It’s hard to remember much about the person I was in high school, especially while I’ve been on this tour de self-resurrection. I always try to progress, as if the person I was yesterday wasn’t good enough. And today I’m forced to reflect on a time almost a decade ago, remembering a rendition of myself that for so long I was ashamed to own.
That makes this walk down memory lane both challenging and thought-provoking.
I’m sitting in Starbucks when in walks singer/songwriter Mike Scheffler, who goes by the stage name Michael Lane. He doesn’t look much different than he did nine years ago, even though I don’t think we spoke a word to each other back in high school.
I remember he was a good football player and that many people took a liking to his personality. I never made the effort to see what all the hype was about, too stuck in my obstinate ways and altogether convinced that my fortunes would change simply because time would pass.
Two years later we shared a few laughs during a volleyball tournament, but you take that afternoon away, and not much remains.
Fast-forward seven years, and geez, life sneaks up on you quick. I’m supposed to be writing new content for the magazine that enlists my services, but because the editor is not in my ear, that task has been de-prioritized on the to-do list.
I’m aimlessly scrolling through Instagram one day when inspiration strikes. It’s Scheffler, and he’s promoting his brand. I’m one of those artists who believes inspiration is as much given as it is created. I mean, I was just pondering how ineffective my search for new content has been, and then Scheffler, an artist currently operating out of Minneapolis, appears on my screen.
Here’s something funny: I actually don’t like interviewing musicians. It’s nothing to do with Scheffler, and it’s nothing to do with musicians. It’s just, for me, I have no idea how music actually works. I’m that guy who plays whatever YouTube recommends when I go to the gym. I also believe writing a book is easier than coming up with enough lyrics to create an album.
I can tell you what music I like, but in terms of what industry-types constitute as quality, that answer is elusive. Yet when I put on Scheffler’s single, “Paradise”, I know it’s good. Not because I purport expertise in music, but because it’s calmingly refreshing, and when he talks about making love to his best girl for a few hours after getting high, I can relate to that.
And so I continue to relate, replaying his song at least six times while I ride my bicycle up to St. Cloud to visit an old friend. The next day my friend and I are going to ride further north to my favorite city in Minnesota, a town of 60,000 called Alexandria. And then after a hotel stay preceded by an appropriate level of debauchery, at least in comparison to the amount we engaged in back in our collegiate heydays, we are going to ride back.
The constant will be Scheffler’s music blaring through my headphones, because while cycling has brought me an iota of glory, putting my head down while 30 mph gusts of wind crash into my face isn’t my idea of a good time. I need something to get me through the turbulence.
I also want to confirm Scheffler’s work is indeed music to my ears, and not just a catchy pop song I will begin to hate after the second listen, much like Ed Sheeran’s stuff.
I know, I know. This is where my credibility as a guy writing about music goes away, but seriously, I don’t like Ed Sheeran’s music.
I’m not saying the guy isn’t a good artist. It’s just that when I hear his overplayed diatribes about how much love hurts, I get turned off. But Scheffler’s work isn’t like Ed’s.
And once Scheffler orders his coffee and sits down, all the background noise seems to fade away. It’s just me and Mike.
“Pretty much in the studio,” Scheffler begins when I ask him of what his production process currently looks like. “I’ve been working on some technical skills, as far as creating content. I have always been able to tell stories.”
His ability to depict life in a creative medium began at a young age. “My mom got me into music,” he says. “And then I just fell in love with it in college. I looked at that as the initial step in gaining a fanbase.”
He leans forward in his chair as he ponders his next words. For Scheffler, our meeting is not about showmanship. He doesn’t feel the need to overstate his current position.
“You put me in a real-life setting, I’m very introverted. But if you put me on a stage, it’s a completely different thing.”
Music is Scheffler’s outlet, a chance to escape from a reality that has dealt him his fair share of struggles, just as he expected it would. Scheffler never envisioned an easy life, but he’s finding out now just what that means.
“I write what I experience. It’s therapeutic. It helps me make sense of life. There’s almost nine billion people in the world, but we’re all the same. We’re all uniquely different in our own way. It’s important for me to relate to people with my emotion. I don’t try to pander to people. I just write about what I know, and what I go through.”
His experiences are something of a quarter-life crisis, a label he eventually wants to use as the title of his EP.
“Heartbreak, finding yourself, being a human being. Stepping into those shoes of who you are, what you want to be, and the inherent and inevitable struggle of life. A lot of that for me right now is self-identity crisis, struggle, sadness, confusion, and anger.”
I can empathize with some of those emotions, like when I sit down to write this article it’s influenced by the fact that I can’t find a good distraction on Netflix. I don’t know when Netflix’s pickings got so slim, but ever since they took The Inbetweeners Movie off six months ago I have given up on the conglomerate. Their movie selection already was like the $3 bin from Walmart, but then you take away my boys from across the pond and something has to give, just like something had to give for Scheffler after years of scribbling away in his notebook, trying to find symmetry between the art in his head, and the art that would eventually be recorded.
“Music is really what I’ve been doing the last three or four years,” Scheffler explains. “Just honing in on it, training my voice, being able to perform two to three hours a night. I’ve also been working jobs here and there. Nothing crazy.”
Crazy might be an understatement. Scheffler, like most artists trapped in a job they feel they owe themselves after four grueling years of higher education, tired of the corporate rat race. He majored in accounting, quickly realizing that while numbers resonate inside his head, revolving his life around them wouldn’t bring satisfaction.
“You haven’t dived into accounting full-time?” I ask, because while Scheffler looks the part of an aspiring musician, if you threw a suit from Men’s Warehouse on him, he would easily assimilate into a work culture.
“No, dude, I can’t,” Scheffler says. “I go stir crazy. I can’t put my efforts into a job like that.” He takes a breath, as if reminding himself he’s no longer where he once was. “I was a purchasing manager last year, and that was my peak, that five-year plan type of thing. It was a mold injection company, so a plastics manufacturing company. Worst fucking thing I did, ever. It was awful. You want to talk about being depressed…”
I realize I am laughing throughout most of Scheffler’s explanation of despising his job. He might think I’m being rude, but really, his words are just connecting.
I spent one year in a job I neither liked nor hated. It was simply a job, an opportunity to see Asian countries and stow away a little money for a rainy day. When I got there, I tried playing nice for about three days before realizing I would become miserable playing “the game” most people felt inclined to partake in.
As a result, I didn’t have any pals, save for two people who ended up becoming some of my best friends. But I’ve never been a guy who has needed other’s validation to feel good about myself.
“I’m sure it paid the bills though,” I tell Scheffler in between streams of laughter that jet out of my mouth like I’m at a comedy show. “You know, working there.”
“It did. It also paid my studio time,” Scheffler says, acknowledging an obvious give-and-take of life in corporate America.
“I’m in a spot now where I gained a little bit of capital,” he explains. “And I’ve been able to step back from a 50-hour a week position. I’m frugal. I live very simple. I don’t have a lot of debt, and I just kind of pay my bills as I need to.”
Scheffler keeps his overhead low, refusing to get trapped with monthly payments toward a mortgage or child he’s not emotionally prepared for. This has allowed him to funnel money to a man who can help his dreams become a reality.
“I’ve been in the studio the last year recording, mainly singles. I work with a professional producer,” Scheffler says.
Scheffler frequents The Hideaway Studios in Minneapolis to work with a man who has collaborated with the likes of Brother Ali and Atmosphere, two staples of the Minnesota music scene.
“Brady Moen. He’s worked with pretty much any big-name Minnesota artist you can think of,” Scheffler states.
But The Hideaway is not solely Minnesota-based. They’ve also worked with international icons such as Justin Bieber and Snoop Dogg.
“With that,” Scheffler says of working with such a prestigious label, “obviously comes a price tag.” A price tag that he feels is not going to waste. While expenditures quickly add up, Scheffler believes he has found a man who can help him reach that next level, a man who isn’t inviting him to the studio to endure grueling sessions just for the paycheck.
“We put together a single,” Scheffler tells of his work with Moen, referring to “Paradise,” the track I raved about in the teaser of this article. “I did have to go in and revamp projects I had been working on. It was a mentality and a professionalism thing, knowing how the studio works,” which, as Scheffler explains, is essentially the reinvention of the music he has already been working on.
Scheffler describes the process of meeting with Moen, then seeing his art stripped down to roughly ten percent of what it originally was. “There is the song, and then there is the record. How it goes from a tune to a radio-ready record is work. You have to change your mentality of what it sounds like, what it feels like, what you think it looks like.”
What Scheffler is essentially saying is he’s had to accept the fact that his original work wasn’t good enough. But he’s already learning that experiencing this shockwave is the first step toward achieving his ultimate goal.
“It’s hard to give that part of you up. You have to sacrifice something. You have to de-attach yourself from the desire to be the one who gets all the credit,” Scheffler notes. “You have to realize credit is given when credit is due.”
“I used to go into this mentality that I want to do it all. I want to be songwriter, producer. I want to learn it all. It was cool to think that `I can be the creative genius,’ but there is so much worry that comes with that, and worries of expectation. It went from a slap in the face to a weight off my shoulders,” Scheffler says of being able to cede artistic control.
He has reached a certain juncture in his career, one where he will consistently fail the more he dives headfirst into his craft, but he has a support system.
“Brady [Moen] is not trying to discredit my ability to do things,” Scheffler says of the continuous editing and rewrites. “He’s trying to deconstruct and build it back up into what it’s meant to be. This process takes vulnerability.”
That’s all part of the artist’s journey, being willing to take on a path that has no guarantees of glory. For Scheffler, he may never earn enough money from his art to keep the lights on and have something left over for his old lady. But there’s a certain romance to that, knowing that this isn’t like tee-ball when you’re a child and your parents will still take you to Dairy Queen even if you strike out every time. Instead, this process is like getting punched in the gut.
“Dude, that sounds corny as fuck,” Scheffler recalls Moen saying one session after Scheffler went into the studio prepared to drop a guitar piece for the ages.
“It was nice to know someone had your back,” Scheffler then says of his response once the jarring emotions of that criticism had passed. “He’s actually looking out for me, by being tough on me. He’s very in-tune with what I’m doing, but also with what he’s doing,” further describing a relationship that does not suffer from a one-sided power structure. There is a balance to their relationship, meaning Scheffler is not relegated to the role of a bystander while Moen shapes the music as he sees fit.
“To see him [Moen] care as much as he has about not only the music, but me, has been really cool,” Scheffler acknowledges. “I hope that collective effort brings something good.”
The road to making an album has just begun. Once that foundation has been created, it will have to be endorsed by either a conglomerate or high-powered individual capable of putting Scheffler’s name on the map. And herein lies the ultimate question: is his stuff good enough, or will he fall in the abyss filled with thousands of other artists who never made it?
“My plan is to pitch [my music] to labels, management companies. I’m going to try to make content to get some type of viral, snowball effect. I don’t think I could fund an album without a major label contract, especially in the professional sense of the art I’m trying to put out. It’s very hard to do that, and the time [commitment] is a big thing.”
It gets crazier. “I’ve spent upwards of $8,000,” Scheffler says of his studio costs. ‘Paradise‘ alone cost him $2,700 to bring to life. “There’s a value of trade that you have to invest yourself in. People have to be held accountable for what they want to do in life, and that’s probably my biggest roadblock.”
“As inexperienced as I am to it all, I do hold myself to a certain standard. I know what I’m capable of, and I also hold that standard for other people, anyone I work with.”
The needle is moving for Scheffler. Five years from now, if he continues to work at the tireless pace he has already established, he’ll have answers to some of the biggest questions of his musical career.
I said at the outset my musical prowess is minimal, so much so that I’ve alienated the people reading this who love Ed Sheeran. That’s fine. There will come a day when writing about this business will make sense, just like there will be a day when Scheffler has the clarity and peace of mind to appropriately appreciate the journey his music has taken him on. Whether that narrative consists of record labels and chicks flooding his Instagram with DMs, or his future wife listening to him massage the strings of his guitar in their backyard, an answer will arrive.
Regardless of the outcome, Scheffler can still light up a joint and retreat back to his version of paradise, a reality where he will still be able to look at the sky and watch the clouds roll by.
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