The town of Little Falls on the banks of the Mississippi River isn’t famous for much, except for being peaceful and sleepy and mostly drama-free. But if you’re really into folk and indie music and have an uncanny knowledge of Polish pop culture, you might know Little Falls as the birthplace of singer-songwriter Michael Shynes.
With an old keyboard & a mic from Best Buy
Michael caught the music bug late. He spent 1 year learning piano at school and 2 years playing bass clarinet in a band, but it didn’t really click until he went to college. That’s where he joined a band as a singer - not because he was particularly talented, he says, but because he was there - and then he started producing music in his dorm room using an old keyboard and a mic from Best Buy. Michael felt his most creative in that dorm room. He loved how he could channel an emotion or a feeling into song form. It felt like the ultimate release, although he didn’t sound great at first. His vocals were raw and untrained, so he’d listen to recordings of himself singing and iron out each imperfection until he no longer sounded imperfect. This diligence and dedication is a pretty airtight summary of Michael Shynes’ career. He’s self-made in every way - he scrubbed and polished his own rough talent until it shone like a diamond and then applied that same dogged energy to building a fan base.
On 'Simply', Michael Shynes' crisp blue-eyed soul Vocals resonate
as clear as a blue sky stretching out over the Great Plains.
It’s fair to say the hard work’s paid off. Today Michael’s the proud creator of 5 full-length albums, 64 (!) singles plus dozens of more tracks in his Artlist catalog. He’s best known for making emotional pop/folk music and raspy covers of indie classics, although he also enjoys making fast alt-rock tracks to bellow along to while driving along the freeway.
I realized time is the only thing that billionaires can’t buy any more of
Michael doesn’t shy away from talking about the difficult stuff in his music or in day-to-day life. Today he chats from his home studio in a small town about an hour outside Minneapolis. He’s got that Midwest lumberjack look - the cap, the beard, the plaid shirt - but most striking about Michael is his curiosity. He spends the first few minutes interviewing me, so it’s easy to see why his music connects with so many people. It’s just an extension of his empathetic nature. Once the interview is flipped in the right direction, Michael is incredibly open. He tells me he decided to focus on making music after his beloved father passed away from pulmonary fibrosis when Michael was 25. “Watching my dad go through that, I realized time is the only thing that billionaires can’t buy any more of,” he says. “And I just knew I had to be very selective with my time on this earth.”
On the brink of burnout
Michael met his wife a couple of years after his father passed away. She was a single mother, so suddenly it wasn’t just about Michael anymore. He had a family to support, which gave him the motivation to give this music thing all he had. He played gigs all around Minneapolis, sometimes playing for 2 or 3 hours at a time. He didn’t have enough material for his set length so he’d improvise, making up music on the spot and working with his audience to create a totally unique show every time. He played weddings, country fairs, corporate events, private parties. But in order for him to support his family, he had to tour non-stop, and after a while, he was on the brink of burnout. He remembers his car breaking down en route to a gig in Iowa and thinking for the first time in his life that he really hates music. His passion was slipping and his mental health was suffering.
'Cry No More' is a selection of soulful songs with contagious hooks,
passionate vocals and a sense of uplifting empowerment
“I started to develop a little bit of social anxiety from [performing],” Michael says. “Because I’m trying to socialize with everybody and make them feel special for coming out to see me. And I was also playing for a really long time. I started using booze to cope with the anxiety which isn't constructive or healthy.”
Along came Artlist
...having this big, passive revenue stream has completely changed my life
It was around this time Michael made contact with Artlist. He’d been writing and releasing his own music independently for several years, but his partnership with Artlist changed his entire business model. He submitted his first track in 2018 and was immediately struck by the care, attention and respect they gave him and his music. Since that first email exchange, Michael’s become one of Artlist’s top-performing producers - and it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. “I was performing so so so much, like, 5 or 6 nights a week, and all my money came from performing. So having this big, passive revenue stream has completely changed my life.” Michael says he now plays shows on his terms, sells out his own ticketed events and plays to audiences that come to hear what he has to say. Michael’s signed with labels in the past but found it a big fat headache that limited his creative freedom. “Now I pretty much treat Artlist like a label,” he says.
'Born Again' is an uplifting pop EP that features sweeping guitars,
gentle piano, heartfelt strings and Shynes' soulful vocals
“The beauty of Artlist is you're getting your music in all these videos,” Michael says. “My songs have been used hundreds of times, they’re reaching millions of people who then go check me out.” In 2019 Michael released “Born Again,” an uplifting indie rock track that’s racked up close to 1.5 million streams on Spotify. Michael didn’t promote or market the track at all - he simply shared it on Artlist and it took off all by itself. “This is what I’d hire a label to do anyway,” Michael says. “But all this money goes to me and I'm able to preserve my ownership of it. So Artlist is paying me while promoting the crap out of my music. It’s a win-win.”
Big in Poland
Musicians like Michael have the drive and the talent, but the biggest challenge is making sure people hear it. Often you just have to be in the right place at the right time, which is exactly what happened to Michael in the summer of 2018. Michael stumbled across an advert on a job-for-hire website from a Polish pop group called Komodo. They were looking for vocals to use in their remix of “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight” by Cutting Crew. When Michael sent his vocals in, he wasn’t expecting to become an overnight sensation in Poland. He wasn’t expecting to go on his first press tour with Komodo and perform to 50,000 people in Gdansk. He wasn’t used to backing dancers in bright red tracksuits body-rolling around him on-stage or a crowd that big screaming along as he sang. “Going platinum overseas unlocked a lot of support for me here and got me on people’s radar,” Michael says. “It was a local news story in Minnesota.” Finally, he could say goodbye to those meltdowns en route to Iowa.
'I Think I Can Fly' is a pop album with hints of funk and rock influences,
creating a hopeful feel with upbeat melodies and emotional lyrics.
Win the World
Artlist gave me a lot of room to execute the idea. It was super, super fun
Michael’s latest release comes out on August 9th in collaboration with Artlist Original. Win The World is a Coldplay-inspired indie anthem and an opportunity for Michael to unleash the full power of his vocal cords. This is the first track Michael’s created from scratch with the Artlist Original label, and he enjoyed the process every step of the way. “Normally when someone hires you to do something, they want full creative control over it. But [Artlist] gave me a lot of room to execute the idea. It was super, super fun.”
Michael Shynes' new single 'Win the World' is an uplifting pop gem
with warm vocals and empowering lyrics
Michael plans to continue to nurture his relationship with Artlist and sit back and enjoy everything he’s built over the last 10+ years. He’ll continue to play in his beloved Minnesota and re-charge in his quiet corner of the world. To Michael, nothing is more important than spending time with his family and pouring himself into music. I tell him it sounds like he’s in a really good place right now. “Yes,” he replies. “It's taken a long time to get here, but I am. I'm in the best place.”
If you’d like to feature Michael Shynes’ music in your video or project, check out his page on Artlist.
Alice Austin is a freelance writer from London. She writes for Mixmag, Beatportal, Huck, Dummy, Electronic Beats, Red Bulletin and more. She likes to explore youth and sub-culture through the lens of music, a vocation that has led her around the world. You can contact and/or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.