Muse Recordings: Universoul

Dwele isn’t the only one out of Detroit baring his soul these days. With no formula, no reservations and no fear, Marcus Collins and Mike Muse, founders of Muse Recordings, are rolling with music in a manner different from today’s conventional standards.

The eclectic musicians have garnered attention from the NBA to McDonalds with their debut album, Marc’s Project. The R&B era is making a comeback, but these guys are just beginning. With Mike in New York and Marcus working hard in Detroit, AllHipHop.com Alternatives took on the task of getting the two together to discuss the development of their album, Detroit as a city with enormous potential and the fusion of Hip-Hop and soul music.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You guys are doing great things on the music scene. How did you make the ascension from the field of technical engineering to the world of music?

Marcus: I did the whole band camp thing – played piano in church, sang in church. My parents wanted me to go to school and become an engineer. After the first semester [of college], I wasn’t feeling it, but I continued to pursue it while working on my music. I had known Mike before I got to the University of Michigan, so as soon as I graduated, I approached him with the idea of doing music.

Mike: I was also in to music – a drum major in high school – but I thought it ended once I graduated. It was considered the smart, secure career choice for a young Black male to become a doctor, engineer, etc. But as Marcus and I began to obtain engineering internships, we realized it wasn’t for us. Now don’t get us wrong, we don’t discredit

engineering at all, because it definitely gave us an amazing foundation and sharpened our analytical ability and problem solving skills, organization and such.

Marcus: It was more of a progressive flip for me. Mike just did a total 180. Soon as I graduated I started working at Universal [Records], so I got a lot of experience. We loved engineering. We just couldn’t see doing it for the rest of our lives.

AHHA: Detroit was one of the staple cities where soul music developed and flourished, producing talent over several decades, from The Spinners and Aretha Franklin to Anita Baker and Smokey Robinson. How has the development and success of a city so rich in musical culture affected you in your quest to make music with meaning?

Mike: It definitely set the bar extremely high. It’s funny though… Everyone keeps it in the Motown Era. Like you just named all of the prominent artists from the Motown Era that came out of Detroit, but so much more has happened within the realm of music [in Detroit]. Aaliyah was from Detroit, and people never really acknowledge [that]. There isn’t a lot of knowledge about the music scene in Detroit. People focus so much on bigger cities like New York, Atlanta, and California. So, one of our biggest goals is to bring [the prominence of good music] back to Detroit.

AHHA: It seems everyone, producers, artists, record label executives, are all trying to get back to the feel of the Motown Era. What do you think is responsible for this shift in the music scene over the last couple of years? And what are you guys doing differently to set yourselves apart from the rest and take advantage of this open market?

Marcus: At one point people think the ‘70s had great music, then the disco era was hot, now everything is being recycled. Not that the music over the past decade wasn’t hot, but it’s coming back to people wanting [music] with more substance. I think people are realizing that great musicianship and artistry is becoming more important, versus the commercial aspects of the music industry.

Mike: We’re being ourselves – that’s what sets us apart. We can all say same sentence, but people can say it differently. Like everyone can be in that genre, but it’s their individual spin on it that makes them unique. Being ourselves and just loving good, organic music is what we feel is unique about us.

AHHA: Detroit has introduced several great, new artists over the past few years, with the likes of Slum Village and Dwele, yet they don’t get the recognition many feel they deserve. What’s your take on the lack of support and promotion of great Hip-Hop/Soul artist?

Marcus: Speaking specifically about Detroit, the city itself gets discredited a lot. They think [it’s] a disheveled, void city. People don’t want to take the time to understand the potential in Detroit. There’s so much talent here.

Mike: The Hip-Hop/soul era, as a whole, isn’t so popular because they’re real and rich in individuality, which may not be so appealing to the mainstream music scene. Like, if Kanye didn’t get with John Legend, people probably wouldn’t have been feeling him as much.

AHHA: How do you feel Hip-Hop and soul music can bridge the gap and come together to produce a sound that the world is missing?

Mike: That’s a tough one. [chuckles] I think its starting to break the mold. Kanye and J-Dilla did well with that. Like, it takes more than just the artists, the label reps have to get it, because they’re like the gatekeepers. Also, the artist has to be able to break down and open up to other aspects of creativity and change. They need to be able to discuss topics across the board and not be close-minded and stuck in their particular genre. But I think that day will come. A lot of rock music has soul influence…look at Maroon 5. So it’s starting to happen.

AHHA: [On] your debut album, Marc’s Project, is there a reason that you decided to work with unsigned, native vocalists, rather than well-known artists in the music industry?

Marcus: It was purposeful. We have been working with these artists for a while. Some of them I went to high school with. When we started this project it was really just a project -just developing a sound and making good music, and all the while we were developing them as artists. And what’s even better is that our artists went to school for vocals. So these aren’t singers, they are actual vocalists. They respect the music and the art.

Mike: Not only that, but it was about setting up the movement that’s about to take form in Detroit – trying to get our voice heard. The goal of our label is very much recognizing the talent in Detroit, just like Motown did. That’s how they became so large and successful-pulling from their hometown, people they knew had phenomenal voices and talent.

AHHA: You’ve performed for many, large-scale sporting events for the NFL, MBA and NBA. What do you think your music encompasses that makes it attractive to these types of events?

Mike: It’s just great music at the end of the day – vocals, packaging, musicianship, artistry, everything. People that have seen us live can feel it when they’re there, and they know it’s real. So a lot of times they can’t help but ask us to come to another event, and another event.

Marcus: God put all this together for us. We wanted to make an honest album, so we made an album of things that we wanted to hear. It’s extremely organic. There’s no formula. We didn’t sit down and say “okay we need an R&B track, rock track and a Hip-Hop track to be versatile.

AHHA: I love that about you guys. I understand you, Marcus, won the Yamaha International Music Production Contest. Congrats! Has that experience aided in your evolution as a musician?

Marcus: Thank you! I was one of the winners in the R&B/Hip-Hop category and the judge was Randy Jackson from American Idol, so it really solidified things for me. It was really exciting! It helped a lot with my confidence. I felt like I could really do this.

AHHA: You guys are also very active in your community. I read that you guys played an integral part in University of Michigan’s homecoming festivities last year.

Mike: Yeah. We teamed up with Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Citizen Change initiative and Nelly during Michigan’s homecoming, just trying to promote social awareness among the students. It turned out nice because they never really had anything like that during homecoming before.

Marcus: Community service is so important, period. Like a lot of these artists, once they have major record deals, start non-profit organizations and stuff. But ask them what they were doing in their community before, and many of them will say “nothing.” But we have always taken an active interest in our community.

AHHA: That’s what’s up. So what’s next for Muse Recordings?

Mike: We’re always pushing our schedule back because so many things are happening for us. New artists are joining the label. We’re working on individual projects for the artists on Marc’s Project, as well as a boy band overseas. We’re also working on some music for upcoming films. All of this in just two years is amazing.

Marcus: And this is just the surface. We want to be multi-faceted. We don’t want to be a boutique label that just focuses on soul. Our demographic is the world, because I feel like music is the one thing that connects all of us.

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