Focus on presence and progress, not perfection. Being a perfectionist also prevented me from releasing music in the past because when everything has to be perfect is when I start procrastinating. There is no such thing as perfection in creativity and the arts. I’ve learned to focus on being present and progressive rather than striving for perfection, and it has been serving me well!
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Soleil (pronounced So-Lay), a seasoned vocalist that has stage experience as both an entertainer and an original artist. Her powerful sound is a versatile and unique mixture of Blues, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Pop, R&B, and Soul. Soleil is also a songwriter, performer, vocal producer, and producer. She has been featured on various media outlets and radio stations, and recently won contests for and garnered recognition from Sony, Music.com, SoundCloud, and ReverbNation.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I grew up in Yonkers, New York. My mom is a nurse originally from Brooklyn, and my dad is a bass player and educator originally from Staten Island. My mom’s parents were the first members of my family to be born in the U.S., the rest of her family immigrated from Italy. My grandma on my mom’s side was a seamstress, making wedding dresses for around $10 or less per dress a day. My grandpa on my mom’s side almost always worked 3 jobs at once — throughout his life, he was a plumber, bathroom cleaner, waiter at a club, nurse giving out instruments, worked for the post office, and worked in construction. My dad’s father was an orphan and ended up working for the Navy, and my dad’s mom was a nurse and entertainment dancer in the Navy.
Both of my parents worked a lot to provide my younger sister and I with a good life, so we spent a lot of time with babysitters, but they always supported us and showed up to our extracurricular activities — mine being mostly music-related. I was 5 years old when I did my first ‘performance’ — I sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the living room one day, and my parents realized my ability to hold a note. They put me in piano lessons, which I continued for 8 years. I also took vocal lessons, but not as consistently. I voluntarily sang at my elementary and middle school assemblies, graduations, you name it — I just loved to share my talent on the stage.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always loved music. I played saxophone when I was in grade school, and it is still one of my favorite instruments — but I gave that up because it was too heavy to carry on the bus to school, so I switched to clarinet. Eventually I chose voice as my instrument. I was in traditional, acapella, and gospel choirs in high school and college. I’ve been in the professional entertainment scene since 2013, gigging in various cover and corporate bands on the side while working full-time, corporate jobs. I have a Master’s degree in Sociology and also studied business, so I followed the traditional career path that is instilled upon many of us as we’re socialized in various institutions. Because of that, there have been times in my life that I’ve tried to push music away when I was working corporate jobs.
I was living in Berlin, Germany for work at one point, and it was an incredible time in my life full of solo-exploring and learning a lot about myself. I was so grateful (and still am) for the experience, but I really missed singing. Eventually I quit that job, studied UX Design, and started freelancing to make money. Music always found its way back to me, and now I’m focused on my career as an artist.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I started my music career as an entertainer. In 2015, I joined a cover band as a backup singer. What was interesting about this band is that it was a Steely Dan cover band full of men who were 60+ years old — I was the only female, and I was in my early 20’s. At times, I didn’t know why I was dedicating myself to this band, and I didn’t want to learn the music because I was not familiar with it and it wasn’t what I liked to sing. When I did sing lead vocals in this band, I was singing Amy Winehouse, Tracy Chapman, Lauryn Hill…anything other than classic rock. We gigged around South Florida and had a following of loyal fans who would come see us. There was one couple that was a fan of the band — I met them several times and got to know them a bit. They were snowbirds and songwriters alike, and had a bunch of demos and songs they wrote on their website. Eventually, they reached out to me to sing some of their demos. I ended up not singing any of the demos we decided on because this relationship turned into them becoming the investors and cowriters of my first EP Dawn, released in January 2020.
Now, I see the value of that experience and I’m so thankful for it. I was able to broaden my musical horizons, recognize Steely Dan samples used in popular music, work with those same great musicians on personal projects, and I met another young but experienced female singer who joined the band at one point and taught me everything I know about being a great performer. You can only connect the dots looking backwards!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I’ve made is not a funny one unfortunately, but one I’ve learned immensely from. My Dawn EP was released with no marketing plan or strategy. The EP was not cheap to create, lots of time and money were invested into it, but it didn’t gain the traction we’d hoped it would. I learned to never do that again and to always have a marketing strategy for my releases!
A funny mistake is me forgetting lyrics on stage. This has happened a few times — I end up just making up some words in my own crafted stage language, looking at the band for a lyrical cue, laughing, and continuing on like nothing happened!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
During the early stages of the pandemic, I started writing a lot more music, recording in the studio more, and incorporating vocal production. I had a vocal producer for my Dawn EP and didn’t realize how much I learned from him until I was in the studio and able to come up with interesting and catchy harmony lines on my own. I also started producing music last year, and Whose Side? is the first of several songs I’ve co-produced. I’m the sole investor into all of my music and videos now, and I’ve been working hard to make everything come together. I’ll be releasing music every month this year, and a bunch of videos too! I also have a song coming out that I wrote with a Grammy-winning songwriter, so I’m excited about that!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
It is extremely important to have diversity represented in entertainment both internationally and nationally — and since I’m in the U.S., I’d have to say that diversity is the glue of America. Representation is important because:
All ethnicities, cultures, nationalities, genders, and human abilities should be represented in entertainment because that is where people are tuning in. Viewers are able to relate to people in entertainment who look like them, feel like them, have the same abilities, beliefs, preferences, and practices as they do. When people can relate to others’ lives and experiences, they are able to connect with them, and things resonate on a personal level.
2. Cultural Differences
Displaying the uniqueness of various cultures helps others learn and understand different cultural experiences and beliefs. It is also a display of vulnerability and openness, and promotes the continuation of cultural practices.
Representation leads to transformation and change. In order to transition into a world where all people are respected and provided equal opportunities, they must be represented in mainstream media.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
My own fear of being vulnerable prevented me from releasing music for a long time. It also stopped me from reaching out to booking agents and the like because I was afraid of rejection — but I learned that the worst people can say is no, and that’s not too bad! Also, people can relate to vulnerability. Life isn’t perfect and we all go through trials. Share them, because people can relate to that experience. I learned that not everyone is going to like me or be part of my tribe, so being vulnerable helps attract the right people. At the end of the day, it’s all about trusting yourself, which took a long time for me to do. I’m now able to follow my intuition and trust my gut, knowing that I’m doing my homework and the universe is doing its job to keep me grounded and align what’s meant for me.
2. Focus on presence and progress, not perfection.
Being a perfectionist also prevented me from releasing music in the past because when everything has to be perfect is when I start procrastinating. There is no such thing as perfection in creativity and the arts. I’ve learned to focus on being present and progressive rather than striving for perfection, and it has been serving me well!
3. Get out of your comfort zone.
Comfort is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there. Learning to face your shadows and fears will spark growth and change, which is necessary to evolve as an artist and human being.
4. Have a marketing strategy
Like I mentioned earlier, my team and I learned this one the hard way. Great music out there in the ether that hasn’t been heard by many because we didn’t have a marketing strategy!
5. Focus on building relationships
This one is super important! I suggest having an advisor or a mentor who will help you answer questions you have. I personally have someone who reads over contracts for me, and luckily I’ve never signed a bad one, and know how to recognize a bad contract. Communication is key — build rapport and relationships because that is how opportunities and referrals happen. There’s a saying that goes something like this: ‘every minnow knows a whale;’ meaning that you never know who is connected with the next person you need to meet!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- A planner. Literally — a physical planner with pages made of paper. I’ve always been good at time management, but used my phone and digital calendars to manage my tasks. I got a physical planner for 2021 and I love it. It’s a celestial themed planner that includes a page for a birth chart, intentions, and all of the moon phases throughout the year — I’m really into that stuff and metaphysics in general. I also put my 2021 goals and vision board in the back of the planner. Having the physical planner is a great way to take a break from being digital all the time. Since I’ve been using it, I’ve been a lot more productive and accountable to myself because there’s just something about putting pen to paper…and not wanting to use white-out if I didn’t get something done!
- Self-care. There are so many forms of self-care! For me, fitness (gym, yoga, running) and having a healthy diet are essential because I went through major weight loss. Other forms of self-care that I incorporate are my daily spiritual practice, being outside in nature, reading and learning, making time for friends and family, being a part of communities, having healthy relationships, attending art and music exhibits and events, traveling and exploring, and getting enough sleep.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This question really makes me think! Doing spiritual and healing work has been so impactful for me in a positive way, so I’d have to lean towards that. A lot of people need healing because of childhood traumas, but they never get a chance to do the work for various reasons. If I could inspire a movement that embraces spirituality and internal healing, I believe people would be more aligned in purpose and happier overall. We have one life in this physical vessel called our body, and we should be able to live as we want to.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Other than my investors/co-writers I mentioned earlier (one of them has turned into my mentor), the person that I am eternally grateful for along my journey is my reiki master and spiritual/life coach who has guided me towards internal peace and alignment in my life’s purpose. I went through a bad breakup in early 2018, and started seeing her once a week for a year, and I still see her every few months. I did countless alternative healing therapies with her, breaking through generational and inner child traumas, fears, and limiting beliefs. With her guidance and support, I was able to work on healing myself (which is a never-ending process), letting go of who I was pretending to be and the life I was always living but wasn’t happy with, and accepting myself as an artist. I ended up becoming a certified reiki practitioner because of all the positive changes I made throughout my healing! I know that we are all made of the same energy, and I believe that whatever is meant to be mine will always be mine.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People can only act out of their maturity, consciousness, and experience level.” Once I understood this, forgiveness became a lot easier. I learned not to regret anything I’ve done, because I acted in the way I knew to act at that time. I didn’t take things to heart as much if someone disagreed with me or acted in a way that I found unreasonable. People can only react as they know how to at any time, and other people’s reactions are out of my control.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There’s so many people I’m thinking of! I’d have to go with Erykah Badu. She breaks barriers and she makes music that makes me feel something. She’s strong-willed, creative, spiritual, knowledgeable, monumental, and just such a unique individual all around.
How can our readers follow you online?
Soleil Website: www.soleilworld.com
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/soleil/1487471705
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you so much for having me! Stay blessed, filled with light, and continue to always move in purpose.