Welcome to the 360i #SideHustle series, where we showcase the awesome side projects, hobbies, start-up businesses, and other ventures created by the entrepreneurial employees here at 360i.
At 360i, many of us know Michael LaVallee as an Associate Strategist – but what many of us may not know is he is also a producer, writer, and singer for his own solo music project, Kyzr Blue. He makes “music that’s blue, but something to dance to” with emotional lyrics told through a dreamy-electronica production style. And he just released a new single called “Time Between the Cuts,” out on major platforms – Spotify, iTunes, tidal, and more! Notable music blog, Culture Fix, calls him a “truly exciting rising talent in the pop music.”
Learn more about Michael’s journey below and his great advice to budding artists and all creative people.
How did your passion for music begin?
Music has always been a major part of my life. I grew up playing the upright string bass in orchestra, singing in acapella groups, doing musicals, etc. while after school I was listening to and watching MTV and VH1 music videos and collecting CDs. I always loved making CD’s for my friends with my own personally curated playlists, and I still make weekly Spotify playlists for fun playing around with song transitions and adding new artists I find.
Who/What influenced you to start producing/writing/singing music?
For college, I studied theater at an art school here in Chicago, IL. I moved here from Tennessee with a big flashy plan to be a television/movie actor – cliché, right? Throughout my 4 years at college, I didn’t just learn how to be an actor, but I learned what being an artist really meant to me. After graduating, my acting dreams didn’t seem right, so I took a couple months backpacking alone through Europe and realized that my dream of being a movie star wasn’t what I really wanted – I wanted to create and tell my story. My training in theater developed a core part of who I am and what I want to say, but my journey as an actor was ultimately going to be interpreting another person’s script. I wanted to be that person too. I wanted to do it all – write and perform my own real and raw points of view. So, I turned to music because it’s natural to me – I’ve always been a singer and my writing can always improve, but the big problem I had was that I didn’t know how to produce. So, when I came back from Europe, I made a plan: teach myself how to produce, write like crazy, and just create. I feel like as an artist, you just have to start creating because if you don’t put something down on paper, you won’t have any sort of starting line. A finished idea is never perfect in one try.
What themes do you touch on in your music?
Most of my writing is fairly somber and emotional. I tend to write about tensions in relationships, love, confidence, self-worth, and that sort. Gross, I know – it sounds very emo. But my genre influences span a wide range of house, pop, folk, and experimental. As an artist, your POV and your voice is always going to change. Right now, mine comes from a place of vulnerability. I write vulnerable lyrics told through natural, progressive beats and soft, layered vocals so it’s kind of a “vulnerability is strength,” message not just through the lyrics, but through the entire song as one piece of art.
How much time would you say you spend on Kyzr Blue every week?
I started Kyzr Blue in 2016, and since then I would say I average 5 – 10 hours per week. It’s a difficult balance – work, social life, music, self-care – that I go in circles with because I’m really hard on myself for not putting more hours into Kyzr Blue; however, my artist process usually comes in spurts and I try to start creating once I feel a natural inspiration. Usually I can work pretty quickly in that zone, especially as I get better and better in production. My first single took about 8 months to produce and my second took about 6 months so as I continue to learn the logistics, my process will become tighter.
What is your favorite part of the process?
My favorite part of the process is learning. In the three years I’ve been doing this, I have so many random songs I’ve started and never finished or finished but wanted to come back to because it doesn’t feel right. I’m now able to go back to old song mixes from 2016 or 2017 and almost re-produce it in a matter of hours to make it sound like what I actually wanted it to. It’s hilarious seeing how horribly I produced my first couple songs, but it’s also validating to see that I truly am getting much better over time.
What are you most proud of?
That I’m doing all of this myself. It’s hard to step away, pat myself on the back, and say “Wow, I’m really doing this by myself,” because I’m so in the weeds of editing and failing and changing songs that I forget I’m doing everything. I’m writing, producing, mastering, photographing myself, posting on social, reaching out to blogs, all of it. Many artists rely on others for certain aspects of their work which is absolutely fine, but I haven’t quite built a network in music and I want to be the only input in how I run the project. I do collaborate outside of music though, especially in photography and modeling!
Does your role at 360i influence your music producing, or vice versa?
I think it’s less influence on one another and more the similarities between the two. As a strategist, it’s extremely helpful to have a creative mind, but my brain also works very logistically in terms of breaking an idea or tension or problem down to its roots. For music and producing, it’s that same mental process where I have a lyric idea or sound in my head and then I have to break it apart in terms of a beat, bass, synths, verses, chorus, melody, etc.
What truly motivates you to continue your work with music?
Creating. The notes section in my phone is seriously made up of hundreds of random one-liner lyrics and even full songs I’ve written on the train to work one morning that have to see light of day! I wouldn’t feel whole if I didn’t finish any of them.
Do you have any quick tips or pieces of advice for someone looking to break into this area?
Start somewhere and be patient. You’re never going to feel like an expert and you’re always going to feel like you wish you knew more or could do more as an artist but start somewhere and be patient with yourself. The music industry and being a music artist comes with so many learning curves, but that’s also half the fun!
Where do you see this project going in the future?
Ha! Great question. Right now, it’s one step at a time – I’m focusing on finishing my first EP this year. After that I would love to figure out how to play live, in-person shows if/when that becomes possible again.
Where can your friends at 360i listen to your music?
I’m on all the major streaming platforms – Spotify is my main, and follow my Instagram for all updates and content!