Interview with Mike Schmid singer/songwriter and also keyboardist for Miley Cyrus written by Ashley Spink
1. Hello Mike. How’s your day been. Have you done anything particularly unusual?
It’s been great. Spent the afternoon in the studio filming some performances of my songs for YouTube. It was a lot of fun. They’ll go up soon.
2. So, you have a new album out. What’s the reception been like. It is your best yet?
Yes, I just released “Let It Out”. It’s doing really well! Making an album is always a bet; you never know if people are going to get what you’re doing, if it’s going to add something to their lives. This particular bet felt a little risky for me, because I wanted to make something that children would really enjoy, but would still be resonant for adults. At times I was afraid it was too dark and at other times too sweet. But it seems that, in the end, people really get it, and that is incredibly satisfying. The feedback has been great.
3. I read that your 4-year-old son had a big part to play in the album. Even helping out in the studio. Can you elaborate?
That was the main thing that inspired this record! He wanted to work with me in the studio so I wrote the kind of songs I would want him to hear over and over. He had so much fun. Sometimes he would just sit and listen to me record vocals, but sometimes he sat in my lap and I would show him how far to move the faders and he would basically mix the song for me.
4. How would you sum up your music? Does it require a certain listener or is it open to all genres?
It’s pretty wide open. My goal is to appeal to people’s emotions, rather than hit some narrow music genre. So, if you ever have emotions, you’ll probably be able to relate.
5. Touring with Miley Cyrus must be very rewarding. I’ve also seen you’ve worked with other bands too, including Sheryl Crow. What excites you the most, playing your own music or playing with other artists?
Both definitely have their benefits. It’s very fulfilling playing songs that I’ve written, because the performance is an extension of the writing: just delivering the message. But playing for other artists allows me to relax a bit and just enjoy being a part of the show, instead of being the show.
6.What makes your connection with the audience special when you’re playing? Do you have a favorite gig?
The connection between artist and audience is like nothing else. It’s spiritual and wonderful and incredibly powerful. A friend once told me, “the goal is, by the end of the show, we all feel a little less alone.” Favorite gigs? Hmm, I mean the huge stadium shows with Miley are a blast, but so are the intimate Hotel Cafe sets. Hard to pick.
7. Every musician likes to feed their musical appetite. Do you tend to find inspiration from life, or unfamiliar places?
Life is an unfamiliar place. Definitely all of the above. I’m most inspired by relationships between people; by the dynamics of what happens when you put two human beings together. It’s almost always interesting and it totally fuels me.
8. Is there an increased pressure on artists today, compared to 10 years back? Do you feel pressure?
Yes, I think there is more pressure and also many different kinds of it. Before, artists were great performers, sometimes great writers, and very occasionally great producers. Now we are also required to be our own booking agent, promoter, manager, stylist, as well as expected to look like models and have a business plan that includes a fragrance and clothing line. It’s a completely different business. And also, because of the double-edged sword of the low cost-of-entry, anyone can make music. So the industry is completely oversaturated. Gone are the days of the cream rising to the top. There are a lot of ridiculously talented performers now who will never be noticed, and that’s a shame.
9. Do you feel like you need to keep re-inventing yourself as an artist? I ask this because a lot of artists feel the key to success is change. Would you agree?
Change is important if you’re going to keep your audience’s interest, but some artists seem to think of this as a conscious thing, like they have to change genres every album or constantly recreate their image. I feel that as long as I keep growing and maturing as a writer and performer, that change is enough. That forward movement can be very exciting.
10.From your experience in the entertainment industry what advice could you offer people looking to get where you are today?
Practice practice practice. Practice singing while you play, practice recording yourself, practice in front of an audience. Also, the social networks are key to getting anywhere these days, so take advantage of them.
11. What courses/classes would you recommend someone take if they want to be a professional musician in the music industry?
Even if you’re “just a singer,” learn an instrument. It will be worth it. Something I should have done, when I was in college studying every kind of music I could find, was take more business classes. I always thought that stuff was boring and I just wanted to be in the studio creating. Of course it’s become increasingly obvious that business skills are mandatory for musicians, and I regret not putting more time into that.
12.How many years were you fighting to get to where you are today and what was that time in your life like?
Well, I moved to L.A. in 2001, fresh out of college and had no idea what the next step was. So I just hung out and recorded songs at home, the songs that later became The High Cost of Living album (that I released in ’06). I did some open mics and found them discouraging, and it took me a little while to find my group of friends and start working with really awesome people, but once the snowball started rolling it didn’t stop.
13. What has been the highlight of your career so far? Do things just keep getting better?
Back in ’07, the very first show of the first Miley/Hannah Montana tour was a highlight. We were playing in St. Louis and the excitement/mania in the crowd was unlike anything I’d experienced – an arena full of glowsticks and screaming teenagers. It was so fun to see those kids having the best night of their lives. Miley’s shows always get that reaction, but that first one was so surprising. Yes, as far as my career, things keep getting better and better, though sometimes they get better more slowly than I want.
14. Everybody has some kind of idol. Who’s yours and have they had an influence on your career? If so, in what way?
Jon Brion has always been a huge influence. He plays every instrument, it seems (even some that haven’t been invented yet). And he scores films, produces artists, writes songs, sings, and does everything brilliantly and with loads of style. I initially wanted to move to L.A. just so I could see him play every Friday at Largo. He’s hugely influenced my style, made me fall in love with the Mellotron, and also taught me that I don’t need to choose just one thing. That has been invaluable, as I make my living in many different facets of music.
15. What’s next in the pipeline for you? Are you planning on making another album or is it time to relax for a while?
I’m always writing and recording, though I’m not sure if I’ll ever release another full-length album. I’m loving the immediacy of digital downloads, and planning to start making lots of EPs. But who knows…I change my mind a lot. I guess I really just plan on doing whatever excites me most, and hopefully you’ll come along for the ride.