Interview by Fantini Blake (@FOTPBlog)
20 year old Essex boy Mike Hough seems set to be THE big musical revelation of the oncoming year. His YouTube covers have garnered over 2 million views and he's already been showered with praise from the likes of Beverly Knight (with whom he recently performed on stage with), Taio Cruz, JLS, The Saturdays, Ironik, Peter André, Pixie Lott, Shontelle, among others. From YouTube he has progressed to singing live before thousands of fans on UStream every week. As such, it's no surprise his Facebook & Twitter numbers continue to grow daily.
Without a video, TV appearance or radio support, Mike's buzz release "Hero" shot up on iTunes, peaking at #88 in the UK charts and #35 in the Independent charts, on the strength of his online fan base alone.
As he gears up to release new single "Nothing To Lose" - already being championed by BBC1 Xtra & Choice - and fresh on the heels of official announcement of his signing to Global Publishing, I had the opportunity to relay some questions to the lovely Mr Hough. Check out below his [very very good] answers and his [equally awesome] music.
Hello Mike! How are you?
Hey! I'm great thank you, hope you are too :-)
I hear congratulations are in order - you've just signed your publishing deal with Global Publishing! Could you explain to the fans what does that mean exactly and why it's such a huge thing for you and your music?
Ok, a publishing deal is basically songwriting. It's how many artists start out. I'm now gonna be going crazy in the studio for the rest of the year working on my debut album, as well as writing/submitting songs for other artists. It's not a record deal, but it's kinda like half of it, if that makes sense. My deal will follow later this year and my album will be released next year!
What does Mike Hough bring to the table that is special and unique?
I feel I can bring back something that is currently missing from the market. A white male "soul" singer. I hope to one day follow in the footsteps of Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake and many more, but with my own styles.
Your voice has a very rich, soulful quality, very akin to R&B crooners you see on the American charts - Mario, Jeremih, Chris Brown, Lloyd, The Dream, Robin Thicke, and so on. Do you think your talent would be more immediately appreciated in America than in the UK? Does what is in reality a blessing become an obstacle to be overcome because people just don't "get" it, they'd rather you have a "white boy" voice instead?
This is VERY true. I do feel I would be accepted more in the US, or find it easier to launch, as the UK can like a lot of diluted music, and that's not really what I do/wanna make. Many great vocalists don't make it in the UK purely because the UK want more of an 'entertainment' value artist, than just a vocalist, but the US appreciate all. Having said that, the US is a VERY big place, so it has more space for that, and also the UK is slowly changing and a lot of great talent is emerging so who know's how it's gonna go. I don't think you can ever really tell.
I'm thinking especially of X-Factor, where you were turned away both in 2007 and 2009. What was that like?
It's what I call the 'X-Factor Bubble'. It's an experience I could never have prepared for, but I loved every minute. I met some amazing people, and I learnt so much. It was heartbreaking, getting told "No" twice, but I took the other direction and used it as inspiration. It made me wanna work harder, and show that X-Factor isn't the end of the world and you can make it if you put the hard work in.
Since X-Factor you've been perfecting and refining your talents - you've mentioned you've worked on improving your presence, performance and image. What's changed and how have you changed it?
I was such a different person back then. I was more shy, I never had an image, and I portrayed myself as a weak singer. Now I feel I've grown into myself more. I know what I want and I'm not afraid to show that. I worked on my image a lot, I worked on my confidence, and I worked on crafting/shaping my voice and talent. It's so important to remember that NO one is making you do what you want to do, it's YOUR choice, so don't be shy, just enjoy it!
There are very few Pop males out doing big things on radio and the charts right now. Why do you think that is? Is the fan base of male solo acts more fickle than that of females?
I don't think it's a case of being fickle, I just think it's 'Boyband moment' at the minute. The boybands are back and in full force, which is great, but there is definitely a gap for a big male solo act. I know of many, including myself, trying hard to crack the industry and fill that space, but only the strong will survive as they say, so i guess time will tell. We are definitely on our way though, forget girl power ;-) haha.
As trends come and go, what will you do to ensure you both evolve and have longevity as an artist?
I think it's SO important to play the market and make sure you're giving people what they want, but at the same time making sure you stay true to you. I aim to make music that fits the scene at that time, but fits me. I will never make a song that I wouldn't wanna or wouldn't feel comfortable performing live, and growth is what I think will keep longevity in this industry. If we were to all stay the same throughout our careers we would become boring, but if we aren't afraid to grow and show that, then the industry and the public will always continue to see new sides to us as artists.
It's a generally accepted fact that the vast majority of music buyers are teenage girls and gay guys. How do you personally handle the attention from male fans? Would you perform at a venue like G.A.Y. or pose for magazines like Attitude?
I have gay friends and I love all types of people. I don't judge. My view is we are all the same, and we are all human enough to like the same things, who we go home with or how we spend our personal time is no one else's business, because people are quick to judge, but also quick to moan when THEY are judged. Of course I would love to do G.A.Y or pose for a gay mag - and that doesn't make me gay, I just think who am I to limit people and not give them my music or the time of day just because of their sexuality. People who do that are very small minded.
Great stuff. I hear you've been doing some writing for some other artists. Can you share some information about that?
I'm just starting out writing for other artists. I don't always intend to, I may just make a song for me that I finish and think "wow, this actually would suit..." and so on. But there are times where I will enter the studio with a co-writer and write for a particular artist. My songwriting has a lot of progressing to do, but writing for others and putting myself in the bodies of others really gives me bigger insight into situations that I maybe haven't experienced.
What's your writing process like, is there a Mike Hough songwriting formula?
It can vary. I may be walking down the street and get a melody/concept in my head, or I may bounce off of another songwriter and use their idea to work with. Normally, I get the beat I wanna write to, keep it on loop, write down some ideas that come, and let the song naturally flow! Anything forced is a waste of time as I feel you can always spot a song that has very little meaning, whereas if you're going through something or feeling a certain emotion, and you release that on the mic, it could deliver you a song that could potentially change your life!
Do you think having built up a big online presence through your YouTube cover videos and Twitter given you an edge over other artists' who are simply released on radio and TV by their label but who haven't built up that direct one-to-one contact with their fans? How important is an online presence for a new artist in 2011?
That's a tricky one, as a label can create that for you very quickly by using money and marketing - but I feel mine is more genuine. The internet is a very powerful tool which I feel is essential for all artists starting out these days. If you are clever enough you will know how to work your fanbase and how to get your name out there, YouTube being one of the main tools! I just feel I have taken a lot of time out to show my fans/supporters online who I really am, even without being on TV. I just want them to know that I will never let them down, and I will always give them the REAL 'Mike Hough' and all I have, and by using sites such as Twitter and Facebook, I get to do that.
If you were to pick out a handful of songs that really impacted you or touched you in a powerful way over the years, which ones would you pick and why?
'Chris Brown & Keri Hilson - Superhuman' - I broke up from a relationship and this song really spoke so much truth to me, it got me through a tough time - I was young and it was the end of the world! (I laugh now looking back haha). 'Beyoncé - Listen' - After X-Factor when I was literally at that 'shall i continue, am i strong enough?' crossroads this song was my anthem! It taught me to follow my voice and set out to prove everyone wrong!
What can we expect from your debut album? Is there a date more or less set for it yet?
No date set, but it will definitely be next year! It's gonna be fresh, real and very live sounding. I'm gonna put my heart and soul into this! I only get one chance to make a first impression so this will be crucial for me. I promise it will be worth the wait ;-)
As far as collaborations go, do you already have people in mind you’d like to feature on your debut?
I would love a track with Tyga or Drake. I love the way these guy's make music and the way they rap, so I would love to have one with them. Also I would love a big ballad duet with Adele - 'all vocals no action' as I call it - letting the music do the talking!
What’s the game plan for Mike Hough in 2011? Where can fans expect to see and hear more from you?
Stay tuned my twitter etc for news, I plan to release some tracks and I will be sharing my experiences via video diary online etc. This really is the time for everyone to watch me put everything into actions - And hey, you may have a new favourite song on the radio by one of your favourite artist's - that I may have co-wrote ;-) who knows!
Any final words?
Thank you for supporting, it means the world! Thank's for your time
And there you have it! Big thank you to Mike and his management for taking the time. Houghligans be sure to keep checking back to Flop Of The Pops blog as I'll be sure to continue reporting on Mike, his awesome music and career as the year goes on.
Newcomers be sure to check out Mike's music on the Soundcloud box, you won't regret it.
Music video promo for "Hero":