Earlier this summer the song “Model Behavior” popped up on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, and I was immediately hooked.  As with most Discover Weekly songs I am initially unfamiliar with the artist, but this song’s commentary on social media (and perhaps influencing) persuaded me to learn about the man behind the lyrics.  Who was he, why did he have so much to say about social media in a less-than-positive light, does it have anything to do with influencer marketing, does he see the value of social media and influencing, and, and, and???  These questions, amongst others, rolled around in my head until I was able to ask the artist himself.

Lyrics to “Model Behavior”:

  • A slave to the picture
  • One day very soon, she’ll be saying to the mirror
    Who are you?
  • I just want a normal life, normal life
    Normal life, normal life
  • Social media has taken over your beautiful brain
    Times are just not the same
  • Yes I know that
    Through likes we build our names
  • Can’t control that
    But confidence is born from the voice inside
    Not from posting pictures and having people tell you lies

Mack Keane, (full name Mackenzie Keane), is the artist behind these lyrics and music.  Heading into his junior year at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Music to receive a BFA in Entrepreneurship of Music, he’s all about the music, with a head for business and feet well-grounded in morals despite growing up in the wealth and superficiality of LA LA LAND.  Mack took some time to sit down with me last week and talk about social media, influence and influencer marketing, and of course, his passion for music.  This interview also gives us insight into what it’s like as a new artist, what it takes to get music to the masses, and specifically what Mack’s upcoming plans are with the release of his new EP.  Read it here first folks – before you know it, Mack will be hotter than hot.

ZJ: Your song “Model Behavior” is what initially caught my attention.  Can you please tell me, in your own words, what inspired the lyrics of that song and what it’s all about?

MK: It was inspired by the area I grew up, seeing all these people on Instagram and caring about their (online) image as opposed to improving themselves in real life, to connect in person.  The area I grew up was Calabasas, L.A., is a fairly rich area.  A lot of people there care about their self-image.  I saw through a lot of stuff.

They just put so much effort into their image on social media and I remember thinking, “Man, everyone thinks they’re a model now.  Everyone is taking pictures of themselves in bathing suits, these gorgeous pictures, and that’s all they care about, and it’s hard for me to connect with people in person.”  I remember a lot of friends went through tough times, hating themselves because of [poor] body image.  That sparked the initial idea for the concept “Model Behavior.”  The song wasn’t based on hate for models or anything – it was just funny [to me] that everyone was thinking they were a model.

I wrote the chorus first and my friend came into my dorm room. I showed him what I was working on and he loved it. We started to work together on the song.  Thus the song was born.
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ZJ: What separated you from those who were all caught up in their own “Model Behavior”?

MK: I never felt a strong connection to social media.  I don’t like publicizing about my life, myself, showing myself 24/7.  I’d rather work on myself alone and derive self-satisfaction then look to others to bring me satisfaction.  “Yes, I look good.  Yes, I sound good.”  I’d rather build that for myself than search for an external source.

ZJ: For people like yourself about to drop your first EP, do you see the value in social media to bring you fans?

MK: Yeah definitely because that’s the way of the world now and you can’t change that.  You can hate on [social media] all you want, but that’s what it is.

The song “Model Behavior” is about using [social media] as a crutch for self-insecurities, but social media isn’t meant for that and I think a lot of us have forgotten that. 

[We’ve forgotten that] healthy mental development has always been individual, not an external thing where you have others tell, “It’s ok, you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful,”  instead of internally thinking [that you are beautiful].  Social media’s ability to connect businesses and people is amazing.  It has its pros and cons.

ZJ: What has inspired your musical writing in the past (and with Model Behavior)?  Can we expect to see any changes in your lyrical style in the upcoming EP and if so, in what way – if you can share?

MK: Lyrically Model Behavior is one of the only social commentary songs.  Most of the other songs are love-driven, about [my] past relationships an internal thought song thinking about life.  The production and music varies between the tracks which is fun.  The EP includes seven songs, and you can expect it to be released in January.  It’s honestly all really fun and really stressful. My favorite part is actually recording, but my least favorite part can be recording vocals.  You have to record take after take, and that’s when self-doubt kicks in sometimes.  I really love the initial creative process – once I find that [initial] idea and build upon it, I just keep going and going, and it feels so great.  I completely lose track of time which is the best part.

ZJ: Talk to me about self-doubt.  What does that look like for you and what do you do to soothe that voice inside?

MK: It’s hard to focus on the song, hard to get out of my head.  I tell my dad what’s happening for me and have him help me, so that’s a nice thing to have.

ZJ: Do you maintain any regular daily practices to help keep you centered and your mind in a good place?

MK: Yeah, I play piano and improv a song.  Expressing myself through music keeps me sane, and I like to create something at least every day.  Not even an entire song, just ideas of songs that I’ll record on my iPhone memo.  This is my therapy.

ZJ: I read a cool Reddit AMA (Ask me anything) from the artist Hozier who reveals that his initial boost to fame began on Reddit, in fact, when a fan posted Hozier’s new song and video, along with tons of praise, and it went viral.  Do you see anything like that happening for you (or the merits of an accidental trip over fame like this)?

MK: Definitely.  When I put out Model Behavior we had no money behind it, we were getting it out organically.  I did tell my friend who is Reddit savvy to put it out on r/music or r/listentothis.  And who knows, maybe I got some plays from Spotify through that. I would LOVE for something like that to happen, cause the internet is really where things blow up nowadays – like everything!.  It dates back to early days of YouTube – Justin Bieber was one of the first kids to sing, play guitar on YouTube, and he blew up [as a musical star].  I would love for the internet to help me out.

ZJ: From where do your musical talent and passion stem?

MK: “My musical passion and talent come from growing up in my household, my dad being a part of the [music] business, him being a musician, my mom singing, acting, putting me in that community of acting, dance classes, children’s musicals, piano classes.  I felt a strong connection from the get-go.

It was really when I was 5, and my dad showed me Earth, Wind, and Fire, Stevie Wonder, and I had never heard music like that – it was the first time I listened to those artists – and I just felt a strong connection.  That’s when it came to me that [music] is something I love and feel strongly about.  I took a strong likely towards the piano and just began to play.

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Mack Keane and his piano: a bright star in the making.

ZJ: Has piano always been your musical instrument of choice?  

MK: Definitely.  I remember the first song I ever learned was “Heart and Soul.”  I remember the first song I ever wrote was at the age of six – I took the same chord progression, same rhythm, and put my own lyrics to it.  That’s when I realized I could have fun with [music].

ZJ: So you wrote your first song at the age of six?

MK: Kind of, you could call it that [laughter].

ZJ : That’s cool.  Would you say, then, that Earth, Wind, & Fire and Stevie Wonder are the two main artists who have most inspired you musically (if not, which artists have)?

MK: Definitely from an early age, the first artists I listened to were Earth, Wind, & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye.  As time went on, I’d always find inspiration in other artists, but Stevie Wonder always stuck around as a bucket of inspiration.  As I got older, it was artists like Donnie Hathaway, Justin Timberlake for the pop performance aspect, Michael Jackson (believe it or not it took me a while to listen to MJ), and then Frank Ocean – his lyrics sparked something new for me.  I realized you could make lyrics conversational, and it doesn’t have to be so “A, B, C”, that it can be experimental.

ZJ: Are you still in school at NYU while you produce music? You are still attending NYU (Junior this year) and producing music in L.A.  Are you doing music full-time outside of school – and if not, when will you transition to a full-time musical career (or will you)?

MK: MMMhhmmm, I’m still there.  I’m going to be a junior this year.  It’s great; I get to do what I do for school.  From assigned projects, I get many ideas that I elaborate on and use for myself.  If you hear the songs on the upcoming EP, they began as a school project but were built upon.  You learn about the business and production – Clive Davis Institute of Music, BFA in Entrepreneurship of Music.

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Keane and his band, at Whisky a GoGo, L.A.

ZJ: Do you produce all of your own music?

MK: I produce it all with the full rough demo, the full rough vocals, how I want the music out.  For the songs we agree to have on the EP, I’ll bring the music back to my dad’s [recording] studio, strip it down, record live instruments over certain lines.  I produce the entire rough demo, then my father and I co-produce it. I co-produce w/ dad & Nathan East – it’s a good thing we’ve got going.

ZJ: Your co-producer Tom – who is also your father and a 30+ year veteran in the music business (having worked with Chaka Kahn, Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Chicago), told me that music has been in your family multiple generations but that he didn’t really want you going into the family business.  Is that true, and if so what led you down this path anyways?

MK: That’s definitely true because it is a difficult business and my dad says he wouldn’t wish it upon anybody even his worst enemy.  Growing up I never saw anything else I liked, I really didn’t. I was writing songs as a kid, toying around with Logic (digital audio workstation).  It was the only thing that I loved.  I went to my dad and said, “Look, this is the only thing I want to do.  I love it; I’m really serious about it.”  I went to school for it, and we started getting to work.

I was very fortunate at a young age to know what I wanted to do.  I found my talent early on thanks to my parents (for putting me in all the musicals, dance classes).  It was something from the get-go that I loved, and I kept doing it even with a few bumps along the road.

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Singing his heart out.

ZJ: Did you ever consider quitting?  When you hit a bump or have a bad day, do you ever think “I’m never doing this again”?

MK: A lot of self-doubts will come.  I never felt that I was done, or that I didn’t want to make music.  It was self-doubt, doubt, not believing that I was good.  I think it’s necessary for any artist to grow.  If you think “I’m the best,” you’ll never improve so the bumps in the road were rough but necessary learning experiences.

ZJ: Do you have the sensation inside, “Yeah, I know I’ll make it big one day”?

MK: I like to think that, you know?  I can’t let that get to me too much because then the ego kicks in, but thinking like that makes me happy, “Ok, I’m working towards this because there is an end-goal and that end-goal will happen some day.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 12.08.03 PMZJ: What is your “end-goal” and what is your vision for the next 3-5 years?

MK: My end goal essentially is to make music for a living, to live comfortably making my music.  I just wanna make music.  Three yrs from now I’d like to create a strong fan base, tour a little bit.  Five yrs from now I’d like to have come out with my first debut album, tour that, and get things off the ground.  [This looks like] a strong fan base so I can have creative freedom and run my own tight ship for as long as possible.

ZJ: Do you see certain famous artists lose creative freedom as they gain popularity?

MK: Depends on whether you go with a major label, that limits creativity.  For people who stay independent and are then distributed through an agent, they have a lot more creative freedom and can do what they want.  I would love to have creative control.

ZJ: Is it tougher to make a good living in music while simultaneously retaining creative control over your art?

MK: Not necessarily.  Especially nowadays with the internet and everything that connects us, it’s a lot easier to show people my music, connect with people, without the help of a major label.

ZJ: Do you see this as the “flip side” of social media?

MK: Totally, I can create my own music business myself [and promote it through social media and the internet].  I want to take that independent route.

ZJ: Do you feel like you have to become famous before your music is well-received, or is fame a result of good music regardless?

MK: I’d like to think that fame is a result of good music, but that’s not always the case.  I’d like to acquire fame through my music – people listening to it, people liking it, people connecting to me as an artist – not just based off how the media might portray me.

ZJ: Is it tricky to have fans like you (or any artist) solely based on your music because of the image projected in the media?

MK: Yeah, I’d say it’s tricky.  Media dictates a lot of things: the way people think, the way people think they should think.  I want to be myself for as long as I can.

ZJ: Are you actively marketing your music (via social media, influencers, or other strategies), and if so what are you doing?

MK: We are solidifying our PR, and once we do that we will market a lot more.  Right now I’m trying to get followers through Instagram.  Once I put out music, I’ll start to use that a lot more.  We will put out two singles before the EP – 1st single early Nov, followed by a music video.  We’ll market that, work that, then 2nd single – work that, market that, then the EP followed by a 3rd music video.

Keane’s social media & PR process:  They are currently in-process locking down their PR company.  Once publicist is in placed, October and November will be a two-month ramp-up to the release of Mack’s singles, along with a full-scale 3-6 month marketing campaign which will include a bigger reach out to blogs, influencers, and a full-scale social media strategy run by their new social media manager.


Sneak preview: newest music video

ZJ: How do you create and produce your music videos?

MK: Model Behavior came out and began getting traction, and we thought a music video was the next step.  I was trying to meet kids at NYU, then my buddy from high school (who started producing music videos really early on – he’s worked with huge artists like Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown), asked if I’d thought about making a music video for Model Behavior which was what I had been trying to do.  He became our producer, and we just started making an idea and concept for the music video.  With them and all their connections we were able to make a video on a super low budget but make it look like it did have a good budget.  We’ve just got a good thing going, and it’s a family kind of ordeal.  It’s fun, so fun!  Same people, same crew for the two other videos coming out.

The people I’ve met throughout my life are all interested in music, entertainment, and a lot are artists.  That’s really what I love- collaborating with other artists and creating something together.

ZJ: Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?
MK: A mantra…..I guess that changes day to day. I read the book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and I really like that book, and there’s a quote, “He who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”  Not the best quote to live by, but my take is, “You do everything you want to do, and you’ll be happy.  Don’t limit yourself to one thing, because you can do it all – that’s what it means to become a beast (in my mind).

ZJ: Do you have a song based on that quote?

MK: I don’t.  I have written some poems based on that quote, but no songs yet.

Upcoming announcements:

  • Imagine, Mack Keane’s 2nd single is due out in November
  • Imagine’s video to be released two weeks later
  • People are asking for his merch on social media – stay tuned!


Photo credits: Mack Keane