Interview with Guitarist and Metal Method Founder Doug Marks (Hawk)

By Mick Michaels

COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Doug! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.

CV: Mail order guitar lessons back in the early 80's must have seemed like a long shot to some, but amidst any possible opposition, you not only saw, but led the way with the new format's massive appeal and potential.  What was it that made you believe you could succeed with the Metal Method?
Doug Marks: I was giving private guitar lessons in Denver, Colorado.  My students saw ads for lessons in Circus and Hit Parader magazines and convinced me that what I was teaching was better than what was available by mail. I moved to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune like so many others.  Since I had neither fame nor fortune, I needed money and put together some lesson materials and sold them to my students back in Denver.  It worked!  I made a few bucks.  Decided to sell a couple of guitars to pay for magazine ads and give mail order guitar lessons a try.

CV: In '82, Heavy Metal in America was still making its bones while in the wake of the influential NWoBHM invasion. Without a doubt, Metal Method was able to ride that rising wave as the genre began building steam. Did you see Metal's sudden popularity growth as something you expected, or did you find it as an added surprise bonus to your then current business marketing campaigns?
DM: Trust me; I wouldn’t have sold my two favorite guitars to buy magazine ads if I didn’t totally expect the impact of this wave of Metal music.

When I moved to Los Angeles, Motley Crue and other Hard Rock/Metal bands were becoming extremely popular on the Sunset Strip, at Whisky A Go Go in particular.  One of the first industry people that I met in L.A. took one look at my hair and image and said, “You’re going to be considered a Motley Crue imitator.”  Well, at the time, I wasn’t familiar with Motley Crue.  But it was an indicator that I would fit into the scene.  Being in Southern California at the time and spending a lot of time on Sunset Strip was very exciting.  It was obvious to me that my Metal guitar lesson niche was going to work.

CV: The old saying goes that "those who can do, and those who can't teach." However, you have dispelled such a belief, having Metal Method reaching well over 100,000 guitarists worldwide since 1982 as well as performing and releasing music with your own band Hawk. Was teaching something you always felt drawn to do?
DM: Yes, I love to share secrets that I’ve learned about guitar.  I know how difficult it is to master a skill and realize what it means to others if you can give them a unique clue.  I have a knack for explaining concepts to people in a way they can understand.

For example, I’m a good golf teacher.  I’m not a professional but have studied golf techniques for twenty years.  Last week I gave a friend a pointer.  Suddenly she was hitting every shot farther than she ever had.  She said, “I’ve paid thousands of dollars for lessons.  Why has nobody ever explained this to me before?”  I said, “They probably have but didn’t know how to communicate it to you properly. You didn’t understand the concept.”

CV: Doug, what did you find to be the biggest hurdle in those early days of Metal Method?
DM: That’s a great question.  The biggest hurdle was, I had to buy magazine ads two months in advance and had no money.  Problem two was more difficult: I hadn’t started writing my course yet.  I was sure that it would be complete in two months.  So, I began selling something that didn’t exist.  And sales were pretty damn good!  A few months after I received the first payment, I shipped the first lessons.  Meanwhile, I became very good at writing excuse letters.

CV: At what point did you realize you were on to something and that this mail order guitar lesson format could be a long term, sustainable venture?
DM: It was profitable from the beginning.  Within one year of selling my first lesson I moved from a one room apartment in Van Nuys to a three-story house in Woodland Hills.

CV: Artists and musicians are always reviewing and modifying, this seems to be part of their nature of growth and perspective. Looking back now, almost 40 years on the Metal Method, is there anything you wished you did differently at the beginning? Something, which in hindsight, would have made the company's initial launch easier or more streamlined?
DM: It would have been helpful if I actually had a course to sell when I began advertising. 

Reviewing and modifying is what I’ve done for the past thirty-seven years.  I’ve never considered the course finished.  There were major revisions in ’92, 2007, and 2016.  I never stop thinking about ways to improve my course.  Occasionally, I’m stagnant, fail to move forward.  The only way that I regain my enthusiasm is to explore new territory.  I’m working on something right now that’s quite exciting.  I would share it with you but haven’t decided on a concise description.  It’s kind of a unified theory of guitar.

CV: Metal Method has continued to evolve since its humble inception, going from cassettes, to VHS, to DVD, to streaming online videos. Plus, with the addition of other music instructors such as guitarist Dee J Nelson, vocalist Jim Gillette and Speed Demon Michael Angelo Batio, Metal Method has the distinction of being both one of the longest running and most popular guitar lesson programs ever. And through it all, your original Complete Basic Course has stood the test of time without fail as it begins to move into its fourth decade. Is such a level of success something you could have easily envisioned or even grasped back in 1982?
DM: Not at all.  I wanted to put together a band and knew it would take money that I didn’t have.  So, the strategy was to make enough money to put together my dream band.  It took about three years to reach that goal.

CV: Doug, is "business" a dirty word for artists as some may believe?
DM: Got to make a living.  There isn’t a great deal of artistry that goes into what I’ve done over the past thirty-three years.  I think of myself as very creative but most of that falls outside of the realm of artistry.  So, business is what I do.  It certainly doesn’t need to be a dirty word.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished with my business. 

CV: Let's talk a little about Hawk. In addition to the band's great music and look, the group was also a who's who of American Metal pioneers; Scott Travis, Matt Sorum, Lonnie Vincent and Marq Torien to name a few. Was such a level of talented musicians back then in the LA scene, not an issue of concern for you when it came to finding band members, thus, making it more of a matter of getting the right fit for the sound and visual style of Hawk?
DM: Matt wasn’t actually in Hawk and Mark replaced me when I left the band.  By the time I began putting Hawk together I had learned a lot about marketing and had the money to reach people through local advertising.  When you spend money on local advertising in Southern California you reach a lot of skilled players.  I also used my Metal Method mailing list to reach people.  That’s probably how my ex-wife Londa found Scott Travis.  He was living in Norfolk, Virginia at the time.  It’s also how I found David Fefolt the vocalist on the Hawk album.

CV: Hawk's debut album was released independently through Metal Method on 12" vinyl and cassette. Was the decision to release the album independently made on the success of Metal Method and the strength of its grassroots mail order audience and market base?
DM: I didn’t have a band when I released the album.  Since I wasn’t able to play live, it was difficult to attract label attention.  The performing band Hawk, before the album was very close to being signed.  I even had a conversation with Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic Records).  He tried to convince me to sign up with a management team.  I didn’t like the offer. 

CV: The album featured Dio-esque singer David Fefolt. What was it about David's voice that you felt gave Hawk that finishing touch?
DM: Yes, he was definitely influenced by Dio but as I listen to the album all of these years later I don’t even hear it.  I was a huge Dio fan.  I wrote songs to be sung by that type of voice.  So, David was my favorite of those that auditioned.  Actually, nobody auditioned, they sent me demo tapes and I chose from them.  I didn’t meet David face to face until we were recording the album.

CV: Doug, many people loved the album, myself included. Why didn't more Hawk albums follow?
DM: Thanks, I really appreciate it when people compliment my music. After I bailed from the original Hawk band, I just got back to making a living.  It’s difficult, maybe impossible to divide my time between my Metal Method business and original music.  I have very high standards and prefer not to settle. 

I am, once again trying to figure out how to create new music and balancing that with making a living.  It’s not the first time I’ve tried.  There’s always something that grabs my attention and draws me away from what probably matters most.  That’s why; once again, I’m trying to figure it out.

CV: Recently, you made Hawk's album digitally available online. Do you feel physical copies of an album are no longer economical for artists?
DM: Actually, the whole thing was about releasing the album on CD.  Getting on Spotify, Apple Music and others was a benefit I was looking for but not the main objective.

The CD was originally released several years ago but only for a short period of time.  I licensed the project to an independent distributor and he decided to stop paying me after the first quarter.

The reason I decided to finally get this project going is, for whatever reason there’s been a lot of interest in Hawk lately.  We always have sold the CD through Metal Method but in crude packaging.  I decided to get it done right and make it available on a more professional level.  It’s been great.  The response has been incredibly enthusiastic.

CV: Any chance we could see a new Hawk record in 2020? Would that be something you're interested in doing?
DM: As I just mentioned, yes, trying to figure that one out.

CV: In your opinion, do young artists have a chance at making a living in today's music industry?
DM: Of course.  It’s different now.  If you can get attention on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or any other form of social media you can definitely find success.  It is difficult to separate from the noise.  You’ve got to rise above thousands of others that have the same opportunity as you do.  It’s never been easier to enter the market…probably never been harder to rise to the top of this very crowded field.

CV: What's next for you?
DM: As mentioned, I have ideas for a new lesson or series of lessons.  I’m probably going to do some one-on-one Skype lessons.  They’ll be aimed at giving accreditation to students mastering the four different Levels of the course.  Some rush through the lessons and fail to build a solid foundation.  When these students get three quarters of the way through the course, it’s difficult to move forward without the proper foundation.  I want to look at progress to see if I can pinpoint problem areas that need to be resolved.  

As mentioned, I’m determined to begin writing new stuff and complete songs that have been on the shelf for far too long. I just need to evaluate how to spend my time to make maximum progress in these three areas.  That’s my current task.

CV: Thank you again Doug for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. I wish you all the best and continued success.
DM: You’re welcome.  This was fun.  Thanks for the great questions.

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My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

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