Don Miguel is not a bedroom producer. But he may sometime make beats in his bedroom. The man behind the stand-out producer project, ‘Waiting For Carmine’ is deeper than just Hip Hop. A session musician for top-tier major label talent, Don Miguel bombed the scene with his producer album ‘Waiting For Carmine’ enlisting a line-up that includes indie heavyweights Blacastan, Guilty Simpson and more. Having worked with Bink!, Ne-Yo, Meek Mill and others in the studio live, the experience of his veteran exposure is obvious in the quality of his debut. Like a movie, ‘Waiting For Carmine’ will pull you in, and can easily play start to finish – hard to find in today’s market of plastic feeling turnouts.
After listening, we had to catch up with the Don himself, and learn more about his work in music, personality, process and more!
Tell the people about where you’re from, where you rep…
I am from Long Island, New York. Massapequa to be specific.
How did you get started with music? Mentors?
I fell in love with music at an early age from my father playing Bob Marley and Queen and stuff in the car. Then I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on an episode of the Simpsons and I became obsessed with them. I started playing drums at age 6, then guitar in middle school. I’ve played in bands doing shows and recording since about 2002. Around 2010 I started producing hip hop. I got into doing that from doing more electronic based music with a band I was working with called “Helicopter Goes KABOOM!” The other guy in that band was really into Fruity Loops and put it on my computer. I started messing with it in my dorm room at Hunter College and then became obsessed with it. I’ve been a fan of hip hop since the 90s but I would say I became a true “Hip Hop Head” only in the last 5 years or so.
As far as mentors go, the first person that I will mention is a man by the name of Mark Edwards. He was my drum teacher at South Shore Music on Long Island from 1997-2005. I was a child when I started but he always treated me like a human being and more importantly showed me it’s a good thing to follow your passion. His love for music and his kindness had a huge impact. Secondly my guitar teacher Jon Bivona, who plays in the Trans Siberian Orchestra, for the same reasons.
‘Waiting For Carmine is ill. It definitely stands out to us in regard to a producer album. Tell us about this project…
“Waiting For Carmine” is fifteen of my productions featuring different emcees and singers on each track. I also played a lot of live instruments and had a bunch of different musicians perform on there. There is everything from orchestral arrangements and an opera singer to some of the grittiest rap you’ve heard in a while. It’s a beautifully strange ride that depicts where my head was at the last few years working in a bar and chasing my dreams and trying not to be too fucked up to make it happen. It’s a brutally honest album, yet the themes are wide open enough that they can represent anybody’s life. Hopefully people will respond to that. There’s also some recognizable names on there if you give a shit about that sort of thing. Hip Hop heads will recognize Guilty Simpson, Percee P, Boldy James, Rapsody, Rashad, Blacastan, Big Remo and many more. I recorded this album over the course of three years. There’s artists from all over the country on there, as well as an artist from London.
How did you link with Blacasatan? Guilty Simpson?
I Â met Blacastan through my good friend Conor Loughman in Boston. I was staying up there to do some radio and recording sessions for about a week and we were at a show for Moe Pope (one of the artists Conor managed at the time) and I met Blacastan there. We exchanged info and I told him a little bit about the project and he was on board. Guilty Simpson agreed to come on board because I already had Percee P on the song. Guilty and Percee P both appeared on the Jaylib album and were label mates on Stones Throw together.
Do you have a favorite track? Why?Of course they are all my babies but how I’ve been answering that question is by saying it would have to be the intro to the album, Cabron. It starts off with the accountant of my family’s bar speaking to me, telling me that my life is at a crossroads and that I need to take charge and move on. These were normal conversations we would have when he would see me working, so when the album’s theme really came together, I thought it would only make sense to have him on there. I scheduled an appointment at his office and went there and recorded him. The second half of the intro is the night time to the first parts day time if you will. The beat switches up into a drunken 808 wave and now you hear my friend Cary’s voice inviting you in to have a drink, telling you “We got everything you need.” It perfectly sums up the contradiction that is my life……or life in general. The first half of the song is an interpolation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song of the same name. The outro “I’ll See You In The Bar” is as well. In that track my friend Vienna Boa, who is an opera singer, takes on the role of the ever present “Bar Ghost”, reminding you that she will live on and on and that life is repeated and recycled on an endless loop.
Can you speak on being a session musician? How did you get into that?
I can’t say I really planned on ever doing session work, it was more of the opportunities were coming. I know how to play most of the standard rock instruments so it’s good to have those in your arsenal when you are around other producers because they are always looking for good musicians or different stuff to sample and try out. What really happened was when I started working with ST from G-Side, I met the Block Beattaz. They were working on Stalley’s album and when I told them I play guitar they invited me to come up to the studio they were all living in to record. That’s where I met Soundtrakk, Rashad, Bink!,Â Boldy James and Stalley. I ended up playing on a bunch of tracks that way. I got into it further because we did the preliminary tracking and mixing for my album at Billboard studios in Manhattan. I didn’t realize it but Billboard is two floors above Roc Nation. So one day after a session I was coming down in the elevator and a Roc Nation dude came in and we started talking. It ended up being T.T. who did some work for Jay and Memphis Bleek amongst others. I told him what I did and he invited me to a session where he was making tracks for Ne-Yo. Then later on in the night Meek Mill came through to work on stuff. This was before he went to Jail. His whole team came in straight from tour with all these bags and stuff. I got drunk with the intern kid working the desk later on and I was hitting on Meek’s girls and they were trying to guess if I was middle eastern or Jewish, which I’m neither. Then we went to a bar around the block and we all chilled till like 10 in the morning. Funny night.
Who are some of the artists youâ€™ve worked with in sessions? Favorite session?
Bink!, Stalley, Rashad, The Block Beattaz, Meek Mill, Ne-Yo, Boldy James, most of the people on my record (though a lot was done through email as well.) A million other artists from NYC and Long Island that are lesser known. Honestly the big name stuff is cool for stories and it excites people I guess but as corny as it sounds, music comes from the soul and all of the most powerful connections I feel through making music comes from working alone or with my friends in NY. Waking up knowing I have a session or a rehearsal or a show I think “Ok, today the darkness does not win. Today I win.” So that’s what keeps me going. My favorite sessions are any time I feel that way. Maybe i’ll drive over to my buddy Derek’s house in Long Island and we will work on some crazy music and then eat greek food and then get a bottle of wine. Maybe I’ll drive to my band mate Boris’s apartment in Brooklyn and we’ll record my vocals all day then sit out on his porch and drink Tecate’s and talk about life. That’s the stuff I appreciate the most.
Your content game is impressive. The website tells the story. How did you pull all of that together?
The videos were shot, edited, and produced by my cousin McGraw Wolfman, who is a freelance filmmaker in New York. We spent, god knows how many hours working on all of that stuff. I mean, months. We had production meetings with the cast and crew, acting calls, location scouting, make up people, wardrobe shopping, you name it. That was all for the music video. Then we also shot an album teaser and a mini documentary about the making of the album. We sat side by side and I watched him edit the videos. We had damn near if not a hundred editing sessions. I would go over to his house and we would work until lunch, go to the greek joint around his block, go back and work until night, then grab a bottle of bourbon and some ginger beer and chill out. After the editing process was over we did the color correction in Brooklyn, which took a few more months. Shooting those videos was incredible experience for me though.
From Paul Motisi, Art Director for “Waiting For Carmine” and owner of Altered States–
“When Michael called me in to do the Album artwork, it started only as an album cover. But the day we did the shoot at the family bar, we ended up having so much content that it would’ve been a shame let it go to waste. So we figured it would make sense to compile all of this family history, and showcase it as part of Michael’s own history, because really, it is. There’s a lot to be said about how the bar’s natural association with alcohol ties in with some of the themes that the emcee’s touch on, especially sobriety (or a lack thereof). There’s this conclusion we came to together: As a producer Don Miguel channels voices, but he doesn’t actually speak. He remains silent and anticipates some sort of direction but never gets an answer. This became the “story arc” of the site.
We wanted this project to do what physical albums used to do: allow a listener to explore the whole backstory, as well as the music. There’s more to michael as a producer, there’s more to this album. As a designer I wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself knowing that I took 3 years of his blood sweat and tears and rushed some sort of haphazard album cover. He’s giving his audience everything, and this site exists to assist him in doing that.”
With all your music experience, what made you want to do a Hip Hop project specifically?
Quite simply, I fell really hard in love with hip hop. When I get really into a style of music eventually I might want to do it. It wasn’t really planned, it happened naturally. I became obsessed with making beats and then got good enough to where I was confident to ask people to rap on them. Eventually it made sense to do an album. I always like to have a context for what I’m working on, that’s why I have a lot of different projects. I like things to have homes. Plus when the parameters are drawn you can start organizing better. I love arranging album’s, it’s one of my favorite things to do.
What’s up with the bar?
McManus CafÃ©Â is among the oldest family-owned bars in NYC – sinceÂ 1936! Corner ofÂ West 19th StreetÂ in Chelsea. Actually,Â McManus’ has been featured in a number of films and television programs, includingÂ Highlander,Â Radio Days,Â Keeping the Faith,Seinfeld,Â Law & OrderÂ andÂ SNL.Â It was also featured in a portion of Â The Other Guys.
Whatâ€™s been your favorite moment in music so far for yourself?
My favorite moment so far honestly has been completing this “Waiting For Carmine” album. Not only because I had a goal and accomplished it, and the hard work paid off and other cliches. But also because I feel like now I really have learned a skill set to move forward with in accomplishing other goals I have in music. That might be even more important really. Over the course of making this record I’ve learned that persistence does pay off, it’s ok to knock on doors until they open etc. Also doing all the video work we did really showed me how all that shit works, production meetings, release forms, the grueling editing process, color correction……things casual viewers probably take for granted. Hanging out with film people is really cool because they have such a depth of knowledge about it that I just don’t have. The way musicians dissect records is the same way film guys talk about films. After the color correction was done for my single “Sweat” I watched Boogie Nights with McGraw the director and Shane who was doing color correction and it was so cool to watch them break down scenes. So yeah, this whole process has been really rich and rewarding for me. I want to thank you very much for your time and say a huge shout out to Streets Connect. Keep spreading the love on “Waiting For Carmine” and keep your eyes peeled for my next project “LDNYC” which I did with an emcee from London named SamueL, as well as the debut album from my rock band Gamblers (If you want to hear a different side of what I do) called “Small World.” Both dropping in 2015. Take it easy.