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MNZ Interview: Cross Section S01 / E03 - Mikey Videotape / Outside In

08 May 2023 // An interview by Shannon Coulomb

Aiming to dissect the cross section between the creative process and the industry side, Cross Section is an exciting brand-new interview series hosted by Shannon Coulomb

When Mikey decided to go solo with his musical works, he underwent a creative renaissance of sorts. Untethered from the limitations of working in a band setting (Mikey is the vocalist for prog band Outside In), Mikey quickly wrote more songs than he had written in the previous two years in a huge outpouring of creativity over a month. Mikey Videotape had arrived. Some songs are fully electronic production, while others built on more traditional arrangements, all the while flavouring it with his particular progressive style. Mikey Videotape delivers memorable hooks with surprising time signatures and cinematic moving synths. Mikey Videotape’s first solo single, The Strangest Dream, is out May 20 on Lost Records. Mikey is also putting together a pretty special release show at The Pumphouse Theatre on the 8th of June!

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What does your creative process look like?

Mostly my creative time takes place in front of my computer, chasing random ideas to their conclusion. If I’m writing for Outside In, I’m adding some rough guitars, scratch vocals, programming some bass, and using Logic drummers to piece together a song. I don’t tend to flesh out the individual ideas in too much detail because I want to intentionally leave space for the bandmates to be creative within their parts. My first solo single was written on acoustic guitar, but the final is entirely synths and programmed ideas. I’ve been working with a Brooklyn based producer for this solo project so far. Quite a big step out of my usual comfort zone, and pretty poppy compared to other stuff I’ve released. It still has some ? timing in the outro section, so there’s still a prog influence of course!

Recently I've been trying to develop my creative process to make it more concise, less random and more sustainable. I’d rather be cranking at 70% productivity, most of the time, instead of hyper-fixating at 110% in short bursts, and then doing nothing for long spells and feeling depressed about it all. Turning up and working on songs most days, no matter what, regardless of feeling uninspired or not, has been huge.

Taking hurdles out of the way is another thing I’m working on. Like, if I’m working on an idea, I no longer limit the idea by thinking about what genre it is, or trying to push it in a certain direction based on which project it should belong to - “does this sound like an Outside In song?” - who cares?! Just let the song develop however it needs to be developed. If it's a ballad, or a pop song, let it be the best that it can be in that direction. Historically, I've really limited my creativity by trying to write in a certain genre. Now that I have started writing songs for a solo project with no genre expectations it has really opened up the creative freedom for the band stuff I’m writing as well as for my solo stuff.

I'm trying to seek joy in my creative process, as a priority. It's so easy to lose sight of that. When there is joy in the creation, that joy will come through in the music.

Do you apply the same creative processes to other aspects of the Music Industry, for example, in your approach to marketing yourself?

Most of us creatives hate marketing ourselves, so I think it's important to be creative in finding a way to market yourself that doesn’t feel cringe to you. The attitude of “my music is good enough, the right people will find it without marketing” is a huge mistake. There are ways we can learn to market our stuff that don’t feel disingenuous, it's all about discovering what that looks like to you.

I’ve spent time studying up info and advice from the online gurus like Damian Keyes et al, as well as picking up tips and tricks from people I’ve worked with locally on promotion. When releasing singles, I’ve had similar results paying publicists as I have doing press myself. It’s so unpredictable and every release has a learning curve.

Is your creative process something you feel to have locked down or does it generally change on a song by song/release by release basis?

I think it's crucial to be continually evolving. As an artist and as a person. For me, my personal growth and mental health are very closely tied to my growth and development as an artist. As I break plateaus in life, I write about it in my music, and apply that same growth mindset to my music life. My process isn't perfect, and sometimes I get stuck on ideas or waste too much time checking socials between vocal takes. But I am constantly looking at ways to improve my process. Knowing your process is very worthwhile. Not having a process is, in a way, a process. Usually not a very good one.

What qualities do you appreciate the most in other musicians?

Honestly, it’s mostly work ethic. Someone like JP from Arrays is a good example. He’s just so productive musically, it's inspiring. Intimidating even. Ben from Channeled is another musician with an amazing output. The guys from Coridian are constantly grinding too and it's admirable to see the hard work and dedication. Being a musician with massive goals is a really hard path, and it can be very demoralising at times. It's inspiring to see these people just going for it. In the musical sense, I also appreciate empathetic players. Adam Tobeck (drummer of Outside In) is an amazing player in this regard. Not only is he an absolute beast and one of the most disciplined players I’ve ever heard, but he has an amazing knack for hearing and reacting to other players' ideas in such a complimentary way for the best of the song. I love when musicians are able to be so responsive to other ideas happening.

If you could collaborate with another NZ musician/band, who would it be?

It might be old fashioned but I'd love to do a song with Neil Finn. His songwriting has influenced mine and so many other artists I admire. He’s so creative with arrangements and guitar ideas, and don't even get me started on his melody writing! I’ve also been thinking about approaching Rodney Fisher from Goodshirt, and Jesse Booth from Echo Park about collabs...oh and I should mention, internationally - I’m working on a song with Bret Crow (that bassist from Tik Tok), and a few other collabs with online friends I’ve met through online music communities. Oh Anika Moa! I’d love to do a song with her - she seems hilarious and has an incredible voice… I’m also a bit of an Anna Coddington fan as well. So difficult to choose one~! I’ve been chatting with Hugh from Mothra about doing a vocal on one of their songs too, for something a bit heavier.

How do you keep an eye to the future in regards to your work and work ethic? Do you generally focus on just the project at hand or are you considering how it fits into a larger plan?

I wish I was better at planning in regards to the bigger picture. It's never been my strongest suit. Actually Silke from NZ Musician Magazine gave me the tip of setting deadlines just in order to have a timeframe to get something done, even if the deadline itself is arbitrary - The most useful thing we did during our first album creation was actually working to these types of deadlines. Even if the deadline ends up changing, just setting tasks and days to achieve them really helped us to start getting through the work. I’m on day 2 of a 23 day release schedule for my first solo single. I’ve followed old mate Damian Keyes’ advice and mapped out tasks for every day leading up to the release, from admin tasks, through to social posts. Interested to see how it pans out, but just having something for each day on a list stops me from getting crippling indecision and doing nothing!

Right now I’m developing a bunch of songs for Outside In which will end up being our second album. Once the songs are written we will rehearse them and get into the studio again to knock out the drums and bass as a priority. Then we can chip away at guitars remotely, and I will most likely end up tracking vocals at home. This is the most cost and time effective way we can get this done. This approach worked well for album one, although this time around we have access to Redroom Studio thanks to working with AAA Records for this album which means we can get some better raw sounds from the start. As good as digital guitars can sound these days, it will be nice to re-amp some guitar parts and get some bigger space on the new record. While we are chipping away at the 2nd Outside In album, I’m writing and releasing singles as Mikey Videotape, my first solo releases since I was 19! My first solo single is coming out on the 20th May - my birthday. As far as the bigger picture, I'm trying to only focus on working with people and on projects that bring me joy!

Where have you had the most success in terms of marketing to the Aotearoa audience? If applicable, has this translated well to an international market?

Honestly, no one is going to want to hear this, but it's Tik Tok. The NZ market is tough, and radio play focused. Loads of NZ bands still get their first break with radio. The NZ music scene can at times feel very cliquey, small and exclusive. Trying to get “in'' with the right people to get the right opportunities is tiring and demotivating. I joined Tik Tok on the advice of a friend a few years ago (thinking it was the worst idea ever) and quickly sold more band merch there than I had on any other social platform. Combined. Historically. I’ve met some really cool people and found some great and supportive music communities on there to share the journey with.

There are so many resources available to musicians in Aotearoa, such as muzic.net.nz , Music Managers Forum Aotearoa and APRA/AMCOS. Have any of these (or other) NZ resources played a significant role in your journey so far?

Muzic.NZ has reviewed or promoted every release I’ve ever done! I remember helping Lisa with some logo ideas way back when they were first setting up, I believe this was in the myspace era. They have supported me when other media outlets have turned their noses up at our genre, or haven't bothered to reply because we aren’t “whatever” enough for them. Thanks to our label introducing us to Kev Rowland, Outside In got our first exposure to the international prog scene and were reviewed very positively on the prog archives thanks to Kev’s advice and encouragement, and my hard work emailing 100 reviewers from the site personally!

Has having access to these resources led to any break-through moments for you, particularly in regards to crafting a successful narrative in your online presence?

Taking quotes from reviews is a really nice social proof post idea. We’ve had a bunch of generous reviews from the team at Muzic.net and I’ve always picked a line out and made a graphic to share with links to reviews. After we released Karmatrain (Outside In’s debut album) I went into a huge depression. I think the build up and the exhaustion of the project had finally caught up with me. I remember reading Ben Ruegg’s review of the album on Muzic.NZ and just breaking down over it. He just got it man. The album was such a spiritually infused album thematically, and it just hit me so hard that Ben had written such kind and generous words about it.

I got some great advice from Silke at NZ Musician Magazine. We worked with her on PR for one of our singles and I learnt a lot from that process and am grateful to her.

Are there any resources that you would recommend to NZ musicians who are coming to terms with the business side of the craft?

My advice is to do research in as many places as you can and cherry pick what sounds good to you. Try a few things out for each release and see how it goes. Look at each release as a learning curve. Don’t blindly follow the advice of one resource. Results are so specific to each case, and the variables and factors that can cause any kind of traction are immense. What worked for your favourite artist might not work for you. There are so many online music marketing “gurus” and although some of them have valuable advice, all of them have one common goal - to take money from desperate artists looking for “the shortcut”. It's important to see each release as a step, not an elevator. Most of us will have to work our butts off for years and years to get the success we want. I’m 40 this year and most of you reading this haven’t heard anything I’ve done. I’ve still got a long way to go towards my own goals, but I’m learning how to do things my way, and taking responsibility for 100% of the projects I’m working on, and most importantly, I’m finally learning how to make sure that it is fun. Oh and don’t pay for playlisting / streams / followers. Ever.

LINKS

Mikey Videotape

Outside In

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Shannon Coulomb is the co-songwriter, guitarist and producer for Auckland Based band Impostor Syndrome. He also plays bass for Swerve City and is currently the Head of Music at Birkenhead College, Auckland, as well as a tutor for Music Education at AUT University.

Impostor Syndrome:
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Swerve City:
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