Eight Teammates in a Free Fall

Published: April 20, 2021

It is an understatement to say the pandemic has redefined the way teams come together. The unexpected outcome of this remote team’s collaboration was an original song that, once released, will move listeners physically, intellectually and emotionally. With none of the eight teammates sharing common space (from their respective homes in Chicago, Minneapolis and Nashville), the result somehow still surpassed the vision. Each and every contribution mattered. Here is how this 6-month creative project unfolded through the lens of each player. Please meet Kerry, Steve, Michael, Jeremy, Deevo, Travis, CJ and Jaymi.

Kerry: As a gifted author and lyricist, her message of treasuring the things and people you most value before they disappear gave the song its theme. “So everything needs to be nothing…so nothing can be it all.” Her words would soon be translated to the language of music.

Steve: As the founder of ‘My Corner Retreat,’ a platform for the collaborative creation of original music, his motivation was to give everyone a forum to showcase their creative talent. He began by composing the chords and melodies that would capture Kerry’s message. He’s known for his ‘ear’ and his ability to match musical modes with moods.

Michael: As a music theory master, he approached the song from a technical angle to ensure its story was well conveyed. His guidance on song structure created the build from verse to pre-chorus to the crescendo of the chorus. More than his playing, his knowledge shaped the song.

Jeremy: As an experienced drummer, sound engineer and producer, he listened to the first draft of the tune and heard the potential for an R&B soul groove. This steered his access to a network of musicians who would lend most favorably to the song’s vision. In the end, his mixing skills would drive the listener experience.

Deevo: As a skilled guitarist with a deep resume in the R&B space, he laid down four minutes of pure soul with both rhythm and lead fills. His humble nature also enabled him to move to the background and suggest that keyboards be more prominent. He’s featured throughout, just dialed down by design.

Travis: As an established performer with a studio full of great equipment, he elevated the Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes sounds that came to define the vibe of the final mix. You know his heart by what comes through his fingers when he touches the keys. Pure emotion.

CJ: As the glue holding all the other musicians together with his bass, he designed notes, phrasing and rhythms that will cause listeners to really feel the groove and move their bodies when they listen to the tune.

Jaymi: As an in-demand singer, she added the harmonies and background vocals to balance the other players. She softened the transitions and powered the song’s lyrics, all with the help of her newborn son who slept in her arms as she recorded her tracks at Empty Page Studios.

The COVID period has had a unique impact on the music industry. Shows and tours were canceled. Studios and venues struggled to stay afloat. Yet, musicians found new ways to create art and collaborate. The eight teammates featured in this article practiced all the principles of effective teams. They shared a common vision. They used conflict as fuel for innovation. They connected with respect and accountability. They took risks. They adapted to every change in the project with resilience and a positive attitude.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned for teams in other industries. The song created by this group of eight will be released on all the major music platforms on 5/5/2021 (Free Fall by My Corner Retreat). When it comes out, take a listen and re-read this blog. See if you can hear each of the eight contributions and imagine they were all in the same room composing, designing, playing, recording and mixing the song as a band. Because, that is the way it felt for this team.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.