Wondering how to transition from a basement-studio songwriter/producer to a world-class musician, who works with the likes of The Weeknd and Noah Cyrus? “When I find out, I’ll let you know,” responds Mike Sonier, half-jokingly.
While not a household name, the Cornwall, Ontario-born, L.A.-based producer has spent the last five years making inroads into the pop music community, and has something to show for it: co-writes and production credits with Maggie Rogers (“Love You For A Long Time”), Julia Michaels (“Priest”), and his biggest hit yet, Noah Cyrus’s “July” – which, both as a solo song, and in a version that features Leon Bridges, has accumulated more than 1 billion streams.
“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy,” he says, over the phone from L.A. “As a fan of music – somebody who’s been chasing this dream since I was 17 years old – to have a song that’s touched a lot of people is the greatest honour. Just yesterday, I saw a video on Instagram, where someone tagged me, that was about ‘July.’ People have told me that they’ve written essays about it to get into university. That’s better than any reward.”
Signed to Jenna Andrews’ TwentySeven Music Publishing / Sony Music Publishing, Sonier might attribute his success to timing and luck, but the truth is closer to his ability to hustle, and “reaching out to the guys who’ve made it” – promoting his availability to assist with whatever they need in terms of studio expertise, musicianship, and grunt work.
“I’d end up in a lot of situations,” he says. “I met Alessia Cara on her first writing sessions, where she wrote ‘Here,’ as I did the engineering and the demoing. Over time, as I worked for different producers, I had a big bag of tricks that was useful.” He rented a room at Toronto’s Dreamhouse Studios, and also worked separately with Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk as an assistant on Dua Lipa’s debut record during that same time period.
Later, after being frustrated by a project he’d just finished producing, Sonier aired his frustrations on Twitter saying he wanted to work on “higher quality” projects. Also on Twitter at the time: Martin “Doc” McKinney, co-writer and producer of Esthero, and an early writing/producing collaborator with The Weeknd. He was looking for someone to help him out. “A contact at Dreamhouse was kind enough to make an introduction,” says Sonnier. “I interviewed with Doc and started the next day.”
One of the first projects he worked on with Doc was the Black Panther movie soundtrack main title song, “Pray For Me,” featuring The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar. Eventually, he signed a production deal with McKinney to find and develop artists, and also landed the Michaels, Rogers, and Cyrus tracks. Sonier signed his publishing deal with Andrews after the end of his production deal with McKinney, then moved his young family to L.A. “It just felt like the right thing to do, considering the amount of work that’s available here,” he says.
“If I’m not in the room, I’m not really getting the cut”
“In my world, if I’m not in the room, I’m not really getting the cut,” he says. “With how I work, we’re in the room writing the song, getting the vibe, and doing the production as we go. When you look at the multitude of artists that come out here from all over the world – and you’re signed to a major publisher – that’s the caveat where you have access, and you get to write with multitude of different people.”
When he writes, Sonier says he’s looking for something particular. “I really try and find where I can bring my perspective to a situation,” he says. “Sometimes, when writing a song, I may be just focused on the lyrics and strumming acoustic guitar. Or sometimes, I may be really trying to tap into the music side of things, where maybe the artist is off in their own world with the lyrics, and I’m trying to create an interesting music palette that might be unique for them. I’m always trying to find a way to put a unique emotion into something that resonates.”
Produced by Sonier, and co-written with Noah Cyrus, Peter Harding, and Jenna Andrews, “July” was the result of a songwriting camp. “‘July,’ and a lot of songs like that, start with a conversation when everyone gets into a room,” he explains. “Everybody gets to know each other, and everybody’s going to be at a different emotional life-point. People start to communicate, and become a little more open, and share stories. I shared something that was going on in my life, and I had a very simple chord progression, strumming along.
In July of 2022, Sonier participated in the very first SOCAN Kenekt Sync Song Camp in L.A., organized to create songs to pitch to music supervisors for screen productions. He says, “You get placed with a group of people – maybe other producers, a writer, and an artist – and the goal is to write and produce a piece of music with a time restraint. It’s a really fun project, a cool challenge, and a cool way to sharpen your sword – and get out of your comfort zone. I thought it went really well.”
“Just putting your heart on your sleeve, and just standing in your shit, for lack of a better word, allows you to pull out that story, that human experience that we all relate to. With ‘July,’ it was the first day of a songwriting camp, and what you hear is very much the result of that day.”
In late 2022, Sonier collaborated with Ruth B. on a song she wrote for the movie Maybe I Do, called “Always You.” “It was a time-crunch situation,” he says. “Ruth and the director, Michael Jacobs, called me to have a chat about producing the song. In addition to my role as a producer, I also orchestrated and played piano on the piece. We actually recorded two versions.”
Looking to the future, Sonier is setting up his own creative company, Somebody Call Everybody Inc. “My goal is to use my platform, as it grows, to advocate for creatives, and songwriters, and producers, and artists, and people that often don’t have a voice,” he explains. “One of our goals is to take part in the ongoing shifts in the culture of our industry, where we actively address the issues affecting creatives through action.”
Whatever happens as he moves forward, Mike Sonier continues to carve out an impressive niche for himself.