June 11, 2015
by GForce Software
Mike’s story of going from McDonalds to writing and producing countless hits, makes for a wonderfully encouraging start to 2008 and proves that with talent, tenacity, a professional attitude and the right tools, it’s possible to carve a highly successful career in music while still retaining a healthy degree of personal anonymity.
Can you give us a little history about your path into the business?
I first got into music by listening to a wide range of tracks by Elvis, The Beatles, George Formby and the Sex Pistols. Then, when a band called Soft Cell came along, it changed my life. I thought, that’s it, that’s exactly what I want to do. After hearing their first album I formed a duo boy band called ‘Face to Face’ with a mate, Chezzy. We had a keyboard that cost three quid and we actually gigged it. I managed to scrape together enough money to buy an early music computer the Yamaha CX5M and an RX15 drum machine. At the time I thought it was incredible, but sequencing was all step time – note by note.
My next door neighbour put me in touch with some Liverpool guys who owned a studio and I ended up spending about 5 or 6 years there – though I have to say, in hindsight, it was a total waste of time. The only lesson I learnt was not to trust anyone! The best thing they ever said to me was that it’s not credible to have commercial success. It’s one of my favourite quotes.
I then lived in Chester for a while and things were pretty tough. I worked in McDonalds by day and in a night-club by night, just trying to get by. It’s easy to forget just how difficult it was to find work in the UK during the 80s and I remember my mum was just made up just because I had a job.
Anyway, at the time, Stock Aitken & Waterman were my heroes in terms of production, although this wasn’t really seen as cool. By complete chance a friend of mine gave Pete Waterman a tape I’d made. I remember Pete calling me while I was at work in McDonalds. He told who he was I obviously thought it was a wind up. “Yeah, of course it’s Pete Waterman” – I put the phone down on him. He called back and said it really was ‘the’ Pete Waterman telling me that I’d better not do a phone number on him again. I went to Manchester to meet him and a couple of months later I was working for SAW. It was a total dream come true for me and I learnt a huge amount. When it ended Mike Stock actually gave me a sampler and wished me luck – which is something I’ll never forget.
About a year later I landed a publishing deal with Sony. Tom Watkins (East 17) approached me, after hearing about me through Nathan McGough (Happy Mondays etc.). It all took off from there and two months later we were number two in the charts with ‘If I ever” (East 17 & Gabrielle). I was then lucky enough to work with dozens of acts including Sclub7, Gary Barlow, Eagle Eye Cherry, Roachford, Alison Moyet and Boyzone. I built my own acts too and out of 28 releases in the UK, 26 have reached the top 20 but I still have the number one position to aim for – which is cool, I’m working on it.
After a few difficult business partnerships I’ve finally set up my own business and studio and I’ve never been happier. I’m having success in parts of the world I’ve never dreamed of and part of that may be due to technology.
Every day the technology just gets better and better and the speed with which it’s changing is incredible.
Every day the technology just gets better and better and the speed with which it’s changing is incredible. The way that computers and virtual instruments are evolving allows so much instant control. I love it, it’s a fantastic time because writing and producing has become a one man job. Love it or hate it, I don’t need to explain things to other people to get what I need. I can just do it. I really think that the days of the dedicated engineer are all but over. You have to be multi-skilled these days.
Which GForce products are you using?
(Laughs) Ok – well right now I’m using all of them. I’ve just installed the new String Machine. I love it, it’s fantastic and a very expressive instrument.
I also bought the Future Retro pack a while back with the M-Tron, Minimonsta, impOSCar and Oddity. These synths are really very, very good. The sonic quality is just amazing. Plus you never have to tune them, they don’t break, you can have loads of them playing at the same time – and, as I previously mentioned, the control you have is incredible. A long way off from the CX5M!
What I most like about the GForce is that they’re really passionate about what they do.
How are you using them within your studio environment?
In the studio, the M-Tron is fantastic for strings – particularly the R&B style pads, if you’re looking for that Justin Timberlake vibe….
The Minimonsta is fantastic for punchy basses, I’d bet Timberland uses it, one of the presets sounds exact to me. I know that some people have a problem using presets and have to make their own sounds but, for my money, if some bloke has spent two years developing the best bass sound possible – then I’m going to use it.
I love the Oddity. I used to have the (real) Arp and it’s little brother – very rare to come by now apparently. But when I heard the GForce Oddity I bought it on the spot. I had to have it – it’s that good. Actually, buy it and if you don’t love it I’ll buy it back off you…. need I say more?
The impOSCar sounds as good as it looks. Again, I used to have an OSC Oscar and it’s really, really close in terms of sound. I think the best thing is – apart from the sound quality – it doesn’t take up any space, it doesn’t over heat and it doesn’t go out of tune. I use it for arpeggios, FX sounds and leads. It can cut through a mix or burble nicely in the background. I love it.
How has software changed the way you work?
Oh yeah, software has changed everything. I don’t use a desk anymore, I don’t have a single guitar amp. I don’t have any dusty old ‘retro’ keyboards that constantly need repairing, in fact I have about 20% of the hardware I had two years ago. With Logic 8 and my virtual instruments I find myself recording a vocal in the States and compiling them on the plane coming home.
I have two main systems – a full studio system and a portable one. I use a fully loaded G5 dual 2Ghz in the studio with a trillion terabytes of storage and the portable system is based around a fully loaded 17″ Apple Macbook Pro. At the heart of both systems is the entire GForce range.
I find myself limited only by my imagination. These days if you want a rich texture you can achieve it in no time at all.
I find myself limited only by my imagination. These days if you want a rich texture you can achieve it in no time at all. Think about how long it takes to call up a plug in rather than wire up a piece of hardware. I used to spend hours, literally, getting loops to run in time – and then someone would want the song tempo changed, again and for the fifth time that day!
In short, software is the the now and the future. You can make great tracks with a laptop and a controller keyboard. You can write it, produce it and burn off a CD or send off an MP3 or even the entire project. The quality is already excellent and only going to get better and better. Look how far we’ve come in a few years. I know the Industry is looking into the viability of releasing product on memory sticks and it makes sense when everyone uses computers. When was the last time you put a CD into a CD Walkman? The first thing you do when you buy a CD is import it into iTunes or whatever.
I try to look at music technology now like a kid would today. I used to think the Jupiter 8 was the best keyboard in the world. Some would argue that it still is – but I switched mine on one day and played devils advocate. How many sounds at once? Where are the effects? Where are the drum sounds? How long can it sample? I sold it and bought some of my virtual instruments and a Fantom.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the old gear – but it’s exactly that. It’s old and of it’s time. When people say you can’t beat the old stuff it makes me laugh. Yes, we can learn from it and, yes, it has it’s place – but f you love nostalgia that much then get rid of your flat screen TV, your mobile phone and don’t use T’Internet. These things have been invented to make life easier. It’s the same with all music technology and virtual instruments. The graphics are pretty cool too – I love how you can practically pick the impOSCar up off the screen.
What do you find most useful about the GForce range in terms of design?
The GForce range is very well thought out. The attention to detail is incredible too, I love the coffee stain on the M-Tron. I think with GForce you haven’t just got some dudes trying to sell a lot of product to make quick cash. They’re musicians and real enthusiasts who are passionate about getting things right and ‘musical sounding’ and that really comes across.
I like to be able to tweak the sounds – and record the changes, particularly in terms of filter changes and envelopes. It’s so great to be able to flick through the sounds quickly as well – the load times are nothing.
Sonically they are the real deal for me too. I know that, again, some purists will swear that my virtual instruments don’t sound as good but I think 99.9% of people won’t know a plug from a ‘real’ keyboard. There’s tons of third party patches out there too – I love looking for new sounds and it’s a lot easier than loading and saving banks to cassettes. Plus the blokes at GForce give you some great ones from their site.
Why did you choose GForce above other products in the market?
I hope it doesn’t sound cheesy to say this, but I think they’re very musical products. They just sound fantastic and are really inspiring for a writer. A lot of work has gone into the sound design as well as the synths themselves. I think this is important as it doesn’t matter how good a synth is, if the library is no good, then I won’t use it. Plus the products are rock solid. They never crash or pull the system down and that’s really, really important to me too, especially if you’re up against a deadline, which I always am.
Plug time for yourselves! What is your overall philosophy or approach when it comes to recording/writing/mixing?
Ok. Capture the best sound you can but don’t spend so long getting technical that you lose the performance. I mix the old school way – from the drums up. If it sounds good, go with it. If it doesn’t, bin it. Don’t waste time and don’t get self indulgent – life’s too short. Time means nothing, if it’s good, it’s good. If its crap etc.!!!!!!
What have you got planned for the near future?
I’ve got so much going on right now, which is great. I love to be busy and I’ve got trips booked for Australia and Asia, in fact I’m off in two days! I’ve a new deal to write songs for the domestic Asian market which is a bit surreal given how few Western artists that happens to.
I’m very lucky to have a great management team in Native / 19 – with them the sky really is the limit. I’ve got tons of projects of my own that I’m working on, I’m meeting lots of really great people and I’m getting to write and produce in so many different styles that everyday feels like a fresh start.
This is probably the best time I’ve ever had making music in my life.
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