Patrice Wilson of Ark Music: ‘Friday’ is on his mind
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Patrice Wilson of Ark Music just wanted to write a ‘kind of sweet’ song for Rebecca Black.
Last summer, Rebecca Black’s mother paid L.A.-based production company Ark Music Factory a reported $2,000 to write and produce a song, and shoot a music video, for her 13-year-old daughter to sing and star in. The result, “Friday,” a track about having friends and being young and how rad it is that it’s the end of the school week, was posted on YouTube about a month ago.
The song has logged more than 64 million views, peaked at No. 19 on the iTunes charts, spawned much disdainful online commentary (such as, “I have a replacement for the death penalty — this song”) and inspired countless mockeries. Black has appeared on “Good Morning America” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” been the subject of a parody music video from Conan O'Brien and been declared by Lady Gaga to be “a genius.”
The man responsible for all this hoopla, for “Friday’s” unapologetically inane lyrics and infectious beat and the high-gloss gleam of Black’s video, is Patrice Wilson, a hitherto unknown musician and producer who arrived in Los Angeles in 2007 from Spokane, Wash., to build a company that he says “was based on the idea of Noah’s ark. In other words, a place to gather people together, where they could be safe.”
Wilson, who has a rapping cameo in “Friday,” has remained a mysterious “man behind the curtain” throughout much of the Black brouhaha. Until Friday, that is, when he released an Ark Music Factory-produced “press conference” which consisted of a wide-eyed young woman asking him questions such as “Who are you?”
In the video Wilson comes off as slick, stiff and perhaps a little defensive, a stance that has reinforced a notion that he is a kind of Suge Knight of the preteen schoolyard, harnessing young girls’ dreams to his own financial advantage.
But in person, blinking in the white sun outside a Melrose Avenue Starbucks, Wilson is soft-spoken and sincere, with a sad-eyed baby face and a neatly pressed suit and tie. He seems slightly dazed by the chaos and not at all the cutthroat music biz stereotype. On the contrary, he presents himself as a well-mannered, well-traveled and well-educated man — utterly confounded by the wave of hate that his nursery-rhyme-simple, but very catchy, song has recently elicited.
“I remember writing ‘Friday,’” Wilson says. “It was on a Thursday night, but I finished it on Friday morning. And I knew it was silly, you know?”
And here Wilson quotes his own song with his gentle British-inflected African accent:
“‘Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards.’ I mean, everybody knows that, obviously, but I wanted the song to be simple and kind of sweet. People talk so much about how silly or stupid the lyrics are, but pop songs, they’re meant to be catchy and to tell things in a simple kind of way. I feel bad that Rebecca has been getting so many people criticizing the song. Because it was me that wrote it.” Black declined to comment for this story.
Raised in Africa by a minister mother and a chemical engineer father, Wilson sang in his mother’s church as a child and helped out with youth programs at the local Christian school. Later, he says, he attended medical school in Europe and trained in track and field events for the 2000 Olympics. But he dropped it all in pursuit of his music, an endeavor that would lead him to tour as a backup singer with Eastern European pop star Ibrahim Maiga, to study the business side of entertainment at Whitworth University in Spokane, and, finally, to come to Hollywood.
[Updated, Friday, April 1: The original version of this post said that Patrice Wilson attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. In fact, Wilson attended Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash. We have fixed the text above.]
“If you’re going to try to make a dream in music happen, Los Angeles is where you need to be,” he says. “If your music is heard in America, it will be heard everywhere.”
It’s just this sort of dreamy-eyed conviction that inspired the founding, in 2010, and fuels the day-to-day function of Ark Music Factory. A vanity label of sorts, Ark auditions young talent, many of whom approach the company through their parents. For a fee, usually between $2,000 and $4,000, hopeful celebs-in-the-making are given a song to record as well as time with a producer-engineer (Wilson’s partner in Ark, Clarence Jey), a photo shoot, image consulting, a music video and promotion. The singer owns the rights to the master recording, and Ark owns the publishing rights to the song. Considering that low-end costs for major label music videos start around $10,000 or $15,000, Wilson’s fees are a bargain.
“I’m getting a lot of criticism saying I’m exploiting rich kids and their parents,” says Wilson, “but find me another company that would do all this at a cost this low. I don’t promise anyone fame. In fact, if someone approaches me with their only goal to ‘get famous,’ I tell them they’re not in this for the right reasons.”
Wilson works with the family to find a song that works for the budding singer, and that isn’t profane or age-inappropriate. “I want to give these kids who love to sing and perform a chance to work in a studio, a chance to be in front of a camera and in front of an audience. I’m not in this to make millions. I just want to help these kids make their dreams come true on some level. And I’m not trying to exploit anyone.”
In fact, when “Friday” started to climb in views, Wilson says he asked Rebecca and her mother if they wanted him to take the video down.
“But they said ‘no,’ even though we knew it might mean a lot of attention and a lot of criticism online,” he says. “And in the end, there was criticism, but Rebecca has been great in handling it.”
Wilson shakes his head, looks up into the L.A. sun and suddenly cracks a wide smile. “And the truth is, if you look at the numbers … even though people say they hate the song … really, they love it.”
-- Jessica Hundley