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We'll Stay together Forever

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Or, How One Song Turned Into a Video with 100 Indie Collaborative artists

By 2018 we had been doing Indie Collaborative (the IC) showcases for three years. At the end of each show, I felt like we needed a song that we could all sing together – a song that would convey the spirit of our organization. And also, one that would reflect how hard the music business is. Even after winning a Grammy, it’s still hard. But we ride on, through the twists and turns we go...

I talked to Eileen (we're co-founders of the Indie Collaborative), and she agreed that I should write a song that we could use to end each show. I made the chorus easy to learn and to sing, and we printed the lyrics on the back of our programs. It was really a thrill to play it at the end of our shows and hear everyone singing along.

Then COVID-19 came along, and we knew we would not be able to do our normal Summer showcase. What to do instead? So we put the word out that we were going to put together a group version of the song. We invited our IC members to contribute their vocals and/or instrumentals to this group recording. I didn’t tell anyone exactly what to do, I just asked them to do what they wanted. I provided a basic track, both with and without vocals, and with just the rhythm section. I also asked people to make a video of themselves playing their part.

Then I waited. A day went by. Then two days. And three. I started to worry that no one would be interested in taking part. After all, we were right in the worst part of the first global pandemic in 100 years. On the other hand, everyone was stuck at home, right? What else could they do?

And on that note, the first submission arrived at my DropBox. Then another. And another. In all, more than 70 artists from the IC contributed vocals, guitar tracks, keyboards, saxophones (three!), trumpet, percussion, and even theremin. And the artists weren’t just from the USA – they were from Sweden, India, Pakistan, England, Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, Venezuela, and more. I was amazed.

Heartened by these submissions, I made an enormous spreadsheet listing each artist and what they had contributed. That took hours. Then I opened Pro Tools and started importing tracks. I have recorded and mixed a lot of songs, but none of them had almost 100 tracks. And even if they had a lot of tracks they were built one by one – now here were 70+ new tracks that I never heard before. What to do?

My insane spreadsheet showing the artists and the places in the song where they are heard

Well, the only thing you can do is simply listen to each track and make notes. Consider where each might fit in. Then listen to the next one, and the next. I have to admit it was mind-blowing. It was hard to keep everything in my head, so I broke it into sections, finding the best performances for each, one by one. At the same time I tried to keep the big picture in my mind, so that the deep dives into sections wouldn't pull me in a wrong direction.

Many adjustments had to be made along the way, because I wanted to feature as many artists as possible, and also to present the most variety of genre, gender, and every other aspect of what makes IC artists so unique. Finishing the first verse and chorus felt like a triumph. I felt that I might actually do this.

Digging into the guitar tracks, I had multiple solos, so I comped them just like we do in Nashville, finding the best way to interweave Trevor from England, Noshir from New York, Imran from Karachi Pakistan, and Jim Ottaway from Australia. I decided to leave MOTU for the grand finale, since his video was so picturesque on the shores of Long Island.

I had gotten great sax tracks from Suzanne Grzanna from Milwaukee, Lou Caimano from New Jersey and Max Highstein from Santa Fe, plus a great trumpet solo from Sam Hankins from Los Angeles. I comped them into a nice brass section over a verse as I had done the brass instruments.

Three unique women artists from very different parts of America and from different genres

Leti Garza from Austin had made a video where she sang a verse in Spanish about the fact that we are all different, and yet our diversity is our strength and power. Brenda Best from Nashville contributed a nice acoustic guitar, and Yocontalie gave me both vocals and playing an African Drum. I mixed them all in with Leti.

Ceasar Elloie had sent a great vocal as a track, so I used it quite a bit in the first verses and choruses. More about him later.

There were so many great surprises along the way. I decided to dedicate a verse to other languages, so I started with Leti in Spanish, and then brought in Shashika Mooruth singing in Hindi (but recorded in South Africa, as I found out later). I had received a theremin track and video from Pekka Lunde from Sweden. On a whim, I dropped it in behind Shashika’s beautiful vocal track and it was an amazing fit – as if we had cut it that way in the studio.

East meets West in this great mashup of Indian music and a Swedish theremin track

The deeper I went into the rabbit hole, the easier it got. But there was a point where the song was reaching the four minute mark, and I was running out time to fit in all of the artists that we had. So I made tough decisions. People who had three parts went to two parts so that I could bring in another IC artist who deserved to be heard. I was committed to using something from every single artist who contributed something.

Juliet Lyons had sent me some great vocals that were locked in, and her video was great. So now I was thinking a lot about the video, and it was guiding the recording as well. At this point, I felt like my head was about to explode, trying to keep track of 100 tracks and more than 100 IC artists who had sent videos in. Eileen Sherman and her sister Gail (the Bluestone Sisters) write Musical Theater, and they work with talented Broadway singers, actors and dancers like Ryan VanDenBoom. I had dinner with Ryan a couple of years ago in Vermont and was amazed by his buoyant spirit. He grew up in a small Midwest town, and yet he heard the call to dance on Broadway. Now here he was, doing it. He had choreographed our first Carnegie Hall show in November 2018. He sent a video of himself performing what Eileen and Gail wrote, and it was right out of Broadway, where he lives, breathes and performs.

Professional rug-cutter Ryan VanDenBoom

When I saw his video, I knew that the song needed to take a turn in that direction. I wanted to represent as many genres, countries, and people as possible. I added some piano and bass behind him to make it sound like a rehearsal. I visualized his dancing and singing with the lights and images of Broadway around him. Because he had just recorded a video, his tap dancing and singing were mashed together. With the instruments playing, it was hard to hear his tapping, so I asked him to send me separate tracks, which he did. I laboriously matched each footstep, edit by edit, to the track. That was two hours alone.

Ryan’s section ends with a smooth bass flourish around the ninth fret from Christian Fabian, a supremely talented bassist who was hired by the late Lionel Hampton himself to play in his big band. (Christian’s fantastic bass is heard many places throughout the track.) He also sent me a very funny video of himself playing air bass standing in the middle of Times Square, which I used.

Suzanne playing sax in Milwaukee which Christian Fabian plays air bass in Times Square