Brooklyn-based independent singer, songwriter, producer and label owner Vanessa Silberman is a force to be reckoned with. Having been a part of the music industry for close to two decades in many different aspects, she takes a very DIY approach to her music and independently booked over 800 shows between 2015 and 2020. Her music has often been compared to the raw bare bones rock ‘n roll of Nirvana along with the appeal and vocal qualities of Lana Del Ray and authenticity of classic artists such as Patti Smith and Neil Young. In the studio, she has engineered for everyone from Tony Visconti, Kimbra, Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) to Harper Simon and worked as the in-house assistant engineer at Studio 606 (the Foo Fighters Studio). She has also assisted for everyone from Foo Fighters, The Kills, Joan Jett to Blue Traveler, James Williamson (of Iggy Pop and the Stooges) in Los Angeles, CA. She has played the Vans Warped Tour, SXSW, Apple (Union Square) as well as opened up for Alkaline Trio, R.Ring (featuring Kelley Deal of The Breeders), Selector Dub Narotic (Calvin Johnson founder of K Records) and collaborated with everyone from the late Reed Mullin (Corrosion of Conformity) to Ken Susi (Unearth). She’s also received expansive radio play and support on The Rodney Bingenheimer Show The Underground Garage an SiriusXM and charted #33 in the top 40 of the Friday Morning Quarterback. In 2013, Silberman established A Diamond Heart Production, an Artist Development Label, Recording, Music & Publishing Company and has managed, developed and produced many musical acts. She has spoken on panels, at events, and in schools about artist development, and she recently joined the NY chapter of Soundgirls.org, where she sits as co-chair, in a quest to motivate, inspire and cultivate careers for more women in various parts of the industry. Although Covid has created a challenge for many artists over the past year, Silberman powered through those challenges, releasing 7 self-produced singles last year and engaged in weekly livestreams for her supporters. On February 12th, Silberman released her new self-produced single, “My Love”. The song marks the beginning of a new chapter for the artist as she ventures from her rock sound into a more alt-pop direction, incorporating more samples, beats and synths. Her current line up includes actor/musician Ryan Carnes on drums, who also collaborates and sings backup harmonies on the releases. With more songs and collaborations coming up, she has plenty of new music to keep her fans looking forward to what’s next! You can connect with Vanessa Silberman via the following links:
You grew up constantly on the move, between Kauai, HI with your mom and the CA Bay Area with your dad. What can you tell me about those experiences growing up and how they shaped you as a person and a musician? Was music a large part of your childhood? When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I moved around a lot when I was younger, from the Bay Area to Kauai, then back to the Bay Area and spent a short amount of time in Arizona going to school. When I was about 10 years old, I think during one month I lived at 10 different places. At the time there was a little bit of instability or un-groundedness, but it felt exciting and new! I think through that I learned to easily adapt to things and love change. It definitely prepped me for touring life and loving travel. It’s definitely made me a free spirit.
I think I started to think about playing music when I saw a violinist on TV when I was 4 and feeling so touched by it. My parents weren’t really musical but music was something I kind of discovered on my own. I think really at 11 was when I heard rock music and I decided that what I wanted to do.
You have talked about your love for and obsession with guitars! What drew you to that particular instrument and what can you tell me about the guitars you currently perform with?
I think Nirvana and Kurt Cobain really inspired me to pick up the guitar. My favorite is my white SG custom Les Paul. I feel so connected to it. I’ve had it for 22 years. I miss it. It’s in California right now.
You have said that when you were growing up, aside from a few shows at Gilman and other larger clubs, you attended a lot of punk shows at community centers or at schools, many of which were all ages. As an artist with a very DIY approach, how do you feel these experiences growing up shaped your DIY approach to your career?
I felt really inspired by punk bands and the scenes who built these cool communities and started indie labels, like Epitaph Records, Fat Wreck Chords, Subpop. Most of them were started by musicians who were fueled by just the love of it.
Aside from being a musician, you are also an engineer and producer and have worked a wide variety of jobs within the industry. What led to your interest in production and engineering, specifically, and having worked with so many amazing artists and as the in-house assistant engineer at Studio 606, what do you feel are some of the greatest lessons you have learned over the years? How do you feel that the industry has evolved?
I always felt I could see from the other side of the glass, like I could totally see other artists potential. Recording is so fun and helping artists or bands achieve their vision is something I’ve always loved. Some of the great lessons I’ve learned are that you have to enjoy the process. Recording, especially, takes years of learning and it never ends. I think recording can make you so present that it creates some of the most amazing writing in the moment. As far as evolving, I think it’s so important for artists to understand all aspects of their career, even if they don’t want to do the job because understanding the function can be so helpful for the music. I really think these days artists in the music industry have involved more into brands and entrepreneurs. I think more multi hat companies and artists are growing and more and more will pop up. I just think we all have the ability to reach and do so many new things with the internet age.
What kinds of challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry over the years, especially in the fields of production and engineering? Do you feel that women are making strides in these parts of the industry? What can you tell me about the organization Soundgirls, and joining as the co-chair of the NY chapter, and it’s quest to help motivate, inspire, and cultivate careers for more women in various parts of the industry?
Honestly, I feel so lucky. I have had so many supportive male figures who completely treated me as an equal and helped me. I feel like artists and people like Joan Jett, The Runaways and other 90s acts like Courtney Love, The Breeders and the whole riot grrrl punk scene helped pave the way too. Also, producers and engineers like Sylvia Massy and Linda Perry have made it so much easier. I feel like we’re making strides. I know so many female producers, engineers, mixers and mastering engineers – like Jett Galindo, Rachel Findlen, Sarah Tudzin, Erin Tonkon, and there are so many others out there. Karrie Keyes who’s Pearl Jams monitor engineer started Soundgirls and I’ve done numerous workshops, panels and moderating for them. Another friend of mine, Dani Mari, who’s a Producer / Songwriter also runs a company called Female Frequency had asked me to moderate a few panels for her and then asked if I would join to be the co-chair with her of the NY chapter of Soundgirls and help do more panels / webinars. I love lifting up and working with other female artists. I think organizations like Soundgirls are wonderful. They really are helping build community and opportunities for women. I also have been working a lot with artist / producer Maayan Oppenneim who helps run California Women’s Music, another organization I’m involved with.
What inspired your decision to start your own label, A Diamond Heart Productions, as well as your goal of having old school record label traits mixed with a new school state of mind in the digital age? How have you gone about mixing the old with the new and what do you appreciate about analog vs digital? What do you love the most about helping other artists with their careers?
I was inspired by a lot of punk bands and how Joan Jett started her own record label when no one would sign her. I interned and also worked at Epitaph Records. I mean so many people said no and slammed the door on the Offspring. There was this great ad they put out in Billboard I think when all the employees were giving the finger. I thought that was funny. I just love the idea of making things happen for yourself like these labels. I always loved old school A&R and how people in the past would really develop artists into something great and let them really grow, so I just wanted to kind of create a label that did everything but with a digital age twist where I help artists get to their next step (bigger label, mgmt or sync or a booking agent and kind of fill in the pieces) and they’d have a lot freedom. I mainly focus on Songwriting, Recording and A&R / setting up releases these days but have worn every hat really and have gotten hired for all kinds of things. I love recording bands the most or seeing them grow… its really exciting.
You have said that in this day and age, it’s important for artists to be multifaceted (like a brand) and be able to be visionaries. Why do you feel this especially important right now?
The music business is not how it was and even in the last year its evolved big time. We are in an age where things are changing so quickly, there are so many options on how to make a living through music and artists are more needing to be in the position to build first before labels and funding are involved. Artists can’t be reliant on waiting til someone comes along to sign them and make things happen. It’s essential for an artist to be able to build, manage their brand and know their audience. Artists should feel empowered and have the ability to hire out or do things on their own and be connected to their fans. The other pieces will come when the timing is right and now is the time to get really creative, especially online. The music world is literally an open canvas.
With regards to your 2018 single “Outswimming Sharks”, you have said that it was about the ugly side of the business, life and poverty, but finding a light and acknowledging the feeling of being drained by other people. As someone who has toured extensively before 2020, what are some of your self-care practices that help you from feeling drained? How do you find the light when things feel dark?
I really spent the last 2 years learning what exactly self care is because before I don’t think I knew – I was just going non stop. I had so much energy and every night at shows playing was my release but when I would stop I would crash pretty hard. I was just not taking enough time to re-charge because at the time I didn’t know how stop, especially when its your main passion and source of income. Naturally, I always see good in people and see the light side of things. That’s just my choice and very much relates to my music message, why I’m on earth and what I believe. During the pandemic I discovered meditation, and it has really helped me as a self-care practice for getting silent and feeling as well as elevating my positive outlook. It has really helped me improve everything and focusing on certain aspects of thoughts, understanding and compassion. I love Deepak Chopra and really enjoy the meditation he does with Oprah. I also learned a lot about how to take space for myself and time for certain things – like taking time for enjoyment (of course music is enjoyment but other aspects of my life so I’m living in balance). Learning how to not answer texts after certain hours or when I’m tired not agreeing too more work or long phone conversations (in the music business you’re kind of always going). Some other self-care practices I love are exercise, taking baths, listening to Podcasts (Love Your Life – Law of Attraction is my current favorite a friend told me about), going for a walks, trying different coffee shops, watching funny shows or travel movies or nature docs, reading about self improvement, eating amazing food, learning something new or just not doing anything (which is so hard for me to do lol).
Your motto for last year was “Bloom where you’re planted”. Despite the shutdown and setbacks that many artists have faced within the industry, how do you feel that you have adapted and bloomed? Do you feel that you have learned anything about yourself in the process and your ability to adapt?
Haha! Yes, bloom where your planted – I absolutely love New York and found so many pleasures out of having time to just work on music, write in my home studio, not rush and not always be on the go, but I do miss traveling a lot. This is the least amount of traveling I’ve done in years. I feel like I just embraced it and said – ok this is what’s happening so I’m gonna just keep going and apply what I did with DIY touring to connecting and building online and work on music production. Funny thing is, my whole plan with moving to NY was to really work on my production and not tour as much but evolve my sound. New York is also so close to other cities so I thought this would be easier on drives and I wanted to expand more internationally. Myself and my drummer Ryan had started remotely working probably 8 months earlier or something so I feel like I’ve kind of pre-adapted.
What can you tell me about your idea to release monthly singles last year, as well as your idea to do weekly livestreams with your fans and followers? What are your thoughts on the role that social media plays in the lives of musicians, in general, and do you feel it has become a more important role during the pandemic?
I think live-streaming and building / connecting online is so important. I had created a plan in the fall of 2019. It was to constantly put out new content with the singles and tour as well as play monthly shows (which the later got canceled), but when I saw everyone start to do livestreams in March I thought ok right now people are having a tough time, life is little upside down and I really want to stay connected so how can I contribute? I’ll give people some regularity and joy through music and knowledge so I started live-streaming playing songs and giving people tips about the music business and recording. I’d get so many people messaging me about how to tour and asking questions so I figured I’d help by answering those questions and talking about topics via livestreams.
On February 12th, you will be releasing your latest single “My Love”, which marks the beginning of a new chapter for you. What can you tell me about the song and about your evolution from rock to a more alt-pop and synth sound? How did you meet and come to collaborate with actor/drummer Ryan Carnes, who makes up part of your current line up? What can you tell me about the writing and recording of the song?
I had really been wanting to do things differently, evolve musically, get creative but still have a very direct manful message via music. For years I’ve been playing rock music and talked to Ryan as well as a few friends about it extensively. One morning I just said to myself, what can I do that feels new and exciting. I started listening to other artists. I think I was super inspired by a Meg Myers track at the moment too. I switched DAWS, started using samples, loops, creating midi sounds and then sang some melodies over a part and “My Love” just literally poured out of me. Ryan had a plan to come to the east coast and we decided to take the risk and work together for a week. We actually had planned on working on another song but before we started I mentioned “My Love” and said it’s so different, I just want to see what you think. I played it for him and he kind of freaked out and was like I want to work on that song! We both could probably say that no matter what, being excited and inspired by whatever we work on is so important so we have fun.
Ryan and I met in 2015 at a holiday party in LA through a mutual friend. He told me he played drums and stayed in touch. A couple years later last minute I had a show and asked if he wanted to fill in on drums on a couple songs. We played and I said wow. He’s literally one of my favorite drummers I’ve ever played with – He’s like my dream drummer! He continued to come out to shows to support me and an opportunity came where I needed another last minute drummer and asked if he’d fill in and we’ve been playing together ever since.
You have said that, to you, love feels like the strongest force on earth and that our ability to love is a power that will save ourselves and the planet. What are some signs of love that you have seen in the world and do you feel that we are making progress towards being more loving towards each other?
Yes, I do believe that. I think even during this pandemic it has caused people to love and appreciate the small things more as well as send love and kindness to family, friends and even strangers. I also feel like learning to love ourselves in a self-care kind of way is something more people are learning and talking about. I think love is a wonderful energy to be putting out there right now. Also loving each other as human beings (as equals) and loving our planet – things like this are getting more awareness and being brought to the surface. I feel like we are headed in a great direction as human beings.
What’s next for you?
I have a lot more singles coming up I’m working on! Super excited for a collaboration with Kosha Dillz as well a song me and Ryan are doing when he sings more on it!