I produced an hour-long song with 17 key changes and 20 tempo changes. AMA.

Matthew Shell
Dec 6, 2017

I'm thankful for my wife, family, music, Angel & Cheerio the corgis • Music is something I've wanted to do my whole life, so I'm humbled by my blessings • I recently produced, arranged and engineered my fifth LP "First Light" which is an hour-long song containing 17 key changes and 20 tempo changes • Listen at www.mtsmusic.net/album-releases and please feel free to ask me anything.


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Are you more on creating inspirational or classical music?

Dec 8, 10:31PM EST0

Mary, thanks for your question. Consciously, being inspirational is definitely in the forefront of my mind with any type of music I create, but subconsciously, classical music is inherently in my soul since the majority of what I listened to growing up was classical music.  While genres are helpful to listeners in finding the kind of music they prefer, personally, I don't think about genres when I create. During my creative process, I think about how best to convey the emotions I'm feeling and what instruments and arrangements will work best to touch listeners' souls. Also, a goal of mine is to never let the music get boring. The second the music feels like it's about to outstay its welcome, then I make sure a vibrant change happens. Still, I love your question because it made me really think, so I appreciate it.

Last edited @ Dec 11, 1:00PM EST.
Dec 11, 12:56PM EST0

Would you perform this one-hour song for a live audience?

Dec 6, 10:12PM EST0

Katherine, great question. I've performed this hour long song "First Light" twice, so far. The first performance was at the Sweet Spot Studio in Annandale, VA on their Sweet Stage with vocalist Kenny Wesley, flute/sax player Nico Laget and percussionist Curtis McCain. And most recently at the Beacon Hotel Rooftop overlooking Washington DC with the same crew of musicians with the addition of DJ M Dot and host Keanna Faircloth of WPFW 89.3 FM (Jazz and Justice).  If you would like to see a clip from this Beacon Rooftop performance, visit instagram.com/mts_music. What we are working on now is a dance choreography by Chandini Darby that will also feature Kenny Darby on keys and a backing track with piano/upright bass by Vahagn Stepanyan and a cello ensemble by Yoed Nir String Productions.

Last edited @ Dec 8, 12:09PM EST.
Dec 6, 10:42PM EST0

Would you also belt a tune if given the stage?

Dec 6, 3:13PM EST0

Thanks for asking, Matthew. I lack confidence in my singing voice, so if given the stage, I'd invite Kenny Wesley to hold down anything vocally related while I play guitar. If you are curious to hear my singing voice, you can hear it on the song “Time” hidden within my first EP titled “Live Vibe: The Humble Beginnings”. The video for this project can be found at www.YouTube.com/MatthewShell

Dec 6, 5:33PM EST0

What's the next big thing for Matthew Shell?

Dec 6, 3:05PM EST0

Cadams, I appreciate your question.  I’ve worked for 15 years in the music industry with Grammy nominees, Grammy winners, as well as new and upcoming artists. Clients who are new to the music industry always ask, “What are the next steps after I’ve made my music?” These clients often underestimate the work and resources needed to promote a project and make it successful. With this in mind, my next plan is to make a webinar series to show newcomers how to establish a quality career as an artist, by setting goals, budgeting, managing energy, increasing focus, gaining control, achieving work life balance, and overcoming the fear of failure.

Dec 6, 5:53PM EST0

How did you round up everyone to help you make this dream of a song, possible?

Dec 6, 2:40PM EST0

Christian, thanks for your question. Almost all of the 10 musicians on this project were musicians that I had worked with before. In most cases I bartered and said, "Are there any projects that you need any of my services on? Yes. Then, I'll be happy to do ____ on your project, if you do ____ on my album and no money needs to be exchanged." I highly recommend this bartering approach for any artist trying to grow in the music industry. Another factor in how I chose the musicians on "First Light" with was proximity. On my previous album "Spiritual Relationship", I featured 40 musicians from around the world emailing back and forth and mixing everything on my end. However, for "First Light" I wanted to work in person whenever possible. This was hard since many of my favorite musicians live overseas. For instance, vocalist Kenny Wesley in the DC area visiting from Germany for a performance at Blues Alley, and I went to his concert, got to talking, and he agreed to visit the studio to feel out the song. I had the piano and upright bass with Vahagn Stepanyan done already, so I organized a session with Kenny and Curtis McCain on percussion, and their performing live together really added life to the project in a raw and powerful way.

Dec 6, 5:10PM EST0

Who was your mentor, if any, for your music career?

Dec 6, 2:31PM EST0

Great question, Sameera. My parents were both classically trained musicians who taught me the basics of many instruments including piano, guitar, bass, drums and other percussion instruments. They taught me how to read music and play by ear. Also, from an early age, a family friend by the name of Andre Law became my song writing mentor. Uncle Andre Law instilled in me a love for Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, The Commodores, Frankie Beverly And Maze, Prince, Michael Jackson, The Jackson Five, and R&B bands where true artists exemplified pure artistry, soul and extraordinary musicianship. I also came up playing guitar at church, where our music leader was Dr. Henry Lee Joyner. Dr. Joyner’s influence on my music is incredibly substantial, and is why I love chord changes and can play by ear so effortlessly. Our worship team would be led by the spirit and sometimes a song would have two or three key changes. Most songs had at least one key change. This forced me to learn to play by ear since every Sunday when key changes happened on the fly, it was always spontaneous and we would all have to keep up. This experience over four years with Dr. Henry Lee Joyner instilled my love for key changes and this is why there are 17 key changes in “First Light”.

Last edited @ Dec 6, 4:57PM EST.
Dec 6, 4:53PM EST0

What were the difficulties you had to overcome while recording the song?

Dec 6, 1:58PM EST0

Elena, excellent question. The dirty little secret of the music industry is that artists/musicians don't make much money unless they go on tour, and even then, money can be tight. So the financial struggle is real. Specifically, just to stay alive I’ve had to take on four jobs (1. music producer/engineer for other artists, 2. music business teacher as adjunct faculty at Omega Studios in Rockville, MD, 3. producer of "The Opportunity" a streaming competition style show I co-created promoting music intelligence as seen at CBS Radio's www.WPGC.com/TheO, and 4. my day job [which I'll keep private]). It's always a sacrifice especially for independent artists to survive financially. Still, in my experience, staying true to one’s artistic vision and thereby making music for the love is the most fulfilling way to create. For me, I make music simply for my wife and the people who inspire me.

Dec 6, 4:40PM EST0

What was the very first instrument you played on? For what song?

Dec 6, 7:39AM EST0

Thanks for your question, Tatiana. The first instrument that I learned to play at age three was piano.  The first song I ever learned to play was Ode To Joy aka Beethoven's 5th. By the end of high school, guitar had become my favorite instrument to play and compose on but piano will always hold a special place in my heart.

Dec 6, 11:10AM EST0
Show all 3 replies

Would you encourage anyone to follow your steps and create their version of this long-song?

Dec 5, 11:54PM EST0

Ron, great question. Yes, I would love more producers and composers to create their art in this way, where every song transitions smoothly and flows together in unique and beautiful ways. Just like in writing literature, transitions are very difficult but are critical to keeping the momentum going,  adding flavor and building a cohesive mood for a transfixing experience.

Dec 6, 11:13AM EST0

What kind of preparation did you have to do to in making sure you can sustain the long-hour stretch of the song recording?

Dec 5, 10:29AM EST0

Faye, thank you for your wonderful question. I wish I could say that I extensively prepared physically and mentally, but to be honest, it was simply a case of being inspired and rushing to the studio to capture the moment. I took small breaks to eat healthy food and stay hydrated, but the initial session was actually 12 straight hours of intense and focused inspiration where I laid the ground work arrangement that all of the musicians worked from. A more in depth answer to this question is my lifestyle and creative process is fine tuned to respond quickly when I feel inspired. My goal with music is to only work when I’m truly inspired and to have the tools I need when inspiration strikes. It's important for me to always keep my spirit open to inspiration and have the work ethic to follow through when inspiration strikes. Mental fortitude was important for seeing "First Light" to completion, as exemplified by the fact that I had 28 mixing sessions before I was happy to release this project to the world.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:35PM EST.
Dec 5, 3:02PM EST0

If given the chance to perform in a different country, where do to go and why?

Dec 5, 7:06AM EST0

Syed, excellent question. I have had the honor to visit 40+ countries throughout my life, but for this particular project "First Light" would love the opportunity to perform in Spain. My lead instrument when I perform live is acoustic guitar. At age 13 I heard authentic Flamenco guitarists perform live in Spain, and this greatly inspired my style over the years. Not only would my performance in Spain feature my take on Flamenco guitar improvisation from start to finish, but the entire vibe of the album would most likely be substantially more intense.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:34PM EST.
Dec 5, 2:50PM EST0

What instruments are used to produce such a harmony?

Dec 5, 7:02AM EST0

Great question, Elena. Three musicians are responsible for the harmony layers heard on this project, with vocal harmonies by Kenny Wesley, flute and sax harmonies by Nicolas Laget, and cello harmonies by Yoed Nir String Productions.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:34PM EST.
Dec 5, 2:42PM EST0

How many musicians did you collaborate with for the 1 hour-long song?

Dec 5, 6:37AM EST0

Thanks for asking, Heenal. The music on this recording was brought to life by 10 musicians, with piano and upright bass by Vahagn Stepanyan, vocals by Kenny Wesley, keys by Kenny Darby, percussion by Curtis McCain, flute and sax by Nicolas Laget, cello by Yoed Nir String Productions, and guitar by me [Matthew Shell]. The bonus track features vocals by Zane Alan Latta, saxophone by Marcus Mitchell, and flute by GRAMMY winner Wouter Kellerman.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:32PM EST.
Dec 5, 2:39PM EST0

How many songs/albums same as this have you recorded?

Dec 5, 4:43AM EST0

Great question, Jennifer. The closest thing to what I’ve done are DJ sets where the DJ makes each song flow from one to the next with smooth transitions. I cannot think of any jazz projects in recent memory that have taken on this continuous play vibe to this scale, but I’m open to your and everyone’s feedback. I’d love to know what you consider similar projects to this. I’d love to hear more projects with this style as I feel it is the future of music.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:32PM EST.
Dec 5, 2:32PM EST0

Who composed the keys and melodies of this one-hour instrumental song?

Dec 5, 4:13AM EST0

Sara, thanks for your question. In one inspired 12 hour production session, I composed the entire arrangement including all of the chords structures, key changes, foundational melodies, tempo changes, and the general structure. Honestly, if that had not been done all at once, I don’t think it would have been cohesive. It’s worth noting that once I enlisted the full team of musicians, everyone contributed significantly to the melodies that made it into the final arrangement.  Vahagn Stepanyan enhanced the basic melodies with his classically inspired piano and upright bass playing. The next musicians to perform together were percussionist Curtis McCain and vocalist Kenny Wesley. Kenny Wesley mentioned to me after their full take together from start to finish, that his vocal performance took on a more intense and passionate style than he initially intended thanks to Curtis’s Latin and African inspired percussion style.  From there, Nicolas Laget built on the melodies by adding layers of flute and sax to what was already there and by creating his own melodies and harmonies. Yoed Nir was the final musician in the process who added 20 layers of cello to the final section of the song to take the passion to a whole new level.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:31PM EST.
Dec 5, 2:24PM EST0

What is the purpose of creating such a long music?

Dec 5, 3:40AM EST0

Steven, great question. I hope that with smooth transitions, beautiful melodies, vocal harmonies, 17 key changes, 20 tempo changes, and variety of lead instrument performances, that this hour long song will hold the listener’s interest. I want to captivate the listener by not allowing any breaks in the music. The goal is to allow for a tranquil but fully engaging experience that grabs the listener and won’t let go from start to finish. Also, this is the ultimate project for those who are looking for the perfect study music.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:31PM EST.
Dec 5, 2:00PM EST0

How many kinds of LP album do you have?

Dec 5, 3:10AM EST0

Thanks for your question, Nikita. My official LP album releases include "First Light", "Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning", "Victorious", "Freedom" and "Film Music: Inspiration For The Jaded Generation".

My two EP releases include "Live Vibe: The Humble Beginnings" and "Time For Prayer".

And early in my career I did a collaboration LP project with artist Kenny McNeil under the name D2D titled "Dare To Dream: What's Your Dream?"

A rare project that I don't fully consider an album because it is so bizarre is "Rhythmic Journey". If you can find it, it's pretty much an all rhythmic experiment that I put together before going to Omega Studios where I studied sound engineering and took my craft to the next level. "Rhythmic Journey" is not my finest work, but there are some interesting moments with lots of odd time signatures and terrible production quality. Ha ha!

Along with these projects, I've also produced, engineered and mixed for over 200 artists over the past 10 years.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:31PM EST.
Dec 5, 1:53PM EST0

What has been the trigger point which sparked your interest to create this song?

Dec 5, 3:04AM EST0

Great question, Samantha. I only work when I am inspired, and the creation of this song is no exception. My wife had been very stressed at a job where she had little to no work-life balance for the last four years. The day she finally left that job and transitioned to a new job with better work-life balance, I saw how happy she was. Seeing that joy in her spirit, I was inspired, and I composed my song, "First Light," in one sitting. I mapped out all of the chord changes, 17 key changes, 20 tempo changes, and the entire arrangement in one tremendously focused twelve-hour session at The Sweet Spot Studio. It was definitely an inspired session.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:30PM EST.
Dec 5, 1:46PM EST0

Are you always this passionate about your music?

Dec 4, 7:30PM EST0

Marsha, thanks for your question. The answer is absolutely, yes, I'm alwasys this passionate about the music I create. I feel that true art touches the spirit and elevates the mind to find the hidden potential within one's own soul. When I create music, I am very purposeful. I hope to change the way people think and feel about their own life by expanding the possibilities of what music can make you feel (without the need for drugs). I want listeners to feel something deep. It's only worthwhile if repeat listens reveal fresh perspectives and ignite untouched emotions. Most of today's music leaves the listener entertained but oftentimes very empty. It's time to shake things up. My song, "First Light," is the next step in my attempt to make art with substance, depth, and sincerity as inspired by God's power to free the soul. I want the listener to escape from the prison of whatever is holding us all back from reaching our full potential here on earth.

Last edited @ Dec 5, 3:30PM EST.
Dec 5, 1:43PM EST0
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