Riding Through a Musician’s Life: A Journey on and off the Bike

Kevin Michael a.k.a. Kardio Kev

American Pop Singer/ Songwriter/ Spin Instructor

(Glen Mills, PA)

Kevin Michael in action teaching his cycling class.

I met Kevin when I first joined Lifetime Fitness gym in Ardmore a little more than a year ago.  He taught the very first group class I took at this gym.  I immediately took to his unique way of motivating people to reach their maximum fitness potential. His soothing and charismatic voice combined with tasteful playlist always urge me to continue even when my heart feels like it’s about to leap out of my chest and my legs scream PAIN.  I went into his class on a Saturday morning to photograph him in action.

The EDG (high intensity ride) class he was teaching displays all riders’ statistics up on the board for all to see. It’s a high pressure situation. I love and hate that about the class.
Kevin talks effortlessly while riding in full speed.
Kevin urges his class to continue to the finish line.

Then, he got us an access to an exclusive roof top garden at the gym.  It was just the two of us there soaking in the early fall sun.

Hazel:  Kevin, I’ve been checking out your guns.  They’ve gotten so chiseled and big!  Great job!  Are you eating a lot of meat?

Kevin:  I do have a trainer now who trains me.  I’m actually a vegetarian.

Hazel:  How did you become a vegetarian?

Kevin:  I watched the documentary “Food Inc.” in 2009 which was truly eye opening.  It made me rethink about what I eat.  I started weaning meat slowly from that point on.  I was completely done with meat by 2010.

Hazel:   Isn’t finding enough protein in your diet a challenge as a vegetarian?

Kevin:  I have to supplement quite a bit with protein shakes, pea protein, and hemp.  I really do believe that going vegetarian is the way to go even if you are solely doing it for health.  I’ve noticed my aerobic capacity has been consistently through the roof since going vegetarian! Feeling healthy and energetic are nice benefits but the true reason is that I could not take away life from something that was aware of itself.  I cringe at the thought of the last few minutes of a cow’s and chicken’s life.  They would have been so traumatized waiting to be killed and processed.  And I wonder what kind hormones would have been released from all the stress.  They cannot be good for us.

I have to admit, being a vegetarian is hard and inconvenient.  The options are limited and it can get expensive.   But then I watch documentaries like “Fat Sick Nearly Dead” and I just become more resolute about my belief.

Hazel:  I admire you so much, Kevin.  I do feel badly for the animals but my appetite for animal meat is too great to overcome.  I wish I had your will power.  Tell me how you got into cycling.

Kevin:  When I was 17 years old, my music manager asked me to get in shape for stage.  So, we hired a personal trainer who happened to be also a spin instructor.  I would meet with her at the gym on strengthening days.  On my cardio days, I would go to her spin studio to participate in her group class.

Hazel:  Wait, are you in the music business??

Kevin:  I guess I didn’t tell you.  Yes, actually, music is my primary passion.  Music is what I was born to do.  There was no time in my life where that wasn’t clear to me.  At 8, I started as a background singer for my dad’s band.  My father is a musician and has a cover band.  He plays many instruments such as drums and keys, guitar being his main.  My mom is a not a musician but an avid music lover.  Since they have different taste in music, I grew up being exposed to an eclectic variety.  I’ve listened to and loved Led Zepplin, Rod Stewart, Elton John and even funk. 

I started to pursue music professionally as early as 12.  I tried to get a record deal by recording demos and performing.

Hazel:  If you don’t mind me saying so… your childhood sounds a bit like that of Michael Jackson.  Did your dad practice music with you?  Do you have a good relationship?

Kevin:  (chuckles) Yes, my dad and I were like Joe and Michael Jackson without the beating.  Eventually, my dad became my dad-a-ger (dad + manager).  It’s a strange dynamic when you are a minor having to pay your dad.

Hazel:  (laughs hard) You are Okay with me publishing all this?  I’m glad that you didn’t damage your vocal cords. 

Kevin:  I’ve said all this publicly before.  Anyway, I did not make it at 12.  I went onto high school, and during my senior year, I wanted to try again to get a record deal.  I was 16 at that point.  That time, Virgin Records gave me a development deal.  Basically, they gave me about $10,000 and 6 months of time to record 3 to 6 demo songs.  They were not ready to fully sign me on but wanted to see what I was capable of.  I travelled the world performing and trying to promote myself for a while.  I even went to Sweden and worked with famous producers like Bloodshy and Avant (who worked with Britney Spears among many super stars).  I had the development deal until I was 20 but ultimately Virgin Records did not get me a record deal.     

Hazel: What a life!  I know a little about the music label world because I used to do financial audits for Warner Music.  Such a tough and competitive environment!  So what happened next?

Kevin:  So when Virgin let me go, I auditioned with other labels and ultimately signed with Downtown Records founded by the ex Artists and Repertoire (A & R) Manager from Virgin Records that I worked with.  I became their first signing artist.  Downtown Records signed with Gnarls Barkley after me but he made it really big before me.  Since Downtown Records was new and relatively small, they partnered up with Atlantic Records and produced my debut album in 2007.  I had a chance to collaborate with a lot of great people.  I did not make it big with that album in the U.S. but it was well received in France, Germany and Japan.  It turned out, getting a record deal was not the hard part.  Releasing the album was truly difficult.  Despite all the efforts, my album did not get played and released widely.  In 2010, Downtown Records released me from the contract but retained me with a publishing deal which locked me in until 2014.  I could not sign with any other label during that time.

Hazel:  Tell me what it means to have a publishing deal.

Kevin:  It means that the record company would try to include your music for opportunities other than music albums/singles such as commercials, films, etc.  But I didn’t get any deal as such.  When my contract was finally over with them in 2014, I got into writing songs for other singers.  In 2015, I wrote a song for Hudson Mohawke.  Before that point, I used to write music solely for myself.  Once I released the music to the world, it no longer belonged to me.  It was a bit strange and also wonderful to hear people say my songs carried them through tough times.  Some would say my songs motivated them.

In 2018, I wrote a song for Luke James.  So far in 2019, I’ve written two songs.  I’ve decided to not sign with any label anymore.  I’m going to go independent. 

Hazel:  As a veteran in the music industry, what advice would you have to give to an artist starting out?

Kevin:  The music industry is a cold place. You can stay in there or can roll up your sleeves and become an independent artist like me.

Hazel:  I know you went through a lot but I truly believe that all those years of experience were not wasted.  You know what you know now because of all the hardships and obstacles you had to overcome.  You were probably too young starting out.  You are still young.

Kevin:  Absolutely.  I did get a head start and I have so many years left of me.

Hazel:  So we took this long but wonderful detour into your music career.  I want to get to know your fitness career now.  I think I was about to ask how you started getting into spin.

Kevin:  Yes.  So I took my first spin class with my trainer and I fell in love with it because of the music.  I could do anything with good music.

Hazel:  I agree with that!  And this is why I like your classes so much.  You always have a great playlist.  And of course you have this special voice.  Calm, deep and persuasive!  I know I’m going off on a tangent but speaking of calm, have you thought about teaching yoga?  I think your voice would be so helpful in yoga.

Kevin:  Thanks.  Yes, I thought about it.  But I found out that it took 300 hours of training to teach. 

Hazel:  Wow.  That’s a lot of hours!  Had no idea!

Kevin:  When I teach spin classes, I take my riders through a journey.  The music helps us dictate where we go.  I was a rider first then became an instructor.  I know I want to deliver a class that I myself want to take.  And Lifetime Ardmore isn’t cheap.  I want to make sure you get your money’s worth.  I try to get you the biggest bang for your buck.

Hazel: It shows that you really care about your role as an instructor.  When did you start teaching?  Were you always this good?

Kevin:  I took spin classes daily at LA Fitness.  An instructor there encouraged me to become an instructor since I was coming by so frequently.  She said I should be paid to do it.  So I prepared a 3 minute mock up of a spin class and showed to the gym manager and got hired on the spot.  That was 2016 when I got started as an instructor.  It took me a year to be good. 

Hazel: Wow, you must have made a quite an impression!  So it has not been too long since you’ve become an instructor.  How did you become so good so quickly?

Kevin:  Have you read the book, “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell?

Hazel:  Yes.  The book that says it takes about 10,000 hours of practice for someone to reach mastery in just about anything?

Kevin:  Yes.  I think I just rode for a long time.  I started as a 17 year old and I’m 34 now.  I took about a 4 year break total in the middle in those 17 years.  So that’s about 5,000 hours of cycling if I were to calculate out one hour per day for 13 years.  But I probably spent the last three years as an instructor tripling those hours…  So not quite 10,000 hours but getting close.

Hazel:  Also, I think 10,000 hours is just a rule of thumb number for the average.  If you are talented, you probably would require less to be a master.  Anyway, I love that book and I think the author makes a good point.  Can you tell me how you design your cycling classes?

Kevin:  I design my classes based on the music playlists I build.  I use Spotify to do that and love it!  I review as much music as possible and they give me suggestions of music I might like.  Their algorithms work pretty well.  This is really great as I get to spend hours staying current with today’s music, which I should be doing anyway as a singer/songwriter.

Hazel:  That algorithm sounds like the one Netflix uses to guess your taste in movies based on your review.  I’m old and don’t use Spotify.  Tell me more about how you choose the music for your classes in detail.

Kevin:  When making specific music choices, I consider what time of day I’m teaching.  I keep things light by playing top-40s, pop and mainstream music for weekday morning classes for mostly soccer moms.  For a Friday night class, I can get away with hip hop, louder, more in your face music. 

I see music in decades.  I go back to the moments when I first heard NSYNC, Britney Spears, and Destiny’s Child.  You can play up people’s emotions by playing certain music.  I have to think about who my target audience is to do so.  I have to keep in mind that it’s NOT my workout.  I can’t just simply play music that I want to hear and motivates me personally.  I need to cater to my crowd.   

Hazel:  You know, your music career and cycling class instruction are complementing each other so well.  I feel that you have a big advantage because of your musicality.  What are your thoughts?

Kevin:  Yes, definitely.  I had to take a class on musicality as a part of the certification process for cycling instruction.  I breezed through it as it was so natural for me.  Did you know that 32 counts in music means a 30 second interval in workout?  Also, a random observation I’ve made is 3 to 4 minutes used to be the average duration of a song but now it is mostly 2 to 2.5 minutes.  It is probably a reflection on people’s decreased attention span.

Hazel:  Such interesting facts and observations.  How long would you say it takes for you to design your classes?

Kevin:  I design on a weekly basis.  Currently, I teach ten classes in two formats, EDG Cycle (high intensity ride) and AMP Cycle (rhythm based choreographed ride). EDG takes a lot more planning because it has a very loose structure. All I’m required to do is to cover three core components during the 50-minute ride: Stamina, strength and speed. I can allocate time however I want among these three components.  It takes me anywhere from 2 to 3 hours per week to build a program for an EDG class.  For an AMP class, it takes about 30 minutes.

Hazel: Why so much less time for designing AMP?

Kevin: AMP has a lot of required moves.  So I just have to populate required choreographs into a playlist. It’s actually quite simple to build an AMP program.

Hazel: I’ve learned so much about you and from you today! What a great fun this was. Thank you so much! Before we wrap up, any last thoughts?

Kevin:  I want to figure out a way to bridge music and fitness to the next level somehow.  It would be cool to have a music celebrity instructing riders and bringing their music into the class.

After our interview, I googled Kevin Michael.  He was EVERYWHERE.  And there were a lot of music videos of him on YouTube.  I like a lot of his songs but one in particular I LOVE the most is:

I keep listening to it.  He has such great talent!  Apparently, the song above is from his very first album.  Here is the link to his whole album:

https://music.apple.com/us/album/kevin-michael-bonus-track-version/279686873

I’m truly lucky to have interviewed and photographed Kevin.  He is a beautiful man inside out and it’s such a treat when someone can be so frank, open and trusting.  It’s refreshing to encounter pure sincerity as I have with Kevin since it is a true rarity in our cynical and twisted world.

I wish you the very best, Kevin Michael!  See you in class and also on stage!

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