An inspired composer and songwriter, Michael Whalen has a portfolio of awarding-winning music that spans decades made possible with a combination of hard-work ethic, gifted musicianship, masterful production technique and skillful music supervisor management. Separating his "work" from his "music" would be fruitless, they are one in the same. We encourage you to visit his website to get an in-depth look at all of his accomplishments and to listen to his catalog of music, including two Emmy's, 8 Emmy nominations and one Grammy nomination for his work in advertising, television, film and video games for over 30 years.
Some of his best-known works: “Veronika Decides to Die”, “What the Bleep Do You Know?”, “As The World Turns”, themes for HBO, CBS News, ABC News’ “Good Morning America”, “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, dozens of specials for PBS, National Geographic, Discovery, The BBC, NHK and the History Channel and television films for Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel. Michael is also an internationally known recording artist with 32 solo and soundtrack recordings to his credit. Well-known for his beautiful and thematic music, he performs when time allows. He has also produced and executive produced over 100 recordings for other artists. Read this fascinating interview with Michael as he talks about his craft and how he manages to balance work and music.
Q: Tell us about yourself. What do you like to do outside of music, when you're
not winning Emmy awards or garnering Grammy nominations ;-)?
I live in NYC. With the pandemic, the city has been shut down. However, there are so many beautiful places outside to enjoy and soak in the sun after being inside so much. So, I walk the city, I love doing CrossFit with my wife and keeping tabs on my family and friends during this time. It's like a full time job! :-)
Q: What got you into music?
I think music and I just found each other. I remember listening to music as a
little kid and being SO excited. My very first album was “Hot Buttered
Popcorn” by Hot Butter. Do you know this album? (Editor's note - sorry no ;-)! They were a Moog band and
I loved the cover of the album because it had a box of popcorn on it. 50 years
later, I have that cover on my studio wall as a reminder to never lose
that excitement with music and creating it. It’s too easy to be cynical or
resigned. I am so grateful for the opportunity to create and to have my music
get in front of so many millions (billions) of people.
Q: In addition to the scores of television commercials, video games and corporate branded content you have published, you are an internationally acclaimed recording artist. How do you find the time to balance your artistic music with all the work projects you endeavor?
This is a BIG question. It’s all about balance. Even when I am doing a score or a theme for a TV show, I am always working on the next idea for an artist project. I think its too easy to get burned out by churning out TV music. You get resentful even while being successful. So, my brain likes lots of activity. I distract my restless brain with multiple musical problems which ironically makes it easier to focus on the ONE project that happens to be on my desk at the time. Also, I cannot tell you how many times a song I wrote on an album influenced a score and vice versa. It’s important to keep a full compositional schedule because you’ll never know how one idea can be applied to one or several projects!
Q: What was the creative process like for your new album, Sacred Spaces? Tell us about the making of Sacred Spaces, from a songwriting perspective.
Making Sacred Spaces was a brutal process. The project started 9 years ago as an orchestral
project. It was going to be a multi-movement symphony on string orchestra. I
had one movement finished and I started another when I creatively hit the
wall - - hard. So, I put the project away for YEARS and picked it up a few
years ago and I think some of the melodic material I wrote was cool. So, I
flipped the script and I made it an electronic project and the
album caught fire - - finally. Sometimes, composers force ideas to come because
you are on a deadline. Other times you need to let things “marinade” until
they tell you they are ready to be finished. I was patient. It helped
Watch Michael discuss the "Making Sacred Spaces” here as well.
Q: We hear you're using the DCO-106 on some of your recent projects, what do you think?
YES!!! When I got the DCO-106, it was a sonic revelation because the sonic fingerprint was really new (to me) and the instrument sounds awesome. I am sorry Roland but I don’t remember a Juno sounding this GOOD! (laughs) You guys have done a great job staying true to the Juno “vibe” while also creating something very unique and new. It’s so easy to use. I am in the middle of doing a fusion project with Simon Phillips (drums), Reggie Hamilton (bass) and Bob Magnuson (reeds). The DCO-106 is all over the recording and you might have noticed that I have a room full of gear!
Q: We understand your first introduction to Cherry Audio was using Voltage Modular?
Yes. Voltage Modular has rapidly become one of my favorite plug-in synths. It is SOOOOO deep! (laughs) No, seriously, like any great modular system - - Voltage Modular is very flexible. What I haven’t been prepared for is the SOUND. It’s intense. Unique. Different. I try very hard to create sounds that are unique to me and my sonic palette. Voltage Modular is a secret weapon in my sound design arsenal.
Q: Have you have been experimenting with version 2.0? Any favorite modules?
The free update to Voltage Modular 2.0 was seamless. My favorite module has to be the “Poly Ladder Filter”. It’s amazing. I have never heard a plug-in with such warmth or complexity. It reminds me of the sound of the Diode Ladder Filter on a Putney/VCS3. You can hear the harmonic distortion popping from it. It’s a great catalyst for new sound creation.
Q: Tell us about your setup (DAW/gear/hardware/synths...)?
For most of my early career, I was a Synclavier guy. I owned 5 systems at one point including some of Frank Zappa’s sound set. Amazing. In the early 2000s, I switched to Pro Tools. Now, I have been using Logic X for the last 7 years and it just gets better and better. I use a Montage 8 as my master controller. My favorite hardware synths are the Schmidt 8-voice, The Moog One, The Non-Linear Labs C15 and KORG/ARP 2600 Reissue. I just got the Sequential Prophet-5 reissue this week. They did a great job on it.
Q: Who are some of your major influences?
Oh, we would need a LOT more time for this!!! (laughs) But the basic list is: Vangelis, Rick Wakeman, John Barry, Mark Isham, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Thomas Newman, Brian Eno and Josef Zawinul.
Q: What's next for you?
My “day job” is running a small record label based in LA called Myndstream. We are doing some really cool things coming up! I am finishing my fusion album, I did two feature scores this year which will be out in 2021 and I am writing music for a few classical musician friends and we are doing a hybrid of classical forms with ambient music. This is beautiful. During the pandemic, I started a “virtual prog band” with some friends around the country and the music is really cool. I am not sure how we will put it out - yet.
Q: Where can we find your
music? Where can people connect with you?
Editor's Note: Thank you Michael for the interview, for sharing your music with us, and, for unloading a boatload of knowledge that our readers, young and old, will greatly appreciate.
Oct 22, 2020