Michael Widener, Mac® Multimedia Producer and Managing Member at Phantom Records™, is carving a niche in the music industry by helping DJs generate new revenue streams in the cutting-edge world of virtual performances.
And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevent in-person shows, festivals, and performances, going virtual has been a lifesaver for the livelihoods of many musicians.
Beginning a Career Path Rooted in Passion (Without Realizing It)
For as long as he can remember, Michael always wanted to be an artist.
And as time progressed, his passion evolved into a deep interest in music, computers, and special effects—one that put him in the company of some world-renowned people.
“In 1986, I was introduced to the hip-hop group Digital Underground,” explains Michael. “I ended going to their apartment and watching them work. I found it fascinating.”
Going from Music to Computers to Magazines and Back
As a kid, Michael had become proficient in using computers.
“I was playing Atari a lot as a boy,” he explains. “And my mom told me if I wanted to play my video games, I needed to learn how to help with her computer. So, I learned how to use Lotus 1-2-3 on a Wang Professional by heart.”
He adds, “That’s what taught me to be an IT professional.”
Fast forward a decade, and Michael’s IT knowledge was put on the back burner while he focused on his music career, which included dancing with and doing choreography for some of M.C. Hammer’s dancers.
Until an unfortunate twist of fate changed his plans.
“My house actually burned down,” shares Michael. “I lost my recording studio and all my gear. It was heartbreaking. And as time went on, I ended up losing track of all my friends in the music world.”
So, Michael regrouped and explored a wide array of careers in the years to come, finding himself at Skywalker Ranch, NASA, Pixar, and more.
“I got a job at a graphic design agency,” says Michael. “But I had no formal training and print graphic design wasn’t really what I wanted to do. Then, I was self-employed for a while, doing a magazine that ended up taking off. Eventually, I left and went back to school to focus on computer work. That was the foundation of everything I knew and loved professionally.”
But at the core of it all, Michael still had one underlying goal.
He explains, “I still wanted to figure out how to be an artist. And I realized that computer art was a way for me to fuse my passions and skills.”
His time at Skywalker Ranch solidified his plans.
“Going to Skywalker Ranch made me realize what I wanted to do,” says Michael. “It helped me to discover a way to combine art, technology, and music: I wanted to have a record label that represented DJs—video game DJs.”
Founding Phantom Records: A Record Label for Video Game DJs
If the idea of video game DJs seems outside the box, that’s because it is. Or at least it was. Today, Michael’s work in this realm is on the bleeding edge of the music industry.
“Phantom Records is a new type of label that shakes the traditional reputation and stigma that record labels carry,” explains Michael. “My goal is to sign artists and support them in their careers. Unlike traditional labels that hand artists multimillion-dollar loans to repay and then tell them what to do, my label focuses on operating ethically and helping artists market themselves.”
The core focus for Phantom Records has been using Michael’s background in art, CVI, and technology to create swappable avatars, fitted to a person’s real-life movements, that artists can use for Virtual DJing, VR performing, and Mixed-Reality presenting.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how performances happen,” explains Michael. “There are no crowds anymore. So, a lot of DJs, and musicians in general have moved towards virtual performances.”
Finding a Home for Phantom Records
As this convergence became the central attractor for his labels DJs, Michael knew it was time to find a home for Phantom Records. But he needed a space that would make artists feel at home.
“I needed a headquarters for Phantom Records,” explains Michael. “But it needed to be a place where artists liked to be. It needed to be a place that looked and felt good to them. I wasn’t running an ultra-corporate label, so my office needed to reflect that.”
He adds, “That’s what I found at Launch. When people see the decor, it gives a professional vibe, but it also appeals to the artist in them.”
And once he was in his new office, it was the service that made him stay.
“What made me stay at Launch and never want to leave is all the services,” says Michael. “For example, when I’m out of town, I can still use my Launch services, like my phone and mail services.”
Planning the Future for Phantom Records
Michael is currently out of town building the next chapter of Phantom Records.
“Right now, I’m spending a few months in Las Vegas,” says Michael. “I’m working on building a new space here to continue supporting Phantom Records’ artists.”
If there’s one lesson Michael learned, it’s that, by following your passion unwaveringly, you’ll inevitably end up where you want to be.
If you’d like to learn more about how to break into the world of virtual performances deep dive into the more complex Video Game DJing and performance, get in touch with Michael.
And if you’d like to learn about our flexible office services or to book a tour of one of our Launch Workplaces locations, contact us today. Our team is here to help and answer any questions you might have.