Michael Brun is a DJ-producer with a truly inspiring success story. Born on the Caribbean island of Haiti, he took up production as a hobby at 16 while studying hard to pursue a career in medicine. Michael continued crafting his sound as a hobby when he began a pre-med program at Davidson College in North Carolina. His patience and hard work paid off when he was signed to his first label, Revealed Recordings, in 2011, and soon after, he was under the tutelage of Dragan Roganovic, commonly known as Dirty South, releasing tracks on his label Phazing Records.
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Michael was able to secure a leave of absence from Davidson to try out his career in music, and the school was nice enough to offer him a spot to return to if the music path didn’t work out. But it has. His releases on Phazing Records - "Rise", "Burn Forever", "Synergy" and "Rift" - have all charted in the Beatport Progressive top 15, and Michael has plenty of new music and tour dates coming down the pipe. We recently caught up with Michael via Skype.
You just got done playing at Coachella. What was the most memorable part of being there?
It was my second time in California. Just getting to be there again was pretty awesome. I only got to stay there on Friday of the first weekend because I flew to Mexico on Saturday morning for another show, but just getting to see all the other acts, walking around, hanging out and enjoying the music too, not just playing, it was pretty cool. Some of the other festivals I’ve been to, it seems like once the acts get there they have to play and they usually have to rush and do something else. But this one was so out of the way, and there’s not really a lot of other stuff going on, so everyone can kind of chill and just hang out, and not only play but be a spectator too.
What was the most memorable act at Coachella that you saw as a spectator?
I really liked Duke Dumont and Nicholas Jaar. I hung out in the Yuma tent for a bit before I started my set. I really wanted to see Flume, but didn’t get a chance to because I had something else going on at the time. The Sahara tent setup too was just awesome, it looked so cool.
How did you get booked at Coachella? Was it a competitive process?
All of the booking process is usually in the hands of the agent, so for me, it’s my agent and manager working together, but from what I can tell about the festival, there seems to be a pretty eclectic lineup, even on the electronic side. It seems like the acts that they pick to play, they’re developing their own sound- that’s like a brand that can be associated with that act, basically only that act can deliver that kind of music for the crowd. I don’t know what the magic formula was to get to play because it’s an honor to be at any festival really, but I’d say that all the acts that I had a chance to see, had a signature in their sound, and that probably helped a lot to get them booked.
You also just played Ultra Miami. How would you compare the crowds between Ultra and Coachella?
They were both pretty awesome. I played the Sahara tent, which is more of an enclosed area, and I played main stage at Ultra. The energy levels were really high at both, it was just a difference of one of them had a ceiling and one was just open air, but they were both awesome.
Tell me more about your transition from pre-med to music. Was it a tough decision putting school on hold to pursue music?
It was a big one. I was on scholarship at Davidson, a really big scholarship. I knew that if I did take music seriously and had to leave school, I didn’t want to jeopardize my chances of ever going back if I needed to. School was really important to me, and up until my sophomore year, I never took music as a potential job, I just always took it as a hobby. So when I started getting the management offers and agency offers that would lead into something more serious, that’s when I had to figure out how I could secure the school stuff, so i could have the ease of mind to say, 'Alright I’m taking this 100% now, but if anything goes wrong I can always come back,' and Davidson was really cool about it, just helping me get my leave, and then from my leave, just staying in touch with them and having the chance to go full speed ahead on the music, with that backup, which is really rare. I think if I had gone to a bigger school, it wouldn’t have been like that, because they just wouldn’t have time to help on a student-by-student basis.
Do you ever think about studying medicine again?
Yes, I do. I really think about it a lot. When I was in high school and freshman year of college, I was volunteering at this pediatric hospital in Haiti, it was the only one at the time, and the guy who created it, didn’t go to med school until he was older than 30. So he went really late, in the sense of, usually people who are pre-med would head to med school around 26, average age is 26 or 27. So it just kind of made me realize, as long as you have the determination and want to get it done, you can do med school anytime, and really that applies to everything. Yeah, I think about it, I think about what I will do with my life in the long run. Music right now is really important to me, and I’m putting 100% into it now, but maybe in the future I can always go back, which is nice to think about.
Nick Thayer, a producer on Skrillex's OWSLA label, recently wrote an article that broke down some of the costs of touring and producing albums and said financially he was 'running on fumes.' Do you feel as a DJ-producer that you're running on fumes?
I’ve had this conversation a lot actually. It’s a problem that applies to anyone in electronic music right now, especially because it’s so hard to break through. The issue seems to be, when you DJ, you’re DJ’ing usually to earn money because you’re not making money on music sales. So when you do that, all the time you spend DJ’ing and traveling and anything that has to do with that, is time that you’re not producing, working on your production and improving that, developing your sound, which is what people identify you with usually in electronic music now, is your productions. So basically it’s a vicious cycle of the more you DJ, the less you spend on music, and the less you spend on music, the less people know about who you are, and the lower your fees are, which leads to the question, how do you find a way to get your music known while also sustaining yourself?, because you’re not earning money any other way. It seems like it’s a problem that’s widespread now. To be able to really improve, you need to have some sort of financing to really support yourself and maybe spend a few months on production without touring, and save the touring for later in your career. It’s tough. I’ve been lucky that I have a really good team around me that’s been supporting me and getting me really good gigs, so I’m able to still produce, and spend a lot of time in production. But yeah I know the problem, I’ve had this conversation with so many other DJs. I guess maybe there’s a point where you stop worrying about that, because you’re able to earn enough where it’s not an issue, but for most of these guys, even the guys that are getting a lot of attention, the financial situation might not be as amazing as people might think.
Are the costs associated with making an album really that high?
I haven’t started doing album stuff yet because of that whole idea of how much you have to spend to get that done. But also my setup is kind of abnormal from most other people, because I work almost exclusively on headphones and my laptop. I can get by on my headphones, which is very rare. I don’t really know anyone else that’s doing that right now, I read something about Skrillex doing that. And that saves me a lot of costs for hardware and other things. It’s tough to think about when you’re working on an album, you probably need to get vocalists, so you need to spend money on studio time, you need to spend money on any equipment, any mixing or mastering fees, and just daily expenses. So it can get really expensive, from what I’ve heard. I haven’t done it yet myself, but I’d say if you’re trying to get an album done, you should probably have some finances for that specifically because that can drain you, it can drain your own personal funds if you don’t know how quickly you’re going to get it done or where you’re going to get it released. It’s kind of like balancing the creative with the business side of the industry. It’s not easy.
Do you have any new or upcoming releases you want to talk about?
I’m excited for my new remix of 'Shadow Of The Sun' by Max Elto. I’ve taken the last six months just working on a bunch of new material, and this is the first release of all the new material coming up. So, it’s this remix and then one of my new tracks that’s gotten a lot of support already. Steve Angello played it out at Ultra. It’s getting played out by Ingrosso, Dirty South and Alesso. I’m very very excited for that one. It’s a taste of everything to come basically, kind of a step up from my previous work, I think. There’s also another track called “Sun In Your Eyes” that I did with DubVision. That’ll also be out in the near future. The three tracks are all in my Ultra set, where I premiered them for the first time. It makes me really excited because I genuinely feel this is the best music I’ve ever done, and I can’t wait till everything’s out.
Listen to Michael's uplifting remix of 'Shadow Of The Sun' below.