In 1996, without befit of a label, Michaels completed and released a debut album titled Paradiso. Surprisingly, his first full-length outing sold better than he could have hoped. It was soon followed by a second recording, Arizona. The sophomore not only sold better than the first album, but even earned him a nomination for a coveted Juno Award for Best Instrumental Artist of the Year. Reviews and press from his popular albums and from his Juno nomination, drew enough interest toward Michaels that when he went to work on a third album, Utopia, he did so working under the major Warner Music Canada label.