An Enriching Journey in Music
Some people know what they want in life, others figure it out along the way. Rocky Michaels, multi-award-winning independent singer-songwriter and recording artist was encouraged to learn the piano at a young age and the rest fell into place. We learn by watching others and it can stir something within that takes us down a path for our own growth and understanding of how we fit in the world. In this interview I explore with Rocky his roots in music, how it evolved over time and some nuggets to help others find their way.
Eileen: You have been a musician for a very long time, since the age of 5. Your songs are a reflection of life’s experiences. Take us through the journey of the evolution of your music from your younger years to today.
Rocky: My parents gave me piano lessons at age 5. It was my first formal introduction to music. Keep in mind, back then we didn’t have the Internet or social media, or even a zillion TV channels to choose from. We also had a small upright piano at home, so I would be able to go to it anytime and just explore and create. This experience helped create a foundation for me later on in life.
When I went away to college, I missed having a piano around, so I bought a cheap portable piano keyboard and kept it in my dorm room. My friends and I would periodically jam, and I began expanding on some of my original melodies into songs.
After college, I started a band with some co-workers, and we began performing around the San Francisco Bay Area for a few years. I was the piano guy, but hanging around all the other guitar guys motivated me to learn to play guitar. Ultimately, after a few fun years, the band broke up as some members relocated. However, my deep-rooted desire to write and improve upon my piano/guitar skills only got stronger.
Over the next several years, I continued to write, although I kept my growing musical library on the shelf as family and work were my main priorities.
Eventually, as my children grew older and more independent, I thought it would be a good time to put some of my stories through songs out there for public release. Initially, it served as more of a living diary in case I got hit by that proverbial truck. However, releasing songs really took on a whole new level of personal gratification for me. I haven’t stopped since!
Eileen: Where does your creativeness come from that gives you the drive to bring the art of music into your life as a career?
Rocky: Ooh, deep question! I’m not sure where my creativeness comes from. It seems like it’s been easier for me to take time to write down my thoughts and feelings than to verbally express them on the spot. Songwriting offers that forum for me to do so.
I also believe that despite all our differences in the world, music is the great common denominator that can cut through all the divisiveness and bring us all a little closer.
Regardless of our geographical, political, or socioeconomic differences, we all feel pain, want to love, be loved, and want to find acceptance.
Eileen: What were your goals when launching as an adult into music? Have you achieved them and are there more?
Rocky: Initially, my goal was just to put my collection of stories of life lessons out there, mostly for my children. However, it’s taken on a life of its own. I’ve since realized that so many others have found a connection with some of my messages and they can relate. For me, that’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of my journey.
Eileen: The music industry is not easy and today it is crowded. How do you navigate the twists and turns to stay focused on your desired successes?
Rocky: I pretty much decided early on that I was going to stay true and authentic as opposed to trying to fabricate things and be something I’m not. At the end of the day, I need to be proud of what I’m displaying, regardless of the level of engagement I may or may not receive.
These days, writing about such topics as parenting, relationships, and social awareness causes are a representation of where and who I am. That said, I truly believe others who grew up listening to songs in the 70s and 80s and are now in a similar life stage as I find a certain level of engagement in my music. The music of today is amazing with incredible artists like Ed Sheeran, Post Malone, Taylor Swift, etc. However, I’d like to think my voice often speaks to those of us in this similar space. While that lane might not be as wide in the industry, I’d also like to think it’s not as crowded.
Eileen: How do you know when you have a “hit song?” What is it like to go through the process of writing a song and then that moment of spark arrives where your soul knows, “That’s it!”
Rocky: For me, the experience has varied greatly. I spend a tremendous amount of time going back and editing my songs over and over again before the final release. On a few occasions, I’ve experienced that “a-ha’ moment when I thought I had a great hook or melody. However, based on the subsequent song streams and views from my videos, what I may have initially thought was more catchy hasn’t always correlated to the numbers. So, I guess that’s a long way of saying I have no idea!
As my body of work grows, I try to look back and assess which songs have been more successful and what the components within are that may have contributed to it.
Eileen: Who have been the artists that have walked the path before you whose music inspires your own? Why?
Rocky: I didn’t realize early on, but in retrospect, I’ve always admired great lyricists – those who’ve been able to tell a great, colorful story. I’ve been drawn to many artists – Simon & Garfunkel, The Eagles, James Taylor to name just a few.
Eileen: You are a multi-award-winning independent singer-songwriter/recording artist. Were you ever told, “Go get a real job?” If so, what went through your mind, how did you respond and how has that had an impact on your journey to success?
Rocky: Ha! Well, I’ve never been told that. My other persona has had a relatively successful career in a completely different industry and that has helped position me to where I can pursue my passion with singing/songwriting. Currently, these two worlds are co-existing. I just need to remember which hat I’m wearing for which industry.
Eileen: How has being a full-time musician impacted other areas of your life?
Rocky: I sort of subscribe to the adage “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” The multiple balls in the air at times really forces one to have greater efficiency. It’s a constant, strive for balance, which doesn’t always happen. However, because music has been such a passion for me, it’s really been a labor of love and this musical journey of mine has enriched my life so greatly.
Eileen: What do you see for the future of the music industry and how would you like to be a part of any transformations that may occur?
Rocky: For me, the obvious transformative component has been technology, and the ability of the independent musician to take more control over his or her destiny. Over time, I’ve been integrating more mixing and editing and laying my vocals on my own. Also, from a marketing aspect, social media has become this wide-open door of opportunity that’s just really limited to one’s own imagination.
Eileen: There are more people today taking the chance to bring their voices to the surface and try to be seen and heard with their songs and videos. What words of advice would you give someone who is just starting out?
Rocky: Hmm… so much to say here! Here are some that come to mind that I try to adhere to:
- Enjoy the journey.
- Set realistic goals.
- Do something every day to grow as an artist.
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Be true to who you are.
- Ideas come and go, but social media posts are FOREVER! So be careful what you post.
Wait 30 minutes after a meal before swimming. (<— Sorry, I was on a roll there.)
Editor’s Note: We’re very pleased to announce that Rocky’s new song “An Uncomfortable Truth” has now been adopted as the anthem for our very special Book endeavor dedicated to the homeless population around the world; Unsheltered: Voices from the Street. Visit ROCKY MICHAELS MUSIC for more music and to follow Rocky on social media.