Part 1 of 2 with lyricist and singer Cilette Swann, and multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Roman Morykit, who came together to create Gypsy Soul over 15 years ago. In that time they have received more than 60 critics’ choice awards across a discography of 10 truly independently-produced CDs, and their songs have been downloaded more than 1.5 million times. In addition, their music has been featured in multiple TV shows and movies. Their 2013 release, “The World Is My Country” has already won both the Independent Music Award and International Acoustic Music Award.
Table of Contents
3:20 – If you had to describe yourself as a band, song, or genre, what would it be?
11:06 – How did you get started in the music business?
28:21 – What’s been your proudest moment in the music business?
34:12 – Top 4 takeaways to support your success in the music business
If you had to describe yourself as a band, song, or genre, what would it be?
Cilette: It would have to be our song: Be the change. It’s about how we live our lives, and taking personal responsibility. Not living a life of blaming others for our woes and our tribulations. It’s going out there and taking life by the horns and making it your own. You are the only one that can change the trajectory of your life.
How did you get started in the music business?
Cilette: We were producing our first CD in 1996, and we did this fundraiser to get into the studio and record it. Shortly after, a friend-of-a-friend took our CD to a party and was playing it and a record label exec happened to be there. I know, it’s kind of a romantic Hollywood story, right? So we were doing an in-store on Hollywood Boulevard, and these five guys show up from the record label and they were singing the words to our songs while we were performing. We were both like, “Who are these people? They know our stuff?” Shortly after, they offered us a deal. I really think the deal happened because we had already made our own CD. We had already invested in ourselves.
Roman: Bear in mind, this is 1996. Not 2014, where anyone can sit with a computer and approximate something that sounds like music and then release it. It was much, much harder to do it then. You really had to search for people to manufacture a CD, then find the money to go to a studio, and that was the only way to record at that time.
Cilette: You couldn’t master in your own personal studio, we ended up going to Capitol Records. We had to come up with some good dough in those days to get the record off the ground. Shortly thereafter we got a publishing deal, then radio, television, and film. Each little piece by itself was not going to get us notoriety or awareness, but collectively it worked.
And then the deal fell apart! It fell apart right as we started charting on adult contemporary radio. We were #36 on the top 40 and the label called us and said that they had run out of money. We had to cancel the tour–talk about a let down. But you know, I look back now and think that Roman and I had a lot of chutzpah. We just said: We’ll start our own label! This isn’t failure, this is inspiration. This isn’t just about our next album, we want to help other independent artists.
Roman: And distribution was important. We raised some money and got a distribution deal and we found a way to not only put out our own records, but the records of artists with whom we were working with at the time.
What has been your proudest moment?
Cilette: There are a couple. We moved to southern Oregon 14 years ago. We were new in town and we were hired to play the 4th of July concert in the park. We took our CD into the local NPR station and they began playing us. But we realized that we wanted to make more of a splash. Around the same time, we became aware of the issues around poverty in southern Oregon. While it’s an incredibly wealthy place, there are still lots of issues around hunger and poverty and we thought: We love Christmas music, why don’t we produce a Christmas concert. We’ll make it free to the public. We’ll get sponsors and raise money for the local food bank.
And now we’re in our 14th year of the event. This is an annual event that sells out every year. So we had moved to this town, had very little exposure, and we raised $3,500 just walking around and asking area businesses to be sponsors of our concert and our cause. Over the years, we’ve raised enough money for 20,000 meals. And it’s a win-win. We know we couldn’t do it without the help of fans coming to the concert. It’s been a really proud moment for both of us.
Roman: There were other moments too. Obviously, when the first record hit the charts, that was awesome. But when we moved to southern Oregon, there is something called the Britt Festival here. A lot of popular touring artists come through. Artists like Bonnie Raitt, Tony Bennett, Chris Issak. They fill as 2,200 seat auditorium outside. When we first moved here we thought it would be really cool to play there. And every year, we would call the booker and see if we could open up for someone. After ten years of doing that, he called us and asked if we would like to headline the venue. I guess we were asking the wrong question!
So we opened the season the first time we played there. And here’s this little local band and we brought in just over 1,000 people. Stepping out on stage to all of these people. They so wanted to see us at this venue, it was such an amazing feeling! We were the only local band to ever headline that venue, and we did it two years in a row.
Top 4 takeaways to support your success in the music business:
- Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it. It will set you apart–not only in the music world but in the world in general.
- Be professional, and outline clear goals with even clearer steps to attaining those goals. It shows that you are committed to your craft and to your trade.
- Get some help! You can’t do this alone. Be strategic about it, find people that can help you in the areas where you need it most. “A demo is a question, a CD is a statement.”
- Persevere. You have to be able to persevere, even if it takes 10 years!
The best ways to reach Cilette and Roman of Gypsy Soul:
On the web:
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