Mike McFadden recalls how skeptical his parents were when he decided to forgo college to pursue a music career.
"I wasn't really that good then, so they must have really thought I was crazy," he said. "But it's amazing now, when I tell my mom every once a week, when I get home, 'Yeah, I just sold three more commercials to Pennzoil.'"
The Towson resident and 2006 graduate recently released a new album, "Heartbeat/Rapture," and after spending years making a name for himself on the Baltimore scene, he's gearing up to move this fall to New York in search of new opportunities.
Check out a track from McFadden's album in the video attached to this story.
Buoyed by high school connections that landed his songs on for the likes of Coca-Cola and Pennzoil, McFadden said this is the first year he'll actually make money off his music.
"It's really amazing, especially since the songs that they're using are off an album I wrote and released in 2007 and basically sat on the shelf for five years," he said. "Five years later, all of a sudden it's everywhere and they're paying me for it."
McFadden has been an Americana singer-songwriter since his high school days, playing local bars and clubs and getting generous airplay on .
His new album has the layered character and production value of an artist many years older. His tracks carry the musical echoes of the likes of Death Cab for Cutie and John Mayer. During the writing and recording of the album, which took place in bits and pieces starting in 2009, McFadden started "listening to crazy stuff," he said. Even the harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo worked into his playlist.
"Heartbeat/Rapture" is "a lot louder, it's a lot edgier, it's a lot more diverse, it's a lot more dynamic than the last album," he said. The upbeat opening track "Heart on Heart" gives way to the smoot
Many of the instruments were laid down by McFadden himself, though he enlisted friends from Baltimore-area bands like The Bridge and Adelphi to help out on a couple tracks.
But as much as he's loved the Baltimore music scene, McFadden knows when it's time to pack up and head out.
"Most musicians know each other, and most of the bands play with eachother and help each other out. But it's almost too small," he said. "And if you don't have the exact right type of music people are looking for around here, you're not going to find a huge audience."
That's what he's hoping to find in New York, where he regularly plays all-cover shows that attract sold out crowds of about 250 to one small Manhattan club.
"The networking (in New York) is amazing," he said. "I think I know everyone there is to know here. I make pop music, too, and that's tough to market here"
Paul Rabut, a Towson native who now lives in the Miami area, has worked with McFadden on all his recordings. Often, he said, recording sessions have turned into jam sessions that eventually arrive at new ideas, like the experimental seven-minute track "Heartbeat." He said he's looking forward to seeing how McFadden grows with the move to New York.
"I think it's going to be great for him. He's really creative and New York is an icon of creativity and art," he said. "I think he's really driven."
Driven enough to drop what he's doing, leave a well-paying transportation job at Johns Hopkins University and a few regular restaurant gigs and settle in the Big Apple, a move he freely admits is "pretty ballsy." But he's pretty sure he isn't looking back, even to go back to school and get a degree.
"I think that would distract me," he said. "I know what I want to do."