So here comes the first Interview. I got really lucky and Melodious Mike found some time to answer a bunch of questions. Hope you enjoy it and check him as well as his Crew out!
Hi Mike thx for taking the time for this interview.
Could you explain in some words what background you got and what brought you into Hip Hop
I actually started off writing and doing spoken word poetry growing up. As far as applying it to Hip Hop, that didn’t happen until much later. I played around in college a bit but it was after college I started hooking up with some other like minded people and we actually started making stuff worth listening too. That is when Big Rooz and I really started with Devils Kazoo. The music I made before that I wouldn’t even play for you.
What type of music have you been into before exploring Hip Hop and did that have a lot of influence of your recent / past work?
I grew up listening to everything because of my parents. I feel very lucky because of that and I try to do the same with my daughter now because I think it’s so important. My Dad was a big classic rock and jazz guy (a lot of Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis) and played classical every Sunday morning. My mom was into T-Rex, Paul Simon and fun stuff like that. They both listened to the Talking Heads and David Byrne a lot so that was a huge influence. I grew up in a remote area so the only hip-hop I was really exposed to growing up were the Beastie Boys… or should I say that was the only hip hop I could get away with listening too. I distinctly remember having Dr. Dre and Snoop tapes taken away if my mom found them. It wasn’t until I was in college I became aware of the underground scene etc.
You also formed the label Devils Kazzoo. Have you been one of he founding members? And who are the other members?
Devils Kazoo was formed as a vehicle for multiple artists to support each other. Power in numbers type of thing. I wouldn’t call it a label specifically (although I’m sure I’ve referred to it that in the past) because that would imply that we sign artist and have a plan for making money ha ha. The founding members of DK are myself and Big Rooz but the core four members are the two of us, Korben Welles (formerly MOEdavey) and Matt Butters. It’s a combo you can’t really beat, two emcees and two outstanding producers. There are other supporting members we consider family as well like Just Muz and some of the crew at Strange Gibberish like Waatu, Fat Ross and Weez One.
Did you know them before in „real life“ and whats the usual way yall communicate?
Great question because I don’t think there are too many other times in the history of music that this would be appropriate to ask. Devils Kazoo and everything that we’ve been trying to do really only progressed the way it did because of online outlets like Twitter. Rooz and I were good friends going into this, but Korben is in the U.K. and we have never met in person. In fact we’ve only Skyped once at this point, but we’ve put out entire albums together. I would say that 85% of the people I’ve done tracks with I’ve never met or talked to. All communication is over email, twitter etc. Being older now and having a daughter I don’t have the luxury of doing a lot of live performances or even going to live performances to meet up with people. With online outlets I have met some of the most talented artists ever… some that people are aware of and some that don’t even publicize their stuff and we just vibe not just because we have similar styles, but mostly because we have a respect for quality. As an artist I want to be able to try out new things but the quality of the music always has to remain on a constant. So pretty much these days you can record your vocals and send them off to the producer or vice versa and you can put out a digital track no problem.
Whats the criteria for new artists to participate in Devils Kazoo
That same desire to put out quality and some original ideas on how to get the music out there.
You got a job at Second Melody. I guess you also consider your music as a job, so which work you prefer to do and where do you put more effort in?
I actually own Second Melody, we are a small design firm. There are actually a lot of obvious comparisons between owning a business and putting out music. Promotion, sales, marketing and putting out a quality product are all applicable. Second Melody pays the bills but when we make money through DK its a great bonus. I know a lot of music artists that are awesome photographers, illustrators, designers etc. that make their money from music. For me it is reversed. I don’t have as much time to dedicate to music as I would like, but I’m also not under the illusion that I am going to become rich and famous from it. Those out there doing music full time are ridiculously dedicated and I respect the shit out of them. The real shame of it is the artists that put out a few singles, don’t do shows, use unoriginal beats and think that some record label is just going to come along and offer them a contract. It’s sad. If you want something as much as you say you do then you have to be wiling to sacrifice for it.
If you could life with your musical income would you stop your other job?
Probably not. Being a designer and running the business is just as important to me as making music. The other factor in that is how much work it takes to make money just off of music. The touring and playing live aspect of it is necessary. With a young daughter now that is not as appealing as it might have once been. But because of that I also know that my reach as Melodious Mike might be limited and I am okay with that.
Which of your songs do you enjoy most? And what type of background does it have.
That would be tough, Beauty Joints as a whole was a huge accomplishment for me because it was the first time I put out something that was a full project end to end. What was crazy about it is when Korben (MOE) was sending those beats through (and keep in mind we had only just started to talk over twitter, it seemed like there was a natural order to them as I started listening and putting them together. Not saying they came over in the order we arranged them in, but it was easy to see what was going to start the album and what was going to end the album and where everything fell in the middle. I think that’s why Korben and I work so well together is because we have a mutual respect for what the other brings to the table. We will always be honest if we aren’t feeling things one way or the other but I don’t try to pick apart his beats and he doesn’t pick apart my vocals. Even though those tracks were generally about music and making music, we used the concept of beauty to string them together and I think that’s what made the project work as a whole.
I guess its not that easy for underground artsits to come by with releasing music only. What do you consider the hardest part to get known or at least some attention.
The time and effort it takes to get known or get attention. Making music is half the battle. If for one minute you question your ability as an artist, give up now. I don’t mean that to disrespectful, but that is true with any craft. There is this poem by Charles Bukowski called ‘So you want to be a writer?’ that I think everyone should read, especially if you are an artist of any type. He says, way better than I could ever state, that if you have to try to write or if you have to force yourself to do it, then just stop. On top of that though you have to market yourself. You have to make the music accessible to people… not in content but I mean you have to make sure they can buy it or listen to it or see you live or whatever. That shit is hard, takes a lot of time, effort and money and often times you can be the best musician in the world but if you hate the marketing and promotion side of it unfortunately you aren’t going to get far. Fortunately for new artists there are a ton of free tools to do that these days but you have to be willing to dedicate yourself to it.
Or maybe you are happy that your not that popular and see it more like a hobby?
Nobody is happy that their stuff doesn’t get heard or seen, anybody who tells you that is lying ha ha… but I think as long as you are comfortable with getting back as much as you put in, that is what is key.
Is there anything our of your perspective which would make it easier to get more attention
It would be easier to get attention if people were a little more used to paying for music than they are. I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to this because we of course give most of our stuff away, but I think that if free music wasn’t a thing or wasn’t expected it would weed out a lot of the mediocre artists and it would also get the talented artists paid a little more often so they could make more music and go on tour etc. That’s what is so messed up about it, people don’t realize that if you pay for an artists work it allows them to make more work for you to enjoy. So by paying for it you are benefiting yourself and the music community. But we live in a culture of immediate satisfaction. Nobody looks towards long term support or anything like that… we just want what we want now.
What about blogs. Do you see em as usefull and have regular contact to some bloggers?
Blogs are fantastic when they are true to their brand promise. What I mean by that is if you say you are about music then be about music and support music. When blogs don’t realize that the material that they post are also helping them get traffic and bringing in advertising dollars, that’s when I think there is a problem. If you can help get artists seen and even more so if you can help get artists paid then I think that it’s a successful relationship because if you are doing your job right then you should be making money too.
It seems like you never did a video. Is it that you just dont enjoy doing it / ist too expensive / dont expect something from it?
We’ve done a couple (http://vimeo.com/devilskazoo) but since you didn’t see them then we obviously aren’t doing our job ha ha… but to answer your question, we definitely enjoy doing them but again the time and effort and money are always a factor. We shot the two we did with no budget at all but we should have promoted them a lot more than we did. Videos are key though for any artist. We live in a visual society… with so many people finding out about music while sitting at a computer you are much more likely to sit there and watch something than listen to it.
You and Devils Kazoo often offered songs / albums for free for example on bandcamp. How was the feedback like the free download / donation ratio?
That’s an easy one ha ha… if we offer it up for free we get tons of downloads… if we put it up for a cost we still get the listens but a small small portion of that actually buy. Again, that doesn’t surprise or frustrate me, it makes me want to work harder to get the stuff out there. Here’s the thing, these days there isn’t an emphasis on owning things anymore. You basically rent most media… movies, books, music… all streaming, no physical objects so when you pay for music on bandcamp, since you can already listen to the whole album if you wanted to, it has to be because you are willingly supporting the artist, not just because you want to own the mp3 files. That’s partially why I think vinyl is making a huge comeback because when you buy a record it reminds someone of what they paid for… the art, the packaging, the physical object… its beautiful look at as well as listen to. I don’t think it’s 100% right because we don’t place an emphasis on the music itself but that’s just the way it is.
You / yall planing a tour maybe abroad? Or have you ever done that?
Not right now. We are focusing on making more music. We have had a lull as of late because of schedules etc. but we are back on top of it all. We have some great things going on right now.
Do have contacts to artists in the US / abroad?
Yes but again through social outlets. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to work with people all over the world. I just did a track recently with artists in the U.K., France and Canada all on one song… and none of us had to leave our own studios.
I think Beauty Joints was one oft he 1st releases i heard from you. Return oft the… went straight to my chan. This song got 125 views after 23 month online, what do you think when you see this.
Two parts to that answer. I think it’s dope that people like you look for music that we make and post it up and in your case you are taking an audio medium and posting it as a video while giving us credit which is great. It’s something a lot of artists, including us should be doing too because having videos on YouTube, even if they are just audio help with online searches. As far as the amount of views I think that is more on you because you are posting the video but I get what you are asking. I’ve probably said it seventy times so not to sound like a broken record but you can post your music to every single outlet you want, but nobody just stumbles upon music. You have to market it and tell people it is there.
There have been several discussions about copyright. Whats your opionion about that?
Copyrights are important… every artist has a right to get credit and get paid for the music that they made. We obviously use samples and don’t get clearance because it’s basically impossible for an independent artist to do that. So, should we stop using them? If we are going to sell the tracks that we make with the samples then probably… however, I also think that it isn’t a black and white issue. It’s probably a whole other interview.
More and more artists now make money mainly with some special editions (like the release comes with T-Shirts and Vinyl, Poster or whatever) and tours. Your planing on doing something similar especially the special editions since we talked bout tours before.
Definitely. We want to do some remix versions of some older stuff and Korben and I are working on getting a vinyl release together. I think merchandise is key because it’s another touch point for a fan and also getting back to what I was saying before about owning stuff, I think that t-shirts and other stuff like that is more affordable than vinyl or physical releases for artists to make so it makes sense.
You thought about releasing on iTunes or a similar platform. If not, mainly because ist expensive or what other reasons?
Not because it’s expensive to release on iTunes or other platforms (because it isn’t that expensive) but because you have to make sure you can spend the time and money promoting it so it sells. Getting on iTunes should never be a goal for an artist. You can have your album on BandCamp and make a ton of money or you can have your music on iTunes and make no money… the medium doesn’t really matter… it just matters that the listeners know your music is there and they can listen and purchase.
What music are you primarily listen to?
I listen to everything. Hip Hop wise some artists I have been listening to a ton lately are Versis, Hawk House, Zilla Rocca, Blu everything on Mello Music Group and I always resort back to anything 90’s. Other than that I’m on a mission to get my daughter into anything and everything I can. Right now she knows most of the words to ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and she’s two. I count that as a win.
You still party and if yes do you have a resident club and what type of music you prefer when going out
Not too much partying for me these days.
Do you ever travelled overseas or planing to do that? What is your favorite place you been to or want to go to.
I lived in England for a few months years ago. I would love to get back… especially to hook up with Korben.
Thanks alot for taking the time. Wish you and the wole Devils Kazoo Crew the best for the future!