By Brian Caples
Vanessa Silberman is a touring singer-songwriter and guitarist, record producer/engineer/mixer, independent A&R, graphic artist, and co-founder of artist development label A Diamond Heart Production.
Her live shows have been compared to the raw, bare-bones rock ‘n’ roll of Nirvana and The Ramones, the appeal of Liz Phair and Christie Hynde, the authenticity of classic artists such as Patti Smith and Neil Young, and the pop sensibilities of commercial radio artists such as Green Day.
Her label, A Diamond Heart Production, is an artist development label, DIY artist blog, and publishing company. Vanessa works closely with bands and artists to help them develop different aspects of their career, focusing mainly on artist development, recording, release plans, booking, art image, grassroots marketing, and branding. The label also offers a very community driven home and spirit on the label side as well distribution for releases.
More information on A Diamond Heart Production can be found at adiamondheartproduction.com.
The WiMN: What role did music play in your life growing up? Who were the artists that made you want to pursue a career in music?
VS: When I first really discovered music I was living on Kauai, Hawaii. I didn’t have TV or radio, so I really discovered things in a more organic way. I didn’t really have a record store either until a K-Mart and Barns & Noble came to town when I was 14. I learned a lot from magazines and Columbia House’s “10 CDs for penny.” I remember hearing some Seattle bands through friends but having no idea what they looked like.
I had a couple of friends who had MTV and when I would sleep over we would stay up all night watching music videos. I was so excited because I had never seen these things before. My parents didn’t play music but I had a friend in 4th grade who played guitar and his family played in a band. They had a music room in their home, that was really inspiring to me. But when I heard Nirvana for the first time I must have been 10 or 11, and I knew that all I wanted to do was play music. I just wanted to go to Seattle, pick up a guitar and play music.
The WiMN: You have performed over 650 shows in the past four years, on top of running A Diamond Heart Production. How do you balance your time between tour and work?
VS: I have no idea…I just do a lot at once. I like to stay busy and work toward my life’s purpose. It’s so weird though, for the first time in I don’t know how long I’ve had a couple months off tour and it feels strange. I’ve still been busy with music work. I’ve been working my releases, doing new demos/recordings, working with a couple other artists releases on my label as well as doing recordings and co-writing with some various artists, and I relocated to New York. I am so used to doing a hundred things at once but in all honesty I’ve needed to recoup and regain my energy. My personal life had been a bit unbalanced and was suffering…I was exhausted but I just kept going.
I’ve traveled so much that I didn’t have a home for over three years. Once you’re in this sort of lifestyle it’s almost hard to come down from the high of it and stop moving. I’m learning self care, too, so I can be in a stronger position to help others more. I’m excited for the future and am really happy to have made the time to demo/write/record, not be rushing around. I’m also excited to go back out on tour on my next chapter.
The WiMN: What inspired your decision to start your own artist development label?
VS: I’ve actually wanted a label since my teens. Every person that has inspired me were artists who wore a lot of hats successfully. I wanted to help myself and others. Early on in my career I was finding all these awesome bands and artists; I would just get this crazy feeling about them and the next thing I knew they’d get a buzz and get signed. I would tell labels or music business people about them, but everyone seemed unable to do anything. So I said to myself, “I want to be in a position to help.”
I found this band, Down and Outlaws from San Francisco, and helped develop and manage them for a few years. They’re part of my label and they were part of the reason why I started it. I was working at Studio 606 as the in-house assistant engineer and I wanted to get them ready for recording, prep them and help build them.
I also started A Diamond Heart to put out my own records. I didn’t want to wait for anyone anymore and just wanted to do what I loved. That is also why I started touring, so with everything I do I always tell artists to not wait for anyone.
The WiMN: DIY ethics seem to be at the center of all your endeavors within the music industry. How important is the concept of “do it yourself” to you?
VS: I feel like it’s at the center of life in a way! It’s the whole thought of not waiting for anyone and just doing it. Like when I was young artist, I needed a website but I didn’t have money for it, so I said to myself “I better just learn how to do it.” That’s how a bunch of my skills were acquired. If you have a vision, you need to create it. It’s like Field of Dreams — “If you build it, they will come.” So many people want a ride and don’t want to put in the work, so they end up waiting for something that never comes.
At the core of it, life is just not long enough and we’re so lucky to be here on this planet, so we shouldn’t wait for things to happen. We have to go out and get it! As an artist I want to set an example and get people motivated, and in order to do that I have to show it. I have to be visionary too, and keep creating.
The WiMN: You have worn many different hats throughout your career, from marketing and tour managing to A&R and scouting. How has your vast experience shaped how you operate A Diamond Heart Production?
VS: I wanted to create a company that had old school hands-on A&R/management traits but with a new way of thinking. I think it’s really helpful for an artist to talk to a business person who’s lived it. The fact that I can be in the studio recording a band but have in the back of my mind how they will set up/support it live or how I’d plan out their record release can be so helpful. Some say it’s better to be a master at one thing but I just think you should be a master at getting the job done and gain knowledge to help yourself so you’re not relying on others.
The WiMN: As a female working in a typically male-dominated industry, have you seen more opportunities for women arise in the past few years?
VS: Oh yeah! To be honest with you, I’ve never thought about these things too much since I was just doing my thing and what I loved. It was only recently that I have, especially since the Grammy thing was mentioned a lot in the press. I am a Grammy member too, so I’ve doing my part and submitting records.
I also love and support Soundgirls, an awesome nonprofit run by Karrie Keyes (monitor engineer for Pearl Jam). In the past I always worked around a lot of men and they were always super supportive, so I do feel lucky. But seriously, I see female recording people everywhere. I know so many. I see female artists everywhere too. It’s nice to see people are hiring more women for recording.
The WiMN: What advice do you have for women looking to enter the music industry?
VS: Knowledge is power. Don’t wait. Life short, just try and figure it out. Just go for it. Take risks. And always listen to your heart…just do it yourself until someone else helps, but then continue to DIY.
The WiMN: What do you have in store for the rest of 2019?
VS: I have a new single coming out next month and an EP coming out in September. I am really working on my production of my new demos/future release. I have some CA and NY one-off dates and festivals (including Idyllwild Strong) I’m playing in August and September.
There will definitely be some sort of touring to support my EP. I have a couple new releases on my label by other artists (The Damed, Carissa Johnson, Christopher Danzig of Down and Outlaws). I will be recording with a few different artists and bands and really hope to get to Europe and Asia before the year wraps for music work.