At MarsCon 2015, I found myself in a bar with Mikey Mason. I took a chance and asked him if he’d be willing to do an interview with The Scribbling Lion. Since he was tired from a weekend of rocking out some incredible concerts, and had already been drinking for some time before I asked, I figured more than likely he’d forget all about it by morning. Apparently he managed to hang on to my business card, though, because he contacted me two days later and said So how do you want to do this interview?
Email, was the answer we arrived at, which was fine by me; I handle most interviews that way. It works out best for everyone, gives the busy folks time to pick at it in their spare moments and think through their answers. So I sent him off a list of questions to choose from and moved on, figuring I’d hear back in a week or two, if at all.
Three hours later, he returned this very thoughtful, forthright, and well-written answer to all of the questions.
I’m still in shock.
Read and enjoy!
AND NOW, GENTLEFOLK, MIKEYYYYYY MASON!!
Which came first for you, in a practical sense: singing/playing/podcasting/writing music? How about in a professional sense–which one did you begin promoting first, and why?
I began singing at an early age—very early. Singing with the radio in the car, singing with music class at school. I remember being told by the music teacher in 2ndgrade that I had a nice voice. She probably said that to all of us, but it stuck with me and made me sing louder and stronger. In fourth grade, my teach (Mr. Loveless) asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered, “Paul Stanley.” (From KISS.)
Mr. Loveless laughed and said, “That job’s probably taken, already…”
In middle school I decided I wanted to sing with a band, and by high school was doing so. Music was always present in my life.
Professionally, I had reached a crossroads of sorts where I didn’t know what to do in a creative sense to find fulfillment. There were a lot of options: I draw, paint, write, sing, produce video, whatever. I may not be the best at any of it, but I find it all fun and fascinating. I knew I needed something specific to pursue around the year 2000.
At that time my wife (then girlfriend) and I narrowed it down to either doing “serious” music or doing musical comedy. She voted serious music; I went to comedy.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust her instincts or anything. It’s very much the same feeling you get when you make a decision by flipping a coin. As soon as the coin is in the air, you know which side you want to land facing up.
By 2010, I was a full-time standup comedian (using my guitar, of course). All it took was me focusing only on that instead of everything all at once, and maintaining that focus over time.
Among your currently produced works, both musical and podcasts, what are your two personal favorites and why?
It’s billed as “a celebration of good beer, storytelling, and personal histories,” but that’s really just a dressed up way of saying I like to drink beer and laugh with my friends. It’s relaunching this year after being on hiatus for about a year.
As far as albums go, I think my favorite so far is probably Storm Coming, the EP of songs inspired by Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I threw my normal rulebook out the window, played with styles and recording techniques, and purposefully tried to not make it funny. I just got to write music and record it.
I also absolutely love the live recording from MarsCon (Live from Mars). There’s something incredible about hearing the audience sing along with me, and doubly so about being able to stop singing during a song while the audience keeps going…
That said, I have favorite songs from every album… I like the stuff I write and record. Some say it’s narcissistic or egocentric. Some musicians say, “I can’t listen to my own music.” I say musicians should be writing and playing stuff you enjoy. If you can’t listen to the music you write and perform, why should I?
When you decided to begin promoting your creative efforts at a professional level, what prompted that decision?
I was working full time as a middle manager at a residential youth placement facility, focusing on behavior management of at-risk youth, and had been doing comedy on karaoke nights at local bars. I had funny songs that I recorded the backing tracks to CD, and the KJs (karaoke jockeys) would let me do one of my funny originals instead of singing a song from their books. One of the bars actually had a comedy night that was booked by a national booking agency, and one of the bar owners there really liked me and saw the effect my funny songs had at their karaoke night. I had done an audition at that bar to try and play at their comedy night. I played about 20 minutes of funny songs to 6 or 8 people who weren’t paying attention (one of them being the other bar owner) and was pretty sure they weren’t interested.
After work one day, I got a call from the bar owner who I thought wasn’t paying attention, wanting me to fill in as an opening act. I did 26 minutes that night, received an incredible response from the crowd, and was asked back. I also got a copy of my performance on CD and sent it to a booker for a comedy club nearby(ish.) They called me after a few weeks and booked me to play at the club with a national headliner for later in the year.
When I performed that week, my first performance of the week was literally shot as part of a regional NBC TV show, so my first appearance on a real comedy club stage landed me on NBC.
I spent most of what I’d made that week on getting a copy of the performance on DVD, and used that to book myself with new national booking agencies. Within a few years, I was receiving enough work to drop to part time at my day job. In less than two more years, I was able to quit the day job altogether.
When you began promoting yourself as a professional, what did you expect would happen and how has it measured up against what has actually happened?
I had delusions that things would move much quicker than they did, that opportunities would present themselves, and that I’d be much more successful than I am in much less time than I’ve been doing this. What I’ve realized is that opportunities are often hidden behind tons of hard work. It’s usually necessary to put in the work first, to sacrifice, to take risks. In these days of instant fame via reality TV and YouTube, that’s not always true, but it’s a good rule to work by.
I’ve slept in my car at rest areas and in tents and in the Four Seasons hotel in LA. I’ve played on riverboats and in movie theaters and in bowling alleys (literally on the lanes—more than once!) I’ve played resort casinos and country clubs and dive bars. I’ve played biker rallies and political fundraisers, pizza joints and birthday parties. I’ve played theaters and colleges and plenty of comedy clubs. I’ve even performed in an alley. I’ve had great shows that made be feel like a rock star and crap shows that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and meh shows that just felt like I was going through the paces. And none of it—ever—was what I thought it was going to be.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten? What are your long term goals as a creative professional?
It’s so hard to have a specific vision for me. I want to make a living doing whatever I want to do. I want to make movies, make art, make music, write, perform, make and play games, do theatre. All at once. Somehow, it doesn’t seem as unreasonable a goal or as unattainable a job description anymore. I think it can be done. I think I can do it. I’m sure as hell gonna try.
What advice do you have for “newbies” taking their first professional steps in the fields of music performance/music creation/podcasting?
Learn by doing. Get with the cult of done. Get things done. Do something. Then do something else. Repeat forever. Never stop. Swim through your creativity like a shark: it has to be moving in order to breathe. Keep moving. Don’t give up. Don’t stop.
If something is beyond your resources right now, shelve it for later. Don’t forget about it, but keep moving forward until your resources allow you to do that thing, too. Make your own opportunities. Volunteering helps, but once you’re good enough to get paid: get paid. Research is fine, but reading about doing something is never as effective as doing something.
If you’re not failing you’re not growing.
Measure your progress and success against yourself, and while you’re at it, love yourself. Nobody else will ever have a better reason to love you than you. Be nice to people. All of them. Even the jerks. You never know how it can pay off, but when it does, the dividends are better than money. (Not to your landlord, though.) Love what you do, like what you like, and don’t put others down for doing the same.
Stop reading this and go make something. Right now.
YES INDEED. GO CREATE MORE FANTASTIC STUFF. I’M TALKING TO YOU. AND YOU. AND YOU…. why are you still here…?