Northern student shares love of music


As students file out of their dorm rooms on Saturday evenings, they gather in the Payne/Halverson lobby where a musician is preparing a modest set — a microphone stand, two speakers and an acoustic guitar. He begins playing a variety of songs, starting with a cover of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” his soothing voice calming the crowd. But what many of his listeners don’t know is that, despite his bare-bones set-up, he may have the chance to be a successful professional musician.

Curtiss Stedman is a junior English major at NMU, and is a singer-songwriter. He got his start in music when he dusted off his mother’s guitar after returning from the Hiawatha Music Festival in 1998.

“I started plucking some chords to the best of my ability, and I failed horribly,” Stedman said. “When I asked my uncle for help, he told me ‘listen to Bob Dylan,’ so I would match up those chords I knew with the music in the song.”

Stedman started writing shortly after that, with his first song being about Batman and Superman fighting crime together.

“I think there are like three people that have ever heard that song,” said Stedman. “Maybe someday DC Comics will use it as a jingle.”

After a small stint fooling around with “sappy” love songs, he went to the following year’s Hiawatha Music Festival, where he found his true musical niche: folk song.

“I’m not sure why, but the sheer magic surrounding the (Hiawatha Music) Festival tapped into my creative initiative and put the song writing bug in my ear. I began playing around with similes and metaphors to describe different scenes and the way they all made me feel,” he said.

Stedman manages to integrate his love for music into his busy schedule as a Northern student. He works at Hudson’s Bar and Grill and plays on the men’s rugby club team on top of his five classes, all the while maintaining a 3.56 GPA. However, he doesn’t see his schedule as being different than anyone else’s.

“My schedule is pretty darn ordinary. I go to school, wait tables, do my homework,” said Stedman.

Even with his schedule, Stedman still makes sure that his music is his top priority for those times when he can play. During the summer, when Stedman was able to escape the time constraints of his education, he went down to Nashville to record his second self-produced CD.

Stedman spent up to 13 hours a day in the studio for the week he was there. Sometimes he would be accompanied by a drummer or a bass player, but for the most part he played by himself, according to Rob Lenz, the audio engineer for the CD.

“We brought in some studio musicians, but a lot of it was his vocals,” Lenz said. “He knew what he wanted so it went faster than others I’ve worked with.”

Stedman recorded 12 songs for the CD, titled “What’s in the Water.” The album has 11 original tracks and a cover of the Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” On the disc, he shows a wide range of vocals and his instrumental skill with his trademark guitar and harmonica. Stedman even breaks out a kazoo for his song “Frumpy.”

“He has a natural goofiness and energy to him; those qualities are hard to find in the industry today,” said Lenz.

Stedman said he enjoyed recording in a professional atmosphere.

“(This) was a legitimate studio with foam walls, thick soundproof glass, top of the line microphones, mixing boards and crawling with excellent musicians and audio engineers,” Stedman said. “Hootie and the Blowfish had finished up recording an album right behind the building we were in. The professionalism given by everyone — that part of the project was tremendous.”

According to Stedman, the new CD will be released sometime next year. Because he is producing the album by himself, Stedman needs to find a company that will package the final product. Once the packaging procedure is complete, he can publicly release the CD. Stedman also wants to release his songs through the Internet by iTunes and other similar online music options.

The studio surroundings were much improved from the last time Stedman recorded an album, titled “Another Place, Another Song” in the summer of 2007. The album also had 12 tracks, but was recorded in a closet insulated with foam egg cartons in Manistee, Mich., about an hour south of Traverse City.

The real passion for Stedman comes during his live performances. Whether it’s a large crowd at a festival or small lobby show, the emotions and feelings come from deep inside him.

“Of course the bigger the crowd the greater the adrenaline, but when it’s a smaller crowd your songs are put to the test,” Stedman said. “You learn to read faces and body language as to whether or not they dig your sound.”