Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
Welcome Spencer McCreary, band member of Cardinal Harbor, to Dreams Coming True! Tell us a little about your band, Spencer:
We are a six-piece rock band and are all students at Wheaton College. We go by the name of Cardinal Harbor, and we play original music out around the city of Chicago, IL, as well as it’s surrounding suburbs. We will play any venue if we have the chance to give our music to people’s ears.
When did this creative dream begin?
Close to three years ago. I was playing guitar in my dorm room as I would most nights, and Chris Hills walked in with an acoustic guitar and just started jamming with me. I don’t believe any words were exchanged between the two of us, we just kind of started playing. After that, we found there were three other guys on our floor who were insanely good musicians and THE drummer of our campus lived right above us. The band was then formed for the college talent show, and after we played one song called “A Dream Box,” we kind of just stuck together.
How did this project get started?
The idea of actually becoming a studio-capable band was something that has been a bit of a process. We began recording our first album under the guidance of producer Mark Sommerville of The Wave Shop, but after our summer tour, we decided we wanted to give it a swing ourselves. Seeing as we had some funds from touring and selling our first record (funded initially by Kickstarter), we have been able to self-produce our newest studio album “The Cold Season,” which released on February 4th.
What makes your project stand out from the crowd?
Our music is our project, and it is one that is ever changing and pleading to be noticed. Our hope is that what stands out to listeners is the genuine feel and truth behind our work. Our orchestration of the band is very deliberate, and what you hear on a record is what you will hear live if you come to hear us play. What we sing about is the truth behind our experiences and how different perspectives of the world can be vastly different, yet in some ways are blindly the same. The sheer skill level of the musicians in this band is incredible as well. I watch these guys play around me on stage and think, “What the . . . HOW ARE THEY DOING THAT!?! I must look like a fool!” But yes, we hope that as long as something is genuine and you mean it, then it is good. We have been deeply honest in our playing and lyrical writing and hope that it gives our music the chance to stand out.
What are the goals and intentions of this project?
The project of Cardinal Harbor is something that sort of “ebbs and flows” as far as projected goals go. We come up with an idea, such as a tour or a new record, and then place a deadline on it so that we can work towards accomplishing the task at hand. We recently accomplished a tangible goal of completing studio album number 2 and are now focused on expanding our spring and summer touring schedule. As far as the word intention is concerned, we have one overarching intention to our band—whether we are playing live or recording in the studio, to be acceptable in thy sight, of our Lord, our rock, and our Redeemer. The words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts are in prayer to display something greater than the notes we are playing.
How does your project create community?
Music is awesome because it inevitably creates community, regardless of where it is being performed—whether it be singing “Sweet Caroline” as a hammered bar is closing down with pitchers swinging or the lasting ring of a final note in a concert hall as the audience waits in anticipation to applaud together. There is a sense when listening to music that a particular band or musician is playing and singing specifically to you. That’s why everyone has “their favorite band”, because they feel as though they have a connection to that person. Which they do, solely through their music. I may never meet Keith Richards, but I feel like he is an old friend, and if I were ever to bump into him, we could hit it off for hours because of his and Mick Jagger’s music. Music connects us emotionally, intellectually, physically, and, even at times, spiritually.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Believe. Accept criticism, and then embrace it.
I feel a lot of times enthusiasm fizzles out because of criticism or simply the lack of time. We are beings that have the opportunity to breathe because of Creation and our souls strive to be like that Creator. So when you finally do create something that you love and is new to this world, it is something that is beautiful and should be loved. But, enthusiasm must be found in the humility that this something you just created is also just as broken as you are. It takes time, energy, work, tears, and joy to sculpt it into the amazing trophy you hope to present to this world. In days of doubt or tiredness from this created thing, look at it and sincerely ask yourself if you still love and believe in it. If the answer is no, put it aside and create again. But, if you feel one ounce of belief from that creation, continue to breathe life into it and force your dream into reality.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process? Does each contributor have a specific role?
A band is a sort of beast that you just keep feeding, until eventually you have it by a leash and try to guide it as it pulls. It takes (or at least took us) many, many parts to get it moving forward as every person involved had a different roll in where we are today, whether they knew it or not. Some of us are in charge of managing and booking the band for live shows and others take care of the social media business. One takes care of all the finances, while another writes the music, and another is off selling records. It’s been more of a cohesive effort as of late, especially with this new record.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
What took the most time and has been found to be the most challenging, is figuring out how every different piece works. For instance, booking a show and the process that follows that is much different than knowing how to interact with people via social media and build a fan base that way. We have been, and still are, figuring out what the right “protocol” is in regards to managing and promoting a rock band is. It is always a challenge (and I mean ALWAYS), but is continuously more and more fun.
What have you learned?
We have learned so many things. So many beautiful and unexpected things. Instead of listing off all of the sappy and cheesy things that we have learned in the past couple of years, I’ll hit you with one thing that has stuck with me. I believe that we as a band have learned how to be flexible. We are all pretty easy going dudes as it is, but this is something that has been monumental in staying level headed and composed. There has been countless occasions where a show will get postponed, cancelled, re-booked or the studio would already be reserved as a deadline was rapidly approaching and we still had to track two songs, or what have you. Things of that nature arise all the time, and I feel as though patience and discernment in situations that could be potentially stressful, are nice life skill to possess.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
It’s surprising to think about how many people record music every day and that not everyone gets a chance to hear it. Even if what they have made is better than what plays on my radio, I may never hear that piece of music. That was startling at first, but then you realize that whenever you do get someone who listens to a song of the band, you want it to count and that drives you to work hard at the music you make. It was also surprising how easy it is to get into contact with venues for shows, magazines, and reviews. It just takes some time.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about starting your project?
One misconception that I have come across, and personally experienced, is thinking “people want to hear my music”. The sad truth (at least when starting) is that they don’t. Playing live shows at bars, restaurants, or even bigger venues, require some sort of original idea on a cover that people will recognize and you need a lot of them! I will never forget my first show—I went into the Central Pennsylvania lobster shack with a handful of songs that I thought were the bomb (they weren’t that great) and started playing them, thinking that I was the next Paul McCartney, but all these people kept yelling was “SKKYYYYYYNNYRD!” All night they yelled that. All night. So the moment I started picking around on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” the people lost their minds. From then on out, whenever I play in Central PA bars, I play that tune and get a pretty similar reaction. Covers keep people’s attention, and then get them to listen to your original songs that then lead them to wanting to hear more of you. Unfortunately, we musicians must rid ourselves of the misconception that people start off wanting to hear your stuff. In time, my dear friends.
What are some ways you promote your project?
We post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram quite often and also print up our own designed posters, as well as screen-printed merchandise such as T-shirts. Now that we have more music, we hope to place some ads in more social realms such as Amazon and Craigslist and start selling to local vendors in the Chicago area (bookstores, little record stores, coffee shops, etc.)
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
We are no marketing specialists at all and would feel guilty about giving a piece of advice, when in reality, we aren’t quite sure if we have it right just yet! It’s hard, because you want to beat people over the head about noticing your company, music, product, or whatever have you, but if you do that, they immediately get turned off to what you’re saying. A notification every 5 hours on Facebook, email, or Twitter can get obnoxious, so we try to be politely reminding when it comes to new music, a show, or something we have to market.
What social network has worked best for you?
Facebook for shows and Instagram for social media announcements. Facebook is slowly dying out or at least moving towards connecting more so with the generation just past those who are now in college. Instead, our age group is posting exclusively on Instagram and Twitter, so we have been a little more intentional reaching out that way.
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
Go for it. It’s a lot if fun to pursue something on the track that you created.
Where do you see this project in five years?
Headlining Madison Square Garden.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your creative dream, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
“Why does this matter?”
I’ve never been asked that about the band and I don’t believe any of the others have either, but would love to be asked that because I’m not sure how well I’d be able to answer it. I constantly ask myself this question in my personal life. I don’t ask it in doubt or uncertainty, though—I ask so I can decide whether or not a particular activity, person, or dream is worth the time and energy required to be devoted to it. I have found that the nature of this band, it’s message, and how we work together is a way to speak of something much greater than our talents or words alone could. Therefore, it matters. At least to us.
How can we find your creative dream come true?
Visit our website at www.cardinalharbor.com to check up on show dates, music, and merchandise. Oh, and PLEASE join our mailing list! We send updates and stay in touch with supporters through there most effectively!
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Good news! I’m giving away TWO iPads, TWO Kindles, and TWO Nooks to celebrate the release of The Calling! Check out my contest page for more details. Hurry, contest ends 2/8!