[Editor's Note: We hear the success stories, and we hear the struggle. But we rarely hear the story of artists in that middle ground between newcomer and firmly established vet, making music as a career but still sweating to pay next months' rent, no longer naive but not yet jaded. I've known Mike Dreams for years and he now seems to be right at that tipping point, so I've invited him to periodically share his story as he attempts make the leap. Whether you're also an artist, a recent college grad trying to navigate your first full-time job or maybe both, I think you'll be able to relate. - Nathan S]
“5 years later, how am I the man still?”
When Drake said that line, it really resonated with me. Not so much because it was about Drake, but more of the idea itself. Time has really flown since 2009, and lately I've been looking at myself, and reflecting on who I’ve became in this past half-decade. Now, I'm not delusional. Of course I’m not “The Man”, in the sense of a certain level of exposure, or anything else, but I’m certain not the BOY that I used to be.
Hindsight is one of my favorite things about life, but it’s also something I sometimes despise. When looking at your life in retrospect, you often get a chance to see how things could have unfolded in certain situations, learn from those experiences, and understand how to face them the next time you come across them. If only foresight was as clear.
I’ve always been convinced that as an artist, we can live an elevated sense of existence. I don’t want to sound like an elitist writing that, and I also don’t want to make it sound like it’s always a positive thing. From experience, those gifts can come with much stress and sleepless nights. We over-think everything. Many of us are perfectionists, and we are dissatisfied with things that don’t match our exact vision; sometimes a vision that is unattainable in the first place. But we sometimes don’t stop, and just bask in the moments of life as they happen. At 25-years-old, going on 26, I feel my mindset transitioning.
Nearly seven years ago, there was an artist in my city heavily buzzing named Auburn. I was a huge fan of her music, and I would visit her MySpace account on the regular. A blog post that caught my eye was something about being #6 on the weekly charts of DJBooth.net. I decided to check out the site. It quickly became one of my favorite sites to get acquainted with new music. I went out on a limb, and sent my music to DJ Z. He featured one of my first songs, that I literally recorded with a headset microphone in my bedroom at my parent’s house, and mixed myself. The reception was generally okay, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was progression in my eyes. Someone who had some clout and credentials considered something I had made to be good enough to feature on his national platform. That was a special moment, and contributed to my confidence to continue pursing my career.
What followed was something amazing. I continued to record, and by the time 2009 rolled around, I was receiving love on national blogs, and creating an online buzz for my debut independent project, Dreamer’s Poetry, released in February 2010. The reception of that established me as one of my city’s newest burgeoning artists, and open doors for many shows, including one of the biggest gigs of my career, performing at the Rhymesayers’ powered Soundset Festival in 2010. But there was something I had to learn along the way - don’t always believe the hype, or that things come that easy. After a second album release in 2010, for my project, “Just Waking Up”, I fell into a slump producing my next album. The creativity was at an all-time high for me, but being an independent artist with virtually no backing, and not even a team, made it difficult to really make moves and decisions, without very vital sacrifices.
When I put out my third independent album, Millennial, it was met with incredible reception in my city, and online, but it wasn’t without its downfalls. I had just finished what I considered my greatest piece of work - but I was heavily in debt because of it, and at a point where I didn’t have any money to properly promote it like I wanted to, when it was still fresh and new.
It still served to open doors for me two years later, but the impact of that time period was a life transition for me. I hopped into a long-term relationship not too shortly after, which I believe was fueled by the hype of who I was at the moment as an artist, so technically on false pretenses. I had made myself a figure in the city, and received a certain level of respect. But what followed was me partaking in the benefits of reaching those heights, drowning in my vices and taking on a life that I had never really experienced. Though I wish I could do lot of it over, I can say I needed these experiences to help me grow up more. I’m no longer Young Son. I’m not even the Mike Dreams I was when I changed my name to that in 2009. I’m not the same person from two years ago when Millenial was released. I’m ever-evolving, as we all are. Sometimes we need to stop and just reflect on how far we’ve come.
As I seem to be coming out the fog of the past few years, I find myself coming right back to where it all started, DJBooth. I’m about to make one of the biggest transitions of my life - moving from my hometown Minneapolis to the big city of dreams that is Los Angeles. I just received my first real song placement on a major network this year, and things are continuing to transition for me.
But in these times, as new experiences arise, I can always can look back at my foundation. When I loose sight of the ground or my footing, I can always come back and regroup in a place I knew best. I’ve been through some things, became wiser, learned, and began to really understand that’s there’s never necessarily an end to being an artist - it’s a lifetime journey. I am beginning to stop thinking that “Success Is…” something that’s going to happen “Any Day Now”, and I have started to understand that it is happening RIGHT now.
Each new moment of my journey is going to contribute to my life as a man, as an artist and as a human. I can create art, reflect on my experience as I get older, learn from the mistakes I made, and teach others. I’m excited to continue this journey, and begin writing new chapters for it. I’m also excited to be able to continue sharing my experiences with you, through my writing and my music. Thank you to the loyal readers and listeners of my material. We’ve only just begun…