In our quest to bring you a behind the scenes look at those who “make the magic happen,” the latest instalment of our ‘Meets The Makers’ feature spotlights production duo Sons of Sonix.
Originally hailing from London, England, S.O.S are comprised of LA-based music maestros Mikey Akin & Mo Samuels.
While still on the rise, the potent pair already helmed hits for the likes of Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Trey Songz, and Skepta.
That Grape Juice caught up with Mikey, who lifted the lid on duo’s journey, including the parts of the music industry you don’t see. He also dished on working with Bieber and what’s to come from Ms. Jackson.
Join us below….
That Grape Juice: We’ve followed your journey, but for those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about how you got your start in music…
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): Myself and [Mo], we’re two boys from Southeast London who were originally musicians in church.
I’ve been playing since I was five years old; Mo has been playing keys from age of six or seven. And we played in church from our mid-teens.
We came together to form a production team because initially we just didn’t like the music on the UK scene at that time. So we thought why not try and change the scene ourselves? From there, things just got…bigger. We also realized that the UK just couldn’t accommodate all that we initially wanted to do. We had a world vision.
Fortunately, Mo’s older brother is Harmony Samuels, who is a record producer who has been killing it over the years in America. So we come to LA and he took us under his wing and guided us. He would give us advice, he would show us how to do things; how to make music, how to make that music stands out, how to make ourselves standout. Over the years, we worked on our repertoire and alternated back and forth between working here and in the UK.
In the time since, we’ve signed publishing and production deals and made music with the likes of Justin Bieber and Jennifer Lopez. More than that, we’ve become a brand comprised of many different specialties.
It’s been a growing process. I can tell you it’s been 10 years of hard work. You know that’s one thing I definitely want to put out. Whatever you believe in, whatever you’re dreaming- whatever your vision is, you can basically make it come into fruition if you put in the hard work and we’ve been doing that man. We’ve been sleeping on studio floors, we’ve been having our own studio sessions, we’ve been to others studios and we just keep going. And what I think we’ve realized is our gift is what makes it work for us.
That Grape Juice: You’ve worked with a lot of big names – with two of the most recent being Justin Bieber and Skepta, Chip, and Young Adz. What was your experience on each project respectively?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): We’ve had a strong relationship with Chip for years. So he recently hit us up and he was like, “yo I’m on a project with Skepta and Young Adz” and we were like: “Whoa!” It’s rare that big artists come together to make an album; I don’t think that’s been done in the UK. Maybe it’s been thought about, but not executed at this scale. We were like, “you know what, we would love to be part of this.” Then we had a few back and forths. Chip does not play, as everyone knows. He sent the MP3 with the record and we were like, “wow, this is going to be history” and as you can see a lot of people are loving the project. So we’re grateful to make music with someone that we have a great relationship with and to be a part of history.
With Bieber, we worked a lot with Poo Bear. His belief in us has been undeniable. He has given us a lot of opportunity because knows we can deliver which is very, very important. The record that you heard on that album (‘Confidential’) was made four years ago. So before we kind of learned that it was going to feature, there was a lot of waiting. One thing you realize in this game is that you’re not going to reap the fruits straight away. You have to be patient. Poo Bear was always like “trust me, Justin is going to take this record.” Years later we got the email “oh yeah, by the way, Justin cut the song and put it on the album.”
That Grape Juice: Amazing!
You guys are killing it on both sides of the Atlantic. What would you say are the differences between each region? The US and the UK.
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): For us, one thing we realized about the US is the enormity of their work ethic. Like, these guys can… work. We’ve been in the studio, five hours and they’re like, let’s go again. Even at two o clock in the morning.
I feel like they’re always trying to push the envelope here, you know. They’re sonically always trying to make things bigger, make things hit more.
I’ll say about the UK, something I appreciate a lot is the culture, the blending of cultures musically.
Growing up in the UK, you can hear five different genres in like 30 minutes on the radio. And you are sonically exposed to so many different things from R&B, Pop, Dub-Step, House, Grime, now Drill, So that’s kind of like what makes the UK musically stand out.
This fusion is very much feeding into what we do.
Like last year we were in Nigeria doing Afrobeat, UK we were in London doing like the whole UK sound. We recently just came back from Miami, we’ve got a couple placements in the Latin American world coming out this year. We’re embracing it all.
That Grape Juice: Who would you say, coming up have been some of your inspirations both artistically and on the production end as well?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): Loads! So just off the top of my head, like the likes of Max Martin, Quincy Jones – he made music that was 30 years in advance! 30 years ago, with those classic Michael Jackson projects, and yet it still slaps now. So for us, that’s the inspiration to make timeless music.
There’s Timbaland and Rodney Jerkins. I remember I’d go to Mo’s house and then we’d just break down like Rodney Jerkins catalog, like what did he do? Like what did he do with Brandy? Like why did Brandy’s music flow like that? You understand what I’m saying?
We listen to Dr. Luke and Max Martin and study what they did (and do) in the Pop world; for example, the nuances of what made their records with like Katy Perry slap.
Being Nigerian, I’m always listening to Afrobeats. From WizKid to High-Life. Gospel. Everything.
That Grape Juice: I hear you. Speaking of vibrant sounds, you co-produced Janet Jackson’s ‘Made For Now.’ What was it like working with her on that particular track?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): With that record, we helped Harmony Samuels finish the song; giving our input and extra touches. But with Janet, that whole experience was amazing. Kind of surreal too.
I remember going to the studio (on a day she was there) and there was a security guy at the front the whole time while she was in the session. He didn’t move. He was like “nobody goes in or goes out” and I had to be like “I’m one of the people working on the project” [laughs].
Just to see what Harmony put together was incredible and inspirational for us. Because he basically brought back a legend who’s THE Janet Jackson, a member of the Jackson family, on an Afrobeats record. Growing up with that music and now making music with her, it felt like a special kind of history. And the fact that people loved the record and Janet herself loved the record, it doesn’t get any better than that!
That Grape Juice: And can we expect any more from those sessions?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): Yeah. Like we’ve been working on a few more things for her, especially with Harmony and just kind of like thinking about next future releases. So those sessions are dope, 100%.
That Grape Juice: What would you say is the biggest unseen reality of the music industry that you’ve experienced?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): The biggest unseen reality is I’d say the powers that be. And when I say that, I say that with music creation is one aspect, creating the music and making it sound great and mixing the records and finishing the project is one thing. The next step that you have to face is the people that are also involved with like releasing the music.
So i.e., labels, managers, which, you know, sometimes doesn’t go smoothly. It’s not as easy as making the music. Making the music can take around about 30/ 45 minutes, yet sometimes the project can take up to six months to come out or get sorted out admin-wise. And I feel like a lot of people don’t get to see that aspect which I mean, they don’t necessarily have to because they’re the consumer, who just have to listen to the music and appreciate the art but there is a side to the music that can be a bit frustrating. We have our moments where we’re back and forth on emails and back and forth on the phones with people. “You can’t do that” and “you can’t do that” and “why are we waiting?” It does have its own saga and if you’re not dedicated to the art form and you know, passionate about it, you can get disheartened. And I’ll be honest, I speak for a lot of producers, speak for a lot of writers that are coming to me like they can’t produce or write creatively just because they’re stuck in deals that they’re not happy with or maybe their management teams, they’re not really doing what they need to do. So there is a downside, but what keeps you going is your love for music.
We’ve had people try to rob us of credits and publishing and stuff, but we keep going and you know, there’s a big man in the sky, that doesn’t you know, asks for nothing, you know what I mean? He sticks to His way where if you stick with your gift and stick with your passion He will make a way for you and you will definitely find yourself succeed on the other end of things.
That Grape Juice: And as you know, we’re all on lockdown at the moment because of the pandemic. But one of the most entertaining things to come out of this window is the Verzuz creator battles…
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): Yeah! I think the battles are definitely good. Timbaland and Swizz Beats are doing amazing things for the culture. I am so inspired and learning a lot (about who did what) too.
That Grape Juice: Who would you like to see battle next?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): Pharrell versus Kanye, I think that would be- that would be crazy because they both have again in-depth catalogs. In 2003, Pharrell had about 43% of the US radio. Do you know, that’s for every 10 records, he produced four. That’s mad! So I think it’s definitely good to see and I think it’s good for the next generation of producers and some writers are inspired to come into this industry just to know that you have to put in the work, man, you’ve got to build up your catalog. And for us, that’s what we’re focusing on. Making our catalog so deep, so diverse, and so timeless.
That Grape Juice: Speaking of lockdown what advice would you give budding creatives with ample time on their hands now?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): I think for creative right now, this is the perfect time to finish those projects that you’ve had lingering for months, just get it done, there’s no excuse, now you have time in your hands, finish the project. Learn something new, like that EQ, or that compressor or that chain that you have, switch up, you know what I mean? Use a different plugin, use YouTube. Actually understand how to use the plugin you’ve been using over the years. Because I’ve been doing that personally. There’s been plug ins or techniques I’ve been doing which I figured out I’ve been doing wrongly but weirdly enough it’s been used the right way (for me). But I’m now learning the “textbook” way too.
I feel like there’s other things you can be getting into. Maybe understand the business side of the music industry; understanding what publishing means. Fully, fully understanding what is in your contract. I think as creatives, you feel like, “oh yeah, someone else can handle that.” No. Acquiring more knowledge right now is definitely a go to. Overall, using the time wisely now is timely.
That Grape Juice: That is great advice. What is next for Sons of Sonix?
Sons of Sonix (Mikey): Very good question. Right now we’re finishing a lot of projects.
I think that people are going to be full of shock with our project with Amber Riley. We just came back from Miami, working with a huge Latin artist. We’ve got some amazing music coming from the Latin scene. Our project, we’re finishing up our project, which we’ve been working on for a minute.
And we’ve got our new artist we’re helming, who has an amazing project coming really soon.
We’re venturing into fashion too, we were recently at New York Fashion week.
All in all, we are trying to show people that Sons of Sonix is a brand, a brand that transcends just music. Beyond music, we’re into like video production, fashion, and wider media as well. So there’s a lot of things that’s going to be coming this year. So we’re working, man!
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