Marcus Wadell: “Potential is nothing if you don’t reach it”

It’s going to take time, so start now. It’s easy to get in a funk about not working on music full-time when that’s your passion and goal. However, there are so many things you can do right away to build the foundation of your music career even if you’re still working another job. Especially with […]

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It’s going to take time, so start now. It’s easy to get in a funk about not working on music full-time when that’s your passion and goal. However, there are so many things you can do right away to build the foundation of your music career even if you’re still working another job. Especially with social media, sharing early songs, and networking — building up any amount of support and influence before you’re able to fully dedicate your time to music turns out to be a huge advantage later on because it takes so long to build that platform for yourself.

As a part of our series about Nashville’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Marcus Wadell.

Marcus is a music producer, songwriter, and Indie Pop artist that got his start in music by making commercial jingles for brands including Domino’s Pizza and sneaking his original songs into software marketing videos at work. Inspired by the mindset of his favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, Marcus releases optimistic Indie Pop music with underlying satire under his artist name, Cradle Cat ( Vonnegut’s book “Cat’s Cradle” is also the namesake for his artist name. In the past year since quitting his job at a software startup to pursue music full-time, Marcus has independently released nine songs, gaining over 25,000 streams on Spotify and over 15,000 views on YouTube, and has produced four other Midwest artists.

Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Glad to be a part of it! I was born in a small town in upstate New York and lived there until my family moved to Columbus, Indiana. Growing up, I learned to play guitar from my grandpa and never even considered music as a career, despite constantly writing music on my own and in bands with friends. Instead, I was always focused on academics and did really well in school. I ended up getting a research scholarship to Indiana University, where I double majored in Math and Entrepreneurship and even had a research paper published in an academic journal. Throughout college, I continued writing songs and started dabbling in GarageBand in my dorm room.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s a story of software and Domino’s Pizza. After my success in academics, I figured out I excelled at the intersection of technology and people. I leveraged my knack for learning new software by spending more and more of my nights and weekends diving into Logic Pro X (the music production software I currently use). I started producing commercial jingles on Fiverr (a freelance site) to build my portfolio and ended up writing a jingle for Domino’s Pizza. That definitely gave me a confidence boost that music could be more than a hobby.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The Domino’s Pizza jingle is hard to top — especially since I like their Philly Cheese Steak Pizza so much. But — one funny and lucky story is how I played for my first big crowd. A friend and I drove to Kentucky to see the total solar eclipse in 2017. We were just hanging out at this huge event in a field all day and we saw a stage getting setup for live music. I started chatting to the group setting up the sound equipment and ended up playing an impromptu solo set onstage to fill time since main act was behind schedule. There were so few Porta Potties at the event that roughly 400 people ended up waiting in a huge line that stretched right through the seating for the audience. Stage setup for the actual planned main act took so long that I played right up until the total eclipse in front of all these people stuck in the bathroom line. I’m glad I was able to provide some distraction — because I definitely saw people having to hold it for over an hour in line there.

Can you share with us an interesting story about living in Nashville?

Ever since I started splitting time in Nashville, I’ve always stayed at Music City Hostel — where I’ve met interesting characters from all over the world (including someone that claimed he was literally divine) and have some funny stories I’d only share over a drink. One of my favorite, shareable memories is when I met an Australian couple that had never played the yard game, cornhole (or “bags”). I taught them how to play for the first time and I felt this goofy sense of duty and honor in sharing that part of the Midwest culture with them.

Can you share with us a few of the best parts of living in Nashville? We’d love to hear some specific examples or stories about that.

The best part about Nashville is everyone’s willingness to help other people. When I quit my software job, I knew nobody in Nashville. I started DM’ing people I’d never met on Instagram to grab coffee and write songs together and was completely blown away at how many people actually responded. Another example is the same attitude I experienced out at songwriter nights at the bars. I would show up at these “writer round” nights without knowing anybody, and without fail, would end up meeting at least one person kind enough to offer an extra room to stay at if I ever needed it. It was incredibly uplifting to experience that level of kindness and support on the scale of a whole city.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One funny moment I can think of is when my high school friend and I had just finished our first home recording of a song. My uncle was visiting my family and was in the radio business — so we were prepared to come out with a boombox and pitch this song to him. We played it, and didn’t get the immediate airplay we imagined in our heads. I honestly didn’t learn anything from it at the time, but looking back, a clear lesson I should have taken was the need to benchmark production quality to songs that are already successful. If someone can tell you recorded a song yourself, that’s probably not a compliment (unless you’re already a successful producer).

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

For sure — Corey Miller is a producer and engineer in Indianapolis who really helped me understand what type of work was needed behind-the-scenes to make a song commercially ready. I went to Corey with my first self-produced 4-song EP and thought I was going to knock out some final touches in like 2 hours. It turned out to be a much bigger project. He introduced me to vocal comping, mixing, mastering, and all these steps that go into music production. I listen back to the original demos I had before going to Corey, and it’s just obvious that 1) I had not compared them to professionally produced songs, and 2) I had not yet developed the knowledge for how to actually achieve that professional sound. Working on that first EP with Corey gave me a clear path of what I needed to learn to get to the next level.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, I’m most excited about my “Songs from Scratch” live stream project and other behind-the-scenes YouTube videos I’ve been sharing. Since June 2020, I’ve created a song from scratch on a live stream every week. It’s a total music production nerd haven. I love interacting with followers in the live chat in real-time. It lets me get instant feedback on songs as I’m building them — and I get to hear a ton of cool music that my viewers are making.

My other YouTube videos are more tutorial style, where I walk through the project sessions in my music production software and show how I make certain sounds throughout the song. I am always watching other videos like this on music production and mixing, so sharing my own process is a really natural way for me to engage on social media.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Start sharing your music as soon as possible. Just because a home recording might not be ready for the prime time of Spotify and radio doesn’t mean you should hide it away at the very beginning of your journey. Start sharing on other platforms to find a support group and followers even at the earliest stage. YouTube, DIY groups on Facebook and Reddit, and SoundCloud are some examples of the types of sites that you can still find a following even in the early, messy phases of your music journey.
  2. Use social media early. Social media didn’t come easily to me, so I understand any hesitation on this. But any amount of influence you can gain over the years ends up being incredibly useful once you want to share any music you’re working on. It takes time to build this up, so starting early will put you on the right track. When I released my first song, I had just created my music-focused social media accounts, so I had no network to share my music with at the time.
  3. Reference professional songs. Both from a songwriting and production perspective, there’s a lot to be learned from successful songs. I’m not saying to lose your own unique style — I’m just a big fan of dissecting other songs, figuring out what I like about them, and trying to incorporate some of those elements into my own process.
  4. If you’re a student, reach out to industry professionals. I feel like there’s a huge networking opportunity for students to connect with industry professionals. People seem to be more likely to take a mentor-type approach to relationships with students, whereas that same relationship could start out more like a gatekeeper experience if you wait until you’re out in the real world.
  5. It’s going to take time, so start now. It’s easy to get in a funk about not working on music full-time when that’s your passion and goal. However, there are so many things you can do right away to build the foundation of your music career even if you’re still working another job. Especially with social media, sharing early songs, and networking — building up any amount of support and influence before you’re able to fully dedicate your time to music turns out to be a huge advantage later on because it takes so long to build that platform for yourself.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Meditate, exercise, and have a peer group around you to help check your goals periodically. Meditation and exercise really help me de-stress and re-focus each day. It feels like a reset button every morning. For goal setting — Coming from a software startup background, my friend group and I are total business strategy nerds. They’re all doing something entrepreneurial as well, so we started doing these quarterly goal planning sessions where we all treat it like a corporate review. We each prepare a Google slide deck of our goals, diagrams, SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), and a review of what we accomplished or failed at since our previous check-in. It’s been a great way to zoom out every few months to re-evaluate if I’m on the right track for reaching my music goals and get some outside opinions.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Practicing empathy. This is definitely the core of my outlook on life. I think it comes from a combination of reading Kurt Vonnegut books and this book called “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. It seems so much easier to be happy and to be kind to others if you’re able to take the time to try to understand how someone else is feeling. Even if you don’t agree with someone, I believe you can still have a cordial connection with them by at least trying to understand their viewpoint.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Potential is nothing if you don’t reach it”. This was a quote I still remember from a middle school wrestling coach. It has this weird way of inspiring and haunting me. Most of all, I try to let it encourage me to actually act on my goals. Pulling in another book reference here — it’s sort of like “The Alchemist” — where any time you have these big ridiculous-sounding dreams in mind, your actual achievements might be different than what you initially imagined. But as it turns out, it’s the actual process of trying to reach your potential that turns out to be the greatest gift. I’m not trying to say this cliché “journey is the destination” thing. I definitely still have goals I want to accomplish and believe goals are incredibly important, but I am definitely happier pursuing them and have grown more as a person than if I were not actively reaching for them at all.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Max Martin. I think he’s the most private of all my heroes in songwriting and music production. While I’ve been able to scour the internet for lots of interviews, biographies, and videos of my other idols, I still have so many questions about how he works and how he thinks about music.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me online as Cradle Cat on Spotify, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and pretty much any other social media platform under “Cradle Cat”. Thanks for asking!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thanks for having me! I really appreciate your time and your interest in sharing my music journey.

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