10 Things I Learned While Producing “Men Love Mary”
For the past couple of months, I’ve been working with the cool kids at SoulBounce – a popular online music & culture magazine. This relationship has afforded me to contribute to a myriad of projects. One in particular was the Men Love Mary: A Tribute to My Life mixtape that was released as a free digital download on 2 December. The project features eleven (11) of today’s progressive, male soul singers and producers — paying homage to Mary J. Blige on the 15th anniversary of her most critically acclaimed album.
This arguably the largest undertaking SoulBounce has endured in its 2-year history and I was blessed to be at the helm of its production. It was an opportunity to go beyond the confines of writing and challenge my musical inclinations which, unexpectedly, led me on a journey more vast than I ever imagined.
This experience taught me ten (10) valuable things — most of which were simply principles needing reinforcement while others spoke to my basic privilege of being a world citizen as well as a musician. Overall, transforming this “conference call concept” into a tangible work of art has increased my wisdom, challenged my creativity and encouraged me to become a better person.
01 Leadership = Servitude
Throughout this process, I was constantly reminded that true leadership is not the ability to spat orders in an attempt to get off on some pseudo-superiority. Leadership is serving the needs of others at the expense of yourself. It’s not about ruling people, but taking control of the tasks in which you are responsible. Making sure the artists had what they needed from me — as the face of this project — was priority. Most times, leadership simply meant letting others know I was with them rather than spewing requests for “hook ups” at them. An egalitarian mindset kept me always searching for ways to help others, which in turn, helped me as a leader.
02 I need Pro Tools
I learned how to produce music on Pro Tools back in 1999. I currently use Apple Logic Studio Pro and it is my application of choice. However, most of the artists on this project used Pro Tools to record their vocals (and unfortunately, Pro Tools sessions cannot be translated into Logic). The solve was simple: bouncing their vocal tracks to AIFF and/or WAV in order to import them into my Logic session — but I wasn’t totally comfortable with that process. I wanted to make the collaboration as seamless as possible and this Logic/Pro Tools incompatibility left a bad taste in my mouth. The fellas were good sports about it, but going forward I will make sure I have Pro Tools at my disposal so that I can open any sessions that come my way without adding an additional task on the artists. It’s been over a decade, but I’m sure it’s just like riding a bike
03 Iron sharpens iron
I’m a loner by nature, but I totally embrace the concept of collective success. Throughout this process, I had brothers who had my back in a myriad of ways. Whether it was Todd Kelley encouraging me to go for walks to clear my head (while he banged out a fly drum beat) or Mr. Fresh snapping me out of a creative funk with small talk via IM — I was never alone. At one point, I was too exhausted to record vocals for my own contribution and Will Dawson IMed me a series of shouts and outbursts like a trainer yelling at his boxer in the corner in between rounds. Sometimes, it was a just a word of affirmation via Twitter from Andre Blackman, Macedonia, et al. I found the extra energy I needed through the encouragement of brothers in varied parts of the country — giving me a virtual kick in the pants. Thanks, fellas.
04 Humility is not weakness
Throughout this process, I felt the weight of its potential success (or failure) on my back. I’ve been blessed with a lot of talents and experiences that qualified me to help pull this thing off — but I recognize that all of my gifts can be taken away at any time. As valuable as I’d like to think I am, the reality is that I can be replaced. I feel this way about most things. . . it keeps me grounded. I believe humility is an attribute of leadership, because you can not genuinely serve others with a haughty spirit.
05 Excellence over arrogance
I was asked to mix one particular song that was produced and recorded by another team (it was also part of the whole Pro Tools / Logic compatibility fiasco ). I’ve been mixing songs for years and already in charge of mixing a few songs for this project — I was confident I could do the job. The artist didn’t like my final mix and he found someone, much more familiar with his production and vocal style, to complete the mix to his liking. While part of me felt disappointed in myself, I’m thankful that the artist kept it real with me and we were able to find a solution that was best for the project. My ego was bruised, but my ego has nothing to do with my purpose to help others (see #1 and #4) and producing the best output possible through collective resources. The new mix was submitted on time and the artist was pleased. That’s all that mattered.
06 Technology is a beautiful thing
This project brought many people together from all over the continent — most of whom have never been in the same room. The nucleus of this entire “Men Love Mary” process was found in a cloud. Through my MobileMe account, I was able to upload Logic sessions for Todd (in California) and Mr.Fresh (in DC) to access and provide beats and guitar riffs, respectively. Bradd Marquis (in NJ) was able to upload his vocal arrangements and I could re-create D Maurice‘s (in Chicago) track. Eric Roberson (also in NJ) sent his vocals via SendSpace while Slakah the Beatchild (in Canada) got his completed song to me through YouSendIt. Upon completion, the promotion of this project has been primarily on Twitter, Facebook and various music websites. Thousands of downloads have been made possible through file storage sites like MediaFire, Rapidshare and zShare. Without technology, this project wouldn’t have happened nearly as fast or with as many outlets.
07 My family has patience
Playing instruments, recording vocals, mixing and mastering songs took a lot of late nights, evenings and weekends. If I wasn’t totally immersed in a recording session at night, I was either on the phone, texting, e-mailing or IM’ing someone re: this project during the day. Every moment I dedicated to completing this project was time borrowed from my family. Sacrificing the warm slumber of your life partner’s embrace in order to contribute to good music – took understanding from my wife and I’m thankful she saw (my dedication to music) as more than a “hobby.” She wasn’t fond of sleeping alone, the constant text messages, extended phone conversations and IM conversations — but in the end, I think this project reminded us both of the precious value of our time together and I appreciate her patience.
08 Perception is reality
There were challenges in this project — beyond the music — resulting in choices that were not catastrophic, but definitely could have been managed better. As much as I like to wear the “Mr. Encouragement” badge — I’m human and I made some missteps in this process that may have pissed someone off (and I’m not talking about my wife *lol*). It wasn’t my intention, because I had a great deal of respect for this individual, but the experience reminded me that we all function in our own little worlds. Our perceptions become reality and no one can tell us different. Did this experience outwardly effect this project? I don’t think so. I accept my role in creating a perception that I am not proud of…but thank God I am not bound nor condemned by it. Going forward, I am more aware of how I manage my perceptions of others and how I influence their perception of me.
09 Music is ministry
As I sat and listened to the final product in my headphones, all kinds of memories began to swirl through my head. Visions of picking at the organ keys in my uncle’s basement, singing at college talent shows, teaching choirs, being told I was “too old” to start playing piano, loved ones laughing at me for trying to sing, standing in pulpits, orchestra pits, choir stands and auditoriums. I saw every studio I worked in, every celebrity I met and every musician I’ve been blessed to work alongside. Despite those contrasting memories, this project was a strong reminder that music is internal. Music is spiritual. It’s a ministry and it should minister healing to your spirit. Listening to this project in its entirety healed a lot of ulcers that churn when I work on music.
10 Blessings often come in groups
Like women and bathrooms, the blessings from this project far outweigh the challenges. It was supposed to be released on 30 November, but didn’t go out until 2 December — the same day that one of the contributing artists, Eric Roberson, was nominated for a Grammy. It was also my first day as a Community Blogger for the Grammys (not this blog, the other one ). Being an executive producer of the Men Love Mary: A Tribute to My Life has prepared me to complete my EP project with Todd and Mr. Fresh — tentatively called Contempojazzsoulhop. I’ll also be working on projects in the near future with Bradd Marquis and I’ve been introduced to a new world of talented musicians and singers interested in making great music.
It all goes back to my purpose of helping others. This experience reaffirms that, while I’ve been trained to be a marketing communications professional, I also have a passion for music that I cannot ignore. I learned more than 10 things throughout this process and I plan to use all of the lessons, trials, issues, triumphs, challenges and mistakes to do a better job of helping others in their creative endeavors and life in general.
Because this is a ministry.
Until next time. . .
Thanks to the entire SoulBounce team and everyone involved in making this project a success. I appreciate all of you. . .