MTSU commercial songwriting students are old pros at collaborating inside and outside the classroom, creating new, often genre-crossing music and teaming up with professors, staffers and each other to craft the best versions of their work.
As they were forced out of their regular classrooms by a pandemic this last semester, they continued to collaborate, adding their faces of hope to a fellow student’s unexpectedly soothing — and inspiring — answer to an assignment and helping to create a music video that’s rapidly going viral in the best way.
“Rise Up (One Nation Under Love),” composed and recorded by senior Caitlin Eadie, began right after spring break as a one-page response to professor Odie Blackmon’s request for his Advanced Commercial Songwriting class.
The Grammy-nominated songwriter, director of the Commercial Songwriting Program in MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, had shifted his class syllabus a bit as courses went online and they watched the coronavirus epidemic continue to unfold.
He moved up their discussion on the history of music and social commentary and urged the students to write their thoughts about what was important to them, “looking around through their lens.”
“I decided I wanted to write something I needed to hear in that moment,” Eadie says. “It came out really quickly, probably in two hours or so. … It was like the melodies just fell out.”
The result, a plaintive and hopeful reflection on the need for Americans — and the rest of the world — to dismiss petty differences and stand together for strength, inspired Blackmon to put some visuals to the song.
“Different great things came back (from the assignment), but Caitlin did a perfect job of balancing what’s going on right now,” Blackmon says.
“This song could have been relevant during the 9/11 era, it could be relevant 20 years from now, as well as now; and that, to me, is a truly timeless song.”
“There are certain subjects, especially in times like this, that you get the chance to make people feel less alone and possibly inspire them,” Eadie adds. “It’s really good to feel like you’re giving people hope.”
Blackmon, who says he “decided the world needed to hear this song,” asked all 148 of his program’s students, plus the faculty and staff who work with them, to send him 10- to 15-second videos where they’d “just look into the camera and express whatever you’re feeling right now.”
Most did, and, despite admittedly being nearly overwhelmed with emotion at seeing his students and colleagues again, the professor crafted a music video that combines Eadie’s words and melody with the faces of 41 of those people.
The professor contacted another of his MTSU colleagues, BMI Million-Air Award-winning songwriter, composer, producer and vocalist Robert Jason, to see if he could work his mastering magic on Eadie’s song.
But instead of simply combining her vocals, piano and background vocals together into a fine finished piece, Jason found himself composing a new string orchestral arrangement to complement Eadie’s song and Blackmon’s video, molding the music into the kind of full-scale masterpiece he’s provided for film, TV, corporate and artist clients for decades.
“I knew that song so well after mixing and mastering it, spending four or five hours with it, that … it wasn’t an issue of what to write, it was just to not overwrite. Never cover up the vocal,” the recording industry lecturer says.
“That’s what sells: it’s those words. That’s what makes this whole video make sense.”
Eadie and Jason are part of the video, and Blackmon’s in it, too, in the academic regalia he won’t get to march in on May 8, when he’s scheduled to receive his new master’s degree from Vanderbilt. He understands what his graduating students are feeling.
“It’s been a long road to earn it, and … I just know there’s a LOT of people out there that are disappointed about not getting to walk after all their hard work,” he said. “That’s why I decided to do that.”
The video participants, in order of appearance, also include students Tajee Barnes, Mary Grace Williams, Tanner Collins and Ashley Brooks; songwriting program adviser Laura Helen Husband; student Katie Rodriquez; songwriting adjunct professor Tom Benjamin; student Paul Matthews; College of Media and Entertainment Dean Beverly Keel; students Sophia McCarthy and Gabriel Shipley; songwriting adjunct professor Melissa Taylor; Michael Bevers, a Master of Fine Arts in Recording Arts and Technologies candidate who’s been working with the songwriting students; songwriting students Rose Johnson, Ethan Phillips, Jaelee Roberts and Greg Walton; songwriting adjunct professor Jerry Kimbrough; students Audrey Hollowell and Hayley Payne; songwriting adjunct professor Bonnie Baker; student Janina Monk; Angela Morrow, executive aide for the recording industry department; students Sarah Sexton and T.J. Houston; Tina Chevalier, coordinator for the recording industry department; students Michaela Nesler, Raymond Broughton and Evangeline Brandt; Torrance “Street Symphony” Esmond, recording industry adjunct professor and MTSU alumnus; student Jack Lindros; Najah Gordon, an audio MFA candidate who’s been working with the songwriting students; interim recording industry chair John Merchant; students Ben Prokop and Mulan Throneberry; songwriting adjunct professor Bobby Taylor; and students Mellow Northcutt and Alex Venarchick.
“This song and video are a beautiful tribute to the resiliency shown by our talented students, faculty and staff during this time of uncertainty,” said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.
“I continue to be amazed and thankful for the collaboration and innovation shown by our True Blue community to continue our educational mission.”
The whole effort has put a different spin on remote learning for this group.
Eadie, who’s been writing since childhood, spent five years in Los Angeles with a music publishing deal — including U.S. and European tours — before returning to school last summer to finish her degree. Her minor is audio production.
She says those courses have been challenging for distance learning because they’re so hands-on by nature. She empathizes with professors who’ve been scrambling to provide their students with the training they want.
“When it comes to songwriting, it (remote learning) is a beautiful gift, actually, because in the real music songwriting community you have to Skype and FaceTime sometimes if you’re not in the same city, so it’s a skill that’s very useful,” Eadie explains.
“But I know we’ll figure it out like we always do. We adapt. That’s the important part — just finding a way.”
Jason says his practicum students this semester have unfortunately lost the opportunity to spend time with Nashville musicians in the studio and have their work critiqued and recorded, but they’ve tried to be flexible with other experiential learning options.
“You bend. You find ways to make this work,” he says. “There’s just so much you can do in conferencing. … They took that body blow, and it’s invaluable, and they’ve handled it like champions, like professionals.”
Blackmon says his songwriting courses have developed a deeper element with the forced addition of videoconferencing.
“I think it’s because we write our songs in our homes, and we see each other more up close than (we do) across a classroom,” he says.
“In a weird way there’s a personal element to it that’s different than the classroom. I don’t know how to explain that. And I think we all need it right now, too.
“This whole thing just had magic on it, you know what I mean?”
For more information about MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting Program in the College of Media and Entertainment, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/programs/commercial-songwriting.
To learn more about Eadie’s work, visit her website at https://www.caitlineadiemusic.com. To learn about Jason, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/faculty/robert-jason. And for more information about Blackmon, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/faculty/odie-blackmon.