With a passion for music stemming from childhood, Minneapolis DJ Zak Michaels (Zach Morin) continues to share his exceptional talent with party goers on a weekly basis. Originally from Appleton, WI, Zach currently resides in Minneapolis with his roommate – cat, Milo. Before making the move to Minneapolis, Zach went to school in La Crosse, WI graduating with a degree in Fine Arts, Print Making, and Photography. Although not doing what he initially went to school for, he has built a successful career around graphic design and currently carries out much of the graphic design responsibilities for Sound in Motion.
His knowledge of Sound in Motion began with attending shows regularly, and his involvement with the company began shortly after. Not only has working with Sound in Motion taught him important life skills, but it has also allowed him to showcase his musical talent for people everywhere. He doesn’t know where his involvement with Sound in Motion may take him, but he does know that big things lie ahead and this company is only going to prosper from this point on.
‘We’re all a bunch of people that work together. This, to me, is one of the most amazing things about SIM. It’s run by people who do this outside of their careers. We’re all just a bunch of people who share a love for music and a love for throwing shows.’
SIM: How did you initially get involved with Sound in Motion?
Zach: As I mentioned earlier, I started coming to shows a lot, and this was about three years before I moved to Minneapolis. I actually got involved because when I was living in La Crosse where I was a bedroom DJ and I was just essentially teaching myself to DJ.
About two years ago in June, Sound in Motion had a DJ contest that I entered – and won. The prize was I got to play at this music festival called Rivers Edge, they had Dave Mathews Band and Tool but they also had this little side stage – the Silent Disco. Silent Disco is where they have two DJ’s on a stage, but there is no amplified sound, and all the sound is hooked up to a wireless headphone system where people can come and put the headphones. The can independently switch between listening to the two different DJ’s at the same time and that stage was actually running later than the headlining band at the festival and so I got the headlining spot on a Sunday night – meaning I got to play at 10 o clock for 2000 people. Seeing people jam with the heads phones was really cool. So, that’s how I first got involved with SIM.
SIM: How long have you been involved with SIM?
Zach: About 2 years.
SIM: What is your main responsibility, task or focus within SIM?
Zach: I started on the Street Team just like everyone else, but I got involved a lot with the graphic designing. Now I do a lot of just managing that because I have a full time job so I can’t do it all the time anymore, but I do push a lot of those tasks out to other people on the team that are also good with designing. I do a lot of the team lead stuff, help the booking crew and I help run the residency at both Rev and The Union along with other various things.
SIM: How did you acquire the skills to carry out your position?
Zach: You know it’s actually funny; I didn’t go to school for graphic design or anything. I actually taught myself just through all the things I do with photography. I went to school for fine arts, print making and photography. Like print making, etching on stone and copper and running them through a press, dark wet room photography, like film and stuff, but obviously we live in the digital age 21st century so I was shooting with my own digital camera and through using Photoshop and other various post-production tools on a computer and having just a general sense of design I taught myself graphic design. So, that’s how I got started. As far as administration and organizational skills that’s still a daily struggle ha ha.
SIM: What has your involvement with this company taught you?
Zach: Well, a lot of music business stuff when it comes down to booking, dealing with artists, management of that, it’s so crazy it’s like a crash course in marketing. I didn’t take any of that in school, and I didn’t know a thing about it. It’s real time experience of interacting with people, seeing what works, seeing the results, improving those results and throwing successful events. That’s not something everyone can do. Being able to identify what the backbone of that is and being able to execute it, I think that’s a really huge thing. Planning something, following through with it, executing it, looking at the results and then saying okay what did we do and how can we make that better, that’s huge. As someone who has a career, and who has been through two career positions in the last year and a half, those are the types of skills that people want to see and are really important.
SIM: Creatively, what has your involvement with the company taught you?
Zach: Coming bright eyed and bushy tailed out of college as an artist, you have this thing about the world that they don’t tell you. You think you’re hot stuff and you’re going to go out there and find a cool thing to do, you’re going to make and design the coolest stuff, but you’re not necessarily going to do that because unfortunately those positions are few and far between.
Creatively, this position has taught me information layout design. It taught me how to successfully lay out information visually for people because although you can try and layout info the coolest way, and make the coolest design, and people can be like yeah it looks cool, but I don’t know what it says. This type of information has a purpose and if you have an event you need to lay that information out in a way that people can understand it and read it. People look at stuff for two seconds, people aren’t going to sit and look at it like a menu, so you have to tell them everything they need in that two seconds. It still may not always end up being spot on, and people will most likely critique it, but it’s a huge skill to have. You have to look at stuff in a realist way.
SIM: Assuming you’ve learned lessons from this company what would you consider to be the most valuable?
Zach: Working with people, you have to have a certain amount of respect for somebody to work well with them even if you don’t personally like that person. I love everybody I work with, and I generally try and find the good in people, but even if there is someone you have a tough time working with, suck it up. That’s just how it is; you have to work with them, focus on the goal, and find a middle ground. There are all types of people, but odds are you’re not going to like all of them and some of them aren’t going to like you. That’s a huge skill, to be able to put those differences aside and put your own perspective aside and get the task done. Like I said, coming out of school you think you’re really hot stuff and that you can do everything, but that’s just how it is. At the end, it all comes down to whether or not you make your goal. This is the type of stuff that they don’t teach you in school, and I’m extremely lucky that I found it out real fast.
SIM: What inspired your involvement in the music industry?
Zach: I’ve been involved with music my whole life. I played guitar when I was a teen in high school. I was in bands, writing songs, and playing shows. I also sang in choir and performed in musical theatre. I’m not the best at writing music, I would always experience road blocks, and then I would move on to something else.
I’ve actually been into electronic music since a young age though. The first band that got me into electronic music was The Prodigy. In 1997 I heard their song called ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, I’m sure you’ve heard it. Almost everybody has heard a song from The Prodigy whether they know it or not. They had a couple songs on MTV and I remember back when MTV played music videos they would play weird and super underground stuff after midnight. When I was younger I would sneak downstairs when my parents were sleeping and watch them because I always thought that they were super intriguing. Prodigy had this one song called ‘Fire Starter’, which was like UK breaks British electronic band music and it was really cool to listen to. I was so intrigued by the mysteriousness and the weird videos and that’s essentially what got me into electronic music. This was in 1997 when I was nine years old so I’ve been really into it ever since then.
SIM: Where do you hope your involvement in the music industry takes you in the future?
Zach: I really don’t know. I love Sound in Motion, I love working with them and I love Minneapolis. When I was in college I would come here and I would always tell my friends I want to move to Minneapolis and become a DJ and open for cool DJ’s and that’s what I do. I made that happen, and so I’m living what I wanted to do. I don’t know where that’s going to take me in the next couple of years, but I love what we do. We throw awesome parties, I work with amazing people.
It’s funny because I’m from Appleton and I’ve actually met a ton of people from Appleton through SIM. I actually went to high school with Nate Kitzis and I didn’t even know it. JT is from Appleton, Tyler Braunschweig is from Appleton. There are actually a number of people whole live in Minneapolis that are from Appleton that I didn’t know while I was living in Appleton. I think I’ve met more people from Appleton while living in Minneapolis than I met in Appleton while living in Appleton.
I don’t know where this is going to go, and I think if you asked anyone in SIM they wouldn’t know either. We have goals that were working on, and I don’t think any of us plan on stopping any time soon. Bigger parties, better parties, what can we do to improve to make it better? Bigger artists, cooler artists, EDM is going up, it’s getting more popular and were able to do some things that we would’ve never been able to do without EDM blowing up. It’s becoming more mainstream and you can hear it in the pop music influence. Vocal progressive house is essentially pop music now. You can look at people like David Guetta, Zedd; even Hardwell is out there pushing out stuff like this. Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, they are really blurring that line between pop music. There are a lot of elitist out there who view this as a bad thing and would like to keep electronic music pure and house music pure, but this is what people want. This is what they wanted; they wanted to be able to do stuff to the mass. They wanted people involved, and as it keeps getting bigger we will just be able to continue doing cooler stuff. I’m excited.
SIM: Do you hope to one day build your career around this industry?
Zach: That would be awesome. I would totally love to do that. As I mentioned before, I’m a realist, so I realize that I have to support myself through other means if I want to continue doing the things that I enjoy doing. I’ve also had this problem my whole life where if I have something that I love to do I can’t get too serious about it. It has to be fun; otherwise I am not going to like doing it. It then becomes a chore, and it becomes work and I don’t want that. That’s why I learned to be a graphic designer so I could support myself. I really do enjoy working with technology, working with clients, and being creative because I’m a creative person I love the idea of making something.
I think it would be really awesome though. SIM is just kind of this hodgepodge of people, and although we would all love to be doing that all the time, we still have to be real about it. Right now I’m okay with where we’re at and where I’m at.
SIM: How long have you been producing music?
Zach: I started playing guitar when I was in middle school. My brother had a guitar that I started learning to play and I got pretty good at it so my parents got me my own guitar.
I’ve been trying to produce electronically for a long time, maybe like four years, and I still don’t think I’m very good at it. I produce with Herschel, who runs the Sound in Motion Twitter. He and I produce together, and we call ourselves Vodka Rebel. He is a great producer and we help pan each other’s ideas out. We actually just sent our third track in yesterday to get mastered by a company out in Spain. We send our tracks to this guy named Coyu who actually does all the mastering for the label that he owns. His label, Suara, is arguably the hottest techno and deep house label in dance music right now. We send our tracks to get mastered by them because we really like their sound.
Suara is my favorite label and there they are all about cats. It’s a deep house techno label, and all of their artwork is actually all of these awesome custom artworks of cats. It’s like really cool contemporary designs of cats and it’s awesome. I recently found out in the last few months that the label actually owns a foundation where they take in stray and feral cats in Spain and spay/neuter them, make them healthy and rehabilitate them. All of the proceeds from the music, merchandise, and booking that you buy from the artists go to the Suara Foundation, which is helping animals finding homes. I’m totally jazzed about that, and I love that about them.
I’ve been trying to produce electronically for roughly four years now. I asked for some gear for Christmas one year, I got it, and it ended up being a lot harder than I thought. People think it’s really easy, and that producing electronic music is simple, and it can be but it depends on the way you do it. I didn’t want to take pre made samples, I like to make melodies on my own and tweak everything. If you want to do everything from scratch it’s a lot like composing. When you make electronic music you have to make the drums, melody, and you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.
As someone who is a fairly successful DJ, my goal is to have fun and make people dance, and that’s really all I want. Finding a way to do that is always the question, and that’s why I need Herschel. I come up with an idea and ask myself how do I pan that out, and he comes along and tells me to do this and this and this. We collaborate ideas, and boom, we have a song.
SIM: As far as performing goes, what is your favorite part?
Zach: Seeing people enjoy something that you’re doing. It’s cool to make people have a good time. I think it stems from the desire to make people happy. I like helping people and I like supporting people. I like to always think of myself as that friend that people can talk to, and I think it all stems from that. I like being the curator of music. If people can look back on that night and think wow that music was really good then I know I did my job. If after a show people give me a compliment about my music that means that absolute world to me. It means that I had a good feel for the music I was playing, but most importantly people were having a good time. If someone can get elated that much through a set, then that’s amazing. Like I get it, we’re just DJ’s and we just press play as Deadmau5 says, but personally, I think it’s a little bit more than that.
SIM: If possible, can you recall your all-time favorite performance?
Zach: You know, I want to say something like when I opened for Hardwell or Calvin Harris, the big stuff like that is fun but my favorite performances, and I can’t give you just one night, are the ones like nights at Rev and in nightclubs. People click; people come out that night to have a good time and something clicks and everyone is just totally down to rage. Those are the best types of nights. You get into it, you feed off that energy and people feed off of yours. All the energy hangs in the next song that you play. Is it going to be something they know? Is it going to be something they don’t know? Those are the decisions you have to make. You can kill an entire room of people if you don’t play something they might connect to.
The best performances are just when you’re on point. When you can test stuff out that you’ve never done before. Before Hardwell plays or Dannic plays you have to set a certain format and you have to set a certain vibe. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love being able to play those and it’s a huge honor and a huge privilege, but the best times for me are with the intimate types of settings.
SIM: If you could chose to perform anywhere in the world festival wise where would it be?
Zach: Definitely Ibiza opening weekend. Suara probably has the hottest dance party in Ibiza right now. I would love to play in Chicago. I would love to play at Spy Bar. I would love to play at Primary in Chicago. I would love to play at EDC, that would be insane, but obviously everyone would love to play at EDC. I want to play at like the deepest underground place in Berlin. Like the darker the better, like some real techno shit.
SIM: You get to pick one artist to perform with, who is it, and what persuaded you to pick them?
Zach: Richie Hawtin, he is one of the pioneers of techno and techno came before everything. He was making music with 909 drum machines and org and moog synthesizers. Dance music partially exists because of Richie Hawtin and the music he created. Granted he does play some really deep techno stuff, whether you’re into that or not, it’s innovations like that to thank for what we have today. Him sitting in a basement and making stuff is part of the reason that we have the music that we do now. It obviously wasn’t just him, it was Chicago, it was Detroit, it was Miami, New York. All of these scenes really help shape what there is today.
It would be amazing to play with one of the pioneers like that; it would be an experience that you would never forget.
Come see Zak Michaels Fridays at Rev Ultra Lounge and Saturdays on the Union Rooftop all Summer long! Click here for more info.