I first heard of Michael Shoup about five months ago when I downloaded his single, Dying to Live, from Noisetrade. I tend to be the type who judges a book based on its cover (sorry I’m visually oriented!) and since the graphic for the single looked pretty cool, I gave it a listen. The song really spoke to me because I had been feeling some of the sentiments that Michael shares in the song. I had also noticed that he was really active on Tumblr and Twitter so I reached out to him and just expressed my appreciation for the work he was doing. We struck up a few digital conversations and before long, I arranged for an interview with him.
In the time I’ve gotten to know Michael, I’ve found that he’s one of the coolest, most genuine guys you could ever meet. I know that if I was living in Nashville, I would definitely be hanging out with him. I hope that this interview gives you a look into what he’s like and what he’s about. I also hope that you’ll consider purchasing his brand-new album Learning How To Live. I’ve had the privilege of listening to it and I can tell you that it is incredible. So without further adieu, my interview with Michael Shoup:
1) First of all tell us who you are, where you’re from, and what you do?
Alright, well I’m Michael Shoup. I grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio right by Dayton. I moved to Nashville in 2000 to go to school for song-writing and I decided to stayed after college. The independent music scene here has really blown up since then. I had been playing guitar for a bunch of Christian and Country artists and noticed that they all needed websites. So, I began making artist websites and that started to open up a lot of opportunities and introduced me to a lot of different people.
2) How and when did you get started playing music?
My folks were the kind of parents who wanted both my sister and I to try out as many different things as possible. We both started playing piano around the same time, and I ended up taking lessons for 6 years. I started playing guitar after that. My piano teacher was really good at teaching kids, but she would set the sheet music in front of you, play a little bit of it and make you play it back to her. I would play it back, but she eventually realized I was just repeating back what she was playing by listening to her. Going through college for music, I had to really force myself to read sheet music. Part of the reason I switched to guitar was because I could play whatever I heard on the radio. I wonder if that will change now that kids don’t listen to radio anymore?
3) You’re in a band from Nashville called Philos. What’s it all about and where do you fit in?
The band consists of myself, Vince Romanelli and Kenny Foster. We all lived together for about 3 years and started it kind of as a joke after we had seen all these pop rock bands in LA with their tight jeans and cool graphics. We put together six or seven songs and did ridiculous promotion trying to make everything very poppy. We had about 100-120 people come out to our first show because everything we had done to promote it was so outlandish. Later on, what really helped us out was covering the song “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked. We eventually got invited out to LA by Stephen Schwarts, the composer of Wicked, to play with some of the original cast.
4) What notable places have you guys played at? What was your largest audience?
LA was pretty great and we’ve played some regional stuff in and around Nashville. Vince and I once got a chance to play as side-men for a country artist who opened for the Stone Temple Pilots.
5) Any stories stand out from any shows you guys have played or trips you’ve been on?
Generally, when you’re on the road you have to room with a ton of people so that you can keep your costs down and it can be a bit exhausting. You drive eight hours, play a show, and then drive somewhere else the next day. I tend to sleepwalk when I’m really exhausted, so you can imagine how things might get interesting. I have to warn people that they might awake to me standing next to their bed asking “Hey, where’s the refrigerator!?”
My bud Paul and I also did some hardcore touring for a while. We went to South by Southwest (SXSW), and then to Chicago, then to Pennsylvania, and then back to Nashville. Some of the videos from that trip are even on YouTube. It was one of our first trips out and we were a bit green behind the ears. Hitting the road was a great way to learn what was and wasn’t working.
6) How about your decision to go solo? What was that like?
I had been in various bands since I was 16 and I had a bunch of material I felt needed to get out there on its own. So, I took a year off from the bands and focused on making this record. It just felt like it was time. I’d been working with Paul Shearer, who’s a good friend and touring guitar player/producer. We sat down, decided on a budget, and knocked it out. We just had to figure out what we could on our own and what he had to hire. In the end, it was a great experience and a great combination of he and I and other friends playing all over the recording.
7) I first heard of you when I listened to the song, Dying to Live, on NoiseTrade. What’s your take on the impact Derek Webb’s site is having on the music industry and musicians in general?
NoiseTrade came out in an interesting time. There were a handful of similar sites a few years ago and it think it’s great that NoiseTrade has risen to what it is now. It wasn’t originally a free download system like it is now. There was a setup fee for artists and download fee for songs. While I completely agree with a system like that and with proper artist compensation, I was worried that NoiseTrade wouldn’t be popular with consumers because of it. The setup it’s turned into now, I think, will carry them much further. Derek is a smart guy. The things he does and says with his music is spot on for what the music industry needs to hear right now.
8 ) You’re big into web content and social media tools right? Tell us what you’re using and what you do with it?
It’s my second passion. I tell artists that you have to start with that presence to reach fans directly. Then you build the conversation. You have to use tools that fit your established work flow, though. Basically you need to make it a habit or it won’t work and you’ll stop doing it. I like to hear what artists daily lives are like and then try to fit their online presence or tools to that. I started off with a simple blog on Tumblr and simple content. Eventually, I added a few static pages and now have a WordPress backend to run subsidiary pages. I’ve also gotten real into Bandcamp and NoiseTrade to host my music. I’m also using ArtistData for most of my event information. It’s basically a push service for event data so you can archive and promote your shows. I like only having to enter in that type of information once.
9) Obviously MySpace isn’t what it was 4-5 years ago. How do you feel about that? Do you still think it’s a valid platform?
People are still there and you as an artist need your stuff on there. It’s still ridiculously high on SEO and Google rankings. On a promo aspect, if you’re an indie artist you need to have profiles everywhere if you want people to listen to you. I would suggest you interact with people on your website, and have all your profiles [Facebook, Myspace, Reverb Nations, etc] direct users to the content there.
10) It seems like MySpace paved the way to allow indie musicians in particular to easily promote themselves without having to land a big record deal and hire a PR agent. Do you think we’ll continue to see artists take more of a DIY approach like you have in creating a web presence and connecting with new fans?
Absolutely. I think the folks who are going to be the most long-term successful in the future are going to do it that way. There are more successful do-it-yourselfers than successful people with financial backing from record deals even right now. I think that the more and more people show they can to do themselves, the more we’ll see that grow as a viable corner of the market.
11) Let’s get back to the single you just released, Dying to Live. What’s the song about and what inspired you to create it?
I don’t want to be negative, but when you’re in college, especially for music, there’s this protective bubble. Everyone is super excited about being a musician and that creates a sense of entitlement. Then you’re hit with the reality of how many people are trying to do what you do. I guess it happens to engineers and doctors too. I see a lot of people who don’t know how to reach their goals anymore and have allowed themselves to be pushed further away from them. The big lesson in the song is perseverance and faith in your own abilities.
12) The single is on your first solo record, Learning How to Live. What should people who haven’t heard it expect?
I started to have this sense where I didn’t feel like I had written my own songs. You know how you listen to a song and you can relate to the lyrics and you think, “Wow that is so true”? I was starting to have those moments with my own songs. It was like some weird out of body experience. There is a lot of life caught up in this record.
As far as musically, I’d like to think of Jackson Browne as an influence. He has this uncanny ability to be brutally honest about how joyful and painful life can be. I’m a male rock musician so fans have said it reminds them of John Mayer or Tonic. I’d like to think that my music would be as if John Mayer and Ashley Simpson had a baby, and then the kid learned from all their mishaps. I’m also a big fan of straight up pop music and have a tendency to cover super pop songs. I’ve done Britney Spears, KE$HA, Paula Abdul… you name it. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’ll cover anything that is ridiculously catchy and then try to arrange it in some way you won’t recognize.
13) You said on your blog, “It’s the first time I think I’ve really been able to open my heart out to you and honestly say: Here is my work, and this is just for you.” How have people responded to your genuine attitude and the passion you put in to what you do?
I think you have two stages of fans. There people who have followed me for a while; friends and family who have inspired a lot of my work. They’ve all been exceptionally kind and supportive of me, and even of how honest I tend to be with my lyrics. First and foremost, this stuff is made up of parts of them… and is for them.
Then you’ve got the folks on the fringe, who may have heard my stuff from a friend of a friend, or from internet radio… or maybe this article? This is who I work for now. This is who I blog and email and Tweet for, to start these kind of conversations. On a broad spectrum, I really want people to connect and enjoy and have that moment where they relate to a lyric. They take the song and make it their own. I don’t get very specific into who or what the song is based on so that people can tell me how they relate to it. That’s what the blog has been about; conversations I’ve been having about the album.
14) So what are your plans now that your record has dropped?
The record’s been out for a couple of weeks. Honestly for the next six months, the official goal is to “find more ears”. I want this to get it in front of as many people as possible. My line is always, “Hey, here’s the record. Download it. Enjoy it. If it’s not your thing, cool. Maybe pass it along to someone else.” If you put something out that rings of truth, people will connect with it.
15) Anything else you’d like to say?
I would say to anybody doing this type of thing to have faith in it. Don’t believejust one person to be the source of all knowledge for anyting. Analyze. Question. Debate. And seek guidance from those that have come before you… especially the ones who seem impossible to reach. There are some people who really believe in absolutes. Well here’s one for you: Absolutes are wrong. There is no reason you have to do something a certain way. Do it your way.
To download Michael’s new album click: Learning How to Live.