The Assyrian Journal | January 2018 | Photos contributed | By Joe Snell
Los Angeles, CA – Michael Badal pulled up to DJ Club Silk Nightclub in Sacramento with his essential spinning equipment – USB sticks, headphones, and ear plugs. At only seventeen years old, the Assyrian Los Angeles native had just driven nearly six hours to spin at the venue.
This was a routine weekend for Badal. While selling cell phones at Best Buy and attending film classes at CSUN in the daytime, he was hustling at night and on the weekends to produce music, successfully tour with world-renowned DJ’s such as Tiesto, and even start his own music label.
“I saved up everything and started DJing when I was eleven years old,” Badal said, who became interested in DJing in 1998 when he saw his cousin spinning at a party.
After nine years of saving money for equipment and finding events to play, he signed with Baroque Records in early 2007.
“The first record did well and stirred my name in the pot,” he said. “Then my cousin Zya said that we should start our own label and asked why we are giving it out to other people. I thought it was a great idea, but having never ran a label, I had no idea what marketing was or sending out promos.”
And even as one of the most successful Assyrian dance music artists in the world, Badal’s parents had no idea just how popular their son was becoming.
It wasn’t until 2010, when at 23 years old and about to be nominated for his first Grammy, his mother googled him and found out her son was a popular DJ in the EDM (electronic dance music) community.
BADAL’S BIG BREAK
Badal and his cousin Zya opened Jigsaw Recordings in August 2007. Only a month later, his record “Colours” was playing on Tiesto’s Club Life radio station.
“We never actually sent the music out to Tiesto,” Badal said. “I got a call from his people and they said, ‘We want to sign you, we want you to make music with us, we want you to play with Tiesto.”
That call changed Badal’s career almost immediately.
“We weren’t just messing around anymore,” he said.
Soon after, the rising DJ began touring the nation with Tiesto and developing his own label. From 2007 to 2009, he built Jigsaw Recordings to be a major competitor, signing deadmau5, Myon, Shane 54, Matt Cerf, and Maarten Hercules among other big artists. Major music publications were praising the label as “developing rapidly and gaining a reputation not to be underestimated.”
But with so much attention placed on signing new artists, Badal and Zya weren’t finding time to produce their own music.
“I was focusing so much of my attention on other people’s careers and promoting my artists that I didn’t focus on myself,” he said.
The pair decided to put the label on hiatus at the end of 2009.
“It was a blessing in disguise because after the label went on hiatus, I stopped worrying about other people,” Badal said. “I started diving into my own career. It benefitted me.”
Not long after putting the label on hiatus, Badal was invited to join the Recording Academy as a voting member in 2010. That same year, he ended up on the ballet for two of his tracks and was very much starstruck at his first Grammy event, recalling, “I ran into Lady Gaga, I almost knocked her out. And I flat tired Kathy Griffin and she almost fell. I was a klutz.”
After his first nervous display on the red carpet, Badal has since been on the Grammy ballot ten times and has been invited back five of the last seven years.
In 2011, Badal and DJ Zya relaunched their label exclusively to distribute their own music. It was then that he ran into popular Persian singer Andy at a cousin’s wedding.
Badal had always been a big fan of Andy’s music, so it was natural that at his cousin’s wedding, he began talking to Andy about a remix he had done that same year. The artists started following each other on social media and eventually began talking about collaborating.
Their single, “Donya,” is set to release early this year.
In August 2016, Badal realized he was not making the music he wanted to make. Up until that point, he was working almost exclusively on EDM music. A documentary called Daft Punk Unchained encouraged him to pursue music he wanted to make, so he pivoted to pop music, classical film scores and soundtrack music.
His process of creating music also changed, switching from an underground beat programmed around the drums to becoming a songwriter’s composer. Now his most important tool for creating new songs – voice memos he records on his phone.
“I’ve got a million voice memos in my phone of me humming atrociously,” he joked. “Then when I get to my studio, I play it and try to figure out what I was singing in my head. They all have weird titles too, like ‘film score idea’ or ‘deep soundtrack.'”
ASSISTING THE ASSYRIAN COMMUNITY
Badal was initially hesitant to promote his artistic skills within the Assyrian community.
“I didn’t see artistic excellence pushed in our culture here in America,” Badal said. “Our Assyrian culture has such a rich history of art. Some of our artifacts are beautifully carved reliefs, and then we just discarded art as this thing that would never feed you.”
It wasn’t until he started seeing artwork from young Assyrians including KSRA, Dan David, Dennis Joseph, Shamina Khangaldy, and Sargon Saadi that he started connecting his work with the Assyrian community.
“We need to get Assyrian artists out there,” Badal said. “We need more people in the arts. We’ve got to get rid of this stigma that the arts are worthless.”
Within the last five years, Badal has played EDC Las Vegas twice, has songs playing on major radio stations including Sirius XM, had a composition in the running for a Golden Globe ad, and has been on the Grammy ballot 12 times.
After years of hustling on nights and weekends to make a living, Badal now feels content being able to support himself doing what he loves to do.
“One of the major milestones I’ve hit, which has been a blessing, is being able to create music 100% for a living,” he said. “I wake up for work and drive to my studio and make music all day.”
His second full-length album and first classical album “Seasons” will be released on January 26. The album features 12 thematic songs written over the past two years. Look out for a limited edition vinyl pressing of the album, available for pre-order. All proceeds from the pre-order will be donated to the 501c3 organizations F*ck Cancer as well as the Etuti Institute.
Check out more of Michael’s music at www.MichaelBadal.com