“Everybody’s in shorts? That sounds like Ann Arbor.”
The city is hitting the 50-degree mark, and Martin Kierszenbaum knows just how University of Michigan students react to the slightest hint of the new season.
Kierszenbaum is the Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter known as “Cherry Cherry Boom Boom,” the founder of Cherrytree Records, the senior A&R executive of Interscope Records and, most importantly, a fellow Michigan Wolverine.
Well, perhaps not most importantly. That’s quite a list of achievements to compete with, after all. The alum has done A&R for Enrique Iglesias, Sting, Marilyn Manson and produced nearly one third of Lady Gaga’s first record, The Fame, which was released on his label, Cherrytree Records.
Cherrytree Records — home to artists Ellie Goulding, LMFAO, La Roux, Sting and more — celebrated its 10th anniversary this past year, and while the label has officially been up and running for more than a decade now, the concept began many years prior, right here in Ann Arbor. While at the University, Kierszenbaum earned a triple major in music, communications and Spanish literature.
Quite the academic juggling act, one might say.
What’s not shocking, however, is that of those three degrees, music sits at the forefront of the all-star alum’s career. At the age of eight, Kierszenbaum met the musical instrument that would lead him to his interest in the industry: the piano.
“I was lucky that I grew up in East Lansing and had a great piano teacher in the neighborhood,” Kierszenbaum recalled. “She required us to take theory concurrently with our piano lessons, so I had a theory class and playing class every week … I started to understand the building blocks and how it all related to each other. That got me into writing music, and I was really drawn to pop music.”
Kierszenbaum’s achievements could easily be credited to his parents for tolerating the hectic household that became something of a musical tornado alley for the children of the family.
“I don’t know why, but my parents let me set up my band and the equipment in the living room, and they didn’t care if it was there for months. They were super cool in that way. They were scientists and worked at Michigan State, but they were really tolerant. My sister was usually with a quartet in the basement, while I was there in the living room with a drum kit — literally there for three months.”
Rather than set up his own music conservatory (similar to what the Kierszenbaum household became) the Cherrytree Records founder began developing an interest in the commercial music business — even if only to initially preserve his own musical merits.
“I was a musician and a songwriter, so I quickly started to realize in high school when I was organizing a band that it was really easy to get ripped off by club owners. I was like, ‘You know, this feels bad. I’m writing a song, I’m rehearsing and then the club doesn’t pay us. I’ve gotta figure out how this all works.’ ”
That was when Kierszenbaum began digging for clues.
“So I wanted to find out more about where the interaction of music and business is because, if not, I was going to be at the mercy of whomever as a musician and a writer,” Kierszenbaum continued, “and then I thought, ‘Well, it seems like the center of it all is the record label,’ you know? They’re the ones that take a chance on the artist and invest in them … So I thought, ‘I think I want to be in a record label.’ ”
A wise thought, surely, but with one major obstacle: There were no record labels in Ann Arbor for the then-college student Kierszenbaum to join. Then, a wild idea flew in.
Kierszenbaum decided to create his own record label in Ann Arbor — Arb Recordings.
“We started (Arb Recordings), and were recognized with an office in the Union, which meant we could post banners on the Diag, and we basically used all students to run our label.” Kierszenbaum said. “We had photographers from East Quad, recording engineers and we used the East Quad musical studio … We’d record stuff there and in our dorm rooms.”
The label became home to Kierszenbaum’s own rap group, Maroon, as the label sprouted on campus. After Maroon released its first record on Arb Recordings, door after door began opening for Kierszenbaum, having acquired this newfound knowledge of label foundation and management — knowledge that is still applied to this day at Cherrytree Records, according to Kierszenbaum.
And the label was covered from head to toe with Ann Arbor memorabilia.
“I remember naming it Arb because it was kind of like an ode to Prince’s Paisley Park (Records) and I was a big Prince fan, so I was like, ‘You’ve got Paisley Park, we have the Arb, that’s our park.’ ”
The logo creation for Arb Recordings was not a story to be ignored either.
“Do they still give out tickets like crazy in Ann Arbor?” Kierszenbaum asked. “I used to get ticketed all the time on my car senior year … so I just took the tree from inside the logo on the ticket, and I made that the first label. And then we started getting some attention and I thought we might get in trouble for that … so we changed it to look like a very kind of generic, iconic tree.”
There truly is an idea hiding around every corner — or in this case, slapped to every car windshield. And despite being such a small idea initially, the tree concept grew into Kierszenbaum’s future platforms.
“Really that’s kind of the genesis of the Cherrytree (Records) logo. When I started the Cherrytree label I thought it was kind of a continuum of the stuff I learned at Arb (Recordings), so I made it look like that.”
And there is certainly something to be said to that tune.
Kierszenbaum started Cherrytree years after developing a solid musical footing here in Ann Arbor. He took many of the same courses that University students take now (be it History of Opera or Javanese Gamelan Performance). He walked through the same Arb. He posted fliers on the same Diag.
He probably lost a fortune in the same parking fees.
In his current music and business, you’ll find these bits and pieces of Ann Arbor because Kierszenbaum planted many ideas here — some that he took with him, and others that he left behind. And in this past and present, Martin Kierszenbaum has quite a lot to be proud of, and Michigan is proud to have been a part of his venture to success.