In My Circle Interview, July/August
Subject: Dana Calitri
Profession: NYC Studio Session Singer/Songwriter/Recording Artist
CIS: First of all congratulations on your recent nuptials to British Recording Artist/ Songwriter Martin Briley. Also thank you for taking the time for this interview.
CIS: Let me start by asking how old were you when you first started singing?
Dana: “Hmmmm. I was 5 or 6, I guess.”
CIS: When did you discover you had a voice and how?
Dana: “My Mom is very musical and we were always singing around the piano. By 10
I knew it was my thing and I was starting to get noticed.”
CIS: In what ways as a child was your love of music cultivated?
Dana: “My parents were incredibly supportive. I had voice, piano, guitar and violin lessons; and public schools in those days stressed music so I sang in chorus and played in the school orchestra. I attended Manhattan School of music in the preparatory division, and when I was in my teens my Mom used to drive me into the city every Wednesday and sit in the car while I took my voice lesson with Lydia Summers who was an amazing teacher.”
CIS: As a young artist how did you develop your talent, and when did you start to take your music and singing seriously?
Dana: “I honed my skills singing all kinds of material. Doing covers can be a really great tool for helping you to expand your musical vocabulary. I sang every single day after school. I’d just sit in the middle of the living room playing piano and singing at the top of my lungs. I’d spend hours each day. I’m sure I drove everyone crazy.”
CIS: At what point did you realize music was your career choice and was it really a choice?
Dana: “I think by the time I was in my teens I knew I wanted to sing but it wasn’t until I finished college that I really made the leap. I majored in Comparative Literature at college although I sang professionally all through school. Yes – it was a choice. I’ve always been pretty flexible and have a lot of interests. I probably could’ve been happy doing something else but I was fortunate to be able to make a living doing music.”
CIS: When did you move to NYC and why did you choose NYC over LA? What did you hope to gain?
Dana: “I moved to NY as soon as I graduated from Brown. I knew I would live in NY ever since I was a little girl. I was never attracted to LA. Besides, my family was all on the east coast. In those days you had to be in NY, LA or Nashville if you wanted to do anything serious with your music.”
CIS: How did you support yourself in the early stages of your career?
Dana: “I was a waitress for about a year and then I started singing with a band doing club dates and weddings. After a year or two I got into doing jingles and that really got me going.”
CIS: How different is it from what you do today?
Dana: “Well I had the luxury of being a session singer in the days when there was tons of work. For 25 years my life was about going from studio to studio singing on all kinds of projects (jingles and records) and working with the most incredible musicians. Because we were unionized we got paid well and had things like health care and pension funds. We were able to live like regular people – to buy homes and send our kids to school. Most people who work outside the mainstream really struggle. That’s unfortunately how the business has changed. It is much harder for artists and musicians to make a living.”
“Because of technology the business really started to change. I was lucky because I got a record deal when things were slowing down and I was busy developing my songwriting skills and exploring the artist thing. Today I write songs for other artists, I sing on jingles and records and I teach voice. In the course of a day I do many different things, whereas before I just sang all the time.”
CIS: In the early days of your career how did you deal with the competition? What do you believe made you stand out?
Dana: “I never really worried about “the competition”. I believe if you are good and if you work hard and you have true passion for what you are doing there will be a place for you. What made me stand out? Hmmm. Well my voice, obviously, but I enjoyed what I was doing and enjoyed the people I worked with so I was fun to be around. I had a very strong work ethic and I was very dependable.”
CIS: What are some of the steps you took to get you to where you are today?
Dana: I studied and perfected my craft. I respected and tried to learn from those who came before me. I always try to look 5 years ahead and grow accordingly.
CIS: Who have been some of your biggest influences and why?
Dana: “My father was probably the biggest influence. He was so smart and creative. He loved what he did but had a very balanced approach to his life.”
CIS: What motivates you?
Dana: “I have always felt I had a vocation. My “job” is my calling. It’s very important to me to love and be engaged in what I am doing. Whether it’s singing, producing, writing or teaching, I am never bored. I feel as though I am here to be of service and my gift is channeling music.”
CIS: How did you get into what use to be referred to as the “jingle business”?
Dana: “I had a meeting up at one of the big Advertising agencies and I just wowed the guy. He got me started.”
CIS: What was that like for you?
CIS: What were some of the biggest campaigns on which you sang?
Dana: “Coke, Pillsbury, Stouffers, Folgers …. Pretty much did it all.”
CIS: You had a recording contract with Universal. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
Dana: “Well I had two fabulous years writing and recording for the album. It was amazing to know that people were waiting to hear what I had to say. I had a lot of freedom so I was extremely creative. Once the record was done it was a nightmare. Universal and Polygram merged and nobody gave a shit. I felt like I had delivered a still-born child. I’m not being dramatic. That is just how it felt. I was silenced. It took a while to heal from that.”
CIS: I know that you wrote most or all of the songs that were on your album. Was it during that time that you really began to hone your songwriting skills and make more significant songwriting contacts that would help you grow as an artist?
Dana: “Oh absolutely!”
CIS: What do you consider to be your strengths as a songwriter?
Dana: “I am “top line”, as they say. I do lyrics and melodies. I play piano and guitar but I love collaborating. I am more arty than a lot of songwriters. I like big concepts and great lyrics.”
CIS: Knowing you have a wall full of gold and platinum records, can you tell us a few of the people who have recorded Dana Calitri songs?
Dana: “*NSYNC, Daughtry, Dream, Jessica Andrews, Donna Summer ….”
CIS: Coming full circle, what has been the transition of going from full time studio singer, to recording artist, to singer/songwriter? How have you changed as a result? Which brings to mind also how has the music business changed for you over the years?
Dana: “I answered some of this in previous questions but … hmmm how have I changed? Well I am a much more versatile and a much better musician. I am also a lot more confident since I now understand all sides of the business. I also have a more spiritual approach to my career now. I started studying sound healing about 6 years ago and it changed everything for me. The business can be so ego driven. I don’t worry so much about it anymore. I know I am meant to do music and I figure the universe will send me where I am needed.”
“As far as the business goes? It’s completely different. Nobody wants to pay for music anymore so it’s really crumbling. Most of us have to spend way too much time on the business, which is really exhausting. I am hopeful that eventually it will be figured out, but I must say I am in the minority.”
CIS: Knowing how difficult it is to be successful in the music recording business, and there is no doubt you have and have had a very enviable career, what would be your advice to others trying to make it in this business?
Dana: “Work hard to be the best you can be. Work on your craft and educate yourself as much as you can. You always need to be evolving and the more skills and talents you have the better off you will be.”
CIS: If there has been one highlight in your career, what was it and why has it stood out among all your other accomplishments and successes?
Dana: “That’s hard to say. There have been so many wonderful moments. I loved making the record … The first time I ever heard a song of mine on the radio, that was definitely a highlight…. But it’s all good.”
CIS: Given that this site is called “Cracks In Sidewalks” what would you consider to be your own personal crack?
Dana: “I am very spiritual. I believe that not everyone has the gift to create music and it’s a really special thing. But it’s a gift that is meant to be given away. Ego is the enemy … it stops the flow. I think some of my colleagues, including my husband, roll their eyeballs at my optimism and innocence. But it keeps me happily moving forward and it makes me feel like we have a purpose on this planet.”
CIS: Anything you would like to add?
Dana: “You pretty much covered everything. Good questions!”
CIS: Thank you!