Nashville session musicians share their talents and work with School of Music students during a workshop

The Liberty community just witnessed something almost no one gets the chance to see: the hidden world of a Nashville session musician.

On Sept. 14 and 15, four professional Nashville session musicians, drummer Steve Brewster, guitarist Dave Cleveland, bassist Jacob Lowery and keyboardist Jason Webb, visited Liberty University. They showed students what the music industry is like through live a recording session, a workshop and a Q&A time.

After attending one of the events, music and worship major Brayden Dukes said, “The fact that [the musicians] were willing to spend their time coming to advise us and give us an inside look into what we were told takes years normally for a pro to see. … It speaks volumes to their character.”

During the day on Monday and Tuesday, the four musicians and some School of Music (SOM) faculty members and students gathered in Liberty’s Mathena Recording Studio. While in the studio, the group worked on recording several songs written by students, and the entire process was livestreamed in the SOM Oldham Recital Hall so other students could also have a behind-the-scenes look at the process.

The process was repeated several times with several different songs. First, the musicians listened to a demo of the song they were recording. One musician quickly scribbled down a chord chart while listening to the demo. After briefly discussing ideas and playing a few riffs on their respective instruments, the musicians began recording the song and bringing it to life. After recording the song once, the musicians told Nathan Zwald, the engineer for the sessions, to rewind the recording to certain parts so they could redo them over and over until the recording met their standards.

One song the musicians recorded was “Hang Up” by student Sarah Haglund.

“Something that I’m really big on is pulling the emotion of a song,” Haglund said. “And immediately, right off the bat, when they heard the tempo and the melody they got a heartbeat kind of feel to it. … They’re insanely talented. It’s cool that just listening to a song you can pull the emotions from it the way they did.”

On Monday night, the musicians hosted a recording master class in the concert hall. Zwald sat behind a desk on stage and acted as the engineer and host for the night, while the musicians sat with their respective instruments and demonstrated live what a Nashville recording session looks like. 

The School of Music Nashville Week Workshop Recording Studio session is photographed on September 15, 2020. (Photo by Ellie Richardson)

The musicians gave real-time commentary on the process as they demonstrated, and the audience was enthusiastic and responsive. The night ended with a concert that left students excited and inspired.

On Tuesday night, the guests sat onstage in the concert hall to answer students’ questions about life as a musician. Topics discussed ranged from maintaining Christian humility in the industry to how livestreaming technology affects financials in the music business. The musicians gave students insights on songwriting and balancing family life with a career in music during the session.

At the Q&A session, the musicians’ characters shone through to the audience. The way they communicated with each other showcased deep friendship and respect stemming from years of working together. They also mentioned God and the Bible multiple times, integrating their faith into the information they gave. 

“Hopefully just being around me will give them a glimpse,” Dave Cleveland wrote. “From the way I carry myself to what I play and how I listen will all give insight. And above all that, they would see my absolute trust in God and how he directs me.”

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