Updated: 3 hours ago
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
I started to relax when I got to the end, and I was able to get everyone into the track, and still it held together as a solid piece of music. Whew! It took six days of editing to make the track. I was confident that the video would be much easier. It had to be, right?
The video was an even more massive undertaking. I had just completed several music videos for myself and for clients, and I was feeling a little cocky. And as usual, when you’re cocky, the horse throws you off.
It wasn’t six days... no, it was ten days. Ouch. Video is simply slower than audio to mix and edit. You have to render sections to see what they really look like, and that takes time. Do that about a thousand times, and it really adds up.
I was building a video sequence in Adobe Premiere that had 50+ video channels, because there were always multiple artists on screen at the same time, and also multiple video tracks showing their names and where they were from. I also had source video behind many of the scenes. Yikes.
About 30 more artists had sent in videos with themselves singing the chorus. I worked them all into the video, one by one. But it’s not just filling spaces; you have to find the place that brings the video to a different place. Now we had 100+ tracks and 100+ artists in the video.
As yet, I had not video recorded myself – I was going to wait and see where I needed to do that at the end. I had no way to do it professionally (COVID-19) so I did it myself with a ZOOM camera on a tripod, with my wife Susan pressing the buttons. Definitely not Hollywood grade, but that’s the point, right? We’re indies making a video in the middle of a pandemic.
Ceaser Elloie from New Orleans sent me his video. To my surprise he had recorded it riding his motorcycle with a helmet on. I debated asking him for a new video so that we could see his face, but ultimately decided that it was different and memorable, and he had put some creative thought into it, so why not?
Ceaser Elloie from New Orleans surrounded by artists from all around the USA
Future superstar Ricky Persaud, Jr. sent me some great audio and video. Cool stuff from Damian Wyldes and Bill Reid from Texas. The list goes on. So many great visuals from all over the USA and all over the world, like Yanna Fabian and Dino Bose (The Infinite Seas) singing and playing in Prague, Czech Republic. Trevor Sewell’s great guitar parts from the northeast of England. Royal Kent and Wendy Loomis (COPUS) from San Francisco rapping an original poem. Kevin Lucas smashing the marimba in the woods of southern Illinois. Antonio Vergaro singing from Guayaquil, Ecuador. Kelly Triplett from Denver. My friend Kitt Wakely from Oklahoma killing a final piano solo. Amazing. Exciting. Humbling. All that talent. All those beautiful people.
This song and video is so fulfilling to me. When I look at the faces of 100 friends and colleagues, it is so amazing and humbling that they would take part in this crazy idea of mine. But that’s what we do, right?
We crazy, blessed artists. We indies.
Thank you to all 100+ IC artists who contributed to this song and video! It is truly an inspiration to be part of such a project.
When I got it done I couldn’t imagine doing it again. Like having a baby, I assume (I can’t really know that pain). But as we grew closer to the release, I forgot about the pain and the mental stretch marks and started to think about another one someday – another song and video with even more IC artists.
What about 200 of them? What about the 1,900 of them that couldn’t take part in this one? What if we could get all 2000 artists into a single song and video? Oh, boy...
The essential purpose of the Indie Collaborative is to put our hands together and help each other as best we can. The chorus of this song says it all:
We’ll stay together
Forever and ever
We’ll stay together all the way
And we’ll love one another
‘Cause we’re sister and we’re brother
We’ll stay together forever and a day
Please take a few minutes and watch the video and hear the song that we made. If it makes you happy, please give it a thumbs up and leave a comment on YouTube and subscribe. It doesn't cost a thing but it really helps us these days. Thank you. Here's the link:
If you're a musician or music industry person, an actor or actress, comedian or other performing artist or writer, and you're NOT a member of the IC, why don't you join? It's absolutely free to be a member. You can join on our website right here:
A big thanks to everyone who contributed to the song AND the video.
Here they are:
Alan Storeygard, Little Rock, Arkansas
Amanda Abizaid, Los Angeles, California
Angel Tazari, Brooklyn, New York
Annemarie Picerno, Nashville, Tennessee
Antonio Vergara, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Arthur Johnson, Elk Grove, California
Ban Banerjee, Frankfort, Kentucky
Betsy Walter, Nashville, Tennessee
Bill Reid, Horseshoe Bay, Texas
Brenda Best, Nashville, Tennessee
Brewer Shettles, New York, New York
Carolyn Striho, Farmington Hills, Michigan
Ceasar Elloie, New Orleans, Louisiana
Cecil Parker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Charlene Chamberlain, Mechantville, NJ
Christian Fabian, New York, New York
Dale Edward, North Hollywood, California
Damian Wyldes, El Paso, Texas
Dana Cohenour, Blaine, Washington
Dana Halle, Costa Mesa, California
Danae Vlasse, Winnetka, California
David Hansen, New Orleans, Louisiana
David S. Goldman, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
Debra Lyn, Mount Juliet, Tennessee
Dee Michelson, Long Island, New York
Deuandra Brown, Scottsdale, Arizona
Dorian Medd, Wilmette, Illinois
Dorie Pride, Atlanta, Georgia
Duette, Nashville, Tennessee
Eileen Sherman, New York, New York
EJ Ouelette, Byfield, Massachusetts
Elaine Romanelli, New York, New York
Eric Behrenfeld, Chicago, Illinois
Frank Cisco Steel, Greenbelt, Maryland
Gail Bluestone, Granada Hills, California
Grant Maloy Smith, Wakefield, Rhode Island
Imran Ahmed, Karachi, Pakistan
Isabella Bazler, Downey, California
Izzie, Windsor ON, Canada
Janice Brown, Greenback, Tennessee
Jeff Hyman, Laguna Hills, California
Jeff Silverman, Mount Juliet, Tennessee
Jerome Brooks Jr., New York, New York
Jim Ottaway, Brisbane, Australia
Jim Thorne, Arlington, Virginia
John and Jill Ludwig, Tinley Park, Illinois
Jonathan Perry, Middletown, Rhode Island
Juan Francisco Zerpa, Caracas, Venezuela
Julia Santana, New York, New York
Juliet Lyons, San Diego, California
Keith Middleton, New York, New York
Kelly Triplett, Denver, Colorado
Kevin Keough, Indialantic, Florida
Kevin Lucas, Carbondale, Illinois
Kevin Mackie, Hatboro, Pennsylvania
Kim Cameron, Miami, Florida
Kitt Wakeley, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Laura Ainsworth, Dallas, Texas
Laura Campisi, New York, New York
Leti Garza, Austin, Texas
Lou Caimano, Ringwood, New Jersey
Louis Tanner, West Greenwich, RI
Mar Harman, Tampa, Florida
Mariea Watkins, Lecanto, Florida
Mary Lemanski, Downers Grove, Illinois
Max Highstein, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Mia Moravis, New York, New York
Mike Greenly, New York, New York
Mike Surratt, Lanham, Maryland
MLN (Michael Lewis Neal), Bushnell, FL
Monte Stephens, Greenback, Tennessee
NastiGi, London, England
Neddy Smith, Cheshire, Connecticut
Noshir Mody, New Rochelle, New York
Papa Tom McCaffrey, Willow Grove, PA
Paul Messina, Miami, Florida
Paula Maya, Austin, Texas
Pekka Lunde, Göteborg, Sweden
Dr Richard Michelson, Long Island, New York
Ricky Persaud Jr. Irvington, New Jersey
Rondi Marsh, Yakima, Washington
Royal Kent, San Francisco, California
RpT, Salado, Texas
Ryan VanDenBoom, New York, New York
Sam Hankins, Los Angeles, California
Sam Millar, London, UK
SEAY, Nashville, Tennessee
Shashiska Mooruth, Mumbai, Indie
Studeo, Victoria, Australia
Susan Picking, Beloit, Wisconsin
Suzanne Grzanna, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Thomas Hutchings, New York, New York
Trevor Sewell, Sunderland, UK
Valerie Smalkin, Cockeysville, MD
Wendy Loomis, San Francisco, California
Yanna Fabian, Prague, Czech Republic
Yocontalie Jackson, Lindenwold, NJ
Zan Asante, Pflugerville, Texas
Grant Maloy Smith, July 2020