DJ Magic Mike Earned a Radio Gig At Age 13 from a Pause Mix Demo Tape
How a Prince song, a bedroom tape deck demo, and a mother’s encouragement launched the career of a bass music icon.
Bass music icon DJ Magic Mike has no shortage of notable successes during his 30-plus year career as a DJ and producer. His solo albums Bass is the Name of the Game (1990) and Bass The Final Frontier (1993) are both certified gold, while his Ain’t No Doubt About It (1991) collaboration with MC Madness also moved 500,000-plus units. Meanwhile, Dj Magic Mike & The Royal Posse (1989) sold over one million copies. To sell more than 2.5 million copies of four albums on an independent label — in an early 90s Orlando marketplace n— is remarkable. To achieve such a feat in a mere four years is absurd.
According to Mike’s 2004 interview with Red Bull Music Academy, it all began with DJing at the young age of 10. When his cousin DJ Scratch also took an interest in the emerging art form, the two artists started simultaneously honing their skills and developing their craft. Long before Mike became a platinum Orlando superstar and Scratch built a career as an EPMD affiliate and esteemed producer, the two aspiring DJs traded ideas and music by any means necessary. “We always sent tapes or played our mixes over the phone,” Mike told Red Bull Music Academy.
Mike’s mixes weren’t always composed on the fanciest equipment, but he always found a way to make it work. Out of all his early attempts at making music, one particular piece of production wizardry from 1981 stands out in as an especially important turning point in his career. Still known as Mixmaster Mike at the time, Mike was eager to pull apart Prince’s “Controversy” and put his own spin on it. Like many aspiring DJs and producers at that time, he relied on his tape deck to make it happen. “I wanted a certain break in the song,” he told Ozone Magazine in a 2005 interview. “I recorded it using the pause button to get the parts I needed.”
“I want to do just a slowed down song with a lot of bass in it. If they try to slow it down any more, they either will tear their speakers up or they won’t hear it.”
Something about Mike’s pause button composition lit a creative fire within him and drove him to further explore what feats he could pull off on his bedroom tape deck setup. Before long he was compiling extended, intricate mixes with his pause button. As he sharpened his skills, Mike’s mom could hear that her son had a special gift for arranging songs.
His mother eventually passed off a pause tape mix of his to the WOKB-AM Orlando program director in hopes that it might present her son with a venue to showcase his unique talents. The program director was so mesmerized by Mike’s music that he offered the unproven 13-year-old a gig DJing the stations ‘Traffic Jam’ show. The show — which played for 30 minutes during weekday afternoon commutes and two hours on Friday and Saturday — helped put Mike on the map.
From his work at WOKB-AM Mike graduated to a roller skating rink and residency and eventually secured a regular gig at the Maitland, Florida club New York Times before his 18th birthday. The club owners didn’t realize his age was below their cutoff until he told them he needed someone to cover his shift so he could go to prom. It didn’t matter though, Mike was so impressive on the turntables that they were more than willing to break their own rule and maintain his residency at any price.
“We sat in the studio for probably three days, just trying to concoct the ‘boom.’ We recorded it, took it to the car, went back to the studio, until we got one that was exactly right.”
Though a pause tape mix may have helped Mike get his foot in the door, he soon evolved into more advanced gear once he earned a steady paycheck for his art. “I came from the 808,” he told Red Bull Music Academy. “Then I went to an SP1200. Everyone knows that the SP1200 is great for drums, but you have no time, only ten seconds.”
Frustrated with the restrictive sampling time of the 1200 after a while, Mike taught himself MIDI and purchased a Yamaha TX16W rack mount sampler. The Yamaha quenched his thirst for better sampling time at first, but he eventually moved on to the AKAI MPC — first buying the 60, 60 MkII, and 2000 models, before eventually settling on the 3000. “My 3000 is perfect,” he told Red Bull Music Academy. “I bought gear and everything, connected it with the computer. Now I have way more time than I could possibly ever need.”
Whether tape deck, 808, SP-1200, or MPC, Mike paid extra special attention to his sound design and fine-tuning the basslines in his song. His obsessive attention to bass detail started when someone jacked his 1988 single “Drop The Bass” and slowed it down to extend the bassline. Annoyed by this, Mike plotted revenge again his imitators with his engineer. According to the Red Bull interview, he told the engineer, “I want to do just a slowed down song with a lot of bass in it. If they try to slow it down any more, they either will tear their speakers up or they won’t hear it.”
“I wanted a certain break in the song. I recorded it using the pause button to get the parts I needed.”
Mike and his engineer’s hyper-focus on the bass resulted in a 72-hour quest to make sure that they achieved the perfect mix. “We sat in the studio for probably three days, just trying to concoct the ‘boom,’” Mike told Red Bull Music Academy. “We recorded it, took it to the car, went back to the studio, until we got one that was exactly right.” After they nailed it, Mike sampled the bass sound they’d created for “Feel The Bass” — one of the biggest records of his career that would later morph into an ongoing series with many successful sequels.
In 1995, lackluster record sales of his Bass Bowl album and the birth of a newborn son lead to Mike walking away from his longtime label Cheetah Records, where was also an executive vice president. After experiencing some record label headaches in the late 90s and early 2000s with attempts to re-release his back catalog and release new music, Mike turned his focus to DJing for a while.
Although Mike has not had a gold or platinum album in some time, his enduring legacy and lasting influence on DJ culture and bass music are undeniable. He remains a successful live performer and a force in the industry, recently partnering with Red Bull Radio on the Miami Bass Chronicles project.
In an interesting footnote to this story, nearly 40 years after Magic Mike pause looped a Prince song and kickstarted his career, his cousin DJ Scratch took to Instagram to showcase some of his own pause tape work. For those familiar with Scratch’s work, it’s not at all surprising that his pause tape beats are very solid.
Given the two DJ’s close relationship during their formative years, one has to wonder if they ever shared their tape deck beats and mixes with each other. If they did, how many of those creations are still sitting around in storage just waiting to be digitized and shared with the world?
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