Interview with Music Producer "ayokay"
Alex O'Neill, aka ayokay, is a Los Angeles-based DJ/producer known for his effusive pop, hip-hop, and R&B-influenced EDM. A native of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, ayokay first began making music in his senior year of high school, collaborating with longtime friend Mike Temrowski, aka Quinn XCII. The duo continued to develop their sound after high school, with O'Neill attending the University of Michigan and Temrowski at Michigan State University. In 2016 they released the single "Kings of Summer," which was quickly adopted as Texas Rangers outfielder Ian Desmond's "walk-up" song. The track took off and helped land the duo a deal with Columbia Records. Around this time, ayokay relocated to Los Angeles to focus on his career. A year later he delivered the solo single "Shine," featuring singer Chelsea Cutler.
Daily News: What does a typical day look like for you?
ayokay: Working from home sounds ideal to most, but for me it has been one of the biggest challenges for building a career in music. Although I have as much freedom in scheduling as I'd like, I try to keep as much structure in my day as possible. I wake up every morning, exercise for around an hour, head home and grab my large iced coffee and sit down to work. My work day is usually from around noon until 8-10 PM.
Daily News: What projects have you recently been working on?
ayokay: I really only participate in two projects as of now. I produce an occasional song for my roommate / frequent collaborator Quinn XCII, and I work on the "ayokay" project. Most of my time is spent on working on singles for my project. Right now I am working on putting together a 5-6 song EP. In the future, I'd like to expand my work into producing for other artists as well, but for now, I need I focus on building/establishing my own identity as a producer.
Daily News: What was the inspiration for your career route?
ayokay: My older brother always used to play and record music. I didn't start listening to music until high school, to be honest, but when I started, I was hooked. I learned the ins and outs of GarageBand in order to record my brother and his friends. This got me into Sound Engineering, which is the major I chose to study at the University of Michigan. When I was in college, a roommate of mine introduced me to a few upcoming electronic bands (Odesza, Kygo, Tycho, etc.) and I fell in love with the genre. This is when I decided to teach myself how to produce music.
Daily News: What do you find most challenging and exciting about your career?
ayokay: I think when you turn a hobby into a career, you're forced to face some uncomfortable obstacles. For me, the hardest thing has been learning how to find and channel inspiration on demand. I tend to think of each new song I write as an "accident" of sorts. Not to make it sound bigger than it is, but each new song written really is a minor "miracle." I think that's the case in all art forms or any instance where genuine creation is at stake. Learning how to make this practice of creation a readily-accessible tool is a definite challenge for me -- but such is the path to becoming a truly "professional" musician.
Daily News: How do you manage a healthy work/life balance?
ayokay: This has been really tough for me. Because I am so passionate about my work, it can so easily bleed into my personal life without me realizing. I think in any creative profession, there needs to be some bleed between your personal life and your work, but this needs to be a healthy transaction. One of the most important things I've learned is sometimes I just need to take a step away from work – take the day off and go to the beach for example – because a day of treating your mind right can be much more useful to your work than a day of banging your head against the wall trying to force it.
Daily News: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
ayokay: I think in terms of my specific work and it's popularity, my song "Kings of Summer" has been my biggest achievement. That song has changed my life in so many ways, and has opened so many doors for me. On a more personal level however, I think what I'm most proud of is the team and family I've helped create in this industry. I think I genuinely have the most incredible team in the game and I think that really is just a reflection of the way I work and the values I hold. I think everyone I have the pleasure of working with / collaborating with is like-minded and values the same things. This is a very large part of my success thus far.
Daily News: Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years?
ayokay: In 5 years, I hope to have released a couple of full-length albums, played just about every festival under the sun, and hopefully had a radio hit. I don't see myself writing music forever, though. In 10 years I'd like to have taken a step back out of the artist hot-seat and move into a more Creative Director type roll. This leads into the 20 year goal as well. I'd love to eventually start a company (such as a label) and run all creative aspects as well as the A&R talent searching. I think writing music is a bit of a young man's game, and it takes a little too much out of me to be a long term sustainable thing.
Daily News: Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
ayokay: I think the most important thing in finding success is to find what makes your specific situation unique, and to exploit it the best you can. My specific situation was unique because I grew up 6 blocks away from an extremely talented vocalist (Quinn XCII). We collaborated with each other constantly, and our friendship / dynamic is what helped us break – instead of being just another producer in the large sea of musicians, I was a producer with a unique style working with a vocalist with a unique style. This had an exponential effect on our visibility. As long as you're trying to follow in the footsteps of those you admire, you'll always be a step behind. Building a brand/identity that is yours and unique is the most important thing in all forms of business.
Daily News: Where is your favourite place to dine in your city and why?
ayokay: I find myself at the Wurstküche in Los Angeles far too much... it's kind of a problem. They have this honey mustard sauce that will genuinely change your life.
Daily News: What’s your most treasured possession?
ayokay: My first purchase when I moved to LA was this 6 feet tall neon sign on this huge reclaimed wood plank that says "MAKE SOMETHING." I bought this before I bought my bed. It was my treat to myself for actually moving to LA to make music as a career.
Daily News: Who’s one person you think everyone should be following on social media?
ayokay: I mean, FuckJerry is a classic. I think his humour is actually perfect. I'm also a huge natgeo fan. I tag one of my friends in just about every one of the weird pics they post of strange ass animals. The best is tagging someone I haven't spoken to in like a year in a random picture of a sloth or something weird like that.
Daily News: If you could be in someone else’s shoes for a day, who would it be?
ayokay: I think I'd kinda like to know what it's like being Leonardo DiCaprio... I feel like that dude has it pretty good.
Daily News: What’s your favourite city or country to visit and why?
ayokay: I absolutely love Mexico and South America. My dad was born in Ecuador, so I have a large attachment to Latin culture. That paired with the fact that I'm happiest when on a beach leaves me vacationing to these places frequently.
Daily News: What is your greatest fear?
Daily News: What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
ayokay: I absolutely love rom coms. And I can also quote just about every line from The Notebook. If that's not embarrassing, I don't know what is.
Daily News: And lastly, what does success look like to you?
ayokay: I think true happiness exudes outwards. I think the same goes for success. For one to be truly successful, it should spread to all those around him/her. I think building a work environment that I genuinely feel free in is the most important thing. And I think that the repercussions of my work and success should provide opportunities for others around me.