Alchemy in the Music: Maurice Bailey Creates Songs With Universal Appeal
Jul 07, 2020 11:36AM
By J.D. Avant
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Maurice Bailey sits behind the mixing console at legendary Make Believe Studios, surrounded by an assortment of musicians and lyricists. Sapphire lights and candles illuminate the room, creating an atmosphere of melancholy creativity. Bailey is comfortable in the dimness, his lean frame dressed head-to-toe in black as he directs the players from behind the equipment.
Despite moody lighting, the artists are lively and energetic. They write lyrics and sample instruments searching for sounds to enhance the bluesy song “HumANIMALS,” by Bailey’s longtime friend and collaborator, Jonathan “L.P.” Brice.
“This record is off of my upcoming live debut album, The Tales of Rolley Stoney,” Brice said. “Maurice is the executive producer and co-engineer. We’re each other’s longest-lasting friend, so we’ve gone from best friends to business partners.”
One by one, different artists enter the booth, including singers, an orchestral bass player, and a string specialist strumming soulful, bluegrass chords on a Dobro resonator guitar. They find themselves at the mercy of Bailey’s thoughtful instruction as he records numerous takes of each performer’s effort, suggesting subtle changes to guitar licks, intonation, and timing to create the best sound.
“This is more of an engineering session for me,” Bailey said, radiating coolness even when maneuvering chords and wires on the mixing console. “Engineering is more technical. I enjoy creating and producing songs.”
Music has been a huge part of Bailey’s life since childhood. He credits multiple family members who assisted his melodic progressions like cousin Swehla Hunt, who taught him to play the piano, and his late grandmother, Ruby Roundtree, who gifted Bailey his first Casio keyboard.
“She was the spark,” he recalled. “My grandmother identified my love of instruments when I was young. I can remember playing along with the theme song of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on that keyboard.”
His knack for recreating his favorite songs inspired Bailey to revamp the powerful gospel hymns his father and grandfather played during their concerts at local churches when he was a child.
After reproducing a multitude of his favorite tunes, including Michael Jackson’s “You Rock My World,” and “Butterflies,” and numerous tracks from Dr. Dre’s album The Chronic, his cousin, Courtney Fullwood, encouraged the young musician to create his own songs.
Bailey would spend his high school years at Omaha Northwest honing his musicianship, taking inspiration from Prince to learn the guitar, and dabbling with the saxophone. His musical journey continued post-graduation, taking him to Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, after a short stint at UNO in 2006.
“I wanted to concentrate on music technology, but UNO required playing the sax and being in the marching band,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t into that, so I decided to pursue my focus at Full Sail after a semester at UNO.”
He attended Full Sail from 2007-2009, taking accelerated courses to achieve his bachelor’s degree in music business. Bailey appreciates his spell in Florida, which gave him essential in-studio time and valuable experience outside of Omaha. One lesson he takes to heart is the importance of making connections and linking with people to step into the music industry.
“Creating and maintaining a relationship is one of the biggest challenges,” Bailey said. “I remember one professor saying if you don’t have the passion for this business, go work at McDonald’s.”
The start of Bailey’s professional career is hard to pinpoint, since his connections at Full Sail allowed him to submit music to different artists and repertoire agents immediately after graduating.
“It took a while to find the right situation,” he recalled. “I originally had a song accepted for the movie Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, but that fell through. So, I just kept going.”
The young producer felt he was hitting a wall after moving back to Omaha from Florida, but excellent networking skills and a slight chip on his shoulder would pay off. He eventually found Fitted Music Publishing owner Artezz “Big Tezz” Morgan on LinkedIn in 2013. After researching Morgan’s history, Bailey reached out to ask the industry veteran how to break into the music business.
Fortunately, Morgan was in “talent scout mode.”
“Man, Maurice is the gift,” Morgan said from his home in Panorama City, California. A multi-talented songwriter and producer with over 20 years of experience in the music business, he has found success working with major publishers like Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Morgan has worked with notable artists, including Bell Biv Devoe, En Vogue, and B.J. the Chicago Kid. His songs have made their way to Hollywood movie and network television soundtracks, including XXX: State of the Union, starring Ice Cube in 2005, and Shots Fired on FOX Network starring Sanaa Lathan in 2017. This was the relationship Bailey had been searching for.
“When Maurice reached out I was getting a lot of successful song placements. I wanted to venture out and form a roster of writers and producers with real musicianship,” Morgan said. Impressed with Bailey’s attitude and sincerity, they started a dialogue. Eventually, Morgan offered to send some a cappella vocals via email for Bailey to build music around.
“I was kind of scared to send my music to someone I didn’t know, but I did it anyway,” Bailey admitted. The melodies Morgan received made him immediately take notice of the up-and-coming producer’s talent.
“This brother came back and took the song to a whole new galaxy,” Morgan said. “I had to pull over while driving on the highway in L.A. to take it in. His chord progressions and rock guitar was beautiful work.”
Morgan pursued an ongoing musical relationship with Bailey, motivated by the young producer’s consistency, morals, and the fact he’d found talent in a place not widely known for hip-hop and R&B.
“I was blown away when I learned he was from Omaha,” Morgan said. “I had no idea black people were in Nebraska, and he’s doing this type of music? The musicians I’ve met through Maurice are eye-openers. I think his songs with Ria Gold are beautiful. They hit me in my soul.”
Morgan would ultimately deliver a major prospect Bailey’s way with a song placement opportunity for BET’s American crime family drama, Carl Weber’s The Family Business.
“I had the initial song since 2015,” Morgan said. “A beautiful Filipino girl, Roann Mesina, recorded vocals to the original music, but that producer was a head case. Since he’s Grammy-nominated with the platinum status, he wanted to charge a huge amount. That’s why he isn’t getting song placements like he used to.”
Morgan decided to pull the track from the show until he could find a new musician to create a beat around the vocals. Remembering the promising music he’d heard from Bailey, Morgan decided to send the a cappella to his new associate. Bailey would exceed his expectations, creating a powerful, synth-tinged groove entitled “Trying to Prove Something.”
“Man, he brought it with that track,” Morgan said. “The rock guitars give the song a Rhianna-type feel. I think a major artist like her would appreciate him as a new artist building his signature sound.”
Morgan also commends Bailey’s ability to make quick adjustments despite their distance.
“Maurice’s quality of music was perfect and already mixed. I had some minor suggestions, but his track sounded great when played with the vocals. When I pitched the remixed song to the showrunners, it was immediately picked up. I got a lot of good feedback, and felt me and this brother are on a roll.”
After their song collaboration appeared on the series’ season finale, the hot music team was itching for their next project. A call from the music supervisor for the Oprah Winfrey Network series David Makes Man in 2019 would set things in motion for their next venture.
“Big placements draw more opportunities,” Morgan said, explaining how he pulled the previously recorded track due to disagreements with the producer.
“I was wondering who could add music in a timely manner. Suddenly, Maurice popped up on my phone, asking what’s going on. I felt this guy is always on time!”
With vocals previously recorded by Anjolee the Free, Bailey went on to create a pumping track in his home studio in one night. Highlighted by glitzy bass and rising crescendos, their song “Life of a VIP” was a success.
“I was blown away,” Morgan said, admitting it can be tough working with collaborators remotely. “Maurice has never failed and always comes [through] with music that’s dynamic and accessible. Once the deal is done, the song is plugged. We’re just sitting back asking, ‘where’s the bread?’”
Morgan has grown to trust and appreciate his Midwest collaborator. He speaks of brotherhood and staying connected with a positive tribe so Bailey can learn the business and excel.
“We had some potential Disney film projects, but things were pushed back. Unfortunately, Hollywood is shut down,” Morgan said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. He remains positive, and looks forward to their next collaboration and venture. “Opportunities are still there, and Maurice is at the top of my list. I know in my spirit he will be exceptionally successful and pay it forward.”
Bailey puts that energy to work in studio, preparing for his next professional undertaking. Fellow Full Sail graduate and Make Believe Studios owner Rick Carlson frequently opens the studio so the producer can chop up samples, edit vocals, and run recording sessions.
Along with his Alchemy Harmony Group mates L.P., Ria Gold, and guitarist Colin Smith, Bailey is motivated to create songs that will hit on a worldwide level. After finally meeting Morgan face-to-face in December 2019, he is committed to working with Omaha artists to make music worthy of television and film.
“Alchemy is transforming something negative into positive,” Bailey said when describing the name of his music group. “With music, you have that ability. I want to create a space in the industry where you feel like you can trust people, surrounded by others that motivate you and have your best interests at heart. One of my favorite quotes to live by is, “Let me make them songs of the nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”
Visit mauricebaileyproductions.com for song links and booking information.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Omaha Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.