When you see Tracy Martin, it’s easy to be struck by her stunning beauty and funky style. But when you hear her play, you’ll know that behind that beautiful smile lies a monster musician with the chops and talent to do whatever she sets her mind to. Her first gig was with Christian group Soulace in 2007, and since April 2009, she’s been playing keys with R&B superstar Musiq Soulchild. Growing up, Martin honed her prodigious musical skills through gospel music, playing drums and keyboards in and out of church in her native Atlanta, and playing trombone with her high school marching band. Though she learned to read music, she developed her ear as well, the combination of the two proving invaluable.
“I’ve always had a good work ethic when it came to learning songs,” says Martin. “Moreover, I’ve always been a stickler for learning the record as-is. I think the most important thing was making sure I was on top of all my keys. I never wanted to be handicapped by the transpose button, and had too much pride to use it. In return, having learned my keys fluently prepared me to go into more demanding situations, such as the artist wanting to change the original key to one more comfortable to their voice and me not having to fumble through the key of their choosing. Also, it just sounded good that this teenage girl could play in all her keys.”
As her Soulace gig ran its course, she began touring with other wellknown gospel artists such as Sonya McGuire and Friends, Ricky Dillard and Wanda Nero Butler. Her networking around Atlanta led her to a friendship with drummer Stanley Ingram, who was the first to inform her that Musiq was looking for an all-female band. Eager to reach out, Martin wrote to Musiq via his MySpace page and got an immediate response from his assistant Donnita Hathaway (who happens to be the daughter of legendary soul keyboardist artist Donny Hathaway). Martin got to audition, but didn’t get the gig right away. She did keep in touch and after a few casual hangs, invited the band to one of her own gigs where they could see her in her element. “I believe that’s what sealed the deal for me,” says Martin. “The ladies had a chance to assess me on a general level, and onstage, all in a matter of two weeks.”
In April 2009, Martin got the call to join Musiq on the Playing It Cool tour with Anthony Hamilton. Though they were promoting Musiq’s On My Radio album, Martin began working in the recording studio on newer material. “Along the way I’ve had several opportunities to go into the studio with Musiq and be creative for his artists, for other famous artists, and even for him on his latest album, which is huge,” says Martin. But learning the parts from previous albums was where her earlier preparation came into play and gave her a comfort level on the job.
“To my advantage is a highly trained ear and my almost fetishistic discipline to learn the record as it is,” says Martin. “It hasn’t been hard to learn different parts to the songs. First thing I have to do is learn main keys, which is standard for me. This also helps to separate and identify which parts go where, whether it’s one synth line, or the strings coming in at the pre-chorus, or a synth pad coming in on a precise beat subdivision. Musiq typically doesn’t have much to say about what the keyboards are doing, but from time to time he’ll ask for a specific line or sound or voicing. Other than that, as long as we’re going from what’s on the record, we’re good to embellish on it.”
She gives high praise to Musiq as both an artist and as a bandleader, knowing that there are artists out there who don’t treat their musicians with as much respect and patience. “Working with Musiq has been a blessing, especially it being my first ‘industry’ gig,” says Martin. “Whether it’s two hours or ten, we have good times in rehearsal and he has never disrespected us. When it’s showtime, we pray together, and he always says, ‘Y’all go out there and let’s just have a good time.’ Musiq always gives us time to work things out in rehearsal so we don’t feel uncomfortable. On our travel days or days off, we’ll all hang at the mall, or go out to eat, maybe play some cards, watch a good movie on the tour bus, or have a good random conversation. These are the times that I think matter the most. Here is where we all learn one another on a personal level and it helps us to gel on stage better.”
Tracy’s interest in synths really took off when she was awarded a Yamaha Motif ES7 through Atlanta Falcons player Bryan Scott’s Pick Your Passion Foundation. Soon after, she added a Roland XP-10 and Juno-Di to her rig, which have since given way to the more powerful V-Synth GT and Fantom- X7. Here’s what she has to say about each of the pieces in her current touring rig with Musiq.
Yamaha Motif ES7
Since I’ve had it for four years, I’ve become fluent navigating it and familiar with the sounds. I split and layer certain signature sounds in Performance mode, such as the “Twist Pad,” “Fat Eight,” “Back Pad,” and “Horizon” patches mixed at different levels. If I’m just using piano, I’ll stack the main concert grand patch with a mono grand, sometimes turning the reverb to a negative value, giving it a distorted clipped sound for soloing or percussive rhythms.
Layering sounds in the mixer is a cool feature of the Fantom. Some of my favorites for the show are the “Feedback E.L.” guitar and a pressure-sensitive lead which reminds me a lot of some of the leads Stevie Wonder used. Also in the “Pulsating” patch list is “Going Mad,” which is like a synth bell with an echo delay on it and a wide-spread synth brass section. Taking some of the attack down makes it smooth but still a strong sound.
Roland V-Synth GT
I haven’t really gotten into tweaking the sounds in the V-Synth, but out of the box it’s definitely a top-of-the-line ’board.