywhere.

Mark’s well-deserved awards sparked his interest in the movie industry, and he started producing some fantastic music for films. For example, he worked on Lady Gaga’s fifth album, “Joanne,” and the hit single for the movie ‘A Star is Born’, in which Lady Gaga stars alongside Bradley Cooper.

His work on the song ‘Shallow’ from this film, featuring the astounding Lady Gaga, won him his first Oscar, a Golden Globe, and two Grammys, including one for Best Song for Visual Media for the Soundtrack. What an amazing accomplishment!

Mark also strengthened his collaboration with his long-term friend and partner, Andrew Wyatt. The fantastic chemistry between these two talented guys led to what might be Ronson’s most significant achievement yet – being the executive producer, composer, record producer, and songwriter for the phenomenal Barbie movie.

At the time of writing, Barbie has already won numerous awards, and who knows, maybe an Oscar is just around the corner!

Barbie

Isn’t it kind of amusing how things unfolded with the Barbie movie? Despite being overlooked for some key awards (which sparked quite a bit of controversy), it was masterfully directed by a woman.

The only Oscar nomination they scored in the major acting categories was for Ken, portrayed by the talented Ryan Gosling. It’s a bit of an ironic twist, don’t you think? Our most feminist movie of the year ends up with a male nomination only.

But let’s shift our focus to Ronson. This could be his shining moment at the Oscars!

Regardless of whether he nabs the award or not. He didn’t just earn a nomination for his own songs, he also contributed to the Billie Eilish hit “What I Made For”, which is up for an Oscar and will be performed live by Eilish herself in front of millions during the Telecast.

And here’s the kicker: Mark Ronson was the executive producer for the entire soundtrack and score!

So, any win at the Oscars in the music category is a testament to Ronson’s brilliance. He didn’t just do an outstanding job coordinating and producing the music, he was also the composer of the film. Pretty cool, right?

The Mark Ronson Signature Sound

Having been a fan of his work for many years, I’ve come to recognize that Mark Ronson definitely has a unique sound that is all his own. It’s like he’s taken a hip-hop spin on recording and producing this Motown and Funk vibe that has a wonderful retro feel to it.

Sure, you might say others have tried this, but what really makes Ronson stand out from his peers is his knack for creating tunes that are incredibly catchy and lean more towards Pop than they do soul.

If we really want to get a grasp on the magic of his sound, we should turn our attention to three key ingredients.

His Unique Approach to Sampling

One of the things that really sets Mark Ronson apart, and makes him so special compared to someone who just records live music in a Motown or retro Funk style, is his unique approach. He’s always been a fan of sampling from Vinyl or produced tape recordings and then re-slicing and reprogramming them on his sampler drum machine of choice, the MPC 3000.

This isn’t just any machine, it’s the same one used by greats like J Dilla, Dr. Dre, and many others. What really sets this machine apart is its unique swing.

When Mark works with live bands, he doesn’t just record them. He does a clever hybrid combination of sampling the recording sessions, then putting them back into an MPC or a more modern drum sampler, and replaying a groovier, more hip-hop version of those live recordings.

The result? A fresher, more modern sound that still keeps all the heart and feel of the live players.

The Dap Kings – The Sound of Amy Winehouse

So, as I’ve mentioned before, the Dap Kings—this funky, soulful group straight out of Brooklyn, New York—played a huge part in shaping the iconic sound we associate with Ronson, especially during and after the Amy Winehouse era.

The unique blend of sounds that the Kings whip up aligns perfectly with Ronson’s production style, providing a tailor-made base for his signature sampling techniques.

Now, get this. The way he crafted much of the Winehouse sound is truly fascinating. He arranged jam sessions with the entire band in a vintage Recording Studio tucked away in Manhattan.

He gathered these raw tracks, and then rolled up his sleeves and started meticulously transforming these jams into polished, custom versions, shaping them into a format that’s more commercially appealing.

It’s a real testament to his innovative approach to music production.

His Style – Retro Yet Modern

Mark’s remarkable collaboration with Amy Winehouse resulted in some truly fantastic recordings. Riding on that wave, he created “Uptown Funk,” a tune that has a James Brown vibe but with a unique Ronson twist.

Ronson’s talent on the guitar really shines through in this track, reminding us of the iconic jams of Rick James and James Brown. However, it’s his modern and, dare I say, “cooler” take on this style that sets him apart.

The secret to his success? A knack for catchy hooks and his skills as a pop composer. It’s as if Dr. Luke decided to dabble in 60s retro soul – and it works incredibly well!

Avatar photo

About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

Leave a Comment