Interview: Russell Mauldin, Part 2

Interview: Russell Mauldin, Part 2

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1995’s Ready To Sing: Contemporary, was an early entry in the RTS series

Russell Mauldin’s Ready To Sing (Brentwood-Benson Music Publications) series of choral books has sold more than any other choral book series in the Christian market (and probably in the overall choral market as well).

In Part 1 of our interview yesterday, Russell shared his path to Nashville and Brentwood Music in particular. Today, we’ll learn more about the process of putting together a choral collection.

David Bruce Murray: At some point there’s an idea, and at a later point (weeks? months?), there’s a finished piece of product. Please walk us through the major steps that are involved in putting together a choral collection and give us an idea of how much time that involves from the idea until someone can buy the product.

Russell Mauldin: The margin of profitability and therefore survival for church music companies is so tight these days, one MUST have a clear audience and marketing plan in place before recording a choral collection. With Capitol Christian (Brentwood-Benson), whom I’m now starting my third year of exclusivity with, the Ready to Sing line of product is the most established brand in the industry. With that comes a familiarity of exactly what the listener can expect: accessible vocal ranges, fully orchestrated tracks or church orchestra scores available, and hopefully inspiring and heartwarming arrangements.

Once we decide target market within the brand (Southern Gospel, Hymns, Blended Worship, etc.), song selection begins. Capitol Christian Music controls roughly 75% of all Christian copyrights, so we will seldom be denied the rights to publish any song. Within that song selection, we want a balance for the collection of fast and slow, chart-toppers and something new we feel they will love, and solo driven versus full choir only songs.

Once songs are confirmed, I usually block off a week or more just to write the basic arrangement for “tracking”. I’ll write the choir parts then, because for my audience, the vocal parts are the most important thing. I also write a master rhythm line which includes tempo, general feel, chord symbols, and instrumental cues to either be played then by a rhythm player or for the orchestra later. We then go into the studio with piano, guitars, bass guitar, and drums to record the basic rhythm tracks.

I then allow at least a week to write or finish early sketches of the orchestrations. The studio orchestra then performs what we call an “overdub” by playing their instruments along with the previously recorded rhythm section. This is when a project literally explodes to life! Few things in composing are more tedious and hectic than writing literally thousands of notes on a single song for a full orchestra. However, few things in composing can match the satisfaction of hearing one’s orchestration spring to life in the studio!

I usually then take a day to recuperate (I’ve required this part as I have aged!) and go over all the choir parts again, possibly tweaking them some for a change or a new idea inspired by the finished track with orchestra. On the next day or so, we record the studio choir. We typically have 12-14 singers and perform each song 3 times, which we call “stacks” or “passes”. Keeping each performance and comparing each with the other 2 passes, our choir of 12 then becomes a choir of 36. Close and distant microphones as well as reverb software allow us the versatility and ambiance to make the group sound like even more than 36 and in a sanctuary or hall much bigger than the Nashville recording studio.

The final stage before mixing the end product is adding solos and any narration if the project is a musical. I especially like to record solos and choir after the orchestra so the singers can grasp the full sound and then be hopefully inspired by it to sing with more sensitivity to the text and especially to contrast the dynamics more.

From there, we begin mixing and mastering the recorded products while the printed book begins production. If a DVD accompaniment is involved, the entire process must be moved earlier by a month or so to create the video. Otherwise, from concept to product available to the church is a 4-6 month process. However, there have been times when a song or a collection takes on a special meaning because a unique situation. In those instances, if the publisher has copyright clearances in place, this process can be fast-tracked to much less time to release.

RTS because he livesDBM: How did the Gaither and Homecoming Ready-To-Sing collections come to be? Are those by design from the beginning, or something that you take to them midway through the process of putting the collection together and work out an agreement to present it under both established brand names?

RM: I have been honored to work with Bill Gaither for well over 20 years now, mostly in arranging, orchestrating, and occasionally producing the Gaither Vocal Band projects. While I know there are better arrangers, no one loves and understands Gaither music more than me. Bill and Gloria had a long-term agreement with another publisher in place for many years that kept us and the Ready to Sing brand from using their names or the Homecoming brand in a project title. Nonetheless, we used an endless amount of Gaither songs in musicals and collections through the years with great success. For instance, my musical with Sue C. Smith, Because He Lives, is the top-selling Easter musical in the modern era for choral music.

2015: the first collection to blend the RTS & Homecoming brands.

2015: the first collection to blend the RTS & Homecoming brands.

Several years ago, Gaither Music signed a copyright administration agreement with Capitol Christian while ending the exclusive agreement for print they had with the other publisher. This opened a wonderful opportunity for all involved. We felt the Gaither and Homecoming brands had long been under-served in the choral market and with Ready to Sing being the best-selling series in the industry, we all agreed it was a “dream team” match! And that is exactly what has happened. I’m honored to be a part of these collections, and we have the amazing catalog to choose from for many more Homecoming collections to come.

RTS Love Of GodDBM: When a particular collection involves more than one creator like The Love Of God At Christmas musical you collaborated on with Joel Lindsey and Sue C. Smith, is that something you took to Brentwood-Benson as a proposal, or is it more typically someone at Brentwood-Benson suggesting you work with someone else?

RM: Most publishers plan way ahead to either lock in a free-lance creator they hope to work with or honor a contracted schedule for writers they have under exclusive contract. My contract with Capitol Christian (Brentwood-Benson) calls for an aggressive number of musical and collection releases. Therefore, I know Christmas and Easter will be for them for years to come.

God Will Make A WayI have chosen Sue C. Smith for many years as my collaborator, but occasionally an opportunity will arise as has happened recently with mega-worship artist, Don Moen, for the newly released God Will Make a Way, a musical for prayer, unity, and reconciliation for America.

While I feel God blesses our efforts no matter who my collaborators may be, many of the choices end up originating from a business, contractual, or artist opportunity that opens up.

DBM: Finally, for the benefit of any tech-geeks who might be reading, what sort of software do you use for arranging?

RM: I have used Finale notation software since 1998. It has long been the standard for the publishers I work for. I also sync Finale scores with Pro Tools for film score work and orchestral sample soundtrack enhancement.


I want to thank Russell for going above and beyond on this interview. He shared more details about the process than I expected and clearly took a good chunk of his time to craft his replies. We’re not confined by space here at MusicScribe like a traditional print magazine might be, so I decided to pass everything he wrote directly on to you, our readers.

If you found this information to be as interesting as I did, please leave a comment! (DBM)

Category Interviews

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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7 Comments

  1. Daniel J. Mount
    Reply May 26, 20:29 #1 Daniel J. Mount

    OK, fair enough. Here’s a comment. :)

  2. Matt
    Reply May 27, 07:47 #2 Matt

    Loved the interview. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Steven
    Reply May 27, 11:01 #3 Steven

    Loved it! Would love to see more

  4. Nathan
    Reply May 27, 21:14 #4 Nathan

    Great read, David!

  5. James Hales
    Reply May 28, 10:43 #5 James Hales

    This was a GREAT read! Thanks David for this!

  6. Stephen
    Reply June 01, 18:09 #6 Stephen

    Very interesting. Thanks!

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