Thursday, May 27, 2010

Progress of the Album: Game Plan (Ch. 11)

Three weeks from today, we’ll be leaving for Nashville! If you haven’t heard yet, on June 18th, I’ll be at Dark Horse Recording in Nashville recording drums, bass, and rhythm guitar for the new Marc Andre rock album that is set to release early 2011. It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 ½ years (October 2003) since I was at Dark Horse tracking my last album Backstage Pass. This trip should be a lot of fun!

Prepping the Demos
So far, I’ve already spent about 6 months preparing MIDI demos for the live band to emulate. In addition, I’m now currently working on exporting all the instruments from the demos as sub-mixes. In other words, all of the instruments are now being sup-grouped into the following categories/channels: (1-2) drums, (3) bass, (4-5) rhythm guitar, (6-7) lead guitar, (8-9) keys, (10-11) percussion, (12-13) lead vocals, and (14-15) background vocals. On the day of recording, the musicians can adjust the volume of these sub-mixes to taste. For example, the drummer may want to turn up the percussion a bit more than the bassist, just to stay tight with any drum programming. As another example, some musicians may want to hear a lot of the lead vocal and some may want to turn it down quite a bit. The band will probably listen to the fake drums, bass, and guitars once for demo purposes only and then those channels will be muted once we start recording (as we are replacing all the fake drums, bass, and guitar with real instruments).

Making the Most of the Time
As you can probably imagine, studio time isn’t cheap. Neither are studio musicians. With this in consideration, I am sketching out a game plan so that we (co-producer Dave Bechtel and I) can work as quickly and as efficiently as possible while we are at Dark Horse. My goal is to spend about a ½ hour on each song, which equals out to about 6 hours per tune (we have 12 songs to track on June 18th. The 13th song on the album is a piano/strings/vocal only song, and will be recorded later). If we go over a little, that’s ok, but 6 hours would be ideal. I hope to record 6 songs in the morning before lunch and 6 songs after lunch.

The Order of Tracking
We also will probably group the songs by sound, and will record songs with similar qualities back-to-back. In other words, all of the heavier songs may be recorded one after the other as they may call for complimentary drum tones… similar kick and toms possibly with a varied snare drum from song to song. Dave Bechtel will be engineering the session and will have a better idea how to arrange the order of song tracking, although I am trying to plan things the best I can. Dave is a very seasoned engineer who knows a lot about miking technique, and has a great understanding of how to get particular sounds out of live instruments. He has been responsible for lining up the studio and the studio musicians, and has been giving me pointers throughout this entire process. I am extremely thankful to him for his involvement in this project!

The name of the new album will be unveiled on June 15th. Be sure to check the blog next Tuesday, June 1st for the first hint of what the album will be called.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mouse in the House Remix on CDBaby.com!!

Rapper Marc Andre: Mouse in the House (Alumni Remix) - Single

Want to contribute a little towards the recording costs of Marc Andre's new rock album? One small way you can help is by purchasing the Mouse in the House (Alumni Remix) on CDbaby.com for just $0.99. Click the CDbaby image above to sample the song and to read more details. Every dollar counts!! Thanks for your support!!

(NOTE: This is a remix of a rap song I released in 1994. It is simply a fundraiser and something I created for the fun of it. The new rock album will sound nothing like this, but will instead sound somewhat like Backstage Pass, yet a good bit more aggressive).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Album: Motivation (Chapter 10, Part 2 of 2)

So why am I working on a new rock album? That is a great question. It’s a question I often ask myself, especially when the going gets tough and I start to get a little weary of the long vertical climb. Nobody forced me to take this challenge on. Nobody is paying me to put out another CD. Aren’t I being a little too analytical here? Why even consider my motives? Because like I mentioned earlier, motives are the backbone of why we do things, and if the purpose of what we do is grounded in something bigger than ourselves, we can have that much more confidence to keep trying when our emotions tempt us to throw in the towel. I wouldn’t say I am exactly tempted to give up now, but I do sometimes run through a list of “what ifs.” What if few people buy my CD? What if people don’t like the new music? What if they like my old music better? What if I don’t make any profit? Will I feel like a failure? What if people don’t get where I’m coming from with such strong and emotional songs? What if I can’t afford to finish the project? What if I get done with the CD, and I don’t even like the songs? What if this is the last CD I ever make? The list can become quite ridiculous at times. These are often the moments when God stops me and asks, “Marc, what about people and what about my glory? What about the relationships between you and others who are giving their time and talent to help make this project a reality? Will these friendships grow or will they be damaged through this process?” Wow. We sure can get focused on the wrong things real quick, can’t we? Here’s a good verse I often come back to.

”Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Psalm 127:1

I have often fallen into the trap of believing that my songs are what will change people’s lives. However, the older I get, the more I realize that music and songs mean nothing if I am inconsiderate of my family and friends, and if I am unconscious of the God that gave me the opportunities and the mind to create. Of course, I want these new songs to encourage and challenge people, but I also understand that my interaction with others is so much more important than the music I release.

A Different Conception
In addition to the purpose of wanting to glorify the Lord and encourage people, there are some other reasons why I am working on this new album. In some of my previous blogs, I’ve mentioned that I went through a five-year writing drought between the years of 2004 and 2009. For years, I wanted to produce a new album, but felt so lost creatively and didn’t know which direction to go topically and musically (I also had no idea how I could afford to make another CD, as I was still paying off a huge debt accrued from Backstage Pass). Throughout these five years, I believe I was burying a lot of emotions in an attempt to survive, and I’m now convinced I was likewise squelching my feelings to the point that I no longer knew how to get those feelings out constructively in song. I remember telling myself repeatedly, “My feelings don’t matter” because it was the only way I could stop feeling the pain. As an author friend of mine put it, “I was killing my heart.” I began feeding myself a lie that nobody cared about my pain, and with this, I started believing that I shouldn’t care either.

Nevertheless, the Lord brought me out of that. He reminded me that I needed to bring my pain and my flattened hopes to Him. This began a God-led emotional healing in my life. I felt a new freedom to let go and trust Him. However, for a time, I believe this new perspective actually threw me off creatively. From all I knew, it was my darker and heavier songs that moved people the most – songs like Pull Through, Hurricane, and By Now. I was convinced that emotionally charged music was my strongest suit, but I didn’t know how to write heavy songs when my heart was no longer heavy. For years, I kept a journal that covered the topic of writing new songs, but I never actually wrote any songs (or at least ones that I liked).

Then, in August 2009, songs started pouring out in the middle of the night about a week after a coffee shop conversation I had had with a friend who was struggling with depression and negative thoughts. It was as if something had just clicked. For once, I stepped outside of my own life and started writing from other people’s perspectives. I began to notice the struggle in others’ lives and how those struggles related to the struggles I had in my own life. For a long time, I wanted to write an album for the down and outer, and finally, I figured out how to do it in my own way. I decided I was going to be completely honest instead of hiding behind the fa├žade that is so prevalent in Christian music these days. This single conversation over coffee with my friend was the first of many situations that encouraged me to not only write about where I was currently, but also about where I had been. As I was composing these new songs, this verse came to mind -

”Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Centering Our Motives
Let’s be honest. Sometimes, it’s really tough to know our true motives. Even good motives can quickly turn sour and selfish. Paul even addressed the topic of motives in I Corinthians 4:3-5 -

”I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”

I know that my motives have not always been pure (even though I’ve tried to keep God in the center of my endeavors). As I look back, I can see that there were many times when I found my identity through music. In middle school and high school, I was the Christian rapper. It seems silly in hindsight, but at the time, it was a big deal to be the school rap star. Even then, I wanted to glorify Christ through my music, but underneath, I think I did eat up people’s praise from time to time. Even now, there are moments when I wrestle with truly giving the glory to God instead of taking it for myself. As Paul said, God is the ultimate judge, and it’s possible that we’re still guilty of hoarding the glory even when we think we’re innocent. I still often pray, “Lord, help me with my motives. Help me to keep You, others, and eternity in mind.”

Lowered Expectations and Heightened Freedom
In closing, I’m going to talk a little about expectations. Being that there have been some let downs in the past, I’m trying to lose some of the expectations I carried during previous projects. For one, I’m not working to make a profit. I’m paying for the project outright, and I’m avoiding using credit cards. I don’t want to dig myself a deep hole in the pocket hoping for something I have zero control over. If anything, I just don’t want to pay for the album for years to come.

I’m also not setting out to get signed by a record label. I’m going to market this project myself, and if someone “in the business” hears it and likes it, that’s great, but I’m not counting on that, nor am I shaping the content of this album with a mysterious Christian label executive in mind.

In addition, I don’t expect everybody to like my music. Some people don’t even like music at all, let alone Christian rock. This doesn’t mean these people don’t like me, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t like them either. It’s not going to be for everyone, and I’m ok with that.

I’m not expecting these songs to change the world. They’re just songs, but I do hope they encourage people – even if I never hear about it. Ultimately, I pray that hearts will be changed, but this is only something God can do. He can use whatever He wants to make Himself known to people.

Finally, I have to admit that there is part of me that just likes a challenge, and likes to see rough ideas turn into art. God is a creative being and after making the universe, He stepped back, rested, and exclaimed, “It is good!” As long as God is in the center, I suppose there is nothing wrong with simply doing something because you enjoy the process and like to admire the finished product.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quick Production Update

In just over four weeks, we’ll be heading to Dark Horse Recording in Nashville to record drums, bass, and rhythm guitar for the new album. Joining us will be studio drummer Miles McPherson, bassist Joey Canaday, and Hilliard, OH native guitarist Matt Meyer. For those of you just tuning in, I am working on a new rock album, set to release early 2011. This will be my third pop rock CD. You can listen to my previous albums Dishes and Backstage Pass either on iTunes or CDbaby.com.

For those of you who have been following along for a while… all demos and Nashville number charts for the new album have been completed, except for one tune which I am still tweaking (track #5). I hope to work on this song some later this week.

I’ve also been busy raising some extra money for the first phase of the recording process. So far, I’ve made enough to pay for the first Nashville trip (coming up on June 18th), and now I am working to make some extra cash to purchase a Pro Tools Mbox2 system, which I will use for the editing and mixing stages of the new album (All work so far has been done in Logic Pro). This past Saturday, I helped tear down some audio gear at the Race for the Cure in downtown Columbus, and on Sunday night, I spent about 6 ½ hours in the rain tearing down sound and light equipment at the Nelsonville Music Festival in Nelsonville, OH (near Hocking Hills). In addition, I’m running sound for some weddings on the weekends, and am possibly producing and recording some songs for a friend or two (not to mention I’m giving a few haircuts here and there). I should probably order the Pro Tools Mbox2 in the next couple weeks, as I want to have at least two weeks to set up all the Pro Tools sessions that we’ll need when we go to Nashville in June.

This past weekend, marcandremusic.com went back online. For a while, this URL has forwarded to 10x12productions.com (my small business), but I’ve now set up a temporary page for this URL that will be revamped (and will look a lot cooler) once the new album is released.

On The Schedule This Week…
This Thursday, I’ll be meeting with composer Robert Nugent to review string arrangements (for two songs on the new album). I’m also preparing a game plan for our big day at Dark Horse Recording (June 18th). I will cover this in a future blog.

Progress of the Album: Motivation (Chapter 10 part 2 of 2) coming this weekend…

Musician Spotlight: Joey Canaday

Joining drummer Miles McPherson and guitarist Matt Meyer at Dark Horse Recording on June 18th will be bassist Joey Canaday. Some of his credits include playing for artists LeAnne Rimes and Matthew West. You can read more about Joey on his website at: http://joeycanadaybass.com

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Album: Motivation (Chapter 10, Part 1 of 2)

Are you a person who starts things and doesn’t finish them or are you a person who fights with sweaty determination to complete what you’ve started? Why are some of us so bad at follow-through and why are some of us so driven and persistent, even to the point of imbalance? I’m not sure if I have an answer for this. I suppose we all just have a different make-up. However, I do know that motives are critical to why many of us go to such great lengths to accomplish this or that. What pushes a summer sports Olympian to spend years and years preparing for an event that only happens once every four years? What drives an ice sculptor to work so long and diligently on one piece of art that is going to melt when the sun comes out and the temperature rises?

A Little History Lesson
Behind every goal and every project is a motive. As with anything else, the conception of a CD comes through a variety of motives - some good, some bad, some clear and intentional, some subliminal. There have been purposes behind every album I’ve produced. In 1989, I began my first rap album Initial Cut believing that I could reach people through Christian music, all the while attempting to follow in the shoes of my favorite band dc Talk. I also just thought it’d be a lot of fun to record an album! In 1994, I went on to record my second Christian rap album Mouse in the House, again hoping that listeners would be encouraged through the Christian songs and entertained through the fun songs. In 1995, I released a single at Word of Life Bible Institute called The Institute Thang (can you see the dc Talk influence?), this time with intentions of making a little extra cash, as I was a poor college student. There was also part of me that just really missed recording, and I felt that the production of a single like this was something I could do cheaply and without much time commitment (I produced it during the winter of 1994, during my Christmas break). In 1996, I released another rap single at Liberty University – My Almamater. This time around, I was attempting to raise some money to buy a computer so I could start recording digitally using Pro Tools. I made some money from the sales of the cassette, but not as much as I had hoped. The following semester, a friend of mine produced a music video for My Almamater, and it was through the sales of this video that I made enough cash to purchase my first computer, a Macintosh clone). After buying this computer, I began recording songs in my dorm room at Liberty University. One of the first songs I recorded was Dishes (which was later re-recorded for my Dishes album, which debuted in 2001). There weren’t any deep motives behind the production of the first version of Dishes; I simply was trying to get more acquainted with Pro Tools and digital recording. In 2007, I put out my first rap CD that included two versions of My Almamater, and two other Liberty University inspired songs – Jerryland and Red Mudd (all projects previous to this had been released on cassette). During the school year of 1996, My Almamater had grown in popularity at Liberty University (it was often played on the campus radio station, C-91). Some people were asking me if I had the song on CD instead of cassette… so I assumed that a re-release of My Almamater on CD would be just the ticket to more sales. I also thought some additional songs (Jerryland, and Red Mudd) would increase the value of the album. However, sadly, the Jerryland CD did not sell well at all, and the song Jerryland never gained the popularity of the formally released My Almamater.

From Rap To Pop to Rock
After graduating from Liberty University in 1998, I began considering the possibility of producing a pop rock CD. From what I remember, there were several motives behind this move. For one, I wanted to step away from rap and try something more challenging. The more I examined the rap medium, the more I felt that it was relatively simple and didn’t require that much talent to produce. I also felt a little ashamed that I couldn’t sing, so I started trying to write melodic songs and sing them. It’s possible I was also again trying to follow in the shoes of dc Talk, who was likewise moving away from rap and towards rock. I remember hearing the song Jesus Freak and thinking, “Wow! That is really cool! I bet I’ll be more current if I start singing pop rock songs instead of rapping.” At first, I wasn’t sure how I would ever record a professional band-driven CD. However, one day my friend Dave Bechtel introduced me to an incredible Columbus-based guitarist named Tom Tussing. Tom ended up playing about 90% of the guitar parts on the Dishes album, and Dave helped to produce the album. The excitement of working towards a finished product was also coupled with a hope that a record label would likewise gain an interest in me as an artist. For the first time in my life, I began dreaming seriously about a career in music. This hope served as a backdrop behind two years of dedicated sweat and tears. The Dishes album was released in July of 2001.

After a two-year recording hiatus, I began writing my second rock album Backstage Pass in 2003. The motives behind this project were much different than those behind any other project. I was very heart-broken at the time, and I just needed to get my feelings out in a constructive way (this is seen in songs like Hurricane, After Everything, and Pull Through.) The lyrics from this album poured from an aching spirit instead of from a spirit forcing itself to find topics to write about. Backstage Pass debuted in October of 2004.

The Rollercoaster of Music Production
The creative journey can be a mixture of disappointment and soaring fulfillment. Along my musical path have been many ups and downs. Looking back, I can remember some really discouraging moments. I recall being quite discouraged at one point during my college years, so discouraged that I threw an entire box of unsold My Almamater cassettes in a dumpster behind one of the dorms. I remember a campus grounds student employee calling me to say he had found a box of my cassettes in a dumpster, to which I responded that I had meant to throw them away. I don’t think he knew what to say to that.

Days after the release of Dishes in 2001, I was set to perform some of my new songs for thousands of teenagers in Anaheim, CA. I actually rush ordered the first run of Dishes, and had about 300 CDs shipped ahead of time to Anaheim, hoping that I could sell them all to my new found fans. It turns out that the coordinator for this event cancelled my slot in the program, and instead scheduled me to sing for a roomful of 50+ year-old pastors who didn’t understand my music, and likewise found no interest in purchasing my CDs. I came back from Anaheim disappointed after only selling about 15 CDs (about 285 CDs were shipped back to Columbus).

In 2005 (a year after the release of Backstage Pass), I remember sitting on a rock outside a hotel in Bristol, TN after a show at King College. My band mates and I were struggling to see eye-to-eye and the turn out for the show at King was far from what I had expected. This was the straw that began to break the camel’s back, and I think it was at this point that I really started considering giving up on the idea of pursuing music as a career. I felt like I was hitting one brick wall after another, and wasn’t sure how much more let down I could take.

In 2006, I performed my last show (for nearly 4 years) at Huntington University in Indiana. I had had so many expectations for where my music would go, and so many of those fell flat. Record labels wouldn’t respond to my emails and packets. Most radio stations refused to play my music. I played a number of concerts, but I had a terrible time scheduling band musicians, and the lack of turn out at many shows was disheartening. Once, the band and I drove to a summer camp in West Virginia in hopes of playing for hundreds of kids. What we found was a crowd of about 30 kids, half of them literally passed out in their seats from the scorching summer sun. At many concerts, hardly anyone went out of their way to visit my merchandise table. I often found myself standing there alone while kids visited the merchandise tables of other bands.

To add to all this, between 2004 and 2008, I found myself paying off $10,000 of credit card debt, which would have been easily been paid off with the sale of 1000 CDs (this never happened).

I don’t say all this to make you feel sorry for me. Instead, I’m sharing these stories to give you some background on where I’ve been, and to put into perspective the significance of this new album. A lot has happened in my life since that last concert at Huntington University in 2006, both circumstantially and spiritually. It certainly is interesting to look back and see how God’s fingerprints have been all over those situations that at the time left me discouraged and even at times angry. I imagine you probably have some stories of your own. It’s very easy to focus on our short-term earthly goals without remembering God’s bigger purpose of shaping the attitudes and priorities of our hearts.

Up Next… So why am I working on a new album? What is driving me to take on another project? What is the inspiration behind this CD? Read part 2 of this post...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Production Update May 9th, 2010

I’ve accomplished a lot recently! Here is a list of what I’ve done over the week or so.

(1) Met with composer Robert Nugent last Thursday to discuss string arrangements for track #8 and track #13. Robert has rough string arrangements for both of these songs, and they are sounding great! I'm really glad he's a part of the team!

(2) Created guitar split track mixes for Matt Meyer (so far I’ve sent him split track mixes for 6 of the 13 songs; all fake guitars are on the right side, and all the other instruments and vocals are on the left side – this makes it easier for him to practice his guitar parts). Matt will be playing electric guitar on the album, and will be joining us at DarkHorse Recording on June 18th (as we also record drums and bass).

(3) Wrote Nashville number charts for track #11 (the worship song) and also track #10 (a fast guitar driven song), which I apparently overlooked when I was creating all of the other Nashville Number charts.

(4) Reworked the MIDI demo for track #12 (the love song) to match the most recent arrangement that I finally nailed down after playing the song at church the other Sunday with our worship band. The MIDI arrangement is currently about 75% finished. I will be recording vocals for this song later this week.

(5) Tweaked the bridge and the final chorus of track #7 and also wrote a Nashville number chart for this song (I did this in the middle of the night last night! I’m crazy!)

This week, I will be focusing heavily upon finishing the MIDI demo for track #12 (the love song). I also still need to create a Nashville number chart for this tune. After this, I’ll move on to finalizing the MIDI demo for track #5 (the last remaining trouble song). Once I'm finished with this, I’ll start creating Pro Tools sessions for the June 18th session at Dark Horse Recording. Just over 5 weeks until Nashville!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Musician Spotlight: Miles McPherson

Nashville studio drummer Miles McPherson is slated to play drums on the new Marc Andre rock album! In addition to playing in the studio, he's played with a number of bands live (Kelly Clarkson, Bo Bice and Matt Redman to name a few). Check out some of his YouTube videos below.

Miles plays drums with Kelly Clarkson on Leno
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGe-7sd3CzE

Miles talks about Vator Percussion
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfnhpKP7M7M

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Track-by-Track Production Update

This past week has been extremely significant to the progression of the new rock album. Here is a list of some of the things that have happened over the last seven days.

(1) I added a bridge and a different ending to track #11, the worship song. This included writing additional lyrics, re-working the MIDI demo and recording new lead and background vocals. The demo for this song is basically complete now, which means I can start creating a Nashville number chart for this tune.

(2) I solidified the arrangement for track #12, the love song. I actually played this song with my church’s worship band yesterday morning at church (the topic was on marriage). It was quite helpful to hear this song played by a real band. A few of the band guys actually gave me some great ideas that will become part of the final arrangement (including some cut offs and rhythmic accents). I’ll be creating a Nashville number chart for this song in the near future, after I re-work the MIDI demo (as the arrangement has changed a little now that I’ve played the song with a real band).

(3) Last night, I met with guitarist Matt Meyer for about 3 hours to go over electric guitar parts. He will be joining co-producer Dave Bechtel and I at Darkhorse Recording in Nashville on June 18th as we record drums, bass, and rhythm guitar. He had some excellent ideas and his guitar tones were awesome (I really dig the sound of his Bad Cat amp)! His playing is going to make a great addition to this project! Thanks for being involved Matt!

(4) I received a rough string arrangement from Rich Barrett last night for track #2. This song may possibly be the album single. The string arrangement sounds great and takes this tune to a totally new level of intensity. (Rich also composed the string parts for Hurricane , After Everything, A Thousand Gods and By Now on my last rock album Backstage Pass.) It will be fun to replace the fake strings with real ones (this will happen at a later date, probably in the fall). It’s awesome to have Rich on board as part of this project’s creative team!

(5) I also made some headway on track #5 this past week. This song has undergone a lot of modification over the last couple months, but I’m really starting to like how the song is sounding. I will highlight some of the changes/challenges associated with this song in another blog.

On The Schedule This Week
This week, I hope to re-program the MIDI demo for track #12 (the love song I played in church yesterday) and I can plan to create Nashville number charts for this song and track #11 (the worship song). This will mark the completion of two of the three trouble songs mentioned in a previous blog (The Nashville Hustle, Chapter 9). I still need to do some significant work on track #5, the third trouble song. The Nashville number chart for this song will have to wait until the arrangement is completely ironed out (hopefully, this will happen in the next couple of weeks).

In addition, I need to create some alternate demo mixes for guitarist Matt Meyer. I will either raise the levels of all the fake guitar parts so Matt can better pick out what the guitars are doing, or I will create split tracks (with the fake guitars on one side, and the remaining instruments and vocals on the other side). I also need to notate some of these guitars parts on sheet music.

As a side note, all of the demos will need to be converted to Pro Tools sessions (all the demos were created in Logic Pro). I hope to start this process by the later part of May.

46 days until we head to Nashville!