You will fail, over and over and over again, as will everybody else, it’s simply part of the process. I have a list of failed projects far longer than the ones that have succeeded. I’ve watched too many truly great artists give up after a single failure let along the 5th, 10th or 100th. Failure is far more common than success and is an essential part of the process. Let the process run its course.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mikey Votano.
Australian musician and performerMikey Votano does it all: sings, plays a mean sax and piano, creates authentic arrangements — and works the heck out of a room. A serial over thinker, thanks to a mental health condition, he believes when it comes to music, the decision is simple — if it feels good, play it and enjoy it! Inspired by all things vintage and rock n roll, Mikey recently unveiled a suitably retro style video to accompany his unique take on the Gnarls Barkley’s famous mega hit ‘Crazy’. He chose to cover this song to highlight mental health issues and spark debate. He says: “Crazy’ has always had an extra special meaning for me, as I child I was often labelled that in a direct reference to the symptoms of my ADHD and anxiety. Many people suffer from mental illness and all of us have circumstances where we feel similar symptoms, possibly even asking the question, ‘Does that make me crazy’? Simply asking that question pretty much guarantees you’re not crazy, I like the idea of taking control of words used against you and that is definitely a large part of the reason why I really enjoyed reworking this track.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
It’s my absolute pleasure. I grew up in Sydney, Australia with 3 incredibly annoying (now my best friends) younger sisters. School was tough, I was always in trouble, teachers labelled me lazy, friends called me crazy and my Dad was adamant I was simply the worst behaved child in the world. Thankfully mum began to suspect something was up and in my final year of school I was diagnosed with ADHD. Having ADHD is both a blessing and a curse — however understanding it all has only changed my life for the better. Whilst all this was going on, I was introduced to music, which quickly became a vice. Music was the one part of my life I absolutely loved and it helped me through whatever good or bad times I happened to be going through.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was working as a primary teacher performing gigs on weekends. This one gig, in a tiny basement bar in Sydney, saw me share a stage with 20 musicians. I remember being squashed on that stage, loving every note being played & seeing a packed room of people living entirely for the moment, knowing this was all I wanted to do. Music has an incredible ability lift people’s spirits and provide escape from the everyday and I can’t think of a better way to live my life than creating moments just like that.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’m not sure it’s the most interesting but definitely one of my favourites. I was playing a festival in Toronto, Canada. I’d never played in Canada before and didn’t know if anyone would even turn up to the shows. After a run of decent but small gigs we wrapped up the festival with a show at 1am in a room just out of town. Expecting little, we arrived to a sold-out venue with over a hundred queued outside just to see us play. The room was electric, the band on fire, the crowd were insane and the second the last note was played, a fire alarm went off and the entire venue was evacuated. I’d like to think our playing was too hot for the venue to handle. Was an awesome night!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
First song at a gig- I completely blanked and forgot the song lyrics. I ended up singing random nonsensical words and with each sentence felt the crowds’ disappointment growing. The song ended and the crowd screamed with approval. I realised then how easy it was for a performer to be so ‘inside’ they allow themselves to believe something that simply isn’t true. We’re always our own worst critics but I was ultimately there to deliver a show and despite small or large mistakes you’ve just got to get on with it. Most of the time the crowd won’t even know.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m loving the opportunity to rearrange well-known much-loved tunes in a vintage style that I absolutely adore. There’s a completely different mindset and creativity involved with it to writing originals that is really exciting. It’s important I feel to take them in a new direction whilst still staying true to song itself. I’m also working on some new original tunes which I can’t wait to take to the studio but they’re a little while off just yet.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I couldn’t agree more! I have 3 sisters and my female cousins far outnumber the males. I have seen first-hand the importance of having strong female role models has been for them growing up, and still has to this day. I can only imagine the same goes for seeing strong role models of all ethnicities, sexes, religions, disabilities, body shapes, etc. Diversity gives us all a richer life experience, it promotes acceptance, it diminishes misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination and leads us all to greater perspective. The world is a diverse place and must be depicted as such in every possible way, especially across all art forms. The most beautiful thing about diversity is not how we differ but rather how we celebrate and embrace each uniqueness. There’s too much we can learn from one another to not make diversity a priority in our lives.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You will fail, over and over and over again, as will everybody else, it’s simply part of the process. I have a list of failed projects far longer than the ones that have succeeded. I’ve watched too many truly great artists give up after a single failure let along the 5th, 10th or 100th. Failure is far more common than success and is an essential part of the process. Let the process run its course.
- Believe in your ideas and follow them through because nobody else will. Often, I’ve excitedly shared a new ideas with others only for them to be immediately shot down and told it wasn’t possible. Some of these I never ended up working on due to these comments, however there are also a lot I succeeded at. These people simply lack vision you have or perhaps are trying to protect you from a failure. Ultimately seeing the idea through, even to a failure, is better than not having begun due to someone else’s comments.
- Listen to others ideas, criticisms, tips and advice. But that doesn’t mean you have to take them. Similar to the last one, however, I do believe different points of view can be incredibly helpful. Just remember it’s your choice which outside viewpoints you take on board and which ones you don’t.
- Embrace change, it will happen whether you like it or not and more often than not it’ll leave you behind. It’s easy to watch as streaming sites deliver musicians less money to musicians than ever before or the rise of musicians based solely around their social media presence and have negative feelings towards the changes these new technologies have brought to the industry. Take note of these feelings but don’t let them stop you from learning more and finding positive ways to use them moving forward. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
- There is no greater feeling than completing a project and letting it out in the world so… stop procrastinating, stop overthinking it, get the damn thing done and move on to the next one. Just get it done and get it out there. Each new project offers new insight and you’ll bring with you all the lessons for the previous ones. It’ll never be perfect, there will always be another option or something new to try, just get it done and move forward. When you look back you’ll probably find it pretty enjoyable anyway, especially considering the part of the journey you were at.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Look after your mental health. Too many musicians burn out and sadly some have even given their lives. Don’t place goals out of your control on yourself. Instead of saying I want a million streams say I want to record a song and complete a planned strategy for its promotion. This way you have an achievable goal within your control and a plan to possibly even achieving those million streams. Setting and achieving goals will boost positive feelings towards projects and help keep the burnout at bay.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Thanks for saying so however I’m not sure I feel like a person of enormous influence! Ha! If I was able to promote anything it’d be around the importance of looking after our own mental health. We grow up knowing that if you get a cut you put a band aid on it, if you break a leg you get a cast. What we’re not told is how to mend mentally, after a harsh word from a bully, after falling short of a goal, how do we deal with trauma, a breakup, a death of a loved one? The saying goes “hurt people, hurt people” — if we could look after ourselves a little better we’d have a lot less hurt people running around trying to protect their ego at all costs. We’d have a kinder, happier world filled with less competition and more opportunity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Honestly there’s far too many to mention. I’m incredibly lucky in my life to have had a run of beautiful people come into my life at various stages when I needed them most. Family, friends, teachers, colleagues even random chance encounters with people that have imparted a small but lasting piece of knowledge. You never know whose life you’re going to change today so it’s important to always be kind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘If it’s flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, be the best hamburger flipper in the world. Whatever it is you do you have to master your craft.’ — Snoop Dogg
Perhaps because it mentions mastering your craft? But probably because it mentions burgers and who doesn’t love a burger!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I just finished reading Scott Bradley (of Postmodern Jukebox)’s book. I really admire how he’s built his life around an idea probably most thought wasn’t possible to begin with. To top that off he’s created an incredible community and given some unbelievable opportunities to a heap of very deserving musicians. He’s clearly someone that’s work hard to see his vision through and I’m sure there’s a heap of great success and fail stories throughout it all that I’d love to pick his brains about.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can check out my latest single ‘Crazy’ and all other music on the following sites.
Facebook — www.facebook.com/mikeyvotano
Instagram — www.facebook.com/mikeyvotano
Youtube — www.youtube.com/c/mikeyvotano
Weboste — www.mikeyvotano.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
It was an absolute pleasure. Thanks for the beautiful questions!