Magic and Alchemy in the Glow of the Faders
Musician and producer Mirk takes us through the digital sorcery of making tomorrow’s hits.
We all love doughnuts – unless you’re doing keto, in which case you have a love/hate relationship with doughnuts – and if you’re old enough, you remember a certain steadfast man in a certain doughnut chain on your TV repeating his classic line, “Time to make the doughnuts,” which has become slang for having to get something done behind the scenes. Music doesn’t just appear from the void. It must be written performed, recorded, and, in some cases, produced – before you ever hear it.
Mirk (Joshua Mirksy) makes the doughnuts. He sings, he writes songs, he’s in the studio producing names that even you’ve heard. And he has a sound that you wouldn’t believe comes from the Capital District.
We sit with Mirk and discuss life on the Matrix design team.
Liam Sweeny: Your music is described as a mix of pop, soul, R&B, rock and hip-hop, but there’s such a blend to it, that I would have a hard time seeing it is a mix of different styles – it’s really its own style. But just saying that you’re your own style doesn’t help bring in listeners. Are listing genres good for anything other than directing listeners?
Mirk: I think that genres are easy descriptors to help the listener know what to expect? Ultimately we are in a kind of new age that streaming and the free download has created. For centuries songs have cost the equivalent of a dollar. So buying a song was a literal investment. An investment in what? Mental and emotional health, entertainment, inspiration, the list goes on and on… So back then genre was important because it was part of an identification of what you stood for or needed from music and thought went into what you were going to invest in. Now that we have the whole worlds history of recorded music at our fingertips for ten dollars a month or free if you don’t mind the adds and horrible searchability, people can experiment in listening to genres they may not have initially knew they identified with because there’s no investment in the single song anymore. So now “genre” is way less important and way more fluid!
Liam: Some musicians and bands, I listen to their music, and, as much as I like it, I’m thinking to myself, “just stick to the studio” because there’s no way they can get that sound live. But I’ve seen you, as “Mirk and the New Familiars,” and your live show was great. Should a band work on both a “studio” sound and a “stage” sound?
Mirk: Oh for sure! There are definitely different ways to separate the two in an interesting way. There are some songs we just don’t play because we tried and tried to make them work live, but never could. There are some songs we worked tirelessly to make sound like the record or as close as we could. And there are some songs we just turn on their heads and play differently live than on the record! No matter which way we decide to go, endless hours of rehearsal go into making those types of decisions.
Liam: Going back ten years ago, you had a song, “Crispy Benjamins,” that was produced, and ultimately purchased, by Jay-Z and Rocnation. Now, producing music that’s then sold is as old as music, I’m guessing. But as a creative, passing on your work when you know someone will have agency over it, is it at all bittersweet?
Mirk: At this point in my life and career I really enjoy the collaborative aspect of music. Currently, I’m working with a handful of artists, that I’m co-creating with, much in the same way “Crispy Benjamins” was done. I’m predominantly writing the musical portion and the artists are providing lyrics and vocal melodies. Much of the times we’re working together, but sometimes they record their part in their own spaces and I get their parts back to finish the arrangement and mix it down. I really enjoy it either way. Working with people creating a song and hearing differing perspectives on the sonics can really expand where you might have gone in your own! And hearing where someone else can take something you started, so you can be surprised by your own creation is amazing too. There’s something very human about the collaboration. I love it.
Liam: Following the previous question, you’ve produced a few people like Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, Petey Pablo – people that have a little bit of gold or platinum on their walls. Most people in the public have no idea what a producer does, and who might need one. . If you had to “elevator pitch” the role, how would you go about it?
Mirk: “Producer” can mean many things to many people. In the case of the aforementioned group of artists, it was as a co-writer, making the music they then added lyrics too. Or in the case of Ciara and Young Geezy, adding the beat to the lyrics that were already laid down since it was a remix. But Diddy aka Puff Daddy calls himself a producer, and he simply finds/ funds the production and has final say in what makes the cut. Dr. Dre hires musicians and has them replay classic samples to avoid paying mechanicals, and ensure the “Dre Sonics” and then makes bangers with them. Jimmy Iovene paired the right songs with the right artists and made sure the mics were set up in the right position and plugged into the right preamps. I try to do all of the above! I’d say the producer’s job is to make sure the record they are involved in “producing” sounds amazing and that can mean being a co-writer, mixer, money guy, and everything in between.
Liam: You’ve been hitting the 518 scene lately, but a few years ago, you toured the country, ultimately winding up in the 2012 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. That festival seemed to come out of nowhere, but that’s just me living under a rock, but it’s a badge of honor to play at it. What are some other badges of honor you got from the road?
Mirk: Touring at all in any meaningful way in this day and age is a badge of honor in itself. It’s great to hang out with your best friends and do one of your favorite things to do for a group of like minded people! If you can do what you love for a living, you will never work a day in your life! And sure music is still work, but also I run a recording studio (Foster House Studios Albany, NY) so I also know people are willing to pay to make music all day long. I’m super lucky to get to do it for a living!
Liam: You’ve had a few of your songs become music videos. “Away” and “Sunshine” were both great. Video, being the mix of sight and sound, gives you even more chance to innovate and experiment with a feeling that either one can achieve by themselves. How do you enhance the story, and the feel, of your song from behind the camera?
Mirk: In my experience, that’s the director’s job. Haha. And mostly they take that shit seriously and have a hard time giving up control of what’s happening. We just released a series of four videos directed by Chromoscope. We let them pick the songs, and present a treatment. As a whole, the group of videos is a piece of art and I’m glad we did it that way. We made a suggestion of what we were looking for in the beginning and let them do the rest. It’s what they do! They hired actors, found locations, created shooting schedules, and then made the magic. We provided the music and the funds. We “produced” the videos in a sense. Lol
Liam: Here is where you can answer the question I didn’t ask. Is studio coffee always better than road coffee? Holograms on CD cases – yea or nay? Enlighten, educate, emote – the floor is yours.
Mirk: Morning coffee is the best no matter where it is… CDs? What are those.?! One of my many trades in the music industry is, in fact, teaching Music Recording and Engineering at The New School Center for Media so you’d have to pay for that education… JK, but seriously… I would like to thank you for thinking of me for an interview! If I have one piece of advice I’d like to give your readers it’s this, If you’re making music, do it because you love it! If you do it for any other reason you will inevitability be let down. I mean even if you love it, you’ll be let down, but then you’ll be able to bounce back because love conquers all!
Originally Posted in the Xperience from RadioRadioX