NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Twilight on the Trail – Music

by Mark Sholtez

Twilight on the Trail is a collection of iconic cowboy songs from the golden era of American popular music. 

This collaborative work from Jen Mize and Mark Sholtez takes a fresh look at the music of the great cowboy crooners (Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Sons of the Pioneers).

Jen Mize grew up in a ranch house in the heart of the Mojave Desert with dreams of being a rodeo queen. A descendant of the Native American Lumbee people, for Jen the stories captured in these old cowboy songs often run parallel to her own story and her childhood experiences exploring the rugged terrain of the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. 

Sholtez however has a vastly different connection to this music. He came to know the old west through a Hollywood lens, and in the form of the singing cowboy. Ultimately, it was Sholtez’s ongoing fascination with these lonesome cowboy chronicles, underscored by a perfect Hollywood soundtrack, that inspired the recording of Twilight on the Trail. The late-night call of the cowboy crooner was not all that different from the sounds emerging from the big city jazz clubs of the time, making it an ideal musical meeting place for this collaboration. 




Background This work engages with the deeply problematic concept of the ‘lone genius’ as creator of art, in this instance contemporary music recordings. The lone genius myth corresponds with ideas of the inspired artist engaged in a process of solitary creative production. The reality of record production is however rarely so individualised, with the music that many artists make often the result of collaboration by comparatively unknown musicians and technicians working out of the spotlight, in the recording studio. This practice-led research work aimed to explore how this creative and technical dynamic of interaction influences the production and recording of music in the studio environment. More specifically, this project investigated the role of collaboration as negotiated, interactive and dialogic and evidences these ideas through the creation of an original musical artefact.

Contribution While the idea of collaboration as a component in record production has been relatively well documented in books, magazines articles, and documentary films, the majority of these deliberations are non-academic in form, making this a largely understudied topic in academic terms. This project responds to this lacuna by theorising – in context of the production of a recorded album of music – the intricacies of collaborative creative production.  The resulting recorded musical work in turn serves as material evidence of the collaboration that occurred in the studio, embodying the countless original contributions made by the collaborating musicians. 

Significance Twilight on the Trail brings together award winning recording artists Mark Sholtez (AU), and Jen Mize (USA). Released nationally via Fanfare and Sony Music on March 1st, 2019, it has attracted industry and media attention, including reviews and editorials, and national radio play via ABC and other commercial networks. 


Over the ten years I have been working as creative arts academic, I have encountered a significant number of creative projects that appear to be led by their research agenda, and where the creative outcomes clearly and deliberately embody a response to the research problem. I however come to academia by way of industry, with an established professional practice as a songwriter and recording artist, and in the context of my own work, the intention has been to not impose the agenda of the research project on the creative process, but for the creative process to exist as autonomously as possible. I am typically seeking to advance my knowledge of practice, without disrupting the creative act itself. In spite of the outcomes, I feel this particular approach often makes it more difficult for the researcher to pinpoint for those outside of the project, the ways in which the work itself addresses the proposed research problem and contributes to the creation of new knowledge. 

Mark Sholtez is an ARIA nominate and APRA award winning songwriter and recordings artist. He was the first Australian artist to record for the legendary Verve record label in New York, as well as having recorded, written, and produced music for Universal Music, Warner Music, Sony Music, and EMI Music. Mark’s career to date has included collaborations with music industry icon, Tommy LiPuma (Barbra Streisand, George Benson, Miles Davis), Grammy Lifetime Achievement recipient and noted veteran engineer Al Schmitt (Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson), and multiple Grammy winning producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchel, Herbie Hancock, Tracy Chapman). In addition to his own major label releases, Mark’s music has appeared in numerous international film and television productions including, Private Practice, Pretty Little Liars, Teen Wolf, Grim, and Packed to the Rafters. Mark is currently signed to EMI Music Publishing Australia and is a lecturer in songwriting and music production at the University of Southern Queensland.

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