“Each Level You Climb Will Always Require You To Work Harder Than Ever” 5 Insider Tips With Johnnie Mikel

Yitzi Weiner
Jun 4, 2018 · 9 min read
Photo Courtesy of Johnnie Mikel

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing upcoming pop artist, Johnnie Mikel. The “Friday Night” singer discusses his inspirations, best lessons, and what’s next for him!

What is your backstory?

I’m a 20-year-old pop artist originally from a small town in Kentucky. I grew up in a close family surrounded by a lot of creativity. I was always interested in all forms of art and expression. Honestly, I was extremely shy as a kid, but writing is where I found a place to release everything I was feeling and thinking. From an early age, I began jotting down pretty deep poems, short stories, journal entries, etc. It just felt so natural! At age 11, my family relocated to New York City and that absolutely changed everything for me. I really came out of my shell when exposed to so many new things and ideas. Once I picked up a guitar at age 14 and started combining my two loves of writing and music, I never again questioned what I wanted to do in life. I moved back home at 15 and finished my last couple of years of high school online to start commuting to Nashville for writing sessions, voice lessons, and other music-related opportunities. As soon as I turned 18, I moved to Nashville full-time to commit everything to my career path and began taking several trips to LA. Soon, I found myself staying and working on the west coast more than Nashville. I always tell people that my soul wouldn’t allow me to do anything other than make music. I genuinely can’t imagine doing anything else and being this happy… I’m just so passionate about my art and work extremely hard to reach every goal I set for myself. I’m so thankful for the success I’ve obtained recently on the charts.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that has happened to you thus far in your music career?

There’s honestly SO many ways I could answer this question! I’ve been blessed to have had so many breathtaking experiences in my career thus far, especially at such a young age. I think one of the most surreal moments was having the opportunity to be on stage at Soldier Field in Chicago and getting to hang backstage at a Metallica show with Mix Master Mike and Avenged Seven Fold. I also got to meet Jerry Only that night! It was such a bizarre, spontaneous, and amazing day. I got an invite the day before, flew into Chicago from Nashville, and got to stand in front of 70,000+ people while seeing the inner-workings of a huge stadium tour. I’ll never forget that experience. More than anything, it inspired me to work even harder to see myself on a stage that big one day.

What are some of the most exciting projects you’re currently working on?

I’m currently in Nashville and just got home from doing some promotion in New York City for my latest single Friday Night. I’m heading back to LA in a couple weeks to start work on my next collection of songs for another EP. I’m SO excited to step into the studio again. I’ve already got a million lyric and production ideas. I have a feeling this new music will be more authentic than ever. People are finally going to see the real me! Also, I’m discussing touring opportunities. It’s been a couple years since I’ve been on the road and I’m dying to be on stage again. It’s my favorite part of the whole process.

Who are the most famous people you’ve interacted with? What was that like?

I’ve gotten to work with so many legends in the industry and I’m grateful to be able to say that! I first began working with Tommy Lee from Motley Crue at 18 years old and have been friends with him ever since. He’s such a genuine and real guy. He really understands what I’m trying to accomplish and has always been so kind and supportive along the way. I’m so inspired by the fact that he’s such a successful artist himself, yet has the time to encourage upcoming indie artists on their journey. I’ll always remember how amazing he’s treated me in the past. I want to do the same with everyone I meet in the industry, no matter what level they may be on. I’ve also had the honor of working with huge musicians like Phil X of Bon Jovi, Nikki Sixx, James Michael, DJ Ashba, Charlie Daniels, Little River Band, Josh Turner, Nash Overstreet, and The Ready Set, along with other iconic industry names, producers, and songwriters.

Who inspires you?

David Bowie is one of my biggest inspirations. Any artist that takes the amount of risks he did sonically, performance-wise, or in fashion will always garner a huge amount of respect from me. I’ve gotten compared to him in the way I dress and sing a few times in the past and always take that as the biggest compliment. He was an incredible artist whose legacy will never be forgotten.

Who do you aspire to be like?

Some of my favorite artists are those who interact with every area of the industry and are in complete control of what they do. I love people like Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Taylor Swift, and Chance The Rapper. I want to take my own music to the highest level I possibly can, while still writing and producing for other artists and projects that I’m passionate about. Another idol of mine is Jon Bon Jovi. His laser focus and hard work from the start of his career has always inspired me. I also love the fact that he’s an advocate for so many great causes and tries to use his platform for good at every given chance.

How have you used your success to bring goodness into the world?

When I was 18, I wrote a song called One that really touched me and my co-writers. It’s all about the power of our words and actions. One word can build someone up or tear them down. Based off of this song, I began my One Word Foundation. Through this platform, I’ve been able to perform and speak to several Boys & Girls Club locations, music education programs, and other community centers. I’ve also been able to benefit several charities and accept donations at my shows for several causes near to my heart. Giving back is something that’s always been insanely important to me. I never want to lose sight of that. I feel like having a platform with no message is meaningless… I never want to acquire a ton of fame and fortune and stop helping people in need. I want to continue to be an activist and bring awareness to multiple causes both through and outside of the One Word Foundation. I also want to spread messages of love, acceptance, and self-expression through my music. I want my songs to be a safe place for all people.

What are 5 things you wish someone had told you when you first started, and why? Please provide an example/story for each.

  1. One of my favorite lessons I’ve learned came from my Nashville vocal producer, Kim Franca, who’s also one of my best friends and favorite human beings. She told me that the artist I aspire to be is the artist I already am. When I first started making music a few years ago, I wasn’t exactly sure where I needed to be stylistically. I kind of went with the flow of whatever/whoever I was surrounded by. While I always worked extremely hard, I felt like I wasn’t being as authentic with my art as I could have been. I knew I wanted to make pop music. I’ve always wanted to have blue hair and dress like a rock star. I dreamed of being a vocal artist that’s not afraid of speaking up. Of course, I needed to absorb, learn, and grow in the early days, which I definitely did, but I was definitely playing it safe in a lot of ways. Kim encouraged me to show the world the real Johnnie Mikel and continue to become more fearless in my evolution. As soon as I started addressing problems and ideas immediately, becoming super engaged in the studio, dressing how I wanted, and saying what I needed to say, things really started taking off for me. The artist I am today is the artist I’ve always been… I just needed to awaken it. While I wish I would have known this when I first started, I do realize that I needed to experience life and get some inspiration before living my life by this motto. I’m grateful for everything I’ve gone through in the recent years, whether it’s been an amazing or traumatic experience, because it’s been a lesson learned and had led me to where I am.
  2. Like I said earlier, I was 18 years old when I first moved to Nashville. I was obviously young and learning a lot of life lessons (like I still am). I’ve always been an old soul, but I wish I would have been a little less naïve when it came to what/who I let into my life. I don’t want to sound negative or jaded, because I’m not, but the music industry can be a dark and shady place. I’ve always been good at reading people and their intentions, but I thought everyone who surrounded me was my friend when I first started. Quickly, I got a dose of the real world and learned on many occasions how people use each other for their own gain. I hate that. I’m still a loving and empathetic person, but I now realize the power of keeping a close circle. I’d rather have a handful of ride or die friends and team members than a hundred people who only support me when it’s convenient. I’ve learned that it’s such a disservice to yourself and others to allow people who don’t see eye to eye with you to become deeply involved in your life. Protecting your energy and emotions is so important for every category of life and health. Again, it was a lesson well learned, but it could have come in handy from the start and saved me from many not-so-great experiences.
  3. I’ve definitely gained a ton of confidence over the years, but my entire life, I’ve never been the type of person who cares what others say about me. As long as I know I did my best, played fair, and was kind to others, the positive or negative reception of my art or reputation hasn’t bothered me. To be honest, I don’t think it ever will. The only opinions that I really care about come from my family, friends, and ultimately myself. One thing I wish I would have learned earlier is the fact that those who talk about you the most are always the ones who know the least. Similarly, those who preach at and judge you for your choices are always the ones who have the most troubles going on. As long as you’re basing your decisions off of social and creative integrity, the opinions of those who don’t know you will never matter.
  4. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over and over again is that working in the music industry is never a sprint… it’s a marathon. I’m insanely passionate about what I do and sometimes work myself crazy. It’s one of my best and worst qualities. I wish I would have learned earlier on that sometimes it’s good to step back, take a break, and breathe. The best ideas always come from life itself.
  5. Finally, each level you climb will always require you to work harder than ever. It’s a common misperception to think that the more success you obtain will make things easier and more comfortable. That’s definitely not the case. You have to be running at full speed all the time.

Who would you want to share a meal with? Why?

This is such a tough question! I’d probably have to say Ellen DeGeneres. I’ve been a huge fan of hers my entire life. I’m a huge fan of comedy and I think her timing is unreal. Outside of appreciating her talent and wit, I feel like our messages of kindness are so similar. She’s always giving back, promoting incredible causes, and calling for more love and acceptance in this world. I’ve never seen her tear another person down. She’s such a symbol of grace and I’m so happy she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama for all her work.

You can check out “Friday Night” here, and keep up with Johnnie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Thrive Global

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store