I was attracted to Prog Rock music by the technical and complex compositions. I had noticed Neal Morse in his Spock’s Beard era—a luminous progressive rock recalling the 70s. But when I heard he became a born again Christian, I thought he’s done with the progressive rock.
As product creators, be it a software or a rock album, there is always a fine thread, a number of principles, and a modus operandi that govern us. Let’s discover Neal Morse’s musical evolution through the lens of marketing.
Chef Neal Morse’s menu
To better understand a company’s products, or a musician’s albums, a useful way is to imagine ourselves as a customer visiting one day a restaurant and looking at the menu. The more experienced is the chef, the more complete and exquisite are the proposed dishes.
Currently, at a peak in his career, Neal Morse proposes us a complete menu:
- Main dishes
For starters, some intriguing appetizers
My favourite appetizer for Neal Morse’s universe must be his book called Testimony, where he tells his rock-and-roll young years and his first successes with Spock’s Beard, a group founded with his brother Alan. However, the book follows then his descent into the hell of alcohol and other traps. His conversion in 2002 got him out of this troubled time, as he became a born again Christian.
But the most stunning episode is when his baby daughter Jayda’s heals from a heart condition. To the surprise of the doctors and to the joy of the parents who had not stopped praying, “hole” in her heart disappears without a medical explanation. Following his conversion and this tragic but happy-ending episode, Neal Morse leaves his first group and starts writing albums under his own name.
These solo albums are the second appetizers between rock and folk-rock, telling his story, his setbacks, and his conversion. There are other appetizers on the menu: the albums under the “Yellow Muster Custard” name, with his fans of the Beatles friends like Mike Portnoy, Paul Gilbert and Matt Bissonette. Or cover albums under the name “Cover to Cover”, again with his close friend Mike Portnoy, and Randy George.
Soon enough, Neal’s solo albums take again the prog-rock way, and Neal starts a long list of albums where his creativity explodes. These are the main dishes.
The Prog Rock as the main dish
After his albums with Spock’s Beard, a more classic progressive rock, Neal Morse composes a couple of solo albums more and more elaborate and hard, close to the progressive metal. However, his lyrics continue to be close to his faith and personal history. That’s quite a rare combination.
On these new solo albums, we retrieve the same brother-in-arms, Mike Portnoy and Randy George. Involved more and more in writing the music, they move on to call themselves The Neal Morse Band and strike a row of highly appreciated concept albums.
Another main dish is the Transatlantic supergroup. Think of it as a regional specialty, bringing in famous prog-rockers like Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy.
These are all very fine dishes, but what is the house special?
Concept albums are the main specialties at Neal Morse’s House
Already tried with the Spock’s Beard (the Snow album), concept albums turn around a theme for an hour or more, split into chapters instead of songs, with lyrics continuing from one to the next. They are the real Neal Morse speciality. And it is very fitting, as his friend Mike Portnoy was always interested in this kind of compositions with his previous group Dream Theater.
Six (6) concept albums signed Neal Morse Two (2) concept albums signed Neal Morse Band Two (2) concept albums signed Transatlantic - Wikipedia
For the last 17 years (starting in 2003), Neal Morse comes back regularly with prog-rock concept albums like One, ? (Question Mark), Sola Scriptura, Testimony 2, Sola Gratia, The Similitude of a Dream, The Great Adventure, The Whirlwind or The Absolute Universe.
And casual visitors of this restaurant will be glad to hear that his albums with Transatlantic or The Neal Morse Band are less impregnated by his beliefs, and more accessible.
At dessert, many colours and joy of living
Our musical restaurant presents as dessert another super-group called Flying Colors, with Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson and Steve Morse. Pop-rock is still there, still full of light and playful, full of colours like the group’s name. With a pop voice and mainstream songwriting, the group keeps a high level of composition and virtuoso performances.
Completing the dessert list, you have a large choice of live-recorded albums, more than 40 actually. Year after year, the musicians surrounding Neal travel inside the USA and to Europe and develop a solid base of fans for the varied musical and lyrical choices of the maestro.
Organic musical evolution or marketing genius
From one group to another, with the dramatic point of his conversion and the wide range of his productions, one cannot miss the similitudes between Neal Morse’s musical evolution and a very solid marketing strategy.
Indeed, apart from the classical use of EPs preceding new albums, or live recordings between albums, Neal Morse has his own community named Inner Circle. He offers them demos and rare recordings, Christmas albums, or special VIP tickets for his concerts.
He also produces a music festival in his own town of Nashville, named Morsefest. He has a masterclass. To top it all, he even created his own mobile app (Waterfall) to allow streaming the albums produced by his record house called Radiant Records.
A Prog Rocker’s prospectus
Always smiling and ready to question himself, Neal Morse is a creator who lives in today’s world. He uses marketing tools to be able to serve and connect with his fans, create his music and stay independent.
If we tried to come up with a one-page prospectus for Neal Morse’s restaurant, we could use these three points:
– thoughtful lyrics
– working with friends
– concept albums
Married in 2018, Jayda has become a nurse in 2020 and sometimes sings along with her father on stage.