After being introduced to Nashville Hip-Hop artist, Mariyo Deon, J. Finney was invited to a small house party in East Nashville.
“Hey, I’m shooting a video for some friends tomorrow. Would you mind bringing some of your equipment, coming by and helping?”
His friends ended up being power duo, Muddy Magnolia’s, who describe their music as Mississippi meets the A-Train by way of Nashville. They performed “A Ballad of Mike Brown,” an artistic ethos created by the singers’ reaction to a controversial moment sparking protests around the country.
“The Ballad of Mike Brown is not an argument,” said Jessy Wilson, one of two lead singers for Muddy Magnolias. “It’s a song, an artistic expression, a snapshot of what was felt at the time of his killing. I am not equipped or scholarly enough to have this conversation to the depth that it needs to be had, but I am an artist and I am carrying on a tradition of telling stories. As artists, one of our roles is to stimulate.”
The intimate and safe setting of East Nashville allowed the artists to document a song they performed only once in three years. After singing it in Georgia and experiencing an intensely negative response, they debated and tabled the song. After three years and on the anniversary of Mike Brown’s passing, Muddy Magnolia’s knew it was time to bring it back in a powerful way.
“We wrote this song two days after the death of Mike Brown. Three years later it still resonates in my heart,” said Jessy.
The music video is set in a quintessential backyard; the suspended socket-style string lights set the mood as the band gathered around the back porch. Surrounded by 50 of their closest friends, Muddy Magnolia’s began mesmerizing the crowd with their powerful voices while J. Finney captured video, b-roll and tested various shots. As the evening unfolded, J. had to work through several hiccups.
“Pre-test your equipment,” was the resounding message J. has for future videographers. Since it was one of his first music videos, he was excited about some new equipment that had arrived that afternoon. “I didn’t have time (to test equipment) before the evening started,” said J. “I had batteries, I had everything charged, doubled up and I didn’t think about something not working.”
After on-the-spot troubleshooting, he wanted to be transparent and mentioned his equipment issues. Luckily, J. brought two cameras and there was an additional video person helping with b-roll. “It ended up being really cool,” J said.
Testing equipment was not the only lesson J. took from the evening. He also encountered artistic differences between what he wanted to capture and the final look the Muddy Magnolia’s team was envisioning. He also discovered that your first vision isn’t necessarily the final vision that gets produced. Having a set idea of what the scene will look like and how it actually reproduces on camera can cause disparity. Being able to let go of your first idea for new ones can be tough.
“I was appreciative of the experience,” said J. “The fact that there were so many lessons learned on different levels – from equipment check to going into a situation blind to having, to producing something that is not exactly as you thought, to working with other people and videographers. I learned a lot.”
As the team was wrapping up and the crowd began to disperse, J. Finney, Mariyo, Muddy Magnolias and Chip Dorsch were talking about the video, when to expect edits and what the final video should look like. That is when Dorsch nonchalantly dropped, “Yeah, I am going to push it off to Rolling Stone.” J.’s initial reaction was Holy Crap, I gotta make sure this is tight!
“It was a nice challenge,” said J. when looking back on the evening. After several edits and finally finishing two versions, Dorsch did send it into Rolling Stone, and it did get published on their website. Once again it had a polarizing response. When asked if the video received a better reaction, J. quickly said:
“No. That is the funny thing. I posted it to my Facebook business page and got a couple comments. My cousin read the Rolling Stone article and saw similar reactions. It was 50/50 really positive to really negative.”
When asked how J. was introduced to this group he said it was all based on networking he was doing outside of school. He met Carolyn Griffin, founder of Clerisy Circle, a networking group for business-minded African Americans in Nashville who meet monthly to support one another. After helping her with some quarterly updates, he asked her about a local musician he could help with music videos. Enter Mariyo Deon and the rest is history. J’s next project involves Mariyo’s new single.
“I was like ‘yes’ I finally have a good connection,” said J. “We vibed and it was really good. I am looking forward to working on his projects.” So far the feedback has been great. When talking about Jay, Jessy with Muddy Magnolia’s said “I was so impressed by his work ethic and his passion for what he does. He was an integral part of this piece of art coming to life and I am so grateful. Thank you, times a million.”
Check out a behind the scenes video created by J. Finney.
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