To say that senior Zach Gospe is into music would be an understatement.
Starting at age five, he learned piano, drums and bass guitar before settling on the guitar. As a freshman, he took on the challenge of songwriting and has continued writing steadily. Over the years, his musical, vocal and songwriting abilities improved. He released his first Extended Play (EP) last spring as a junior and participated in a selective GRAMMY camp over the past summer.
While attending the West Coast Songwriters Conference at Foothill College on September 7, Zach and his best friend and business manager, senior Riley Soward, handed a copy of Zach’s EP with a name and number to world-famous music and entertainment producer Mark Mazzetti.
“I didn’t know it at the time I heard [Zach’s first EP] that I would be working with him professionally, but after I spent some time listening to the music over the course of the next week and a half, I started to feel very strongly that I got Zach’s musical vision,” Mazzetti said. “I was really excited about his songwriting and his voice, the two things that matter the most.”
Mazzetti offered to help Zach produce his first professional EP, on the condition that the duo raised $10,000 to cover the costs. Launching a five and a half week Kickstarter fundraising campaign in early November 2013, Zach and Riley successfully raised $606 over their $10,000 goal. As a result, they—along with Zach’s mom Mary Gospe—flew down to Los Angeles the Friday before February break to record a studio-quality EP with Mazzetti.
In preparation for the trip, Zach had already started working with Mazzetti in November to complete the song development, also known as artist and repertoire (A&R) stage of record production. Through twice-a-week Skype sessions, they mapped out the lyrics, melodies, phrasings and corresponding instrumental arrangements of each song, with Zach bouncing ideas off of Mazzetti.
“It’s a process of stepping back from the artist easel…and adding a bit more color, discussing how the brush strokes will go, what happens in the background,” Mazzetti said.
Finishing the A&R stage beforehand allowed Zach to maximize his time in the studio. On his first day there, Zach spent his time trying out each of the three guitars that he had brought with him. He acquainted himself with how the studio worked, testing out the microphone and “fiddling around with some parts.”
The rest of the trip saw Zach, with the coaching of Mazzetti and sound engineer Anthony Brodeur, recording vocals for each of his songs. For each song, Zach sang through about six to eight takes. The trio listened to each take to find the “best words or lines of different tracks” and then spliced these parts together using a technique called vocal comping.
“Some people might think that’s cheating, but it’s still my voice singing the same things,” Zach said. “It takes the pressure out of singing everything perfectly in one take [because] nobody can really do that….A lot of times the best take is also the worst take….it’s hard to balance what you need.”
Mazzetti guided the EP with a “big picture” vision of how the songs should sound, and Brodeur worked with Zach on the finer details of individual vocals and guitar parts.
“It’s a very interesting environment where it weighs the needs of the artist as well as the producer and the engineer,” Zach said. “We work as much as a team as we can even though at some parts, I wanted to just keep going for it, or the engineer wants something that’s perfect whereas the producer wants something slightly less perfect so [the song] is more human….It’s a lot of this talking back and forth, creative collaboration [and] communication.”
As a fledgling artist working with two music industry veterans, Zach also recognized that if he wanted to create the best record possible, he had to set aside personal pride for the bigger goal.
“When you go into the studio, you have to leave all of your ego, all of your pride at the door,” Zach said. “It’s not about being right. It’s never about being right. It’s about making the songs as good as they can be….but there’s a little more humanity in [songs] when you hear mistakes….[Mistakes] give something special to the songs.”
That being said, there’s a line between mistakes that build a song and ones that undermine it. Sometimes, Zach encountered days where he hit rough patches and could not play a certain guitar part or sing falsetto.
“There was one instance when…I just couldn’t get a part, my voice was just too raspy and not strong enough,” Zach said. “The way I’m programmed as a person is just to keep trying and trying, but I was very fortunate with Mark…that he can tell when those things are happening…and so we took the rest of the day to do editing and relax.”
Though the recording process of the EP is now completed, it must be mixed and mastered before it is officially released. The mixing and mastering process brings the entire EP together to make it sound like an album instead of “just a collection of songs”.
When reflecting on the highlight of the trip, Zach and Riley both agreed that it was the process of seeing Zach’s songs “come to life.” Riley attributes one of the most fulfilling moments to be when the two of them drove back to their hotel from the studio on Saturday night while listening to the six songs that they had spent the past week creating.
“[We were] driving back…and hearing all six songs in a row in the order they’re supposed to be in and thinking, ‘This is something we created together, this is something we’ve been working on for 13 years of friendship basically,’” Riley said. “‘This is something we’ve been working toward forever.’”
If nothing else, Zach comes out of this experience with a deeper appreciation for music and the sheer amount of work that goes into every record.
“That’s probably the biggest takeaway—that the world of music is so much larger than I thought it was before,” Zach said. “There’s so much more to explore and at the same time there’s so much more to listen to even within the songs I already know and I already love. There’s so much more to understand and feel within recording. The world of music is this encapsulating entity…and I have a better appreciation [of it] now that I’ve attempted to create my own [music] and set it out there.”
Riley anticipates that the EP will be released sometime around the end of May or the beginning of June.
Mazzetti fully believes that Zach possesses the talent to become a full-fledged artist in the music industry.
“I think his songs are going to be incredibly compelling and catchy,” Mazzetti said. “They’re intelligent, but they’re not over your head…As an artist I think he’s across the board like John Mayer or Jason Mraz and I think he’s going to do well. I don’t try to make sales predictions, but I think it’s the beginning of a significant career for this young man.”