When Michael Shynes opened his SoundBetter page in 2018 and found a request from a band he’d never heard of, the St. Cloud, MN folk-rock singer had no idea what he was in for. After all, the note, from the Polish EDM trio Komodo, was just the second message he’d received on the music talent marketplace. He figured it would be a one-off job, never dreaming that he’d become the featured vocalist on a triple-platinum single.
A few months after remotely recording the track—a cover of Cutting Crew’s 1986 hit "(I Just) Died In Your Arms"—Shynes was on a plane to Zakopane, Poland to perform at a massive New Year’s Eve concert alongside his newfound friends. “I was a fish out of water, for sure,” he says, pointing out that he’d never even been out of the country before working with Komodo. Now, the success of that single and two follow-up collaborations has let Shynes write his own ticket back in the US—he’s able to command higher pay rates, be more selective with touring and studio gigs, and thus spend much more time at home with his family in Minnesota while continuing to earn money making music, remotely. We caught up with Shynes to hear about how it all happened and what lessons he has for artists who are new to SoundBetter.
Spotify for Artists: How did you hear about SoundBetter?
Shynes: A harmony singer in my band named Maygen Lacey was doing these acoustic cover versions of songs [through SoundBetter] and getting millions of hits on them. She knows I like working in the studio even more than I like performing, so she said, “Hey, there’s this website I’ve been on called SoundBetter where people all over the world can hire you for stuff. You can make music, earn side income and you don’t have to perform out as much.” I was like, “That sounds amazing.”
What were your goals in signing up for the site?
My goal was to sing on other people’s stuff, for sure. I always have way more than enough music—what I was looking for was a way to earn a side income from making music. At that time, I was performing like 200-250 shows a year, just grinding. I said, “I can’t keep up this pace. I need to create other streams of revenue for myself so that I have the flexibility to be home more.” I have a wife and two small kids. I love being home. I don’t want to be on the road all the time.
How did you link up with Komodo?
I threw up a profile on SoundBetter and [that] was the second job I got on the site. They reached out to me saying, “We’re remaking this ’80s song called ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms.’” I love that song. They paid me and I sent them the vocal files. I thought that was the end of it. Four months later, they put out a video that was, at the time, getting like 100,000 hits a day. They were, “Hey, check this out. This is kind of amazing.” It blew up from there to where now I think it’s over 118 million [streams on YouTube]. It went No. 1 in Poland, triple-platinum. It was crazy.
What was their rollout strategy for the song?
They are signed to Sony, one of only two club acts in Poland signed to [the label]. They were pushing for radio play and had a machine behind them.
Did you do any follow-up tracks together?
We did [a Whitesnake cover] after that called "Is This Love" that went platinum, and then we tried an original collaboration called “Rush of Blood” that got 2.2 million plays on YouTube. It’s tough when you start with covers to try to get those fans to jump over to your original tracks. It’s a little slower to go.
And after the song blew up, they flew you out to perform with them a couple of times.
The first time it was like 30,000 or 40,000 people. On New Year's Eve, there were like 73,000 people [there] and eight million watching live. It aired on the biggest TV channel in Poland, kind of like our New Year's Rockin’ Eve here in the US. [Before the first show] I had never spoken with them. I had never seen them. It was pretty surreal. It exploded in a way that none of us were prepared for.
What was it like to hang out with Komodo?
It was definitely unique and humbling. It made me realize a lot of what other people go through when they’re in a new country and they’re learning the language. There’s a lot of times where you’re at dinner and not a word of English is spoken. You feel somewhat isolated, but Yash from Komodo was good about translating things to me. He was very considerate of the fact that I didn’t understand everything that was going on. I was treated very well, so that made it easier.
What has your career been like since returning to the US?
That was the single biggest jump in my career, by a landslide. I was playing small clubs in St. Cloud—where I live before this project with Komodo. Since then, I’ve been able to sell out 800-seat theaters twice, two years in a row, as the only act. In Minneapolis, we were really close to selling out the Varsity Theater. I was able to stop doing all of the bar and club gigs I was doing, step back, and play the shows I wanted to play. The amount of studio work I was able to do—getting jobs with producers all over the world, raising my rates, being able to say no to things that I didn’t think I was a good fit for—was transformative in every aspect of my business. It was just life-changing.
What advice would you give to somebody just signing up for SoundBetter?
Set your rates lower, so you can get a body of work and get reviews from people. As you figure out your niche, what you want to work on, and what your value is, you can raise those rates. But to start, just get your foot in the door. Get some jobs under your belt.