Student Spotlight: Cade Margus on the Diagnosis That Sparked a Creative Flame

Artist Profile: Cade Margus

Artist Profile: Cade Margus

A life-threatening diagnosis, a major medical or health scare, a sudden accident, these things can and often do end up reshaping how a person lives their life.

Confronted with the stark reality of our own mortality, one might reasonably recoil into their comfort zone, fearing for the worst, or on the other hand, double down on their passions and emerge from a trauma with more verve and enthusiasm than even they knew they had inside of them previously.

It’s the latter personality that I’d use to describe Soundfly student and community member, Cade Margus, who found his way to our platform after being diagnosed with colon cancer and undergoing chemo treatment, as a way to dive deeper into music production and mingle with other musicians positively. And yet, at the same time, I’ve never met someone who so casually and humorously takes things in stride as if nothing could possibly phase him!

It’s this melding of characteristics that provides the backdrop for one of my favorite music videos of the year so far, which Cade made autobiographically to depict the surreal symbolism of his chemo alongside the very literal, psychedelic mind state of producing music under the influence of medical marijuana…

I mean, come on! How can you not love that!?! So with that visual journey top of mind, here’s my recent conversation with Cade Margus about his music, his ethos, and the lessons he learned working with a Soundfly mentor in 2021. Enjoy!

Q: You recently published a single called, “It Was You” — a pop-oriented electronic dance track that evokes, to me at least, The Juan MacLean and other DFA! artists — congrats! I love this track for so many reasons. Was this a labor of love or did it come together naturally?

A: At first it came together naturally! I made this in 2021 when I was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment for cancer. That’s when I had time to more seriously teach myself music production because I was immunocompromised and forced to quarantine for nine months.

I specifically remember the night when I ate too much medical cannabis and desperately played around with Logic to distract myself from a panic attack. That’s when I decided on the song’s prominent synth loops. Then, as with most of my projects, building a polished single around this initial inspiration became a labor of love, one which definitely benefited from my Soundfly mentorship session (which I’ll touch on below).

“At some point I overthink and doubt myself, then I take a break, then (hopefully) I remember what’s important to me and believe in myself.”

Let’s talk about your battle with cancer and chemo. With regards to the video, you play the main character here and the visuals reference your recent battle with cancer. But there’s also a lot going on in here with shots of dancers on a coastline, you working in a dark production studio, can you talk about these themes? 

This video starts as a quite literal depiction of the bizarre creative event I just described. I take an edible, sit down at my desk, and descend into a state of anxiety while listening to my own music. Then we intercut with this dynamic, unexplained dancing in an effort to expand the story and make it feel as big as the experience did in my head. Their energy pretty much matches mine throughout — first we move and react to sounds chaotically, then we catch our breath during a mellow bridge, then we all kind of dance in unison and vibe through the song’s final, more uplifting climax.

I’d say this illustrates the natural arc of all my weed-induced panic attacks, but it’s also how I processed my little bout with cancer.

At first I was scared and profoundly disoriented, but then there was peace and acceptance of whatever might happen. I’ll add that this also resembles a general feeling I have during any creative endeavor — at some point I overthink and doubt myself, then I take a break, then (hopefully) I remember what’s important to me and believe in myself.

The video ends with me dying because I wanted to quickly remind everyone that life is a ticking clock; so it’s best to have these epiphanies and enjoy yourself now before it’s too late.

Video Still from Cade Margus' "It Was You"
Video Still from Cade Margus’ “It Was You.”

There’s also a little bit of goofiness in that horse sample (Avalanches, anyone?) and a matter-of-factness to the sound design that follows the action in the video, not to mention the ending… Is this typical of the sentiments you bring into your art-making? It’s almost meta…

Thanks for continuing to drop such dope names! My confidence is through the roof right now. I have a lot I want to say when I’m making something, and I want to make audiences feel a lot, but I just can’t take myself seriously for too long. So I tend to cut the tension with a joke in my film scripts or, I guess, a wacky horse sample in my music.

My hope is that humor or playfulness will make the audience comfortable before I shove my more dramatic thoughts down their throats.

“One thing I often do is start a project, abandon it, and then revisit it sporadically whenever I’m bored, adding only a few elements at a time.”

What is your songwriting process like exactly? 

I honestly haven’t noticed that much consistency in my process yet. Sometimes I start with chords, sometimes drums, or just one really inspiring sample. I never start with a melody. One thing I often do is start a project, abandon it, and then revisit it sporadically whenever I’m bored, adding only a few elements at a time.

The project may never accumulate to anything good, but every once in a while I’ll add an element and suddenly I’m struck with inspiration. That’s when I’ll finally focus and see a project to its end. “Waiting for inspiration” might not be a sustainable mindset but it’s working for me so far!

Video Still from Cade Margus' "It Was You"
Video Still from Cade Margus’ “It Was You.”

Are you a collaborative artist or do you prefer working solo, in isolation, or some combination of the two?

Music production has felt particularly refreshing to me because of how much I can achieve on my own, for little to no money, compared to my work as a filmmaker. The stakes feel lower when it’s just me and my computer, so I experiment more, and I hardly worry about what other people will think of me.

That said, it’s becoming clear that collaboration will almost always elevate my work. I need someone else to challenge me and pull me out of my head. I’m also itching to do more with vocalists.

“I mostly appreciated our sessions because I left them feeling more organized and confident about what I need to work on to keep growing.”

At this point now, it’s been over a year since you completed the mentorship session with Joseph Capalbo, but I know that this was a real turning point for you. What kinds of things did you work on together?

Soundfly was my first opportunity ever to discuss topics in depth with another music producer, and Joseph in particular was such a chill and fun bounce board for all my questions and ideas. He clarified basic technical concepts for me like EQ sweeping and compression (tools I just couldn’t understand to save my life).

We talked songwriting. I stole his Logic project templates and effect chains for future use. And he gave me fast, open-minded feedback for whatever work I managed to get done between sessions, including new versions of “It Was You.” I mostly appreciated our sessions because I left them feeling more organized and confident about what I need to work on to keep growing.

+ Learn about Soundfly’s goal-oriented custom mentorship program, and fill out a quick form to get paired with a mentor (like Joseph) to improve your skills!

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How was that coaching process in general for you? 

Beautiful. I felt I was given plenty of space to decide how ambitious I wanted to be during and between sessions, but a healthy amount of accountability too. I’m 100% the type who benefits from some form of a deadline. Joseph heard my goals and supported me.

What originally brought you to Soundfly?

I’m actually impressed with YouTube and how much I managed to learn from it, but it’s tough to find YouTube producers who speak the same creative language as I do and whose videos will speak to my most specific questions. By the time I finished chemo, I just badly wanted to have a conversation about music with an equally enthusiastic professional.

I can’t remember how exactly I found Soundfly, but the concept made sense and excited me. I think I was sold on it after I did some digging and browsed through some of the mentors’ Soundcloud pages. They were sick.

Video Still from Cade Margus' "It Was You"
Video Still from Cade Margus’ “It Was You.”

What’s next for you in 2022? And what are you working on now?

Two more singles to be released on Spotify this summer, and a music video to accompany one of them. I’ll have to take a quick break in the fall because I’m attending a graduate program at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain.

Shout out to Soundfly for helping me make that happen! I’m equally obsessed with music and video at the moment, so I’m hoping this program helps me figure out how the two might inform each other in my career. For my thesis I’ll be directing a short film about a severely disabled man who attends an increasingly rowdy music festival, and my goal is to score it myself in a very immersive, trippy style.

Wish me luck!

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