To many of you, the name Mike Summers might not be a familiar one. However, you will probably be familiar with his work; his standing in the music scene is up there with some of the biggest names around. The LA-based producer has not only worked with everyone from TechN9ne, to Eminem, to Corey Taylor, but recently, music icon Elton John described his work as “some of the best-produced work” he has ever heard.
Recently, Summers worked with his long-time musical partner TechN9ne on the hit single “Face Off,” a track that saw the rap superstar team up with Hollywood and professional wrestling icon Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. With the song becoming a viral sensation on TikTok, reaching over 18 million views, we had a chat with Mike to find out more about his career, being name-checked by Elton John, and just how the hell he got The Rock to rap on a song.
Thanks for your time Mike, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. How’s life with you?
Mike Summers: “Good, busy. But everything’s good. I’ve been working on a lot of different stuff. And of course, all the stuff going on with Tech’s ‘Face Off’ song.”
How did that song come about, because I read that when you collaborate with artists, you like to be seen not just as a producer, you like to be part of the whole process. So how did that song come about?
“I’ve produced Tech, actually, since I was 14 years old. I started producing TechN9ne, as his producer, actually, when I was a sophomore in high school in 1998. I’ve just been a big part of him and his sound and developing him as an artist. So, when it comes to production, I’m definitely, a hands-on producer in a studio, developing ideas. A lot more than just beat-making. I do that too, but I normally look at that like the first stage then we go through tons of stages with developing a song and I’m always hands-on with that. That song is actually a super unique one for us because it just came out recently on the last album but we’ve actually had that song for a couple of years now not with The Rock on it, though. It was actually made for the album before this album so I did that track with Tech actually in 2019.
“Whenever we do projects, we do like a ton of tracks. We might do like 25 or 30 songs and there’s always that handful that don’t make the album for whatever reason. Either it just didn’t come out right or we couldn’t get the right feature for it, it didn’t fit the album in the end or whatever. When we did the album before Asinine, which would be Interfere, we ran these EPs that followed the album, where we put out all the unreleased songs that didn’t make the album except for that one very song. To me, that song, like the production and everything about it was the quintessential TechN9ne sound and song because of some of the classical and choir elements and dark feel and just everything. The way everything moves in that track is like very TechN9ne, but it was like the one and only song that we didn’t use on an album so I just thought in my head we’re just not going to use that I will throw that one away.
“When we were working on it in 2019, we had thrown around a bunch of different ideas of features. I mean, we must have talked about maybe like ten different features all together to put on that song, but just nothing ever happened. So, just to speed the story up, that song, having The Rock on it was like a surprise to me like it actually because, when they worked on it, they worked on it, like super under wraps, even without me, which is the first song that was done that way. Even like when we did Eminem, and like any other feature, this one was held super under wraps. So, when it came out on the album, I like woke up to it, and was like ‘Oh my God, like we put it out, and it has The Rock on it.’ It was a crazy moment that was just a big surprise. I just couldn’t believe it. It was almost surreal to see.”
How did The Rock get involved? You said you were kept slightly out of the loop in the process…
“Tech and The Rock have actually been, I guess, friends for several years now. The Rock has been a huge fan of things that we’ve done and he’s always been real supportive. He’ll always post up like him working out or doing workout routines playing a song that we’ve done or something like that. So, we’ve always known he was in our stratosphere in a way, but I would have never thought that we would get him to rap on a song. That was something out there. I thought maybe we’ll do something visually with him or something like that. But to get him to rap on a song was like, a pretty far-fetched thought. Me and Tech sort of knew that he wanted to rap and he’d done musical things before for soundtracks and stuff. Tech had the idea to try to get him to jump on that song at one point and it just happened.
“It took a lot of time to get the verse right and to get him to actually record it. They went back and forth a lot with ideas for lines that The Rock wanted to say then Tech helped him put it all together and get it sounding right. That’s why, when you listen to the verse, there’s a lot of Tech in it when you hear patterns and the way that he delivers it and everything. You can tell that Tech put his handprint on the verse, it fits perfectly. He sounds like he’s totally aligned with Tech and fits in the track perfectly.”
As far as an idea goes, you said it was a far-fetched idea. Is it something you would do again?
“Absolutely. After we did that song, I said The Rock should just do an album. I would love to produce that. That would be a pretty crazy thing. I think people would love it. People have really taken to that song a lot.
“It’s had like 18 million views on YouTube now. It’s one of our top songs, but the thing that really got me was it becoming the TikTok trend. The number one TikTok trend. A lot of people have, even like interviews and stuff that I’ve done about it, have told me that the way they found out about the song was from the TikTok trend. It was what was surprising to me the most and one of the most powerful things because we haven’t had a lot of songs trend in that way with TikTok and everything. So it was really cool to have that happen.”
You’ve worked with TechN9ne for years now. What keeps that relationship going and why do you enjoy working with Tech?
“Well, we’re both from Kansas City. I live in LA now but I grew up in Kansas City. I was doing music from a super young age and so just being a part of that scene in the late ‘90s was when I first met Tech. Being a part of the local music scene in Kansas City, really wasn’t that big of a thing. Kansas City is a pretty small place in comparison to bigger cities like New York and LA and definitely not a big music scene. From the first time that I heard Tech, which was actually on the Gang Related soundtrack with Tupac with a song called ‘Questions’ which was produced by QD III, I just knew Tech was a star even so much further beyond Kansas City.
“Back then, I made it my main goal in life to figure out how can I produce him because I just know that, if I can align myself with him, that’s how I could develop a career for myself and him. I also knew that, even back then, I had studied a lot of producer/artists relationships, where a producer was able to craft a sound for an artist and that becomes a very special relationship between the artist and the producer, but also special for the artists because they have an identifiable sound. I wanted to do that with Tech.
“So, on his first few albums, especially Everready, there’s a particular song called ’Come Gangster,’ which was the first song that we did for that album. When I did that song for him, I mean, I literally, it was the most I’ve ever spent on a song in terms of time and production. I spent three days non-stop. I barely slept for three days straight, just like working on this one particular track trying to come up with what would be the foundation for his sound. So that was the first track where we took, like strings, and like, classical music arrangements, very complex arrangements to build an idea out.
“I knew, since Tech is such an intricate rapper, he does so many different patterns. He’s really like a robot the way that he thinks about rhythms and the way that he delivers, I just knew that the production needed to match that. So, I basically started creating music for him that would like let him magnify what he does as an artist, intricate patterns, things that would make him think like, ‘oh, this is a new pattern for me to try,’ and ‘this is a different,’ things that would just keep his mind going.
“Together, we sort of built this unique sound with a unique approach to everything from the concepts to the way that even the music is mixed and the way that we do vocal arrangements, and really intricate music production. I just feel like we created something together that’s super unique and we just complement each other in that way.”
When you work with other artists, do you take elements of that into that work and does that freak them out working with a producer that wants to be that involved?
“For the most part, I try to work with artists that are going to allow me to create a sound for them. What I like to do, the way I approach artists is to identify with them, find out what is unique about them and then magnify it, so we’re not just making tracks here and there. Let’s really create a sound together and it’s fine if this sound just exists only for this album, and then we totally abandon it, but if I’m involved, let me create a world for you.
“So, with a lot of artists that I work with, I really do enjoy working on projects where I can do a bulk of the production rather than just being let me just get one track on this album here and there. Of course, that happens where I’ll get one-off placements, but I love to be involved with albums where I can help like really be hands-on with it.”
You learned your trade at school so, when Elton John described your work as some of the best-produced records he’d heard, that must have been a mind-blown moment…
“I don’t even know if I have the word for it to be honest with you? I think it still is surreal, very surreal, but incredible. It is possibly the biggest compliment that I’ve gotten ever maybe?”
Where do you go from there? How do you top that?
“Yeah, I don’t know. I guess just to know that what I’m doing can reach someone on that level who hears it and has like some respect for it is just enough and it lets me know that I guess I’m doing something right.”
Absolutely. If you look at it from the point of view of what you said about trying to create something unique in its own right, as far as unique artists there are few bigger than Elton John…
“Yeah. I’ve always had, my whole career, the deepest appreciation for artists that create their own lanes and create their own sound. My idol is Prince which he is for a lot of people I know, I’m not unique in that way. What’s special to me about Prince is just that he truly created one of the most identifiable sounds that there is in music it’s almost like, you almost can’t take anything from Prince without people being ‘oh well, that’s inspired by Prince.’ It was that powerful. So, that was like what I hoped to do with some of my own production.”
You’ve worked with some incredible artists over the years. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
“I think that the biggest lesson I’ve learned as a producer is really just understanding that, as a producer, you’re supporting the artist. So it’s like, a producer has a job but it’s not always to necessarily drive, it’s sometimes to support a vision.
“There’s a lot of different types of producers. I’ve seen, I’ve worked, collaborated, and been a part of different sessions and projects with so many different producers that handle things a different way. What I’ve learned is that you’re able to get the best material when you can hone in on an artist’s vision and then bring that to life and support that idea where it’s not like, you’re going against the grain with anything, you have to just make sure that you are interested in this artist’s vision? Do I feel like I can complement that? Then really go in and do your best to support the artist. If you can do that, I really think that magical things can happen.”
Have you ever gone in to work with an artist who has looked at what you’ve suggested and said, ‘wow, I’ve not thought of that before?’
I’ve been in situations where I’ll start working with an artist, and I’m not able to support the vision, and that’s fine. There has to be that chemistry. Without the chemistry, we can just make a project but without the real chemistry of truly having clarity on the vision, it’s just not going to be the best music that it can be for you. Listeners can tell. I like energy. I like music that has energy, right? People that listen to music, they feel the energy, but also when the energy is off with the people that are collaborating on something.”
I was thinking more from a point of view from the artist where you’ve gone in with an idea and flipped their vision so much so that it’s completely changed the direction of an album..
“Countless times I have sat down with an artist that has wanted to work with me, and they have a vision, but I’m like, ‘let’s take a bigger take on what you’re doing or like, ‘let’s do this.’ Actually, one thing that I’ll do is really try to approach an artist from a fan’s perspective because, even with Tech, I’ll sit down, take an album, and ask what would the fans want us to make though? Let me think about the album that I would want to listen to if I wasn’t the producer but I was just a fan. Let me make that album. So, I’ve worked with a lot of artists that want to do something a certain way, but will I guarantee you that what the fans want you to make right now is this? Let’s try to do that and get them on board with that because that’s something that artists aren’t always able to tell because they’re just coming from a different perspective.”
You’ve worked with everyone from Kendrick Lamar, to Corey Taylor, to Eminem, to TechN9ne, to The Rock. What would young Mike Summers say to you if you said to yourself that this is how it’s going to pan out?
“I think that I would have told myself… When I was 14, I could have never imagined myself working with Eminem, that would have been a totally surreal thing to me. As a producer, of course, like everyone, I think that we have these years, like in the music industry, of ups and downs where you have a good year then a bad one but that just comes with the territory. I had a lot of bad years in my 20s while I was trying to figure things out.
“I think that if I would have known some of the things that would happen to me, like, later on in my career, I would have been able to not have those like moments of discouragement so much. I’ve always been someone that has a hustler mindset where, no matter what, I got to keep going. But like, I think that just knowing what happens when you’re consistent. If I would have known what consistency translates to when I was 14, I would have been able to deal with those valleys.”
Going back to when you first started, what were your ambitions and your goals? You’ve talked about being involved in the local music scene and TechN9ne, but prior to that was this a path you wanted to take?
“I started playing the piano when I was seven. By the time I was 10 years old, if you were my friend in high school, I would have convinced you to be a rapper. You couldn’t be with me without being a rapper so I could record you. I only had friends for the sake of talking them into coming over to my house so we can record and sell tapes at school. I mean, when I was 10, 11, 12, I knew I was going to basically do music production. I know that’s like a big statement and it sounds crazy, but it’s just a unique thing about me that, from a very young age, this was what I want to do.
“I got my first drum machine when I was 10. I learned from just like a local pawn shop with no instructions. I just learned how to use it on my own. I was recording by the time I was 12. By the time I was 14, I was producing Tech so I always knew that I wanted to do this.
“There were certain artists that I wanted to reach such as Eminem and that was something that late way down the line that ended up panning out. Same with Kendrick. Kendrick Lamar, to me, if I had to pick one artist that I would love to be massively involved with, it would be him. We’ve worked together before, but still, even to this day, that’s like a goal. Like how can I even build more with Kendrick? So, in a lot of ways, some of the things that I would have dreamed about doing when I was in high school, I’m still working towards. I’ve always known that I want to do music in some way. It’s the only job I’ve had. I’ve never had a job. This is all I’ve ever done.”
It’s worked out well for you though…
“Yeah, thankfully being from Kansas City, that area was a hard place to come from and do music. It’s not like growing up in LA or something where there are a lot of opportunities. It’s like ‘how do we get out of this place?’ How do we do something because it’s such an unmusical place it’s just hard coming from a place like that but that also drove me a lot because of that. I could be a pioneer in something.”
What were the challenges with getting your foot in the door, coming from a place like Kansas City?
“I go somewhere in Kansas City to go get a coffee and start a conversation with someone and they’re like, ‘Oh, what do you do for a living?’ and I say music producer, they have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s like I’m speaking a foreign language where they think that I work on the radio or something. It’s a place where there is no entertainment industry or anything there. The other thing is that there just aren’t any artists that have built careers from Kansas City. There are artists that have been born in Kansas City but always move to other places like Janelle Monáe who went to Atlanta and that’s where her career took off. There’s like a lot of artists like that.
“I took the route of coming out and working in LA when I was a senior in high school. I was coming out here, but I took the path to stay in Kansas City, to try to produce Tech, because if we can make it work from Kansas City, if we can all come together, I just knew that would be a way to stamp Kansas City. We can come to LA. We can go to New York. We can go to Atlanta, but we won’t be that won’t be as cool of a story as saying we’re in Kansas City, because nobody else does that there. That was the decision that I made. It just meant it was a longer road, it took us a lot longer to get from point A to point B, but it was worth it. Now, if you go to Kansas City, there’s no way that you can talk about music in Kansas City without talking about TechN9ne.”
So, you’ve done the work, you’ve put the miles in, what advice would you give somebody who is at the early stages and is thinking about wanting to go down this path?
“I do tell aspiring producers now that the key to being a successful music producer right now is to brand yourself. There are several ways to do that, but one of the ways that does work, because there are so many different routes that you can take to basically get yourself off the ground yourself in the music industry, is to find an artist that you can create a sound with, like create something new and identifiable and that’s like creating a brand. So, rather than just making music for the sake of music, I think that there’s a lot of value in trying as many different things as possible with the hopes that you create something brand new. I think it is worth it and pays off.”
On that subject then are there any up and coming artists that you are going to watch over the next couple of years from a producer point of view that you can see yourself thinking that you would like to work with them?
“There’s a few artists. A couple of artists that I like, really pay attention to, and one artist that’s already like, really taken off, which is Tyler, The Creator. Everything he’s done is the epitome of what I’m saying about branding yourself what I mean and creating something new. I’m watching what Baby Keem is doing right now. I really feel like he’s next. Like, I feel like he’s going to rise to greatness. I love everything that Griselda is doing with Conway and Westside Gunn and Benny. To me, they’re the best lyricists in the game right now. Another artist actually that I just recently started paying attention to that I really believe is going to do something great is Maxwell Green. Those are a few that I just know they’re destined for greatness.”
We’ve talked about the artists you’ve worked with, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Corey Taylor, TechN9ne. You’ve had Elton John big you up. You must have a very small bucket list of people you want to really want to work with…
“Actually no. There’s still like, a ton of artists that I would love to work with. Anderson Paak, they’re just really special unique artists that have a unique sound. I’d to work with them.”
Ok, brilliant. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us. Just to finish then, what’s in the pipeline now the TechN9ne single is out?
“I’m actually developing this band right now called Love Ghost. We actually just dropped a single with Rico Nasty recently. I’ve been working with them now for about a year and I’m really involved with them, and I believe in them for sure. I’ve also been getting a lot more into movie scoring. In the past, I’ve done like a few super indie movies but I’ve always known I want to be able to evolve into doing that so that’s something that I’m definitely getting a lot more into next year.”
Brilliant. It sounds like next year is going to be equally as exciting for you then. Good luck with everything and thanks for taking the time out to talk to us…
“Thank you. I’m super excited to just see what happens next because just coming off of the stuff with The Rock that let me know that, like anything could happen. So who knows what’s going to happen next?”