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Honeycomb Music – Josh Milan :Two Time Grammy Nominated, One For The Team (January 2018)

Photo Josh Milan

I enjoy writing spiritual lyrics, conscious lyrics that touch your very soul. I love writing lyrics like that-just because I love it so much!  …..and in rolls anotha one *cue DJ Khaled

The journey to the Grammys is not quite as straight a path as it appears and as this article is being published mid–January 2018, Honeycomb Music Label Owner Josh Milan is a certified two-time Grammy nominee. To see someone in the community reppin’ a music genre that is marginally recognized by the greater music industry-is amazing!

shine – I’m thinking there’s no way that he’s not going to take home a trophy. No way. Not this year…..

House/Dance Music-singled out and officially categorized in and around the main ‘streams’ is a BIG deal. Not that it makes it any less underground or exclusive but it keeps the culture alive and well. Good music, good lyrics and great instrumentation are definitely a BIG deal in the Land of Josh Milan. I was surprised; not that he shouldn’t be a contender on that list, but mostly that the Dance category was added to the newer category list! Again, right next to Louie Vega!

Milan feels that things need to change (with respect to the Grammy Nominations Review Committee)he says, ‘there are some excellent recording artists, producers and musicians coming out of the scene/community from all over and it’s something that needs to be recognized. This is how the culture needs to be kept alive. ‘Something needs to change in the industry’

I asked him how he felt about the Grammys transitioning into a more digital judging process-he felt that the decision-making process, as advanced as it has become, indeed makes voting easier and more inclusive of all artists-but life still remains modest as a recording artist.

Milan fully understands that many still may not know who Louie Vega or Josh Milan are but he does feel that, ‘it would still be our position whether we win or not; to teach and direct our people through music…..it’s challenging he says, ‘because there’s no money in it, NO MONEY chinedu!!!!’ lol

(I had to laugh about the way he said this BUT he really emphasized that there is STILL no money in music.)

The second surprising transition on top of the 3 new musical categories is that key players contributing to an album now include (Producers, Songwriters, Sound Engineers and Mixers!)

According to Billboard.com, any supporting roles ‘credited with at least 33 percent or more playing time on the winning album will be eligible to receive a Grammy in the Album Of The Year category’.  The biggest and most groundbreaking move is that full albums from the Classical, Jazz and Dance categories will now be included. This is a subtle but very successful way to pull the ‘Underground’ to the forefront and keep the culture alive.

It’s sad that the Grammy Association took so long to wholly recognize other genres but exciting that these genres can be introduced to broader audiences to build and sustain the scene. With the ‘best’ artists embraced by the Academy its’ a great starting platform for vast audiences to focus on strong artists in each category. With Canada and Canadian Artists making waves globally in other genres-especially at this year’s Grammy Awards Show, this huge path widening for Dance Music lends exponential opportunities here up north. Especially those artists known to us.(Yay, Canada!)

Dance is broad but Dance encompasses so much and that’s the beautiful thing about this move! Milan feels that it’s truly an honour to be acknowledged by his peers and it may enhance the types of projects he’s going to work on from here onwards. It might even expand his artists network. But no matter what-He is focused on doing more music.

Being in the scene,working in the industry, loving the industry doesn’t have to be solely about the money if you have a clear idea of what you want to do.

Milan has left a huge imprint on the music scene over the last three decades. His participation has spurred musical movements and global scenes.That picture is BIGGER than money right? We talked about his career and the future of Honeycomb Music:

shine – Congratulations on your first and second Grammy Nomination!

JM- Thanks so much!It’s a great thing to say that I’m a Grammy nominated guy-it would be nice to say Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist Josh Milan….BUT mostly it feels good because I’m being acknowledged by my peers!

shine – How passionate are you about this music?

JM – I enjoy writing spiritual lyrics, conscious lyrics that touch the soul. I just love it so much! I know as artists that ‘we outta know better because when people approach me and tell me that the sounds and lyrics really resonated with their spirit, it makes it all worth it. We’re still gonna be doing what we do. What do we call ourselves? Musical heroes? Yeah, we try to save the world with our lyrics’. That’s what I’m tryna do. I’m still gonna do that! I’ll be that guy forever!

shine – Where would you like your career to go now?

JM – I want my music to be the kind of music that people are going to remember 20 years from now. I think at this point that’s where I’d like my career to head-in that direction. I’d like to have the kind of music that lasts forever, not so much what’s hot in the club right now. I want my nieces and nephews to listen to my music and be able to remember the lyrics. Longevity and all of that. I’m going for that timeless sound.

shine – When did your journey with music start?

JM – Back in the day, I started playing the organ in church. As I discovered my musicality I was unaware of my family’s church rules on playing instruments. You’re chosen to play. And with me being so young, I begged my cousin to show me everything and he showed me and I kept at it everyday, all the time. It was a natural thing at the time, and so I jumped on the organ and figured it out…… I started playing TV shows and anything I could remember in my head. I played it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned I had a gift. I knew I could play- but I didn’t think it was a miraculous thing to play by ear.’ (yes, it is JM!)

shine – Studying piano is hard. I appreciate those who do what they do musically. It’s mostly hard when you’re taught and it’s not your learning style, its a lot harder when you’re older than school age. It’s not impossible but IT’s challenging.

JM – I don’t know how to read music, but I tried once. It was sooo hard…it just boxed me in so thoroughly. IT turned me off and I couldn’t do it. I know what it’s like for something that comes to you naturally.

After his revelation it made me wonder about school and how it turns kids off of learning….all it takes is just one person all it takes is a good teacher that’s able to recognize that a kid has a talent.He mentions one of his favourite writers and greatest Nobel Laureates of contemporary American literature (James Baldwin) who was given tools (books by classic authors) at such an early stage by his teachers at a time when African-Americans were given very little opportunities-this story inspires him.

JM – Kids have so many tools available to them these days due to technology. Kids can maneuver all that (tech) with ease and this is a huge step forward especially with very specific things like music and music production

Milan noted that nothing about the music business and musical content is intended to create inspiration or direction because music is sold and made for profit. That’s why he enjoys making and playing the music so much. This is the main reason he decided to make and distribute all his music on private label Honey Comb Music. At Honeycomb he says,’we keep it nice and clean’.

Honeycomb Logo

shine – Transitioning from a recording artist in the early 80s to an independent label owner and artist today-what are some of the biggest changes?

JM – One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is the steady decline in content and talent. The entire industry and record labels particularly has taken a complete turn/change. The excitement of good music has turned into the excitement of a lot of money. The good music suffers, y’know? Rarely do you find a great full album anymore. Back in the day you’d find just every song is like ‘ahhh man I love this’ its a rarity now. And of course, artists aren’t making the kinda money they are making today. Another is the cash grab.

Everybody is fighting for pennies whereas in the past people were chasing larger sums of cash. From 1989-2017 numbers/dollars/publishing and royalties have dipped a considerable amount. That’s a DRASTIC change. People (accomplished musicians even) hold extra regular gigs just trying to keep a roof over their heads. And finally, label ownership. Don’t come in thinking you’re gonna be making all this money.

It’s just not gonna happen. Everything’s rented. From women to vehicles. That’s why I have my own label. If money is gonna be shrunken and swallowed up-I’d like to be the one in control of it at least. That’s my position. I would politely decline any label offers-especially with creative direction and control. I’d like to have that. They (big music companies) need to make money.

shine – At what point did you decide you wanted to become a recording artist? 

JM – I wasn’t.  got looped into this thing, it was an accident. I was enjoying my musicality and I met a guy at church. I was playing and doing my music thing. Chris, lead singer of Blaze told me about a DJ that could make beats. We had no idea what a record deal was. We had no idea what a record label was-we would make tapes. We’d play music against record beats and come up with songs. Those recorded tapes we handed over to a guy in the neighbourhood who had just started a record label.

At that time in 1984, a record label was a real BIG deal. We had no idea about studios. IT was unbelievable. We made $500 for that and eventually Kevin sold his tables and we gathered $1000 and recorded something in the studio. We became recording artists after that. The 2nd label we signed with was Quark Records.

We got on the radio. 1987 was the last time you could hear a House record on regular rotation on major radio. Then the 90s came-that’s what ended it all. Those were the last days….. it was the end of commercial House as I knew it. The other genres started to take over. The New Jack Swing and Hip Hop was becoming the future. We were slowly fading away. Shortly after that we were signed to Motown. That was HUGE.

shine – Did you meet Berry Gordy?

JM – Yes, I got to meet my heroes. I met Berry Gordy and Diana Ross. I’ve seen major things!!! I wouldn’t trade my independent for any of that.

shine – What happened at Motown?

JM – We were (Blaze) was dropped from Motown. They looked at us as the next Earth, Wind and Fire. A fully planned Marketing strategy was set up…….it was a big plan. Motown signed Boyz II Men and included them on very many promotions with the other big Motown artists at the time. Heavy D being one of them……Boyz II Men would go on to be one of the biggest acts for mainstream Adult/Contemporary but Josh Milan remained connected to the people.

After Boyz II Men’s debut- Blaze was dropped. They didn’t start anything or develop anything with us. House was seen as a bad idea and all projects related to Blaze were dropped. We were fortunate to have huge records in the scene. Many artists were supported by the masses. We had a good run. We got gigs. (this is possibly birth of the Underground maybe?) We had a good run……I realized very quickly that I had to create Underground sounding House Music.

That’s the only way I could survive. At the same time-commercial acts Robin S,Cece Peniston,Black Box,Neneh Cherry,Martha Wash and Technotronic were dominating the charts. I decided to go hardcore. My lyrics have been consistent to this day-but the sound was almost more dark and club-definitely not a place for the radio anymore.

shine – Who’s Alexander Hope?

JM – I used the name Alexander Hope. I did a bunch of songs under that name. Blaze made a few hits at the time too-I Found Love, Consequences and a song called Saturday (it was huge). We (Blaze) survived the 90s!

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shine – What was it like trying to make it in NY then?

JM – At times like those are when I loved the industry the most- any scene is supported by the locals in NY-you could be part of any scene in NY and make a living. Of course it would be a modest living. But you can survive.

shine – What are you working on right now?

JM – I try to find artists that make noise vocally. Reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire style music [loud with horns] I’m looking for loud music with horns and good lyrics. I look for strong instrumentation and solid production are key components I strive to re-create a 70s for 2018 sound. I’m currently working on a few singles with artists Ramona, Dawn Tallman and New York based Afro Latin group Ritmo Y Tumbao (percussionists who embrace African and Latin Rhythms) I add vocals and more rhythm to their music.

shine – Are there any favourite artists you’ve met over the years?

JM – Over the years I’ve met so many greats-from Phyllis Hyman to Bobby McFerrin but really, I would like to work with Chaka Khan. (Even accomplished individuals have people they admire!) I’m not sure if she’d work with me though. She’s my shero. I channel my inner Chaka Khan for #inspiration. I feel that maybe she wouldn’t take me seriously. I’ve wanted to work with her my whole career! (Ahem Ms. Khan are you reading this???)

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shine – What are some of the new rules to learn about the good ole’ music biz?

JM – It’s really important for artists to learn the rules of this biz, don’t come into the studio thinking that you’d like to work on music wanting it to sound a certain way. If you don’t know the rules, how can you win? Learn about publishing which is extremely important. (One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.) Publishing rights for music and lyrics are even bigger than gigs. Keep all rights to your publishing. It IS a business. Treat it as a business first and foremost. Louie Vega is someone who has taught me about the business first. He taught me a lot. We both took different routes towards our careers. Louie to DJ’ing and myself to the studio.

I’m sharing this kind of advice so no one has to go through this walking into the industry. Many singers and vocalists arrive to the studio with no conversation or agreement and talk nothing about being paid. Many artists passionately want to perform and sing but this forewarning is solid. Lofty and dreamy ideas are great but before entering the studio, there should be some discussion about what you’re doing and how it looks financially.

Producers reading this might not like the candid advice I’m giving but it’s truth. Artists, don’t get burned! It’s rare that all-encompassing details are so direct-with these financial times we’re all really fighting for the dollars and if you don’t know something; nobody’s gonna try to tell you-be forewarned from here! You gotta get what you need for yourself. It’s an ugly business. Get it? Got it!

Stay Tuned

Every year he holds a birthday boat ride in NYC. Louie Vega, Jihad Mohammed hosted a House Music cruise on the Atlantic last year with guest DJ Mike Dunn (Chicago) and he brought it! This cruise happens every year!

The shine prjct wishes Josh Milan and Louie Vega all the best this month at the Grammy’s. Take one home for the Global House Team! 

-shine

Credits: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/grammys/7832881/grammy-awards-changes-online-voting-album-rap-categories

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