How to make music like the Apple fan who made Steve Jobs dance

By

How to make music like the Apple fan who made Steve Jobs dance
Jonathan Mann has written a song every day for the last 11 years. That's more than 4,000 songs.
Photo: Jonathan Mann

Few of us know what it’s like to have our music played at an Apple keynote, but 37-year-old Apple fan Jonathan Mann does. Way back in the days of the iPhone 4, he composed a song about Apple’s Antennagate PR disaster. Not only did it get played at an Apple event, it actually made Steve Jobs dance.

For the past 11 years, Mann has recorded a new song every day, using his trusty Mac setup. That’s more than 4,000 songs in total. Now he’s launched a new podcast revealing his creative process. And, true to form, the latest episode features a song about the Mac Pro.

“My first computer, when I was just a toddler, was an Apple IIe,” Mann told Cult of Mac. “My mom used it for work, and my favorite activity was just to hold down different keys on the boot screen and watch the letters go and go.”

While Mann had a few years off the wagon as a PC user, he’s been firmly in the Apple camp since college.

“I never looked back,” he said. “I did have one friend at college that made music on a PC. [But] anytime I tried using Windows to make music, it just didn’t feel right.”

Over the years, he’s been a fairly regular composer of Apple-related songs. (Hey, who wouldn’t want to pay tribute to the technology that allows them to make a living?).

Some of the most popular include his “Duet With Siri,” “Autocomplete Song” and “I Am Pressing the Spacebar and Nothing Is Happening.” Invariably he pops up after most Apple events to compose a toe-tapper based on the day’s events.

Apple fan’s new music-making podcast

The dedicated Apple fan’s new music-making podcast is titled As It Happens: Song A Day. Each week, users can tune in to hear him write a song from start to finish. It’s compelling listening — especially if you’ve ever struggled to create something yourself.

“You’ll hear me fail, mess up, get interrupted, start over, hit on something brilliant by accident — it’s all there,” Mann said.

— New podcast! As It Happens: Song A Day (@songadaymann) January 21, 2020

What kit does he use for making music?

Mann shared with Cult of Mac the list of tech he currently uses to record his songs.

“For the acoustic ones, I basically do them in one take using my iPhone 11 Pro to film myself,” he said. “The wide-angle lens has been a revelation. I use a Zoom H2n to record the audio. Then I head on over to Logic Pro X to mix together the audio from the phone, which honestly is not bad, and the audio from the Zoom, which is so much better. Then I use Premiere Pro to line up the finished recording with the video.”

Mann records more highly produced tracks with Logic Pro X. He uses a wide range of instruments, but the latest is an M-Audio MIDI keyboard. (“It has weighted keys and all 88 of them,” he explained. “Life-changing.”) For microphones, he uses a pricey-but-solid AKG C414XLS, and recently added a Shure SM7B, which is known for being a good podcasting mic.

He puts all of this together on his trusty 2010 Mac Pro, bought the same year as his breakthrough Antennagate song. Even a decade later, it still holds up — although Mann admits he has to keep it in a closet “because it’s so damn loud.” He’s currently hoping to buy the new Mac Pro.

“Money is obviously an issue,” he said. “If you’re reading this and want to buy me one, I’m easy to find. And I’ll write you 10 songs.” Kidding, not kidding.

Jonathan Mann's recording setup.
Jonathan Mann’s recording setup.
Photo: Jonathan Mann

Apple’s not forgotten about Jonathan Mann

Mann represents the kind of user Apple loves to talk about. And with good reason. He’s someone who loves tech because it helps him be creative. This is a market Apple has always catered to — and a community that continues to love Apple. Mann’s Apple-loving, music-making podcast is a testament to this kind of fan.

Mann’s Antennagate song was picked up by Apple in 2010 because it went viral. Since then, despite his success, he’s not had any more music played at Apple keynotes. But Apple’s not forgotten about him.

“After the Antennagate thing, Steve Dowling [Apple’s former VP of communications, who stepped down at the end of 2019] called me and asked what I wanted in return for Steve using the song onstage,” he said. “Keep in mind I was poor, 27 years old, and making my living on video contests. The only thing I could think of to say was, ‘An iPad?’ So of course they sent me one.”

Last year, after the new iPad Pros came out, Mann emailed Dowling on a chance. In his email he asked if, “for old time’s sake,” Apple would consider sending him one. “And he did. That’s the iPad I use onstage now [for reading my lyrics in my day job].”

You can check out the As It Happens: Song A Day podcast on Apple Podcasts.