Mike, Congratulations on achieving your Purple Belt! Tell us about your musical journey and how did it lead you to ill.gates, The Producer Dojo and the Class of 808?
Thanks a lot Sean – I appreciate it! I started when I was 2– my Mom said I used to take out pots and pans from under the stove and bang on them. From there I started playing the drums in band at school in 4th grade, and did that through the end of high school. I also took lessons outside of school. I had a really good teacher that helped me learn technique and a lot of different styles. He got me learning a lot of funk, jazz, fusion, rock, and world records. When I was 19 I started playing shows- I played in a lot of different bands and toured, and then also started teaching drum lessons. Being a fan of hip hop I always wanted to make beats, but for a while was always too focused on practicing the drums, rehearsing and playing shows. Then eventually I couldn’t resist any longer, got a laptop and Ableton, and finally started making beats. I bought a Massive preset pack from ill.Gates and signed up for the DJ Tech Tools mailing list. Then last year I got an email about the Producer Dojo. I checked it out and it seemed like a really dope thing to be a part of.
2020 was a challenging year like no other. How did you stay motivated among the chaos?
I can’t put into words how much I love making music, so regardless of what’s going on I’m always so hyped to work on a track, do some sound design or a timer beat, or peep a tutorial and experiment with some new concepts or techniques. Just knowing how blessed I am to be able to make music, to have some gear and a studio, and time to work on stuff- especially considering everything that’s been going on this year- I’m so grateful for that and I really want to maximize every moment.
Where are you from originally? Can you describe your life using only song titles?
I’m originally from Morristown, NJ. For describing my life using only song titles I would go with-
“Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin
“Mind Power” – A Tribe Called Quest
“Soul Power” – James Brown
“Above The Clouds” – Gang Starr
“Mothership Connection” – Parliament
“Love and Understanding” – Kool and the Gang
“You Gotta Believe”- The Pointer Sisters
What made you want to become a music producer? What do you do when you are not producing music?
I’ve always been a fan of hip hop, and even in high school when I was kind of a jazz and funk nerd, I would be learning and studying these old records, but I’d always be more hyped to discover a sample that was used in a hip hop song and realize how the producer flipped it than I was on the original song. I was blown away by how they took the best parts of a song, or even just an obscure section, and flipped it into a new thing that I liked better than the original. Even though it took me a little while to get into producing, that’s originally what made me want to do it.
My favorite thing in the world is hanging out with my wife and our 18-month old son — he’s the dopest dude ever! He hits the studio everyday and sits at the drums to play a little bit- lately he’s been into using these lightsaber chopsticks as drumsticks! Or he’ll sit on my lap at the Rhodes and go on these atonal sound quests- it’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! I teach drum lessons, and also Ableton lessons- right now only online using zoom. Since the virus hit it’s been my main source of income so I spend a good amount of time everyday preparing for and doing that. I also do graphic arts and web design. Besides that I like to read, go on hikes, do yoga, and meditate.
What is your Studio set up like and what are your top 5 favorite VST’s?
I have a few hardware synths- a Moog Sub 37, Dave Smith Tetra, Korg Minilogue, Micro Korg, Fender Rhodes, E-mu X49 midi keyboard, Akai mpd32, a turntable and mixer, and a few drum sets plus some extra snares and cymbals. For my top 5 vst’s I would go with Izotope Trash 2, Arturia ARP 2600 (one day I’ll have the real thing!), Xfer Serum, Valhalla Vintage Reverb, and Soundtoys Echo Boy.
What are your plans for your music (both near term and long term goals)?
My near term goals are to finish my EP– The Phosphorescence of Thought and get it released on the Producer Dojo label, finish and release the first volume of my beat tape series called Amplified Mindstates, keep teaching drum and Ableton lessons and expand my student roster, do more production tutorials and expand my Youtube channel, work with MC’s, and
collaborate with other producers. I also want to get faster at finishing tracks- by the end of 2021 my goal for that is to consistently be able to start and finish a label-quality track in the span of one week. Some of my long term goals depend on the pandemic ending- to start performing live, get a manager and booking agent, tour, and play festivals. I also want to do tracks with some bigger MC’s- like GZA, Black Thought, Aesop Rock, Nas, Brother Ali, Ghostface Killah, and Your Old Droog to name a few, and get placements with some dope underground and independent labels like Rhymesayers, Mellow Music Group and Jakarta Records. I want to keep learning, evolving, and refining, and make timeless electronic music that will still sound good 10, 20, 50 or more years from now.
What are the top 3 “game changing” lessons that you learned as a member of the Class of 808?
1. The 3 Extremes
2. Get out of your own way
3. Do timer beats
If you could go back 10 years ago and advise your younger self of just 1 thing, what would that advice be?
Get sober, get a laptop and Ableton, and start making beats kid!!! (That’s technically three things- is that okay?)
Do you ever experience writer’s block in the studio? How do you overcome it? How often do you make music?
So far I’ve never experienced writer’s block. I make music every day, and I spend about about 4 to 8 hours a day working on tracks, doing sound design, and doing timer beats. I’ve done two 30-minute timer beats per day every day this year, so i just recently passed 700 beats for the year. Only probably about 10% of them are good, but still that’s about 70 dope ideas ready to be turned into full tracks. Also, even if the timer beat doesn’t turn out to be good, a lot of times there’s at least one thing about it that I like, or some little thing that I discover that I can use in something else.
What are your favorite genres of music at the moment and who are your top 5 favorite artists right now?
funk [late 60’s/early 70’s era], soul [late 60’s/early 70’s era], and boom bap hip hop. My top 5 favorite artists right now are-
DJ Premier- he has always been and probably will always be my ultimate musical hero
1. Black Sabbath- Tony Iommi is the supreme riff master!
2. Slowform– her sound design and overall style is so dope- it draws you in and doesn’t let go
3. Black Thought- he’s a level above any of the other greatest MC’s, his command of every aspect of emceeing is god-level
4. Apollo Brown- his beats are so insanely dope
Are you involved in any other music production communities?
No just the Dojo for now.
If you met with a music producer that was on the fence about joining Producer Dojo what would you tell them?
Definitely join! The amount of top shelf knowledge contained in the weekly downloads is unbelievable- it’s information that can’t really be found anywhere else, and it’s presented in a way where you can immediately apply it to your own music and/or life. The Track Feedback section is insane- it’s a virtual room of the dopest producers in the world that always give you really useful and relevant feedback on your music.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
I started a clothing company earlier this year called Illuminated Raven– so if you like timeless, dope, well-made clothes that aren’t made in sweatshops and that use organic and natural fabrics and dyes as much as possible, then peep the website and pick up some gear! Check out my book The Breakbeat Bible on Hudson Music (I originally wrote it as an instructional drum book, but it’s also really useful for producers- there’s over 100 transcriptions of classic drum breaks and beats, and 13 chapters on drum theory that can be applied to programming midi and/or chopping and warping drum breaks. Check out my sample pack, Illuminated Keys in the Producer Dojo marketplace- there’s 40 different loops and phrases using a Fender Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, Korg Minilogue, Dave Smith Tetra, and the Arturia modeled Prophet 5 and ARP 2600. Look out for my EP, The Phosphorescence of Thought coming sometime in 2021- it blends modern electronic sound design and production with golden-era boom bap hip hop sensibilities- it’s the closest I’ve come so far to manifesting my musical vision. Stay tuned for volume one of my beat tape series- Amplified Mindstates – dropping at the end of February. Check out my Youtube channel– I’ll be releasing a lot of video lessons and other content this coming year. I’m also available for drum and/or Ableton lessons, so just hit me up on my website if you want to schedule anything. Peace and much love to everybody!