AMAS Faculty Spotlight: Q&A with Mike Jackson - Designer & Instructor Faculty

Mike Jackson.jpeg

What are you most excited about this summer at the symposium?

The fact that we’ll be playing a piece of music written by one of the SCPA scholarship winners. We’ve already distributed it to the members, but I have no idea what that’s going to sound like (laughs). I’m sure we’ll have time to mess around with it and rehearse it before we go on. But I think just the unknown, who’s going to be there, how the crowd’s going to react. There’s a lot of opportunity in the audience and room dynamic that can make a clinic or presentation special. I’m looking forward to that.

What projects are you working on right now?

I’m always working on something. It’s a bit of a hamster wheel going from one to the other. The work is pretty seamless. Everything overlaps from indoor to drum corps and into marching band, and it keeps cycling through. I have no anomalies in my routine as of now.

Coffee or Tea?

There’s only one answer to that question - coffee. I have a favorite brand, Storyville, out of Seattle, and I’m actually a geek and have a subscription. It’s all about the roast date. Gotta’ have a roast date.

Band or Artist that has caught your attention this year?

Gary Numan - kind of a blast from the past. I was into Gary Numan back in the early ‘80s and haven’t heard anything about him in 30 years. Then he just released a new album and it’s pretty amazing, especially to see an artist in their late 50s/early 60s, still creating, and creating great material.

Any session highlights you can give us before the symposium?

To be honest, I prefer an organic approach. I want to prepare the line, of course, but as far as what’s going to be said and what we’re going to do - I think we’re going let that happen naturally with whatever it is we happen to be working on. If we’re having a problem, or an issue with something, or we’ve discovered a challenge that maybe was unforeseen - I think talking about that in the session can be revealing, and sharing that struggle with the audience: "We’re trying to play this, we’re trying to do this, and here’s what we’re attempting to do and we’ve hit some roadblocks, and here’s how we’ve figured out how to navigate this problem." Sharing something like that is hopefully going to be enlightening, or useful, but I don’t know what those things are yet. Who knows what we’re going to find.

Time You Wake Up

Well, my two year old wakes me up no later than 8 AM. Sometimes she gets up a little earlier around 7 AM. I actually feel a little lucky. I know most toddlers wake up earlier than that, but I’ve trained her (laughs). 8 AM.

First thing you do in the morning?

I let the dog out and that’s a ritual. He gets all excited. Of course my daughter, Mila, shares in that activity - we gotta’ let the dog out. Then I make breakfast for the two year old and feed the dog. And if I’m lucky I can grind some coffee and get going.


I think knowing the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important - I try to remember that at the start of everyday. It’s easy to get bogged down in all the urgencies and forget what’s important. At the same time, I think getting all the little things off your plate can sometimes relieve some of that pressure that you maybe experiencing from projects. These little things that pop up between creative partners that seem like, “Oh, that’s not important right now, and I need to worry about this big thing.” What happens is all those little things end up piling up, so I try to get those things off my plate. Especially if there’s an e-mail, just quickly respond to it - boom. I try to get that stuff out of the way so I have a clear vision of what I’m trying to accomplish that day. Like if there’s something big, like I have to write this movement, or I have to get this website up and working. These are things I normally battle and some of it is trial and error, and then I realize I got rabbit holes and I didn’t get anything I wanted to get done. But sometimes it works out great.

Commuting Habit

Getting Mila to her grandmother’s (laughs). I’m fairly fortunate that I live in close proximity to the high school I teach. I think any commuting I do is just more about being a dad and being a friend. I travel a lot to meet people I’m working with because I do live in a kind of remote area. So if I want to have a design session, or if I need to get Mila to her grandmother’s, I’m in the car. So there’s quite a bit of driving, but it’s not to work in the classic sense. Everything’s work - that’s the price when your hobby is your career. You’re always working. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Time You Go To Bed

Later than I want to, but if I’m completely honest about this, I’m usually going to sleep around 11 PM or midnight.

Productivity Tools

I have my own little system for e-mail to keep track of things. That’s not always 100%, and there’s people I haven’t gotten back to who can attest to that. But there’s something that happened in 2005 when I switched from pencil and Judy Green manuscript to Sibelius; something that was missing. Later I found having a pencil in my hand with a notebook to just write random thoughts - it could be anything - works well for me. I’m not really organized with my notebook. It’s literally filled with anything I want to scribble down. I found, however, that I remember ideas clearly and I have a record of it if I thumb through previous pages in the notebook. I find it’s quicker for me to get an idea down, rather than going through an electronic interface. There’s something tactile and analog about it that I love, and I found it’s somewhat inspirational that I write down things that I would normally let pass. It’s something I try to carry around with me at all times; especially with staging and teaching in the middle of the season with little ideas and corrections. I think having a system helps, but there’s a lot of what I do that probably looks like chaos if you were just to walk in. And to be honest - it probably is, but I’m organized enough to where I feel I have enough freedom in my approach to where I never feel things are a formula. And that’s the thing I enjoy, but that’s also the scary part. You’re giving yourself enough rope to hang yourself so to speak. But that’s been my balance basically, creating these little systems with handling input and communication with my fellow design partners in that notebook. I don’t have any cool little apps, or anything like that. There’s the typical stuff like Dropbox, but I don’t have any fancy little tricks.

Motivational object

I have this stupid little ritual I do. I have this art piece I purchased quite awhile ago. It has this old school desk light attached to it. If I turn that light on - it’s like this tiny little bulb - it means it’s business time (laughs). Things are getting written. It’s like alright, “I need to write this movement for Blue Knights,” and that light’s coming on. Or, “Broken City needs eight more bars”, that light’s coming on. Gotta’ light this thing up.

Best Habit

I force myself to think about the big picture. That doesn’t mean I always act on it, or that I don’t make mistakes. It just means I deliberately force myself to look as far out as possible, to the point where I might actually do some things that are counterintuitive to my own success, because I’ve zoomed out so far and realized that might not be the best thing to do. I think with every project that I do it can be a little crippling to do that. I wouldn’t categorize it as helping with productivity. You can argue whether or not it’s a good habit, but at the end of the day, forcing yourself to think about the big picture is a way to be content and fulfilled with your work at the end of the day, at the end of the week, the year, at the end of a career. That’s the only way I know how to do it.

Mike Jackson.jpeg

Mike Jackson

For over two decades, Mike has been writing, teaching and designing programs for some of the most nationally recognized percussion programs in the United States.  Historically, these include Mission Viejo HS, RCC, Santa Clara Vanguard, and the Bluecoats Drum & Bugle Corps.  He has also sat on the Board of Directors for WGI and has been inducted into the WGI Hall of Fame.

Mike is currently:

  • a designer/composer for the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps
  • a designer/composer for Broken City Percussion
  • a board member and co-founder of SCPA (Southern California Percussion Alliance)
  • a partner at Broken City Artists
  • a Yamaha performing artist and proudly using Evans Drumheads, Zildjian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks/Mallets, and Randall May Carriers/Stands

Learn from Mike and many more at the Arcadia Symposium.