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Mark Schultz Biography
Being a songwriter is like having a special license to explore the world and take your audience along on the journey. Some writers prefer to look no further than their own experiences, plumbing the depths of their souls for songs. Some intently observe the parade of life swirling around them and capture stories from other people's lives. Singer/songwriter Mark Schultz is equally skilled at both approaches. It's a gift he demonstrates yet again on his latest Word Records collection Broken and Beautiful.
I feel I know what I'm supposed to do in life-write songs, perform and communicate, says Schultz, who in just six years has become one of the industry's most successful songwriters, penning such poignant hits as He's My Son, Remember Me and Letters from War, which was selected as the centerpiece of the U.S. Army's 2004 Be Safe-Make It Home campaign. Schultz' hit, Back in His Arms Again was named BMI's Christian Song of the Year in 2003. I Am the Way was cited as the Christian Song of the Year by American Songwriter magazine in 2001.
He's earned numerous accolades and become one of the Christian format's core artists with seven charttopping hits to his credit. He's also found success on mainstream radio, scoring an AC hit with He's My Son. His last project, Live. . .A Night of Stories and Songs, won the 2006 Gospel Music Association Dove Award for longform music video of the year. He recently earned the No. 1 spot on Billboard magazine's Hot Christian Adult Contemporary Songwriters list.
Broken and Beautiful finds Schultz forging a new creative partnership with producer Mark Bright, well known for his work with Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Sara Evans and other major country artists. We had kind of a dream meeting before we started the record, he says of the search for a new producer. I've done a lot of story songs clear back when I was a youth director at Nashville's First Presbyterian Church. I realized how powerful stories were, so I've been doing stories on my records and Mark Bright deals with stories all the time. So we thought that would be a great idea.
Music publishing veteran Jody Williams, a friend of Schultz from church, gave Bright some CDs and he was immediately impressed. We got a call from Mark one day and he said, 'I just can't stop listening to these CDs.' I went to meet with him one day and I thought it would be like a 10 minute meeting and we met for two and a half hours, says Schultz. He's a strong Christian guy and just wanted to know about the Christian music industry and my songs. He said, 'What ever you want me to do, I'll do.' He's so giving and so humble and such a great guy. I really had an unbelievable experience. I was honored that he would do some of my songs.
Schultz also worked for the first time with producer Shaun Shankel. It was neat because Shaun and I have been neighbors for three years and we never worked together, says Schultz. One day we said 'We ought to do something together because I'd just have to get up in the morning and walk across the grass and grab a cup of coffee and do vocals and walk back home.' It turned out to be a great thing. He's a wonderful young producer. He's certainly different than Mark Bright in style because he's a pop guy, but it was just so fun. This is kind of a dream album for me to be able to work with Mark Bright and Shaun as well--two great producers.
Broken and Beautiful features the insightful songwriting that has marked Schultz' three previous studio albums, and the vocal performances take the listener further than ever into the artist's world. Schultz credits Bright with pairing him with a microphone that made working in the studio a new experience. I stepped behind the microphone and I just felt so comfortable. It just felt like a little bit like singing in the shower, says Schultz. Ever since I started recording songs, the studio has been the hardest part for me. I love writing songs and love to perform them live. Recording songs in the studio is my least favorite part because I just have to sing them over and over and over again. But for some reason, he matched the right microphone up to my voice and as soon as I got behind the microphone, my voice just flew out of there. On previous albums, it would sometimes take me two or three days to just do one vocal for one song and I was walking out of there in two hours with a vocal finished. It was so fun.
Feeling more comfortable in the studio allowed Schultz to relax and give in to the emotion in each song as opposed to worrying about the technical aspects of the recording. The heart of Mark Schultz really shines through on every track-through both his voice and through his songwriting. Broken and Beautiful is Mark's most personal collection to date, and it already being heralded as a landmark album in an already stellar career.
One of the highlights of the record is Everything to Me, a song Schultz co-wrote with Cindy Morgan. I was adopted and I just wanted to write a song about it, says Schultz. So we started into it and we got the first two lines: 'I must have felt your tears when they took me from your arms / I'm sure I must have heard you say goodbye.' And Cindy just lost it because she's a mother with two kids.
Cindy and Mark discussed the love and courage it must take for a woman to give up a child, knowing she could never give her child the things he needed. I've had such a good life. I have the best parents in the world so I wanted it to be a song to thank my birth mom for giving me the opportunity to live, he says displaying the kind of transparency that makes people immediately connect with his work. It's almost like taking her hand and walking her through my life when I was little and playing baseball with my dad, the prayers at night with my folks, and my mom reading 'Goodnight Moon.' Then back to what would it be like if we met on the street. Would you know it was me? Would you just kind of know?
Schultz hopes the song will bring peace to women who've given children up for adoption. I loved the line that says, 'Was this the dream you had in mind when you gave me up? You gave everything to me.' I think hopefully birth moms will hear this song and just say, 'You know what? I feel good!' I would think there's a certain amount of wondering they would do and that it would be really, really hard. So I wanted to say to my birth mom and all birth moms that life is pretty precious and just to get the chance to live is pretty awesome.
Walking Her Home is another emotionally riveting track that chronicles a couple's relationship from their first date until the wife is called home to heaven. It's easy for the listener to picture the love and commitment as Mark's voice so perfectly conveys the emotional nuances of this special love story.
That song is about a kid making a promise to a dad, Mark explains. Before the couple's first date, the dad says, 'Promise me you'll never leave her side.' And he doesn't through the whole song. Right before she passes away, he's holding her. So, that story coupled with the right melody and music grows and it gets bigger. That's not to say the other songs without a story can't do that, but for some reason I love to be able to actually see the story in my head while you hear the song. You can envision it in your head. You can paint the pictures and whatever you put in your mind, you become. I think if you play a song over and over and over again, your mind will help you play that in your real life. I think that's important. People can spend their life being busy and the reason that song cuts through because it slices all the way through the fluff stuff, the busyness and it cuts right to the heart of everything.
She Was Watching is a poignant song about a little girl seeing her parents live out their faith and wanting to be like them. It's a powerful message to parents. Schultz says the inspiration came from a sermon. One of the lines from the sermon was 'Faith isn't taught, it's caught by your kids.' They are listening a lot more when you are actually acting it out, Schultz says. It really is about kids watching and that's how they model after their parents.
Faith and family values were an integral art of Schultz life growing up in Colby, Kansas. After graduating from Kansas State University, he moved to Nashville in 1994. I became a professional waiter, he says with a grin, recalling those early days of paying his dues in Music City.
During a particularly discouraging time as he was trying to get his career off the ground, his parents came to visit. Standing outside the famed Ryman Auditorium, his dad looked at Mark and told him he'd play there someday. At the time, Mark couldn't even imagine it. He was serving as the youth director at Nashville's First Presbyterian Church, and though kids and adults at his church loved his music, he didn't know if his audience would ever extend beyond his church walls.
It soon did. With encouragement and help from his church family, Schultz rented out the Ryman Auditorium to put on a show. Everybody at our church chipped in, he recalls. You had moms that were bringing the food and bringing the choir robes. I thought if I don't sell this thing out, I'll owe money for the rest of my life, but at least it was on my own terms and I wanted to do it. If I failed, I failed, but I would fail doing what I wanted to do.
He didn't fail. The auditorium filled with enthusiastic Mark Schultz fans. Record executives who had come to check him out were left standing up in the back because they couldn't even get a seat. They loved what they saw and Schultz soon had a record deal.
So much has happened since then. In less than six short years, he's become one of Christian music's bestloved and most respected artists. His days as a professional waiter are long behind him. Sometimes I'm really blown away that it's 2006. My first record didn't come out till 2000, he says. To have seven No. 1 radio singles, it's been a cool thing. It's been fun. When I walk out at a concert, I talk before I sing because I want to establish a strong connection with the audience. They feel that connection. I've had people say they felt like I was in their living room, playing songs and telling them stories.
Mark Schultz will continue drinking in life and sharing his experiences in songs. Married in 2005 and having recently moved from Nashville to North Carolina, there's a lot bubbling up in his life to provide plenty of substance for his creative mill. He remains appreciative yet somewhat surprised at his platform. I always joke that I'm not that great of a singer, songwriter and piano player, he says forgetting seven No. 1 hits under his belt. But my prayer is that combining these elements will reveal my heart to people.