Heather Murray ’13 blogs about her Contemporary Music Center semester in Nashville
CMC sure has its share of surprises throughout the semester! With just six total staff members the number of connections each one has in this town alone truly amazes me. Each one speaks with ease about their friends, generally settling for first names. They often mention “Kelly” (Clarkson, of course) and “the Jars boys” (aka Jars of Clay). Clarkson’s back-up singers are CMC alums and the director of our program taught the guys of Jars of Clay when they attended Greenville College.
From week to week, all 28 of us are given chances to make connections and spend time with people involved in the industry at varying levels. From conversations with long-time managers of world renowned artists, to intimate indie performances on the stage we call home for the semester, to load-ins and staffing major tour stops, it all happens here in Music City.
Earlier this month, recently-signed and Grammy-nominated Provident act Royal Tailor came to our building in Brentwood for a live video shoot. While the majority of music videos are shot using playback, the young band showcased the stamina of their stage presence and skill by playing live the whole night.
The band’s bio is spot-on describing their sound as one that “evokes Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, and a hint of Michael Jackson, Royal Tailor captures audiences with an infectious musicality.”
The energetic, soulful quartet originally met while attending Bible college in the St. Louis area and played around while ministering to youth in the area. After playing a battle of the bands showcase for INO records, guitarist DJ Cox said the guys got their hopes up only to find that nothing would initially come of it.
Refusing to give in, the now Nashville-based guys played at every opportunity before finding themselves with a gig at Leeland Mooring’s home church in Texas. According to Cox, the band gained the attention of PMG’s A&R team because Mooring got a hold of their EP.
A week later, the band signed a recording contract and began working on the 50 songs viable for their debut album, Black and White. Cox noted that their career didn’t skyrocket as soon as they had hoped, as they lived in “lawyer land” for six to eight months prior to Black & White’s May 2011 release, the first single, and a tour with label-mate band “Building 429.”
Currently on the road with Casting Crowns through the spring, Royal Tailor has hit the ground running in regards to promotion. Just off the heels of a trip down the Grammy red carpet, the band has also been touring non-stop for months.
Following an engaging, live set, the four band mates and their management hung around with both CMC students and staff to talk about anything from gear and early musical influences to future endeavors.
Guitarist DJ Cox grew up in Virginia where he played mandolin and acoustic by ear before discovering his mom’s funk CD. He laughed at the childhood memory, “I was like ooh man, so I stole it”. Cox discussed his “monster” pedal board, featuring a vast range of brands and effects, with resident CMC electric player Jase Hackman. He also drew quite a crowd as he moved on through his guitar collection and his favorite players.
I’m always intrigued when musicians talk in detail about their gear. In many ways, it’s another language, but it creates the sounds that we music freaks live for.
Cox came back to his youth ministry roots as he spoke about the band’s current vision: visiting middle schools and high schools to perform and encourage kids to speak out against bullying. The passion was evident in DJ’s voice as he spoke about both the ministry and the music.
Like other visitors, the guitarist talked on the value of taking risks in life. “It’s been a rough first year [being on a label], but whatever you’re going to do, you just got to get out there and do it”.
Life in Nashville
There is certainly something special about living in the South. Although there are days I miss the blooming trees on our beautiful campus, Tennessee is in some ways even more gorgeous this time of year.
Life in Nashville has been so much more than I ever could have imagined. It truly is a big city with a small town feel. This tight-knit community (just 28 students and six total staff) has been just what I needed. It's been really great getting to know everyone—we feel as if we've known each other for years instead of mere months!
Time is surely flying by as we will be heading home in less than a month, but we are continuing to learn so much. The director of our program says that because of the hands-on nature of CMC, what we learn here in 14 weeks takes 3+ years to learn on your own in the industry, so I’ve been soaking in every second of it! (Now you know why I don’t get to update you as often as I’d like—my apologies!) I know now more than ever that this is where I am supposed to be and that I could not have experienced any of this elsewhere. Through our classes and staff connections, we have the pleasure of meeting up with producers, engineers, and managers who work with world-class artists and musicians on a day-to-day basis.
As a part of the business track, I’ve been managing 3 of the 15 artists who are also studying here. Along with that, the business students carry the responsibility of planning and promoting a week-long tour of CCCU schools where the artists perform their original works and the tech students take care of audio, lights, etc. Our tour begins Thursday night in Indiana; from there we will travel to a few Illinois schools. Trinity was booked, but it would have been great to bring CMC to everyone there.
Through this experience, I have not only learned an incredible amount about the industry, but also so much about myself. I praise God for this amazing opportunity each day and for those at Trinity who made it logistically possible.
As I was warned, I’ve certainly become attached to this place… Do I really have to come home for one last year of normal school?