“For me, [Kansas City has] been a huge part of my identity, and I think that the regional influence of the way we do music and the spirit we have — and I think an authenticity we have — really translates into the music you hear,” Mackenzie Nicole said. File | The Kansas City Star

5 things I learned at a Strange Music listening party for Mackenzie Nicole

Last week, Strange Music invited me to a listening party at their studios and sound stage hosted by local station 95.7 the Vibe. The party was for Strange’s premiere pop talent, Mackenzie Nicole.

Her album, “The Edge,” is due out April 13.

Korey Lloyd, the publicity coordinator, showed me the facilities and introduced me to the folks that make the world of Strange Music go ’round. Cameras were a no-no for most of the listening event, so this is my retelling of the experience.

Here are the five things that happen when you attend a Strange Music listening party:

1. You eat well

As soon as I walked in, Korey shook my hand and told me to grab a slice of pizza. Stacks (on stacks) of Minsky’s pizza boxes lined the massive sound stage wall, accompanied by fruit, desserts and the little packs of fruit snacks. Considering the attendees numbered in the several dozens, I wasn’t surprised to check back and find that the crowd’s appetite had done some serious work on the spread.

2. They give you the grand tour

While I waited to interview Mackenzie, Korey took me around the massive facility to see how things worked behind the scenes (read the Timothy Finn story for more details). After passing through the giant warehouse full of tour merch, the first place we stopped was Tech N9ne’s office.

“Oh, he’s here, actually,” Korey chuckled, and Tech N9ne stood up to give me a handshake. I once pulled a shot of espresso for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis when I worked at Kaldi’s, and I have to admit that I felt the same starstruck hysteria until Tech’s warm personality disarmed me. I had always heard he was a nice guy, and the rumors were true. It was infectious.

Korey took me upstairs to check out the studios, where we ran into pop-rock act and Strange label members Above Waves, who were in town from Chicago. The studio spaces were at once immaculate and cozy, and the equipment was even nicer. A well-stocked kitchen (and bar) and lounge area offered relaxation between sessions. I was in heaven.

3. They ask you what you think of the music

Once the music was about to begin, we were asked to grab a survey sheet and pen and write down our thoughts on Mackenzie’s record, “The Edge.” I thought this was such a nice touch, and probably helps the team immensely. As a musician, it’s hard to get honest feedback from folks, and third-party insights can go a long way toward improving aspects of a performance.

At the end of the listening segment, Tech N9ne — who co-founded Strange with Travis O’Guin — introduced Mackenzie (O’Guin’s younger daughter) to the group for a Q&A, where fans asked her about the record. In a world of distracted smartphone addicts, it rejuvenated me to see people genuinely excited about something happening in the present.

4. You gain a whole new respect for the label

Getting to peek behind the curtain at Strange gave me a newfound respect for the organization. The group at Strange takes nothing for granted, everybody hustles, and it’s evident that they believe in what they do. A mom approached Korey throughout our tour to tell him thank you for having her and her kids and I could see how much it meant on their faces. It’s a true community.

What’s more, I was inspired by seeing what’s possible for an independent organization, thanks to years of grinding. Strange started small and is now a music empire with sprawling facilities. It’s a testament to what’s possible.

5. Mackenzie comes from opera and hip-hop

Mackenzie is a classically trained opera singer who’s been singing since the age of 6, a fact that only bolsters her unique sound.

Coming from both hip-hop and operatic worlds, she’s a true Kansas Citian in that she represents the diversity of tastes (you can even hear her influences on her playlists, Making Moves, Mackenzie Nicole’s Top 20 and Existential Angst).

This duality is also reflected in where she loves to hang — both the Nelson-Atkins museum in the city and Post Coffee in Lee’s Summit are at the top of her list.

“For me, [Kansas City has] been a huge part of my identity, and I think that the regional influence of the way we do music and the spirit we have — and I think an authenticity we have — really translates into the music you hear,” she told me in our interview.

You can watch my live interview with Mackenzie here.


5 things I learned at a Strange Music listening party for Mackenzie Nicole