Hagerstown native Jeff Swope uses iPhone to record, send music to Nashville

July 15, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Jeff Swope strums an old mandolin and records the sound to his iPhone via the microphone in the earphones cable. He writes music and records parts before sending his composition to Nashville for digital mixing.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

When singer-songwriter Jeff Swope decided to make an album, he could have followed the conventional path of spending hours in a studio.

Instead, he's literally phoning it in.

Swope is taking advantage of the mobile software revolution to plug, play and record his songs with a tap of his finger.

He's using his iPhone and apps called FourTrack and StudioMini — tools that allow the user to record unlimited tracks and export them to an editing/mastering program on a home computer.

"Nobody is barking about deadlines or fighting over creative control," he said. "Essentially, this is an album that I chose to do my own way, in a unique and fully-controlled fashion. This is me putting an almost novelty application to great use and doing it whenever I want."

Recording music on an iPhone is just another step in the Hagerstown man's musical journey.

The early musical years

Swope, 26, said he was an artistic child who enjoyed writing and drawing.

But his first love was music.

"I was about 2 or 3 years old when I started messing around with my grandfather's old guitar," Swope said. "But I didn't start learning to play seriously until I was about 14."

Swope said his grandfather must have known he was going places, because he eventually bought his grandson his own guitar, which he slept with and took everywhere.

"I practiced at least four hours a day," he recalled.

Although today he enjoys everything from blues and jazz to soul and reggae, Swope said his roots are in country and bluegrass.

"Only in recent years has Hagerstown begun to find its feet in terms of arts and entertainment," Swope said. "But we've always been a traditionally small country town. With that, it's hard to escape the country and bluegrass influence, especially with a family like mine."

He said his family associated with Patsy Cline when she was becoming a popular act in Winchester, Va.

"She'd make routine trips through Hagerstown playing gigs," he said. "So, that's naturally what genre I was raised around."

While other kids had "Sesame Street," "I had 'Hee Haw' and the Grand Ole Opry," he joked.

As a teenager, Swope said he played guitar in church bands, which was "my first real experience in front of people, singing and performing. That's when I fell in love with it. I developed my style and started to write music in and around church. Later, I started writing country and more contemporary songs."

After graduating from Smithsburg High School in 2002, Swope began thinking about moving to Nashville, Tenn., "and becoming the next Brad Paisley."

"I made my first serious attempt with a song called ‘Christine' in 2002," Swope said. "I was invited to sing it at an exposition in Nashville in September of 2003. That trip was my first face-to-face with the Opry — which I would later be invited to play on — and Nashville altogether."

Nashville or bust

In 2005, Swope said singer Jeff Bates performed at the Boonsboro Carnival.

"I met his then-manager, Kenny Beard, almost by accident. We just struck up a friendship immediately. Talked for hours," he said. "I told him I had written a bunch of songs and was picking his brain about writing and being out on tour. He said, 'Jeff, I've never said this to anybody before, but I can tell by talking to you that you're serious and that you've got the right attitude. If you can just dedicate yourself to moving to Nashville, you'll be a hit songwriter.'"

Swope said Beard wanted to take him under his wing and he recognized that this was a rare opportunity.

"So I quit my job and packed up my dog and my then-wife and moved a few months later. The most amazing thing was that he'd never heard me sing or read a single lyric," Swope said.

Swope said he was in Nashville for a very short time — about seven or eight months.

"But it allowed me to learn the business, see professional music being recorded and get my hands on things that people living in Hagerstown may otherwise never get to see," he said.

Swope produced a demo and played guitar for a rising Alabama-based singer-songwriter named Kevin Moon in 2006 and wrote a few songs that ultimately got recorded months after he moved back to Maryland.

"I was talented and ambitious but, unfortunately, I also was young and terribly stupid," he said. "Key components in my personal life had taken a turn for the worst, so I decided it was important to move back home before everything fell apart. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make."

But he looks back on his time in Nashville as a good learning experience.

"I made a few strong connections, was in and out of RCA records, Sony Music and that whole group. I worked briefly with a major recording artist. More importantly, I learned quickly how to judge the integrity of people in business," he said.

Although he's now back in Hagerstown, Swope said he has no plans of giving up music. But it's not a career that's easy to establish.

"It's very difficult to make a full-time job out of music in this area without a great deal of sacrifice," he said. "Even in Nashville, I was always encouraged to find a day job until I had a hit song recorded and never to tell people I was in the music business. Today, I work a normal job in Hagerstown and write and record at home in the evening."

There's an app for that

Since returning home, Swope said he's written a lot of songs and played them for family and friends.

"I'm convinced that I've written some of my best songs in recent years," he said. "But I don't have the means to record them the way I'd like. I hardly own any recording equipment."

With that in mind, Swope said he became fascinated when he learned that there were applications for the iPhone that would allow him "to get my ideas out and edit them more professionally later. So, I started toying with it and became pretty good at making decent quality recordings out of a few guitars, piano, mandolin and that sort of thing. I'm playing most of the instruments and singing all of the harmony parts."

The apps FourTrack and StudioMini revolve around a four-track recorder template, Swope explained, that allows the user to record unlimited tracks and export them to an editing program like Logic or ProTools on a home computer.

"The entire project is actually only about 80 percent iPhone. The other 20 percent will be done externally by other musicians," he said. "I have a good friend locally named Tallon Reazin, who is known for his work with the band May Weather, who is playing bass and drums on the project."

Swope said Mickey Adams, a pedal steel guitar player from Dallas, is playing on the album.  He's known as the house player at Billy Bob's Texas, a honky-tonk in Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas.

Celebrated guitar player Lee Roy Parnell is contributing slide guitar and harmony vocals to a track called "You Can't Get There From Here," which was formerly on his "Every Night's a Saturday Night" CD.

"I've also been talking seriously with Marty Raybon, formerly of Shenandoah, about doing a track with me eventually," Swope said. "Nothing's in cement there, but he sounded really interested. Here's a guy who won a Grammy for 'Butterfly Kisses.' I'd be tickled if he actually found the time."

Swope hopes to wrap up the project by mid-fall. It will be called "You Wanted a Song: The iPhone Project" and will have 14 tracks, ranging from jazz and pop to reggae and country. It will be available on iTunes and, initially, in limited print.

"It's something I've dedicated a lot of my free time to, but I don't always get a lot of that," he said. "One thing's for sure — when I'm finished, it'll be one-of-a-kind."

Swope said he enjoys getting to Nashville once or twice a year "to make sure they're doing OK without me."

He has contacts and friends in Tennessee and it's always nice to see them, he said. His publishing company also is there.

Swope said he would love to get a band together "but one thing at a time."

He hopes the iPhone project attracts a little attention, "just because, hey, here's a guy recording a CD on his cell phone. But really, I also hope it's a lesson in thinking outside of the box. It's brave, it's unique and it's very creative."

Swope said anyone interested in following his progress can visit his blog at

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