15 Minutes With “Synth God” Mike Dean

The producer and multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with Beyonce, Madonna, 2pac, Travis Scott, and The Weeknd is performing a set at Rolling Loud in L.A.

He’s known in the industry as the ‘Synth God’ and when you take a look at the resume of the legendary Mike Dean, it is easy to see why! The producer and multi-instrumentalist has collaborated with the likes of Beyonce, Madonna, 2pac, Travis Scott, and The Weeknd. But that’s merely scratching the surface of his impact on multiple genres in the past few decades. 

Mike Dean talks to LAMag before rehearsals for his upcoming Rolling Loud set at the Hollywood Park Grounds this weekend, collaborating with Kanye West, and what makes The Weeknd such a good collaborator. 

LA Magazine: You got started in the industry with predominantly hip hop but when I picture you behind all these synths it reminds me of Richard Wright from Pink Floyd, who influenced you when starting out?

Mike Dean: Like you said Pink Floyd was a big one but then Prog Rock people like Keith Emerson and all types of synth players. I was into Black Sabbath because of their keyboard stuff- the gothic shit. I want to do some of that at the show, I want to play throwback Hard Rock shit.

I saw you teased some of that gothic stuff for the show on your Instagram playing Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”

Yeah, I might play that but I’m not sure if it’s too cheesy… I might try it.

Black Sabbath is never cheesy!

Yeah exactly, hopefully, they’ll dig it but we’ll see.

I presume as a producer you spend most of your time in the studio but what’s it like to then perform in front of tens of thousands of people, do you get nervous?

Nah, it’s fun! I’ve never really done the big crowds by myself, I did stuff with Abel [The Weeknd] but it was never full but this time it should be full. I’m going all out on the production and hired some really good video and lighting people. It’s going to be dope! It’s going to be interesting, I spent the whole budget on lighting. I got a good spot, I’m really hyped and going to take advantage of the spot I’ve got. I have a short time but it’s going to be crazy!

How long have you got?

20 minutes.

Still plenty of time to get people hyped up!

Yeah exactly! I might go over 10 minutes, let’s see what happens. I’ll probably just play until they turn me off.

I’ve seen videos of you improvising classic tracks live which must take a lot of confidence, is this something you developed?

Yeah, it came from when I used to play with Kanye live and when he would go on his talks during the show I’d be playing live the whole time and then break down songs for 10 minutes so that got me really tight playing live, you know?

You also must have gotten confidence from touring with Abel, performing at huge venues like SoFi Stadium in California and across the country?

Definitely! Doing the solo sessions was just like an out-of-body experience, it was kind of unreal. And then watching Abel and all the stuff I did for his set was just crazy.

I’ve been hearing lots about The Idol, a show in which you’ll be starring alongside Abel, what can we expect from this?

It’s going to be cold! There are lots of great musical moments happening on the show. I’m working on the music for the show with Abel and it’s going to be really big. I want to do more acting for sure and more scoring work.

Yeah, I was going to ask about that. I’ve been listening to your albums 4:22 and Smoke State and I pictured it taking place in a movie. Is this something you’d like to do more in the future?

Definitely! That’s kind of why I made those albums as I was hoping that people would put them in movies.

Those albums really encapsulate the Mike Dean sound with the hard electronic synth but also softer moments, it reminded me a lot of your work on Kanye’s Yeezus album. When you’re working with someone with such a set vision as Kanye, how do you then put your imprint on the sound so clearly?

It’s not that hard, we always work in tandem. Any artist I work with gives me ideas and influences but I’ll always put my own twist on anything I do.

In recent years you’ve done some great work with The Weeknd, what makes him such a good collaborator?

Abel and I are working really well together, shit’s really smooth, natural and easy. We both know where we are trying to get going, you know? Abel has a vision and I have a vision too, I’m good at following someone’s vision.

What’s the rest of the year got in store for you?

It’s mostly touring with Abel but I’m working on scoring The Idol and scoring another movie which I can’t talk about yet but it’s going to be big.