Always Moving: An Interview with Michell C. Clark of Artistic Manifesto
Michell C. Clark was born in to a military family. In his younger life, Michell was always moving. In 3rd grade, his family settled down in suburban Virginia. Michell is still moving – every day – but now its forward rather than place to place.
After finishing up high school, Clark enrolled in a military academy. He lasted almost four years before leaving 2 weeks before graduation. That said, at the academy is where his involvement with music officially started. “At the military school, I needed some kind of creative outlet because there wasn’t any creativity encouraged. It was all about training for war.”
He describes the day Artistic Manifesto started as if it were any other day. In Fall 2009, he was doing walking hours, a form of punishment where you literally walk back and forth while wearing your uniform and holding a rifle. “I was telling my friend, I want to write about music one day,” his friend said “Okay, just do it.”
And just like that, a week later, he decided to start Artistic Manifesto. In the beginning, there was no plan or format; he started by just posting music. As time went on, he taught himself by watching and observing others and doing what he thought was best. Slowly but surely, he built up AM. “Now, after almost 7 years, I’m starting to really get the team that I want around me.”
Mighty Records: So these days, what’s your daily routine?
Michell: It kind of varies. I work as a marketer and a brand ambassador for a prominent education company. So that’s where my time goes 9 to 5. My job varies but its flexible. I can put in some AM stuff, get back to my job (and repeat.) I get up at 630 or 7, go to the gym then get back and have breakfast. From there, the rest of my day is spent on the website: daily upkeep, new posts, new music, helping my writers. We have a team of over 20 people now who are writing or helping with social media, branding.. helping in different ways. It’s a lot of communication. Our group chat is pretty fun. And the day to day of working with Masego, who I help to manage, (they met through Twitter and AM) that can be hella time or that can be no time. It just depends what day it is. So to say a regular day, there really is none,
MR: How would you define your role as Masego’s manager?
M: Its never one role. Once, say down the road it becomes a more structured thing where we’re all doing it full time, then we’ll have roles like business manager, personal manager, road manager. For now, we’re all balancing, It’s really using my skills to provide whatever I can for him as an artist. He was raised in a church and I was too but i was playing hip hop, staying up late and listening to music on the radio when I was like 7. So i might shoot him and say, “listen to these 5 tracks from iconic california artists.” It’s giving him things that will help him keep developing as an artist. We plan things out, we figure out whats needed. Its a three man management team: my man Andrew in New York, Anthony, his best friend and road manager, and myself. We draw from our experiences and figure out how to approach each situation.
MR: I’m writing a series of posts about my musical journey, I trace it back to my earliest memories and how I got to where I am today. Do you have an earliest musical memory?
M: Does it have to be a good one?
M: Alright, so my father is military, “When I say you’re gonna get up, you’re gonna clean this room, you’re gonna go to church, you’re gonna stay at church, you’re gonna be happy.” He wanted to get to the 8 o’clock service at 7:15 so we could pray before the service. He’d get me up at like 6 AM, it was terrible. We’d finally get in the car and Every. Single. Sunday. he’d put on WHUR radio. This old dude talks, *deep voice* “hello, welcome to WHUR. I am so and so, I’m 85 years old.” He would play the exact same song during his announcements. It was this harmonica, it sounded like funeral music. I think people would call in and say, “Our condolences for so and so from our church who passed,’ which is a nice gesture but i literally heard the same funeral harmonica music for years of my life, every Sunday at 7:05 AM.
MR: Do you have one musical memory that stands out above all the others?
M: Just one? Nah, its too many but I could talk about how I was a Lil Wayne mixtape fanatic when i was in grade school. My parents wouldn’t let me listen to secular music so I would pay friends to burn CDs off of LimeWire and give me CDs and I’d play them on the bus on my no skip CD player. There’s lots of memories that stand out.
MR: Have you had a recent moment either in your 9 to 5 job or doing the blog or managing Masego where you thought, “This is why I do what I do and this is why I love it”?
M: I have a lot of those. To me, the most awesome thing, is to be able to meet awesome people who I look up to. Or being able to do things and spark change with things I’m involved with. With the whole social media/running a brand thing you get to meet awesome people. Whether it’s famous or intellectual people, it’s like, Oh wow, I met them.” I enjoy conversations that push me in different ways and inspire me. It’s kind of like a refresher. Seeing Masego, how he’s been blossoming has been awesome. We took trips to New York. The first one, he did a little roof top show and I was hitting my friends, “Come out to the show,” and we didn’t get anybody to come out. We went back in like 2 months and packed the roof out. Then we went back and did an SOBs headliner show. Being able to look back at his progress over a year, its awesome.
MR: In the about section of your personal website I saw you describe yourself as a perpetual student, which I thought was very cool, where do you like to draw knowledge from?
M: Literally everywhere. i remember days back, I’m starting to share things on Vine for the first time. i just didn’t have a purpose for it. So just looking through, it’s really genius to be able to make something dope and memorable in 6 seconds. It’s a totally new form of communication. You can flip it in different ways. I was looking through Vine to get a feel for how they communicate. I’ll be on twitter, you know I follow people from all over the world, I think my favourite visual artist is from London. His name is Ray Fiasco. I found him on Twitter. I’ll draw things from him. people everywhere man. I’m literally always looking in to different people who are doing dope things in different places.
MR: How did the team grow at AM?
M: It started with people reaching out to me. I had a good number of people come and go, which happens with any website, any brand, whatever. I cant pay these guys. I don’t pay myself for my website yet. I started learning maybe I can’t provide you money yet but I can provide things. I can give you advice personally on branding, social media outreach, on writing, and I can connect you with a community of people who like the same things you do and think like you do – all around the world. The biggest thing has been the groupme, It’s kept people motivated. It goes back to whatever you gotta do. I do my best to make time for people at some point no matter what I’m doing which isn’t always what I want to do. I get hit on weekends, late nights. We got people in Japan, we got people in California – the time zones are all types of crazy. At the end of the day, somebody is taking time to work with me on something I started and they want to push forward. I’m very grateful for it.
MR: Which of these words do you most relate to and why? Thought leader, innovator, taste maker, curator, entrepreneur and creator.
M: I think I’ll say creator which is possibly involving myself in all of the other affirmation labels you mention. because at the end of the day, it’s what you have to do. Whether its creating different projects, creating different ways for people to absorb new music, creating conversation, creating dialogue or creating communities. I think it’s a kind of central to what I want to do.
MR: What do you think is the difference between an artist and somebody who just makes music?
M: I think I know what you’re getting at. Certain people don’t make music for the same reasons. I guess they’re all technically artists but I feel like it goes back to your purpose, are you making music that fulfills you in a certain way that you’re truly proud of? Do you think it’s the best you can put out? Or are you making music thinking like, “its gonna blow” or “its gonna get us poppin”? I think your purpose can be the distinguishing factor.
MR: Have you noticed any commonalities between successful recording artists? You don’t have to limit it to artists, it can be people who are successful in any field.
M: I think it comes back to being willing to challenge yourself in different areas. Maybe you think that whatever you’re doing is working, maybe its not, maybe its a terrible idea. But you don’t quit putting in work in to what you believe. I think being able to truly take creative or constructive critiques and use them to improve what they’re doing is a non-negotiable. Also, being thick skinned and able to put themselves in the shoes and eyes of your ideal target consumer or audience. You have to be able to provide what they truly need or want and make them want that.
MR: What keeps you motivated? Long term and daily drivers.
M: Long term, just knowing that I feel like its my purpose. I’ve always been drawn to it, so fully embracing that. Knowing that I’m happiest when I pursue my purpose. So I’ve got to be great at it. It requires daily habits. I have a series of affirmations on my wall and one of them is, “In life, the daily habits that I build, things that I do every day, slowly build up to dictate who I am and what I’ll be in 10 years.” I always try and err towards the side of doing a little bit more than I can.
MR: How would you like to be remembered?
M: As a passionate and hard working person. As somebody who is never afraid to laugh at himself and who brought out the best in himself and others.
MR: Is there anything you’d like people to know or anything you’d like to promote?
M: I would say to look out for some new things from Artistic Manifesto in the very near future that we can’t quite reveal yet but will be awesome. I would say look out for some amazing announcements and music from Masego in the very near future. And peep my Vine, I’ve been doing vines for the first time ever and I don’t want people to forget about that. So any feedback on that is cool too. I’m doing a series called the perfect loop where you can preview new music. I’m wondering if people like that or not so I’m looking for feedback on that.
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