Mike Casey is a DIY saxophonist/songwriter with a powerful sound & creative outlook on both music and entrepreneurship. Fans include HuffPost, @NPRMusic, Evernote, Spotify and more. He’s managed to hit over 2 million streams in the first 2 years of his recording career, without a record label or team – rare if not unheard of in jazz.
Mike Casey Jazz – Visit Mike’s website and use promo code FIRENATION for 40% off Mike’s merchandise and music!
3 Value Bombs
1) Law of attraction is when you’re holding a vision in your mind of what you want, what you’re seeking, and then allowing the universe to deliver that to you – as long as you put in the work.
2) You have to love what you do and you have to be so passionate about it that all the doors could close and everyone can tell you you’re crazy – and you’ll still do it.
3) A lot of people are doing a lot of great things. Learn from them. Stand upon the shoulders of giants, but when it comes down to it, be you. Be exactly who you are.
**Click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.
Today’s Audio MASTERCLASS: Thinking Like an Artist with Mike Casey
[01:05] – Mike shares something about himself that most people don’t know.
- He was trying to make it into the NBA when he was young.
[02:29] – How did his upbringing play a role in shaping his outlook as an artist, then music-preneur?
- He was raised in a culture of questioning.
- He grew up learning to not take ‘No’ for an answer. He grew up thinking, learning, and believing that he could mold his own reality in the literal and spiritual sense.
[05:05] – Mike talks about improvisation and how you can use it to connect more dots in our life.
- We might have a plan in the day, but things change, and we have to adapt.
- Music has its own language and it has many languages within it.
- Let things flow and realize that there aren’t really mistakes. Even if there are, it’s actually an opportunity to play something else.
[07:34] – Mike talks about asking the question “And then what?”
- There’s a lot to gain from experimenting.
- As long as you believe that the two ideas—career and art—are connected, and you can backup why these will work, you can move things and make a difference.
- When we overthink, we tend to look for the best idea.
[09:53] – The benefits and detriment of looking into the future.
- Planning and setting goals is the key.
- Law of attraction is when you’re holding a vision in your mind of what you want, what you’re seeking, and then allowing the universe to deliver that to you – as long as you put in the work.
[14:09] – Mike talks about not taking ‘No’ for an answer.
- You just have to love what you do and you have to be so passionate about it that all the doors could close and everyone can tell you you’re crazy – and you’ll still do it.
[17:46] – How can we understand what makes us different, and how can we use that to our advantage?
- Study others out there, what they do, and have a further understanding of what they do, why or why not things are working for them.
- Thinking of what you and others do, what they do better than you, and what’s left after that or what are the things that you do that others don’t – that helps you understand what makes you different.
- A lot of people are doing a lot of great things. Learn from them. Stand upon the shoulders of giants, but when it comes down to it, be you. Be exactly who you are.
[22:51] – Find the void that you can fill – that’s the key!
[25:04] – Mike’s parting piece of guidance
- In music or in jazz, you have to mean what you play with every fiber of your being.
- Realize the core skills and the core passion. It’s not just loving entrepreneurship. What about do you love?
- Mike Casey Jazz – Visit Mike’s website and use promo code FIRENATION for 40% off Mike’s merchandise and music!
JLD: Boom, shake the room, Fire Nation. Today’s audio master class is thinking like an artist with Mike Casey. Mike is a do-it-yourself saxophonist and song writer with a powerful sound and creative outlook on both music and entrepreneurship. His fans include The Huffington Post, NPR Music, Evernote, Spotify and more and he has managed to hit nearly two million streams in the first two years of his recording career without a record label or a team, which is rare if not heard of in jazz.
And we’re gonna be talking about the law of attraction, asking and then what, breaking down the truth about improvisation and so much more when we get back from thanking our sponsor.
Mike, say what’s up to Fire Nation and share something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Mike: Hey, Fire Nation, it’s great to be here. Thank you for listening. Thank you John for having me.
Mike: Something about me that most people don’t know is that I actually was trying to make the NBA when I was younger. It wasn’t saxophone, it wasn’t music at first. I was playing music but I really gravitated towards it and I was good at it but I wasn’t really putting that much time into it. I was really obsessed with basketball, actually. I mean, I ate, slept and breathed basketball non-stop.
JLD: How far did you get?
Mike: Well, I was on the travel team in middle school, I was on the school team in middle school –
JLD: Oh, this is starting off good.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, so I mean exactly.
JLD: I was like did you make D-1, was your name kinda shuffled around the draft corners, but it’s good to have big dreams Fire Nation, it’s good to have aspirations and I think Mike, you have found your calling Brother. And I’m excited today because Fire Nation, we like to think like businessmen. We like to think like businesswomen, we like think like entrepreneurs, but today we’re gonna talk about thinking like an artist. And as you heard from the intro, Mike is an artist extraordinaire. So, let’s dive in because I want to know how your upbringing played a role into your outlook as an artist an now music-preneur.
Mike: I was kinda raised in a culture of questioning. That’s a certain part of it and that helps me both on the artist side and the business side and even the way I not mix the two, they don’t ever mix, but how they coexist side-by-side, you know, in their own separate sides of my head. And that is that I was raised Jewish and not to get too into that, but in that culture you’re taught to question everything. It’s actually part of that, it’s very of it. So, you grow up and you don’t really ever take anything for face value. You always think, well, why does this work, why doesn’t it work this way? Oh, I can’t do this, why are you saying I can’t do this?
So, that sort of thing. Like I kind of grew up learning to not take no for an answer, I kind up thinking and learning and believing that I could mold my own reality in a very literal and spiritual sense and I grew up using those types of kind of mental molds in my art. And later when I had to start monetizing my art at age 18, through to now, I’m 25, that has also helped greatly in that side of things as well, and also even in the mindset that you can even do that because unfortunately in the jazz community there’s a lot of what I call starving artists syndrome.
There’s a lot of romantization of the starving artists, there’s a lot of skepticism of anyone who’s successful in any way. And it’s not healthy and it’s not good and you kind of have to put that to rest if you want to actually do the art which is the ironic part. You have to really be okay with, yeah, okay this is going to make money so that I can make more art and making art is the goal but you need money to do it. It’s just that simple.
JLD: So, a lot of people will tell you, Mike and they’ll tell me that their biggest fear is public speaking. They just can’t imagine themselves being in front of an audience of people and speaking. And I would actually tell them that that might be their biggest fear until they know what actually improv is and getting up and having to act and react and just be really capable of improvisation in general in life because that is something that is such an absolute challenge.
So, let’s talk about the truth of improvisation and how we can actually use it to connect more dots in our life and maybe even connect our right and our left brain which would be pretty cool.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. One thing that I always try to tell people and show them is that really we’re improvising all the time. I mean this conversation we’re having right now is improvised. Any conversation either of us had today was improvised. We don’t really know what’s gonna happen. You now, yeah we might have a plan for the day but things change and we have to adapt. Improvisation in art is a lot quicker I would say and it does rely on some sort of understanding of language but that’s not that different from the language we’re speaking right now, English or anyone’s language.
You learn that language, you learn the alphabet, you learn the grammar and then you can mold things on the fly and say things and communicate things in vague or specific ways in real time. And doing that with music is not that different. I mean music is it’s own language, music has many languages within it, many dialects and essentially in the music that I primarily play which is jazz, that’s what we’re doing. We learn to speak a language; we learn to invent our own words as well.
We learn to invent our own sentences and own unique ways of kind of codifying our own personal artistic language in addition to the core language and you learn to improvise with that and you learn to really embrace the spontaneity at a really high level and to kinda just let things flow. And realize that there’s not really mistakes and even if there are, if there is a mistake it’s actually an opportunity, it’s an opportunity to play something else. You know, if I play a so-called wrong note, well it’s not wrong if I make the three notes after that note or after that line sound like they were meant to be played right after that thing that only I know is a mistake, you know.
JLD: Sometimes Fire Nation we just need to let things flow. You just need to let things flow. I mean, think about this. Why do some of your best ideas sometimes come in the shower or when you’re drifting off in thought or this or that it’s because you stress over things too much. Like you just overthink things and you can’t get there but then you just take your mind of it for a minute and boom, there it is. Just let things flow sometimes. And then, by the way, if I could help you get into flow. And something that has to do with improvisation I would love for you to kind of speak to Mike, is asking that question, “And then what?” Speak to that.
Mike: And then what? This is the thing that’s always going in my head and whether I’ve got the saxophone in my hands or not. And then what? And then what? And then what? How does this connect to this? I mean that’s just something that part of my upbringing and also part of my musical training is just like an autoloop in my head, for better or for worse. And I think what I try to do in the art and also in how I kind of run the career side is really just try to make everything connect and connect is not always in the most classic or expected way.
I think that there’s a lot to gain from experimenting and maybe the connection to the outside world maybe seems like it’s hanging on a thread, like oh, that’s kind of a weak connection, but as long as you believe that these two ideas, whether it’s music or something else, as long as you believe they are connected and you really, really, truly believe it and you can back up, at least to yourself, why you think this will work or why you think this supports this, or this connects to this in this way, that can move things. That can really make a dent and it can make a huge difference.
I mean, that just comes from like really being accepting of yourself but also being accepting of your gut too, I think. Going back to overthinking, sometimes when we overthink, we actually look for the best idea. You know, so-called, oh, what’s the most optimal way. And, of course, that’s good in some ways and there’s definitely a place for that, but sometimes the ideas that maybe you now call the moonshot ideas, the ones that are just like insanely incredible, those ones I think for me often come from just letting it flow and not questioning.
Like questioning, I always question everything but not necessarily questioning myself as much. I question the outside world. I question myself but not as often as I do the outside world and I think trusting yourself kind of plays into that. I mean, that’s a very far reaching artsy way of explaining all that. I hope some of that made at least some sense.
JLD: It’s not about looking to the future though because in music as in life and in business, there’s some benefits to looking into the future but there’s also some detriment as well. I mean, you have to know about what you’re gonna be playing as you are kind of going through some risks and things along those lines, and in business and in life we have to know that there’s a stoplight coming up if we’re driving a car or if it’s coming up to the end of the month and we don’t have enough money for payroll, so there is some looking into the future that needs to be done, but speak to that. What are your thoughts around that whole concept?
Mike: Planning is really key and setting goals is really key. I definitely agree with that and I use that all the time. I think being flexible has actually – kind of balancing flexibility with the goals so that everything kinda links up. Like in hindsight if you were to look back on it sometimes that’s how I actually look at things is if I was to look back on what I’m doing now, six months from now, would I say that this goal was accomplished in the way I wanted, the most optimal way, the most creative way in the way that kind of moved the needle for me and my music whether artistically or otherwise, businesswise whatever.
Does it all link up and kind of taking myself out of the now at the right time can definitely help with that. Looking into the future is very key and I think, I’m a big believer in law of attraction and that actually deliberately often is like envisioning the future in your head. Really holding a vision in your mind of what you want, what you’re seeking and allowing the universe to deliver that to you as long as you, of course, put the work in as well alongside that.
JLD: Well, talk a little bit more about that law of attraction. I mean, you obviously do believe in it as you just mentioned. Is there power in it; what is the power in it?
Mike: I do believe there’s power in it. I think that – I mean how do I even explain it because I’m always trying to get better at understanding it myself. It’s funny that we’re talking about this because I use it and I’ve been using it in kind of indirect ways for a long time in my life. And then I remember watching The Secret that movie maybe five years ago and really getting into it more then and then I kind of went back to using it more indirectly.
And then only recently in the past six months I remember listening to an interview with Dilbert and he was talking about he’s done amazing things by writing his goals down. And my goals I always just keep in my head, and I’ve started writing my goals down. And for me it’s funny, I don’t know if it’s just that I’m not as good at it yet, law of attraction-wise, but the goals in the head seem to move quicker for me than the goals I write down. But I’m gonna get better at that because I want to see – I know it will work, I just need to improve my skill and my affinity for it and my belief in it.
That’s part of this. I know that I’m sort of skeptical of this because I’ve been doing it this other way so long, but the other thing is reading The Attractor Factor by Joe Vitale. That really changed a lot for me in kind of delving into specific ways and realizing that everything that happens does happen for a reason and a lot of the time, most of the time it’s something that we have triggered consciously, or unconsciously and trying to dig into my subconscious and figure out why this happened for better or for worse and try to understand.
And I think there’s a lot to it and a lot of it comes out in music. And sometimes it’s easier to understand the musical part or the business part, you know, both are passions of mine, but then the things that surround that, the life, that’s where the whole grey area is. And understanding that is really – it’s tricky sometimes in the moment.
JLD: Fire Nation, the book that Mike’s talking about is by Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. It’s an incredible book, I highly recommend it for all the right reasons.
And Mike’s been dropping some value bombs and he’s got some more coming up as soon as we get back from thanking our sponsor.
So, Mike we’re back and I want to talk a little bit about not taking no for an answer. I mean, if you had taken no for an answer you wouldn’t be where you’re at today, so talk to us about that and how Fire Nation’s really absorb your thoughts and processes here.
Mike: You know, this is like late 2016, I had just crowd funded the first of my most recent two albums. That crowd funding campaign went really well. You know, I was kind of riding that wave and kind of going to various music industry stakeholders and saying, “Hey, here’s what I’ve got. I raised X in X days, it’s actually a lot for a young independent jazz artist.”
JLD: Well, how did you raise? Will you share?
Mike: Yeah, about six grand, I think, yeah, in about like five weeks. That was a really great campaign and it brought me very close to my fans and I’m really grateful for all their support and kind of – it had just helped move things a lot further along for me in advance of the album actually releasing. And I was going around, I will never forget, I was going around to various industry stakeholders, and these are people that I was willing to pay some of this money to to actually help promote the music. I’m talking about publicists, radio promoters, this that and a third.
And everyone was like, “Mike, you’re crazy for wanting to release your debut album, A.) Without a label”; they’re like “B.) Sax, bass and drums trio, you know, without a piano.” Usually there would be a piano or a guitar there playing the cord instruments. In jazz, for some reason, that’s become – for some reason they think that that’s a very risky artistic decision. It kind of is, but it’s also not the most – I mean it’s risky, what I’m doing is not the most LCD background-y, super-smooth form of jazz; it’s actually very rough and edgy. It’s polished enough but it’s got that edge to keep you excited if that makes sense.
And not only that you’re releasing live albums and you’re releasing two in two years that were recorded all from the same show. They’re like this makes no sense; we can’t get behind this. What we actually recommend, almost all of them said, “We recommend you don’t spend money on these albums because we think they’re gonna flop.” And I said, “Hmm, okay, we’ll see about that.” And the first one passed half a million streams in its first year and the second one passed a million streams in its first year. And those numbers are really high, potentially unheard of for a fully DYI jazz artist for their first couple of years.
I mean it’s been two million – with this other single I released it’s been two million in the first two years with no label, no team, no nothing. And that’s just something about me. I don’t take no for an answer. Even if someone said, “Hey, I won’t work with you.” That’s fine. You don’t have to work with me, I’ll figure out how to do this myself. Thank you very much if I need to. You know what I mean. And I think just having that stick-to-it-viness it’s really key for anyone in any industry. You have to know – you just have to love what you do and you have to really be so passionate about it that all the doors could close and everyone could tell you you’re crazy and you’ll still do it.
JLD: And this world is loud, it’s crazy, it’s busy, it’s saturated in a lot of different areas. We have to be different. We have to be unique. We have to try new things. So, how can we understand what makes us different and how can we use that to our advantage? Mike, speak to that.
JLD: Knowing your surroundings really well. In business they might say know your market. Studying what other things are out there and what they do and have a very fundamental understanding of what they do and why it’s working or why it’s not and figuring out, “Okay, what are the things that they’re doing that I can do or that I do provide well or great, you know.” And then also think of the things that you can’t do or that you’re not as good at and then think of the things that after you’ve crossed those two columns out, you’re kind of left with, okay, here are the things that they’re not doing that I am doing.
And I think when you do that you’ll find that the list – not that I think of myself competing with other artists, that’s not what I think about. But if you were to think of like that you might find in business that your list of competitors in those things that you’re left with has shrunken a lot and maybe you’re the only one left. So, that sort of thinking, okay what do we both do, what do they do better than me and then what’s left after that? What are the things that I do that no one else is doing, or that very few people are doing?
That sort of thought process has kind of helped me understand what makes me different and what make my story different, what makes my music different and then thinking, okay, how can I communicate this? And after that, put a lot of work into, see what happens and I constantly evaluate this, you know, every month, few months and just say, “Okay, what’s new?”
JLD: What’s an example of you actually doing this? Like what’s unique about you? What’s different?
Mike: So, I think musically, I mean I remember being a senior in my undergrad and just kind of surveying the scene of like okay, where are the other young saxophone players? Again, not to compete but just to understand, okay, what are they doing that I can do? What are the things that they’re doing that I can’t do and what are the things that are different that I bring to the table? And I remember looking around and thinking, “Okay, there’s actually a lot less people going for my goal than it actually seemed like before.”
And I realized that because I really figured out what my goal was, my goal was to be a global artist, touring the world eventually, releasing music all over the world, connecting with fans all over the world and being true to my artistic self as much as I could be and doing things in a way that was risky and exciting for me and for the listeners. And what I saw was emotion, really focusing more emotion because a lot of modern jazz today it’s become very technical and less emotional and I wanted to really bring that back. Bring the emotion back and bring the edge back and bring that, just that embracing the moment feel back.
And that part of it was the part that I felt that, it’s not that no on else is doing this but there are very few young jazz artists, in my opinion, doing that in my age group. A little older, they start to more get to it but that factored into my decision. Yeah, I’m gonna release two live albums. They’re gritty, they’re raw, they show it all, you know, and there’s a lot of energy in that. It’s not just polished super-produced technical all thing that just tries to demonstrate here’s all the licks I learned, here’s all the riffs I learned but yeah, I went to music school.
I originally tried to create something that was really real to me and in that specific way as emotional and as raw as I could and I thought to myself at the time, “If I can do this, I know this will go somewhere because there’s not that many young jazz artists doing this.” Usually they’re making very polished, very technical, very proficient, you know, here’s what I learned in jazz school type of albums to varying degrees.
And I kind of remember thinking, “You know, I’m not the only one but this actually makes it a lot easier to find my niche.” And realizing that where I come from and who I trained with, all these things; these are things that actually changed how I sound. And changed how I can differentiate myself from other people if that makes sense. I’m influenced by different artists than most other young saxophone players are influenced by. For example, all these sorts of things. I mean, I could go on and on, but that sort of thought process kind of played a big role in realizing that it doesn’t need to be this crabs in a barrel mentality; we’re all very different out here.
JLD: What is a void that you can fill Fire Nation? Like what is a void that’s out there that’s not currently being filled in the way that you think it can and should be filled? That’s a key thing because guess what? There’s a lot of people doing a lot of great things out there; learn from them, study from them, stand up on the shoulders of giants but when it comes down to it, be you. Be exactly who you are; your personality, your vibe, your passion, your gut, your instinct make that happen.
Now, Mike your fans, they include The Huffington Post, NPR Music, Evernote, Spotify and a lot more. I mean you’ve had over two million streams in your first two years and that’s without a record level or a team and it’s pretty rare if not unheard of in the world of jazz. So, what else do you want Fire Nation to know about your story?
Mike: I’ve just been recording, touring as much as I can, trying to improve as much as an artist and on the business side as well. I am looking to build a team so if there’s any people out there that want to become a stakeholder in some way, help out, whether it’s management or anything like that, booking, anything like that, I’m definitely looking for partners to help take this to the next level because I definitely can’t do it alone. I mean I’ve done a lot alone but I don’t want to do this alone forever. But right now, I mean I’m just exploring as much as I can artistically.
I’m in Spain for a little while, I’m doing a year long masters program at Berkley College of Music’s Valencia campus and it’s been the time of my life. And yeah, I’m just excited to get back to the states end of the summer and plan to keep releasing more music. Yeah, I’m just really thrilled to be here and hopefully this journey inspires some people to kind of think about things differently in some way. And I guess that’s about it.
JLD: With that being said, what would you say the one takeaway, one vibe that you really want people to take away from our chat today; what is that?
Mike: The spirit of things. You know, the intent. In music and jazz, we say, “You have to mean what you play. You have to mean what you play with every fiber of your being and if you do that you’ll reach the listener; they’ll feel something. And you have to put so much energy into every little thing you do and make it look effortless at the same time. And I think that type of passion that we see in the music industry that artists exhibit, the people on the business side who are amazing at what they do that they exhibit – it’s not unlike serial entrepreneurs in a way.
I mean every time I take a solo, I’m building a solo. These albums that I designed, these last few albums, I did basically all myself. I think realizing the underlying principal of what you actually love is really cool. And, of course, I love music but I think the underlying part of that is I love to build things. I mean when I was really young I used to love Legos, I dabbled in artwork design, every time I take a solo I’m building a solo. Every time I write a song, I’m building a song, I’m taking nothing and turning it into something. And entrepreneurs do that. I mean that’s a huge part of it.
And I think realizing the core skills and the core passions. It’s not just, oh, I love entrepreneurship; what about it do you love? It’s not just oh, I love business or oh, I love scaling things and then selling them or whatever. Whatever your niche with entrepreneurship is, figuring out what you really love is really key. Like for me it’s more of like, “Yeah, I love music and jazz and saxophone and all that but realizing that I actually – underlying all that it’s about building.” You know, every time I take a solo, I’m building a solo, every time I write a song I’m building that song.
And I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to build certain things in certain ways and processes that allow me to go in a zillion different directions but while still building. And not being tied down to anyone thing. As long as I’m building, I’ll be happy. And I think it’s key for anyone in any industry, especially entrepreneurship to really understand what is that thing that underlies what you do that you really love?
JLD: Fire Nation, you know this. You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you’ve been hanging out with MC and JLD, so keep up the heat, and Mike, where can Fire Nation find out more about you? Give us that final call to action.
Mike: Sure, so my website is Mikecaseyjazz.com, that’s M-I-K-E-C-A-S-E-Y-J-A-Z-Z.C-O-M. I also like to keep in touch directly with people, so if you have a cell phone, which you probably do, hit up textmike.me, leave your info, we can keep in touch via text. I’m dropping new music all the time. I’ll personally shoot you a text with a link to listen. I’d love to keep in touch with anyone here. And I have a big discount on merchandise and music in my store just for Fire Nation. If you go to mikecaseyjazz.com/fire and you type in code Fire Nation, I believe, you’ll get, I think, 40% off.
JLD: Fire Nation, check that out. Mikecaseyjazz.com to learn more about Mike and mikecaseyjazz.com/fire is gonna bring you to the store, promo code Fire Nation 40% off. And Mike, I just want to say thank you for sharing your value bombs to Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we’ll catch on the flipside.
Mike: Thank you JLD. I really appreciate your having me. Thanks everyone listening.
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