The following is an Independent Spotlight exclusive interview with Dana Carmel.
In your music, there’s a pretty stark dichotomy between more introspective efforts the likes of ‘Alone’ and pop tunes like ‘Baby Boy.’ How do you balance exploring different genres and sounds like that? Is it your intention to be a versatile songwriter in that regard?
My intention is always to write the most honest and heartfelt songs that will connect with listeners. I don’t like to limit myself in terms of genre or mood. Think about any given day in your own life. Sometimes, you can feel tired, alone and not want to leave the house. Other times you can be the life of the party, starting the Conga line on the dance floor. Imagine if you had to limit yourself to just one of those days for eternity. You wouldn’t be able to. It’s the scope of human emotion. It’s a pendulum that swings.
Both of those songs are completely honest, and real. The genre comes from the arrangements you put behind it and listening to what the songs want to be. I explore the different genres by having the best interest of the songs always as top priority.
You’re from Brooklyn, one of the most dynamic art communities in the country. How has that impacted your music and the way you craft your songs?
Ah - I have to correct you and say I’m from Philly and live in Brooklyn now. My Philly friends would never let me hear the end of it if I said I was from Brooklyn. I have lived in NYC for 12 years total, almost 5 in Brooklyn. So, I feel like I grew up here in a way that’s different than how I spent my childhood in Philly.
I can say that being from the east coast in general had a huge impact on the way I craft my songs, because it had a huge impact on the songs I listened to. I went to parties in high school where everybody freestyled. And they were really good. In NYC, I started listening to house music, and going to hip-hop dance classes and listening to songs in different languages. It was the melting pot of listening and figuring out what kind of music touches my soul. And then incorporating those elements into my own music.
Even though you’ve released quite a bit of music under your own name, you’re also an artist who can write jingles for commercial use. How do you approach that process versus how you would write a song for yourself?
Music is about expression. Whether it’s writing for myself or writing for a company or another individual- like for example, Beyonce and Katy Perry - the approach is similar in nature. I ask my clients what they are trying to say. What is the message they are trying to spread, and what do they want people to know about their company, product, or brand? The song is going to be different based on the answers I get.
When I write for myself, the questions are intrinsic. I write to express a particular feeling at that moment. I usually have less guidelines but sometimes I give myself those as well just for fun.
I love writing for other people. I’d love to write a song for Justin Bieber or Gwen Stefani. I could really create a cool sound for them. Music is about capturing the essence in sound. I pride myself on being really good at that.
Through all of your stylings and themes, one thing seems to be a constant: your music is consistently uplifting. What drives you to write that kind of music?
Ha - I know some people who would disagree with that statement! Some of my songs are uplifting for sure, but some of them not so much. If you go back to my earlier stuff you’ll hear what I mean.
Regardless, I’d say that a lot of the drive behind writing those uplifting songs, is trying to console myself. To uplift myself. It’s almost like the songwriter in me is the wise old soul, the calm presence, that comes through to tell the not-so-calm me to relax. To have fun. Or whatever it is saying to me at that moment.
In general though, I feel fairly optimistic so it’s just an expression of that part of me. The challenging part is to write those kind of songs without being too cheesy. Katy Perry does a great job at this. I do a good job too, though.
You’ve started your own record label and expressed your desire to not only be a songwriter, but a musical personality in your own right. This is probably best exhibited through your infectious single 'Weekend' and its music video. What drove you to create your own label rather than seek another out?
With a catalog as large as mine, it was the natural evolution. I literally have hundreds of songs. As we speak, I am listening to songs I completely forgot about that are really good and with a couple of tweaks would be even better.
The industry has changed so much since I first started. You don’t need a big record label to sign you anymore. You can be a small record label and have people come to you. It makes sense because I can be the artist, I can license my songs to other artists, DJ’s and producers, and keep on writing, which is my passion and zone of genius.
And the real reason is that I can then help other songwriters be in their zone of genius. Teach all the tricks of the trade to help them express themselves using the best lyrics, and best melodies, and have them be ecstatic with what they created and then share it with their fans.
There truly is no better feeling than writing a song that you love.
Your songs are typically three minutes or less, jam-packed with catchy hooks and riffs. Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually immensely difficult to write a good pop song. Hooks don’t come easy. How do you keep them coming and consistently different?
It is really hard to write a good pop song! A lot of people don’t know that. They hate on all the pop out there (and let’s face it there is a lot of bad pop as well) and don’t realize that it takes a lot of elements to come together perfectly that make a catchy pop song. Again, Katy Perry is a great example of this. Of course, she has Max Martin as her producer, who is the best in the business, but if you stripped that production away, at the core you’d still have a really great pop song.
I always say, “there’s no way around doing the work.” I feel really lucky that I have no shortage of ideas for themes, titles, melodies, etc. What I have to do then, is actually sit down and write them. That’s the only way they’ll get written. I’m also a big fan of collaboration. Two and three heads are better than one .
Between two of your records, ‘The Difference’ and ‘Validity,’ there is a very noticeable change in sound. How do you view these records in retrospect? Are you moving closer towards a sound you want to be at?
There was definitely a huge learning curve when it came to these records. I was literally and figuratively still finding my voice. I didn’t speak up as much in the studio because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I listen to those records and I hear the young girl I was. The voice that was still unsure. The sound too. I love that girl. But I’m happy it’s in retrospect now.
Now, you can’t get me to shut up when I’m the studio! I say everything I’m thinking because I learned that lesson. I’m definitely moving closer to my sound. Again, with me it’s always about what’s best for the song. Songs have feelings and emotions of their own. I feel like once they’re written they’re almost not mine anymore. My job is to continue to express them as they want to be and not stop until they are at their fullest expression.
To that end, what is next on the to-do list? Any plans to release a new album or any more music videos?
Oh my gosh, so much! And I’m so excited about everything. I’ve been asked to write a book about songwriting to help and train other songwriters and that will be released in early 2017. I’m in the studio recording a new album that goes along with the book, and should be ready by spring.
I’m also creating a program for songwriters, and taking on one-on-one clients and doing workshops for songwriters who really want and are ready to take their songwriting to the next level.
What artists do you derive inspiration from in creating your own sound? You’ve clearly come into your own as an artist in recent years, but what kind of artists and genres have culminated your own musical conscious?
Like I said, I love so many genres. Taylor Swift is a favorite, and so is Justin Bieber. I also love Lenny Kravitz, The Black Crowes, Def Leppard, The Beatles, and Pearl Jam. You can hear a lot of Pearl Jam influence on my album 'Validity.' I loved Wilson Phillips and Mariah Carey growing up. Madonna is a big one. Radiohead. I listen to house music, hip hop, Spanish groups like Si*se who sing in both Spanish and English. Tchaikovsky. It really runs the gamut of styles.
If one were to take your iTunes or Spotify and hit shuffle, what three songs and artists may pop up? You’re a creator of music, absolutely, but it’s always compelling to get an insight into an artist as a fan and music consumer, too!
I’m such a fan of pop music lately. I love Justin Bieber. 'Sorry or Let me Love You' would probably come up. This summer I had 'Bring Me to Life' by a DJ, MK, on repeat! Talk about an uplifting song! I can’t not dance when I hear it.
'We Don’t Talk Anymore' by Charlie Puth was on repeat this summer. And 'Get Lucky' is an all time favorite. That’s way more than three. I love too much music! Honestly, I’ve been listening to a lot of my own music from the studio. So that would probably come up as well. I’m excited for people to hear these songs.
To get in touch or work with Dana Carmel, visit www.danacarmel.com and while you’re there, get a FREE songwriting Video tutorial by signing up.