Marsalis is a band on the cusp of fame; Like many, making it in the music business is an elusive goal
By Patrick Robinson
The music business has always been difficult. But in the years since CD’s began to fade, and streaming services took over it has grown harder for musicians to survive. Recorded music has shifted from being a direct profit center to being more of a commercial for live performances. But one thing has remained centrally true. It boils down to the song.
A largely West Seattle based band, Marsalis, understands this as well as anyone and are working hard to take their music to the next level by seeking that mercurial mix of melody, meaning and timing that propels bands into people’s memories for decades. Comprised of lead singer/guitarist Dennis Zender, Theresa Cadondon, keyboards, Adam Bishop, bass, and Philthy G, drums, Marsalis has crafted a sound that comes across as modern but with echoes of a earlier time. That’s not surprising since primary songwriter Zender said one of his musical idols is the Beach Boys Brian Wilson.
Marsalis seem to be near the crest of a wave as musical trends lift the likes of Ed Sheeran, Charlie Puth, Imagine Dragons, and Bruno Mars. All highly melodic songmakers with meaning in the lyrics. Their latest recording “The Assault On Silence” features a song for which a video has been produced called “Gone” that shows off their style. Throughout the recording, each instrument is given its due respect in a high clarity mix that serves the hook and melody well.
Their producer Evan Morgan said, “Marsalis is a such a cool band, and I feel so privileged to have worked with them on this latest release. We've developed a wonderful working relationship where they fully trust me to try different things and explore different aesthetic ideas with their music.
Dennis is a very traditional songwriter; ie; he hears a melody in his head, sits down with a guitar or a piano, finds some chords that complement the melody and starts working through parts. He writes very fast, and once he has a melody it'll only take him half an hour or so to have a rock solid verse - chorus idea.
Theresa and Adam are very involved in the development of a song, but more in the aesthetic and presentative sense ie; How Dennis' ideas should be presented such as should this main chord progression be piano or guitars? Should we push it more to the stompy anthemic side or the rock band side? It's awesome to have 3 very determined and passionate people (4 including me!) throwing the ideas into the pot and seeing how the songs grow.”
But today, recordings are not how bands survive. Songs (and music videos) have been changed in the digital era from a source of profit to largely being promotional tools to get people to pay for a ticket to a show. Streaming music services are reporting record breaking revenue according to Digital Music News but for artists it's much harder to reach the point where doing what they love becomes what they do.
InformationIsBeautiful.net put together an infographic showing what the various services pay and believe it or not Napster (yes the one time file sharing/pirate music site) pays the most at $0.0167 per stream to unsigned artists. A fuller explanation of what bands get paid is found on Digital Music News.
So, what's been happening for Marsalis is the process of building awareness through sheer determination and perserverance. Back before there was a record business and the whole architecture that grew up around it, musicians just played. The would develop a following and eventually book more and better gigs. For Marsalis, that process is still the same. The following is there and the local music press has noticed. Readers of www.NorthwestMusicScene.net voted their debut EP Number One in 2016. Listen to it here: https://marsalis.bandcamp.com
They are getting more radio airplay, and are playing increasingly high profile gigs in places like Whiskey A go go in Los Angeles
Zender said while he enjoys all the elements of music production, he believes it often comes down to "four chords, a hook, a great melody and the meaning. It's not all the stuff." He pointed out that material like that is also easier to reproduce live, so people can hear the words, sing along and be engaged in the song. To get there he said he usually writes based on a melody that comes to him, gets the feeling of it and then with Cadondon's R&B influences and Bishop's jazz background fleshes it out, then writes the lyrics to fit both the feeling and meaning. The result is an often very emotional, heartfelt song. Zender has two children (as does Bishop, twins in fact) so he's often influenced by them. In fact for their most recent release he said his daughter wrote part of the chorus. Tucking her into bed one night she was just humming a tune she made up. Hearing it he realized it would fit perfectly with the verse he had.
The dream for all of them is to be on a tour, playing for thousands of fans. They have regular jobs of course but should they break through, by getting a label to sign them or to be on the bill with a major act, they'd leap at the opportunity.
If you listen to their music from the earliest efforts forward you can hear a growing sophistication that seems to be drawing not just from the best of the past but from what people want to hear today. Emotional, honest, meaningful music that resonates in their own lives. Marsalis has that spark so many try to capture. Now if they can only turn it into a full on flame.
Marsalis will be headlining at the Crocodile March 16 with with "greet the sea" and Night Argent.
Their first album is available on iTunes and Spotify. The new album drops March 16
Tickets are avaiiable here: Marsalis at the Crocodile
Follow them on Instagram here: Marsalis Instagram
Follow them on Facebook here: Marsalis Facebook
Follow them on YouTube here: Marsalis YouTube