Miklos Malek working at Westlake Studios. (Katarzyna Klisowska)
Miklos Malek is of Hungary, the beautiful nation in Eastern Europe. He moved to the U.S. some years ago and now lives in the San Fernando Valley, just northwest of Los Angeles.
The man is simply a genius, on top of being humble, nice and a workaholic in the music industry. That’s led him to become one of the most respected producers, songwriters and artists in this field, a field that many enter but exit quickly. Malek’s managed to stay atop because of his innovative creativity and talented traits.
To date, some of his credits include Jennifer Lopez, Anastacia, Faith Evans, Article A, Donna Summer, Jessica Andrews, Sylvia Tosun, David Phelps, Dream, Marion Raven, Hiromi Go, Coco Lee, Plus One and Yanni, among others. He also served as a judge in the well-respected X-Factor television show in his native country.
In an exclusive interview for Living Out Loud, Malek spoke to us about his current projects, passion for music, and X-Factor experience, among many other things.
Living Out Loud: What are you currently working on?
Miklos Malek: This session is actually a Hungarian duo. I’m from Hungary and I occasionally work with talent there. I’m developing their sound and musical direction. They’ve worked with me for 2 weeks, recording 3 songs in 2 languages, and a music video. Kind of like a full package. I enjoy seeing through the songs I write, working with artists, and bringing the best out of them. I feel that this way the spark that started the song in the beginning, it stays alive and turns into a flame. Maybe not every time, but if it’s up to me, it does. That’s why I like to be involved at every step, I produce it, arrange it, mix it, and deliver the final thing.
LOL: What’s the name of the duo?
LOL: Can you tell us the name of the song?
MM: The English version of the song will be called, ‘A Melody In My Head.’ Another thing I just finished, it’s a bit of international stuff. I was mixing a bunch of songs for Ayaka Hirahara, a Japanese star’s record that’s coming out at the end of this month.
LOL: How do these stars get in touch with you?
MM: I do have a manager, but a lot of it is word of mouth, Internet, and personal connections. People whom I have worked with in the past, and trust my work, usually come back to me, or tell somebody else. It’s a small industry. It looks big, but those who are actually making a living in the music industry are not too many. We know each other.
LOL: Where does your passion for music come from?
MM: I think it was predetermined. I was born into a family of musicians and entertainers. It was natural for me – everyone was playing piano, making music, singing, acting. I was fortunate to learn so much from them because when I was around 18, I already knew so much about the industry, and how to create music and the standards, and core values and information about all this stuff that people usually pick up later on. I think it was decided, and I liked it. I really enjoyed all the creative process. It was like solving puzzles. Out of nowhere, you pull out an idea, which will turn into a song that will affect people, and that’s a beautiful thing. You’re creating energy.
LOL: What was the reason behind your move from your country to Los Angeles?
MM: The reason was I grew up listening to American music. My parents like R&B, so I grew up listening to Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin. That was standard music for me, but I couldn’t find it in Hungary or other places in Eastern Europe. It’s so different, what they like there. My country has its own taste and style of music, but I really wanted to make music similar to what I listened to as a kid. I wanted to get on those records, and I would read the names in the liner notes and where the studios were. Nobody was going to stop me. They all told me it wasn’t going to be easy. You only live once.
LOL: Do you go back there often?
MM: Yes, I go back every year. Recently, I did X-Factor there. I was a judge for 3 years.
LOL: And how was that experience?
MM: It was very interesting, and different than what I expected. When you make a show like that, it looks so flashy, and fantastic on the outside. It doesn’t look like a whole lot of work. It just seems the judge comes in and says, ‘I like this, I don’t like that.’ In this particular show, it’s non-stop work developing artists. A lot of them are amateurs, but they have a great gift of talent. But every week, they have to put up a new song, onstage, with choreography and full stage production. They have to figure out what will make people vote for them. And I’m sitting there, and if it doesn’t go well, I have to tell millions of people why it sucked. I breathe together with the artists and contestants, and when it’s not going well, it kills me. It’s just so emotional. It took a lot out of me, but I learned a lot as well. Also, when I’m auditioning hundreds of people, as a producer, it’s really cool because I don’t usually get to meet so much talent. Also, this weekly thing of putting on a show, creating a full performance, and getting the feedback in front of millions of people is fantastic. Normally I would work on something for weeks, then it gets released at some point, then you get some feedback maybe a year later. With this, it’s instantaneous. If people like it or hate it, millions will write and comment about it.
LOL: How have you grown professionally from this experience?
MM: The biggest change was that I used to believe in half-talents a lot. To be successful, you need the whole pie. Talent is just a piece of it. It starts with talent, but you also need to have communication skills, business skills, an image, a message. Even if you have the talent, if you’re missing just one piece, it’s not going to work out. Chances are very slim. I shouldn’t say it won’t work out but chances are very low. So when I hear and feel the musical talent, my heart would break for those people. Such great music, and I can see they created something fantastic, but on a business level it won’t work. So if you’re wondering why you hear so much music on the radio that you don’t like, it’s because those people have the whole pie, but maybe music is not the strongest part of it.
LOL: What do you like most about LA, and how different is it from back home?
MM: Life is so relaxed here, so nice. I think it’s the sunshine. Hungary or New York, where I lived for 6 years, are a lot more driven. You have a lot of people in a small place, and it’s very fast-paced. It’s never-ending. If you schedule a meeting with someone, it will be for next month. No one is going to say ‘next week.’ Then they will cancel and the meeting happens 2 months later. Here, people aren’t always on time, and they take it easy (laughs), but you get a meeting the same week or the next. The sunshine is great, makes people act nice. I remember when I started my company in New York, it was a difficult process and the people involved made me feel very inadequate for not knowing every little legal detail. When I did it in Los Angeles, the clerks filled out the forms for me with a smile on their faces!
LOL: What hobbies do you have?
MM: I play volleyball on Sundays, and see, that’s not something I could do in Hungary or New York. I play in Santa Monica. I just drive down, 25 minutes, and it’s all there. It’s fantastic. I also do hiking. There are so many fantastic things that this state has to offer.
LOL: What about the food?
MM: The food is fantastic. It was in New York as well, but it’s very different. I love the diversity of the restaurants here. I’ve never had a bad meal in Los Angeles.
LOL: How do you feel about the evolution of technology? Speculation is that in the near future, hard copies of albums will be obsolete and become completely digital. What’s your take on that, and where do you see the industry going?
MM: That’s a good question. If I could answer that I would patent it (laughs). It’s definitely changing. Everybody’s chasing after it, wherever it’s going. I don’t necessarily think the physical aspect of it will disappear. I hope somebody will come up with another physical medium, like a small crystal that would hold an enormous amount of data. Imagine buying all The Beatles – not just their records, but their videos, their movies, everything. It would be in a small crystal, and I would buy it. Not something I would necessarily want to download, because I would feel good by having it. There’s something physical about it. It’s not here yet but I hope it will happen. I think it will be a while until it disappears. I like seeing my work on an actual CD. Vinyl is making such a big comeback, with shops dedicated to them. Big artists are all having vinyl versions of their albums. Not in large numbers, but they’re there. It’s something about grabbing the physical thing – taking a vinyl out of its case, listening to it – it’s a ritual. When something is instantly accessible, it’s not that big of a deal anymore and I’m not that interested in listening to it. Even with the cassette – you have to take it out of its case, put it on, rewind it – I’ve invested energy in it already just rewinding it, so I paid more attention to the music on it.
LOL: What would you say the biggest satisfaction is for you right now, professionally?
MM: I’m not that complicated a person. It comes from realizing something out of nothing. It’s the creativity, seeing it blossom, and seeing people react to it. Lifting people up. At the end of the day, it’s about that – selling emotions – but I’m in it to make people feel something. To move them.
LOL: Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
MM: There are so many. The idols I had growing up, they are still alive, and I would love to work with them. There are also fantastic new artists, but I would love to work with Chaka Khan one day. I first saw Katie Perry when she performed at The Mint here in LA just when I moved here. I remember telling everybody that this girl is fantastic, and nobody believed me. I would love to work with her.
LOL: What’s on your agenda for the next few months?
MM: There are so many different things. I do songwriting, I do production, and mixing, technical stuff. Sometimes I’ll work on film scores, and I’m getting into working with movie trailers and pictures more. The visual aspects of it was always something I wanted to get in to, through music videos – producing them and working on them – that’s really what’s moving me now. I love music, but this is something I don’t know yet. It’s something I can play with, something creatively challenging.
LOL: Do you think social media is useful for musicians and people in the music industry?
MM: I think it’s great. It’s a direct connection between the fan and the artist. Sometimes there might be someone in between, like an admin for a page, but that connection is still there. What they Tweet or post on Facebook is coming straight from the artist. There’s something fantastic about being able to communicate with those people. I remember when I was a kid, all I could do was read the liner notes on the CD. That was my connection to them. Of course, some take it overboard and they overshare, and that takes away from the mystery that should be there. People are learning the etiquette of it and how to use it. But it’s very helpful to promote new artists. The internet allows new artists to be discovered who wouldn’t have a chance another way. This also leads to a whole bunch of new artists, which saturates the field, but the real talents pop up and get noticed. That’s fantastic.
LOL: What advice would you give a youngster, someone who has aspirations to be professionally involved with the music industry?
MM: Doubts don’t help much because when you start questioning what you want to say, then the message gets lost in the way. If I want to sound too much like another artist and be a copy machine, people are not really interested in hearing that. They want to hear something original that comes from the unique life experience of a human being, whatever that might be. If it’s not pretty, who cares? It’s my light and I gotta shine it. Criticism, take it for what it is – one person’s opinion. Don’t make criticism more important than it is. Also, there’s no reason to procrastinate. If you have something to say, just do it. Go for it. No reason to wait for next year. It’s now. And I’m saying this to myself too (laughs).