MU student learns music biz lessons
Doctoral student Mike Novak releases album with The Renaissance MenBy Dave Rossetti
The musical education of Marquette doctoral student Mike Novak didn't get off to the most auspicious start. In fact, it almost came to a crashing halt in the sixth grade.
After failing to bring his drumsticks to band practice and showing no remorse by refusing the all too familiar punishment of writing sentences on the chalkboard, Novak's fed up teacher gave him the boot.
"So Captain Foresight lost his free music education right there," Novak quipped.
But Novak persevered from his humble beginnings, educating himself in the ways of songwriting and singing and going on to release Life and Other Impossibilities with his group, The Renaissance Men, last month.
The path to releasing Life began when Novak started hanging out with college band George and the Freeks and working with them as a "sound guy" while pursuing his master's degree in theological studies at the University of Notre Dame. There, he began to write his own music and was able to maintain lasting friendships with the Freeks, though the group later split.
From those friendships, Novak would get the chance of a lifetime in November 2001. Following a weekend jam session, Novak met Michael McGlinn — a friend of a musician friend who also had considerable connections in Nashville. Novak mentioned the possibility of recording material for fun with some of the former Freeks, but McGlinn soon provided more than Novak bargained for.
"Within two months I'm down in Nashville with some of the best recording equipment on the planet — the catch being we only had a weekend," Novak said.
Novak said he went to Nashville with 12 originals, and the band cut 10 of them during 17 hours of recording. Those 10 songs appear on Life — an eclectic album featuring breezy pop tunes ("My Mom"), love-lorn ballads ("Tunisian Blue") and enthralling jams ("Requiem," "Allison by Moonlight").
However, with the album unfinished in the spring of 2002 and his first year in Marquette's doctoral program on the horizon, Novak was forced to put Life on the backburner.
"The first year (at Marquette, finishing the album) was just a lost cause," Novak said. "I was just trying to figure out what I was doing here."
After the recording had gone so well, Novak said The Renaissance Men ran into a challenge they hadn't bargained for: mixing the album.
"I could not believe how difficult it was to actually mix stuff," Novak said.
After again finding time during the summer of 2003 to return to Nashville to rerecord tracks and mix the album, Life still wasn't done before last fall term began.
"I can't describe to you how nuts I was going trying to get this done," Novak said.
Having started the process nearly two years ago, Novak trekked back to the studio during fall break, then spent the rest of the semester trying to adjust the mixes by trading MP3 files with his mixer back in Nashville.
Novak, a teacher's assistant for Michel Barnes' "St. Augustine: The Man and the Theologian" class, said all the time he spent finalizing the album caused him to come close to missing a few term paper deadlines.
His adviser took the news in stride — sort of.
"He accepted what I said in sort of a qualified way," Novak said. "He said, 'That is an explanation, not an excuse.' He got a free copy anyway — as a peace offering."
Though Life has netted 160 primarily word-of-mouth sales out of the1,000 copies printed, Novak — who hopes the CD will open doors either for him as a songwriter, the band, or both — has been encouraged by positive fan feedback.
"It's the people who bought the album ... the word I keep hearing is 'beautiful,'" he said. "They think the songs are beautiful. That's kind of cool."
With interest from a radio station in Illinois, Novak's dream might be taking off, but he's not getting ahead of himself.
"Am I holding my breath that Mr. Big will say 'sign that kid up?' No. Would it be nice? Yes. How would I coordinate that with getting a Ph.D.? No freaking idea."