Fifty and Fierce – Producing in a Pandemic

By October 24, 2020 November 11th, 2020 Fashion, Music
Shalisa James 50th Birthday Poster

Turning 50 is a milestone, but Shalisa James, didn’t want a cake or a party for her birthday.  She wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream of producing her own solo album.  A singer whose voice has graced over 500 jingles, a Grammy-nominated Broadway track, and an animatronic pizza mascot, it was time to make a statement.

I kept hearing my singer friends tell me you lose your chops as you get older. I think that’s crazy. My voice is the strongest it’s ever been.

Leaning in to being 50 and fierce, Shalisa James titled the project, Five Decades.  The track list would feature hit songs of her lifetime from the ‘70s through 2020.

After all, Susan Boyle had set records for album sales in the UK at age 48.  Billy Joel sold out Madison Square Garden for his 60th birthday concert.  She had a much cooler name than Susan or Billy, so why not Shalisa?

As awful as 2020 has been, I saw it as God giving me a gift of time I’d never had before.

Shalisa, President of Entertainment Central Productions, would normally spend a day developing business, sending contracts, and vocal coaching at Universal Studios as well as scheduling up to 28 singers per day for live events.  But this was 2020.  The Live Events Industry, estimated to employ 12 million people and generate close to a trillion dollars in annual revenue, was shut down.  So she decided to do a small economic stimulus of her own.

Due to the shut downs, our business lost over 2 million dollars in contracts, but I was never one for just sitting around watching Netflix and feeling sorry for myself and my industry. I’m a problem solver, so my solution during this time was to pursue my creative dream and hire as many musicians as I could to help.

Due to social distancing mandates, most Orlando musicians were not able to play in public, but they could record at their own home studios.  So Shalisa reached out to over 20 amazing instrumentalists and studio engineers in Orlando who were temporarily out of work and commissioned them produce her tracks.  The hope was to give them some income, but moreover, to give them a creative project in this time of pandemic.

Sammy Pawlak, is a local musician and engineer and coincidentally, Shalisa’s best friend since they were singing in church as preachers’ kids.  So she recorded the lion’s share of her vocals in Sammy’s home studio.

Shalisa’s voice is one I grew up with, so this was fun for me. It was such a blessing to have this creative project at this time of quarantine and a bonus blessing to be able to book unemployed musicians. I’m so proud of the way it turned out. We took Madonna to Nashville with “Crazy for You” by adding an amazing local fiddle player. My favorite is the opening track, “It’s Too Late.” We went Billie Eilish with it-the vocal is heartbreaking and right in your face.

Sammy
Nik Schombeck, of Noire Productions, produced the instrumental tracks for “Skyfall” and “Boys of Summer” -which at 48 tracks was the most on the album.

I love auxiliary parts! Little parts that lock into each to and create something bigger is a lot of fun. I think now (during the pandemic) is the perfect time to geek out in the studio! And I have an address book full of amazing musicians that can record remotely and get me anything I want, so that makes it easy!

Nik

Ben Crane, Orlando musician and producer, also found himself with time on his hands during the pandemic.

To be honest, when Shalisa asked me to produce the instrumental tracks for “Missing You” “Love on Top” and “Crazy for You” my first thought was “Me?!” There are so many incredibly talented and capable people in our circle of Orlando artists. However, after she sent me the tracks and explained her vision, I knew that this would be an awesome creative challenge. I really enjoyed getting to unpack these songs, strip them down, and then rebuild them in a unique, original way.

Ben

Next there was the dream album cover.  Drawing inspiration from photos of Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, and Adele, Shalisa hired the amazing high-fashion photographer, Rafael Tongol.

My goal was to have J-Lo vibes at 50 and Rafael made that happen.

Only one original song, “The Best Love I Never Had”, made the track list.   The running order is chronological, so it appears in the 90’s because that’s when Shalisa wrote it for her husband-to-be, Jeremy.  To her delight, country legend, Tim Akers, (music director for Rascall Flatts, Vince Gill, and Amy Grant) agreed to help

I wrote Tim as a moonshot. Less than a week later, I had a beautiful piano and keyboard arrangement that breathed new life into my song. I am forever humbled and grateful that he loaned his incredible talent to this project.

If Shalisa was trying to make the statement that at 50 her voice is as good as ever, then one listen to her soaring vocals on Five Decades will convince you.  Shalisa is as much a rockstar at 50 as she was at 20.  I’ve seen an audience collectively drop their jaws as she launches into the high notes of  Journey’s “Separate Ways”  and it’s awesome.

Shalisa is a diva who continues to prove that a bold pursuit of your dreams combined with a desire to help and inspire others, makes for some serious magic.

Jeremy JamesProducer, Husband

Five Decades is available on iTunes and for sale on shalisajames.com

(You can see Shalisa soon in her own music video, coming soon to That Entertainment Life Youtube)   

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