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We Read Tommy Mottola’s Biography So You Didn’t Have To – Part 1

Tommy Mottola’s biography sheds light on his career as a music industry titan, his marriage to Mariah Carey, and more. We filtered out what the lambs want to know.

 

Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola

 

Mariah Carey’s whirlwind marriage to Sony Music mogul Tommy Mottola was far from a fairy tale. Despite their tumultuous relationship, he played a key role in her ascent to superstardom, signing her after hearing her demo tape and providing the exposure she deserved to become the icon we know today.

While Mariah revealed the highs and lows of their relationship in her memoir, Tommy released his own biography titled “The Hitmaker” and shared his side of events. From his rise to the top of the industry, he exposed his behind-the-scenes relationships with stars like Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, and Jennifer Lopez. But most importantly, he delves into his relationship with the one and only Mariah Carey. So we decided to extract, summarize, compile and share. Grab a bucket of popcorn: here’s the other side of the story.

Mariah Carey and Brenda K. Starr

 

The Songbird Discovery

After a lengthy discussion about his childhood and climb to the top, Tommy reaches Chapter 7, titled ‘The Wind‘, an apparent reference to Mariah’s track on her sophomore album ‘Emotions’. It all started at a friend’s party in October 1988 when his old friend, singer Brenda K. Starr, walked up to him and handed him a demo tape.

Tommy was drawn to the honey-blonde-haired girl across the room after Brenda introduced her as her friend, Mariah. The girl’s brown eyes were staring back at him in a way that piqued his interest. As he reached for the demo tape, Brenda nudged him and said, “Just listen to it.”

Mariah Carey, who was one of Brenda’s backup singers, was briefly introduced to Tommy at the party. Tommy was overwhelmed with the number of performers and their submissions to break into the industry, but something about Mariah’s eyes stood out to him.

After leaving the party and reaching his car, Tommy was filled with confusion over whether Mariah could truly sing. He played the demo tape in his player, but the R&B and gospel qualities in the music made it seem like Brenda had given him the wrong tape. However, the third and fourth tracks on the tape blew Tommy away. An unbelievable energy was running through him, as he exclaimed, “Turn the car around! This could be the best voice you’ve ever heard!”

It took Tommy Mottola about three days to track down Mariah and arrange a meeting in his office. When she finally arrived, she was accompanied by an older woman in dark sunglasses who remained largely silent throughout the interaction. Her mother. Mariah was only 18 years old. In awe of the vocals they had heard on the demo tape, Tommy asked her, “Is that your voice?” to which Mariah calmly replied, “Yes.” “I love it,” Tommy exclaimed. “I want to sign you to our label,” he concluded.

 

As Tommy tells it, Mariah was sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a friend’s apartment and working as a waitress and a coat-check girl. Needless to say, she was excited by the prospect of being offered a record deal. However, there was one complication: Mariah had signed a production contract with Ben Margulies, the keyboard player on the demo tape, linking her music and earnings to his contributions. “When can I meet him?” Tommy asked Mariah. She replied, “Just come down to the Woodshop.”

That night, Tommy Mottola went down to the small studio in the middle of the actual woodshop where she and Ben worked. The studio was cramped and covered in sawdust, the unmistakable scent of fresh wood and glue hanging in the air. In the back corner, Mariah and Ben sang and played songs together on a couple of keyboards. As he listened to her sing a cappella just a few feet away from him, Tommy was shocked by the expanse of Mariah’s voice. With a 7-octave range, her sheer power almost knocked him down. It was nothing like he had heard before.

Tommy Mottola went back to his office the next day and firmly instructed his business affairs department: “I don’t care if you need to keep her lawyer locked in your conference room, do not let him out until you have a deal.” Once the deal was finalized, Mariah received an advance to move out of her girlfriend’s apartment and start work on her first album, with no strict timetable. Tommy’s goal was for the album to be perfect, no matter how many years it took, as her entire career could be destroyed before it even got started. But if the album was executed flawlessly, everything he envisioned could be possible.

Mariah Carey and Ben Margulies

 

As Tommy Mottola tells it, the only snag with signing Mariah Carey was how to handle the arrangement with her former collaborator, Ben Margulies, as he had written a number of songs with her. However, Tommy was convinced that Margulies didn’t have the necessary skills to produce her music, so he allowed him to attempt the first album even though it was certain to not come to fruit. In parallel, Tommy began preparing for a potential exit strategy from the situation, knowing that it would take a few months for the situation to come at a head. The goal, after all, was “to make Mariah bigger than Whitney.

As months of work went into the making of a debut album for Mariah, it gradually became clear that she needed a new producer.

Ben had written many of the songs alongside her and had been a decent collaborator at the start. But his lack of producer skills meant that the public would never realize the true caliber of those songs, which, according to Tommy Mottola, did not advance much beyond the caliber he had heard on the demo tape. To address this issue, Tommy turned to his backup plan and made an agreement with Ben that allowed Mariah the freedom to work with any producer of her choice. This win-win agreement not only provided a handsome check to Ben but also royalties for the songs he had written and his contributions to the album. By the time Mariah’s second album was released, Ben had received millions of dollars in royalty compensation for his writing and producing work on those debut songs.

According to Mariah in her memoir, in addition to receiving a handsome check and royalties for his work on the debut album, Ben was also entitled to royalties for her first six studio albums, five of which he did not contribute any writing or producing work to.

Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola

 

As Tommy Mottola continued to pop by the Woodshop to check on Mariah’s progress, he noticed an evolution in their working relationship. The two were in agreement about the quality of the music and Mariah’s hard work ethic matched his own. He states she had been flirty with him since they first met at the party, and months later, there was a pivotal moment when their dynamic started to change.

Returning from a business trip to Miami, where he had spent days working alongside Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Tommy went to the Woodshop. With his new Miami tan and sharp appearance, Mariah noticed, exclaiming “You look great!”. To Tommy, there was something more to her tone than his tan and attire, causing him to pause for a moment and catch her gaze.

Those three words became intoxicating, igniting a mid-life crisis that overwhelmed him. After a while, he sought advice from his therapist, explaining how Mariah had made him feel and detailing their unique beginnings. Upon hearing it, his therapist offered a harsh and frank assessment, urging him to let it go. “Absolutely forget it,” she said, “This will never work.

Tommy remembers the therapist trying to make him see Mariah as someone with a difficult past, without a present father figure. All he saw was what Mariah had the potential to become. “You don’t understand,” he said to the therapist. “Mariah is going to be the biggest star in the world. She’ll be as big as Michael Jackson!” But the therapist wasn’t buying it. “Great,” she said. “Then just develop her as a recording artist. This is a girl who has some family issues. Remember the saying: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

When Mariah was freed from working with Ben Margulies, Tommy Mottola called up Narada Michael Walden, who was a seasoned pop producer and drummer known for Whitney Houston’s classics “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” as well as Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” song that won a Grammy in 1985. However, Walden was hesitant at first. He wasn’t willing to take on a completely unknown artist. But Tommy wouldn’t give up easily. He had to coerce Walden into it, but he would eventually express his gratitude for that coercion.

Tommy Mottola recalls how they had already recorded “Vision of Love,” a unique ballad that showcased Mariah’s vocal abilities. It demonstrated her full range, making it the perfect choice for a debut album single. However, they wanted more. Not wanting an up-tempo tune for the second single, they settled on another ballad, even knowing it was highly unusual and risky to do so. But that was the whole point: they wanted to make a statement that Mariah was the best of the best. Releasing two ballads in a row was unexpected, it could even be seen as death to the album. But Tommy loved the unconventional approach.

Marada Michael Walden, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin

 

According to Tommy, Mariah was not content with the switch to Narada Michael Walden, who was an established producer responsible for Whitney Houston’s hits. She had been used to doing everything her way, whether when working with Ben or when by herself. She was also young—only nineteen years old—and was unaccustomed to taking responsibility and following guidance. Tommy wanted Mariah to follow her dreams and give her freedom, but such freedoms came with the responsibility of working with a successful producer. Despite Mariah’s lack of enthusiasm, it was clear that Narada was succeeding in his role.

Tommy Mottola had the entire game plan in place. He was preparing a unique promotional tour to introduce Mariah to radio and retail outlets across the country. The concept consisted of intimate settings, including Mariah singing for a select group of individuals with a piano player and three backup dancers. They would go city to city, showing Mariah’s unique vocal abilities and introducing her to a new audience. The international team was on board and ready to go. It was time to put the strategy into action.

Part 2

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