As I sit here and reflect on my gratitude for the amazing experience I had working with Johnny Cosmic on this song, it makes me really happy to write about and share it with you. Not only because it’s something that I’m honored and proud to have been a part of, but because I want you to understand what it actually felt like, and what I learned.
I truly hope you enjoy hearing the behind-the-scenes take on the process, and of course, that you find some joy in the song as well 🙂
If you’d like to listen to the song, the link is below
How “Time” Came to Be
It’s an early morning in May, and I’m currently sitting in my humble basement music studio in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It’s still hard for me to believe that I had the incredible opportunity to work with one of my favorite producers.
It would only partially be true to say that a Facebook post landed me the chance to work with Johnny, but I’ll go more into that later. This all started in early January when I announced that I was challenging myself to finish a new song from scratch in a week.
This meant writing, recording, and producing an entire song in 7 days, which for an amateur producer like myself is a pretty difficult task. Initially, I felt that an acoustic song would be easier, and began messing with some chord progressions on guitar.
At that time I was feeling fairly nostalgic looking back at memories of my life, and I remember writing about how it felt watching the time pass by. The foundation of the song came together pretty quickly, and I recorded it in a few days.
But come Wednesday that week I started worrying that the song wasn’t going to be any good. I knew it was missing something important, and couldn’t seem to find anything that fits well.
After a few tedious hours of trying guitar parts that didn’t work, I went upstairs frustrated, grabbed a beer, and sat down in front of the piano. I started playing along to the song and was immediately surprised at how well the piano sounded next to the bare, acoustic guitar I had recorded. Within an hour I had a piano part that really fit really well. Feeling a new spark of optimism and creativity, I further added some finger snaps to complete the beat, and all of a sudden I could hear real potential in the song.
I recorded a video of myself singing along to it and posted it in my Facebook group, and a few days later I received a message from John asking if I wanted to collab with him on the song… just like that, I was working with one of my favorite producers.
What It Was Like Working With Johnny Cosmic
I was nervous as hell when I sent the song to him – I had no idea what to expect, or if he’d even still like the vibe when he took another listen. Although he had indicated he was interested in a collaboration, I stayed very open to the fact that John is an extremely busy guy, and that there was still a chance that this wouldn’t work out for one reason or another – I was cautiously excited but made sure not to have any real expectations so-as not to be let down if things didn’t pan out.
But low and behold, the very next morning there was a message from him saying that he’d stayed up all night with it, and had a new mix together that he was really digging (I later learned it’s not uncommon for him to pull all-night studio sessions). I was blown away at how quickly he’d finished.
The new mix arrived while I was in a meeting at my day job, but I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d done. Since I work from home, I muted the mic for myself in the meeting and started playing the song immediately.
My jaw hit the floor – it was the same song that I sent him, except it had gone from being a pretty decent idea to full-on sonic bliss. There were perfectly played percussion parts, a beautiful bass-driven low end, and a guitar solo that brilliantly embodied Johnny’s unique, melodic lead guitar abilities.
It was the most professional and pretty sounding version of my song that I could imagine – it’s how my songs always sound in my head, but I never know how to get them there as a producer.
The entire song was finished in not much more than a week, and the majority of Johnny’s part in a single night. It still all felt surreal to me, and I could hardly express to John how grateful and stoked I was that he’d spent his time doing this for me.
What Makes Johnny Such a Good Producer?
I thought it would be cool to reflect on some of the stuff I learned about John as a producer. I’ve had the awesome opportunity to chat about music production with him several times now over the years, and working with him on this song really helped me understand how good he is at what he does.
I realize at this point that what I initially sent him was the partial framework for what had potential to be a good song, and what he did as the producer is bringing the best version of that song to life. He filled in gaps that I didn’t even realize were there, accentuated strong parts to make them even stronger, and built a cohesive rhythm section that allowed the song to flow smoothly and sound complete.
His attention to detail is immaculate, and one of the ways that I think awesome producers turn good songs into great songs is they add all the little stuff that listeners might not consciously notice while listening, but that they would certainly notice in the “feel” of the song if the parts weren’t there.
As we exchanged production notes about the new mix he had created, at one point he asked that I re-record a series of single hits on a guitar string that hadn’t been flowing well with the rest. I remember being really impressed that he could pick out exactly which part of the song needed to be fixed, and it made me consider how important each individual piece is.
In short, the songs that you hear from Johnny come out so good because he’s developed an incredible talent for creating the delicate balance between simplicity and complexity, fullness without being unnecessarily busy, and the appreciation for how each little piece of the song works individually and comes together to create the greater whole. Essentially, he’s mastered the technical aspects that go into creating an emotional, organic, and sonically pleasing piece of musical art.
Working with Johnny hasn’t just given me valuable insights as a producer, it’s made me truly appreciate how much goes into consistently creating really good music. And perhaps more important than any other lesson, despite the musical prowess that people like John and his bandmates Scott and KBong deliver to us in song after beautiful song, they’re all quick to humbly talk about how much they don’t know, and how much they still have to learn about their craft. The people that are best at what they do realize that learning is a lifelong process.
The Truth About How I Got the Opportunity to Work With John
I know the story above makes it seem like this random Facebook post changed my life, and as I mentioned, that’s partially true. If I hadn’t posted that then he may never have heard the song, and this collaboration likely never would’ve happened.
But as exciting as it is to make this sound like an overnight success, it’s very important to me that you know that the real reason that Facebook post changed anything is because of a long line of events before that.
To the untrained eye, lots of times it seems like musicians come out of nowhere, and all of a sudden they’re working with the biggest names in the scene. But what I’ve learned from every single one of them is that most times it’s not a completely random, lucky event – it’s years of blood, sweat, and tears, and those efforts are the real reason that opportunities are presented in the first place and that artists are ready to seize the opportunities when they present themselves.
John has been a friend and mentor to me since I met him back in 2015. Every time I see him we end up chatting about music production, and it’s something we both really enjoy geeking out on. Because he’s always been a person I’ve liked and respected, I do whatever I can to broadcast his efforts to the world – I’ve written several blog posts about songs and projects he’s worked on, and being a genuine fan of his work, I get really stoked to share it with people.
Back when we first met I had absolutely no idea that we’d work together someday – all I knew was that he was someone I liked hanging out with and that he was really friggin’ good at what he did. Since then, I’ve worked hard every single day on my craft, supported the work he’s done, and more recently, I happened to post something that caught his ear.
As musicians chasing our dreams, lots of random stuff will happen, and there will be a lot you don’t have control over. But what I really want you to understand is that you do have control over your actions, and a lot of the right little actions taken consistently over time are usually what lead to bigger opportunities.
It’s nearly impossible to know exactly which action is going to bring you where you want to go, and the truth is, looking back, you’ll usually find that it wasn’t one, a grand event that opened a door; it was a bunch of smaller things that eventually connected and came together, not unlike a well-produced song.
This was the result of years of hard work, doing my best to be a good person (although I admittedly mess that up all the time!), and providing as much value as I could for people that I look up to and respect.
What’s Next for Me?
As proud and grateful as I am for this entire experience, for me, this isn’t a time to sit back and relax. In fact, I’ve been working harder than ever. While we were mixing “Time” and working out release logistics, I was already actively producing 5-10 new songs.
I’m constantly writing, thinking about creative ways of getting my music to the world, and doing my best to give my time to the small but incredible group of people who have been supporting what I do every step of the way (big shout out Brendan Clemente Music Fam!).
To be completely honest, it’s also a little scary for a self-conscious artist like myself to get their first small taste of success. Thoughts keep popping into my head like, “What if people don’t like my next song as much?”, and “Now that I have a really professionally produced song since I’m not as good of a producer as John yet, what if people don’t like my self-produced songs?”
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but for me the antidote to these thoughts and feelings is that you just keep showing up, working on what you love, and moving forward the best you can.
Ultimately, I take comfort in knowing that I’m in this for the long haul and that this is really just the beginning. I’m sure there will be ups and downs along the way, but I’m keeping my goals in front of me, and my focus on making the best music I possibly can.
A sincere thank you to everyone who has supported, and helped make my release of the new single “Time” a success! I love you all!
And last but certainly not least, Johnny is one of the most humble, talented, intelligent, kind, easy to work with, artistic, and all-around-fun people I know – it’s truly an honor to call him a friend, and to have worked with him on a song that I can look back on and be proud of the rest of my life.
Thanks for everything man. From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely appreciate all you’ve done for me.
Please check out some of Johnny’s work and follow him at any of the links below!
Single release art by Ashley Livingston ~ Instagram