You may recall that we recently made an announcement about how Musicnotes and Tunecore Team Up To Offer Sheet Music. Gavin Mikhail, the most recent songwriter to be featured in our Songwriter Spotlight, is one of the Tunecore artists we just recently started adding sheet music for.
Among Gavin’s sheet music offerings is his piano version of the Death Cab For Cutie favorite I Will Follow You Into The Dark, which has become a hit with fans of the movie Twilight.
Gavin revealed that, “I’ve always loved playing the song, and although I’d never intended to record it, we went ahead and filmed a one-take performance our last night at Peter Gabriel’s studios. Not only did the people in my camp end up loving the arrangement, but fans of the ‘Twilight’ series discovered the track, and we’ve been flooded with emails asking if I created it specifically with Edward and Bella in mind. Although that isn’t the case, I’m honored that they connect with the song on such a deep level.”
Gavin is a shining example of how an independent artist/songwriter was able to leverage new technology to build a following of fans. For almost five years, fans have been able to follow him through the Gavin Mikhail on MySpace page, the official website of Gavin Mikhail and even a blog for Gavin Mikhail, too. Recently, he launched a YouTube channel for Gavin Mikhail to attract listeners and offer devoted fans exclusive videos as well. Although Gavin wrote songs, produced and recorded music professionally prior to launching his online presence, once he did, the quality and clarity of his music shined through, garnering him an average of 800 to 1,000 new followers per day. The online success of his album Like Normal People Do subsequently reached overseas to Japan, where he was able to sign a licensing deal to sell his music there. One event in particular that helped Gavin launch his career was the Real World Studios contest, in which fans voted for their favorite artist to record their next album in England at Peter Gabriel’s studios. (Be sure to read “Richard Marx, Peter Gabriel, and the Real World Studios Contest” which is a blog post written from Gavin to his fans. The post details his appreciation for their support and his deep connection to Peter Gabriel’s music).
Our Interview with Gavin
From winning this fan-based contest to having his music appear on MTV, VH1 and ESPN, Gavin is a savvy independent artist who’s always looking toward the horizon. Even though Gavin is a popular independent artist today, his story originates in his love for music and songwriting many years ago. Please join us as we ask him a few questions about his origins in music and some exciting new opportunities on the horizon! After you read his responses, be sure to watch Gavin Mikhail performing his interpretation of I Will Follow You Into The Dark, which debuts this week!
What was the turning point for you from amateur to professional musician/songwriter?
- That’s a great question, Monica. Unlike some artists, I can’t really point to a specific moment in time. My career has definitely been one loooooong slow build. (just ask my wife *smiles*) But, if I had to pick a turning point, it would probably be early 2006… that’s when the MySpace thing really started to take off. Prior to that, in all honesty, I had very few fans. Like anyone starting out, I was just a guy writing songs in his basement in the hopes that someone might connect. As social networking grew in 2006, my exposure increased exponentially, and for the first time, I was able to actually describe what I was doing as a ‘career.’ I really can’t thank my friends and fans enough for that. Truly an unbelievable year for me.
What message do you have for aspiring songwriters and musicians today?
- As simple and cliché as this might sound… take the time to find your own voice, and you’ll do great. Everyone has something to say, and in order to really do justice to your music and your message, you have to find your own voice. Often it won’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, but with time and effort, one day you’ll wake up to realize you’re actually pretty good at this thing you work so hard at. (haha) Seriously, as “un”-new-agey as I can make this sound… the planets will kind of align for you. At the same moment you realize you’re getting somewhere, everyone else will start to realize it as well… As a side note to that, we’ve all seen the YouTube phenomenon – a kid doing Coldplay karaoke with 15 MILLION views… That kind of exposure is an amazing byproduct of technology (and a tempting ‘shortcut’ to success), but if you look at the most successful artists, in general, they aren’t the YouTube kid. I guess the point I’m making is that it’s better to work at your craft, and find your own voice FIRST… THEN go for the exposure. If you’ve taken the time to develop, people will respond to you. They really will.
Can you tell us about the song history behind “Brave?”
- Given that the story behind Brave is about my wife… and today’s our anniversary? Absolutely. (haha) Seriously, I’ll start by saying that my wife is an amazing person. This has been a long hard road for both of us, and throughout she’s been a constant source of support and inspiration. Brave, as well as the rest of the Like Normal People Do record, was written during her pregnancy with our daughter, Fiona… definitely one of the most soul-searching times in my life. Between doubts about my career and the stresses brought on by having a child for the first time… I was feeling pretty lost. We had a conversation one night in which I basically said I wasn’t sure I could do this (be in music) anymore. That maybe it was time to let go. Her response to me is the song itself. Even today, it’s hard for me to talk about without tearing up, but she essentially said… “I love you, I believe in you, and you need to keep doing it. You’ll get there…” I owe her everything for that.
What was it like recording “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” at Peter Gabriel’s studios?
- Indescribable. Truly indescribable. Peter Gabriel is hands down my favorite artist, and not just because of his music. He’s a positive force in the world. From his songs to his soundtrack work to his studios to his philanthropic efforts, he’s a phenomenal human being and most definitely my template for success. Just BEING at the studios was overwhelming for me, but getting to record there affected me on a truly visceral level. I’ve always been a perfectionist when it comes to my music, but the studios somehow lessened that perfectionism, and the acoustic tracks we did there were, without a doubt, the most honest work I’ve ever done. Not controlled… just… laying it out there. I Will Follow You Into The Dark is, to me, probably the most beautiful love song ever written. To say to someone – I love you so much I would follow you into the afterlife… unbelievable… let’s just say I hope I did the song justice. *smiles* Anyway, the engineer Dom, my video producer Kyle, and I went back into the studio by ourselves late the last night, and we recorded that song as well as my cover of Peter Gabriel’s Secret World and the acoustic versions of my songs Brave and Sight Unseen. They were all one-takes start to finish, and I can honestly say I’ve never been more in-the-moment than I was with those songs. We released them as ‘The Real World Sessions – Volume I‘ in April of this year, and they stand as some of the work I’m most proud of in my career.
How long does it take you to produce a song versus an album?
- Great question… I’m definitely a songwriter first and foremost, so I tend to write pretty quickly. It isn’t uncommon for me to go from inception to finished piano-vocal recording in one or two days time. That said, I’m excruciatingly SLOW when it comes to production. (Just ask my fans! *smiles*) Idolizing people like Peter Gabriel, Daniel Lanois, Pierre Marchand, Trent Reznor… I believe in taking the time to craft arrangements that take a song to the next level. Add to that my perfectionism, and yeeeeeaaaah… doesn’t make for speedy. :)
How has the internet affected your ability to song-write and produce music?
- That ties in well with your previous question, actually. The internet has radically changed not only the way music is delivered, but even more so – the SPEED with which people demand it. As sad as it is to say, I think the days of epic production albums are going away. Attention spans are shorter, and most people aren’t willing to wait around for the ‘masterpiece to be unveiled.’ So, to me, that’s the negative side of the internet revolution. The positive side is that people are completely accepting of (and even craving) raw content. In a society oftentimes driven by image over substance, they’re looking for something real. And, that presents an unbelievable opportunity for independent songwriters and musicians. If you’re honest, and you’re willing to put yourself out there… people will respond. What all that translates into (to me at least) is not to put out albums, but instead, focus on single-song releases. I’ll be announcing next week that, moving forward, I’ll be releasing SOMETHING on the second Thursday of every month… for the next few years, at least. Whether it’s the fifteen new full-production songs from the Peter Gabriel studios trip, acoustic versions of new songs, the concerts we recorded in Munich and Chicago last year… whatever. Constant content. Although the releases will be download only, if enough people want physical copies, we’ll try to accommodate that. Maybe for every five songs, we’ll do a digipak and roll in extra content – additional footage from the trip to England, new songs, etc. Lots of options, for sure…
The bottom line is that this is an exciting time in music. If you’re reading this, and you’re an aspiring artist, songwriter, or musician, realize that the direct line to the people who will appreciate your music has never been more readily available. Just take the time to develop your voice, and then… put yourself out there. If you can think you can, you can.
Ok… yeah… that last part sounded like a self-help seminar. I’ll shut up now. Thanks for listening.
Be sure to download sheet music for Gavin Mikhail through Musicnotes.com or order his music through his website located at www.gavinmikhail.com. We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of our Songwriter Spotlight, and we’re excited to share with you Gavin’s brand new video!