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Singing from the soul

Natanga Smith

Singing from the soul

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Singer/songwriter Debbie Reifer has been writing and singing from an early age, starting with poetry, and she says her first impression of music came from her parents’ love of jazz.
“There were lots of vinyl records around the house with pop, soul, reggae and R&B music from the 1970s and 1980s. We also took a lot of Sunday drives around the island as a family and on those drives were where I heard some of the great voices of our time like Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Frank Sinatra.”
Cousin to Amanda Reifer, lead singer of the band Cover Drive, Debbie, 25, calls herself an old soul when it comes to music and says her biggest influences are Sade, Amel Larrieux, Corinne Bailey Rae and Nikka Costa.
“My favourite part of songwriting is finding the soul of the story before putting it to words and music. It’s a strange thing that happens between the heart and mind right before I put pen to paper . . . and no matter what emotion comes out of it, it’s always the biggest contributor to why I love writing so much,” she explained, also having written a song called I Did It for the local film Chrissy.
In 2011 Debbie became part of Honey Jam, a showcase where young female artistes get to present their musical abilities. That was the same year she made a career switch and calls where she is at now “a long journey of self-discovery”.
“I was constantly wrestling with the idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I chose an acceptable career in information technology because I was fascinated by technology and gadgets, had an aptitude for them and it was such a continually evolving field I knew I wouldn’t necessarily get bored.
“ . . . . But I also kept wrestling with the idea of what was more important – money or happiness – trying to find my own definitions of happiness, then realized it included waking up every day and doing something I truly loved which was music . . . . It took a lot of sleepless and restless nights to make that decision,” she said solemnly.
That career move has paid off as in March this year Debbie was the only lucky Barbadian to win a chance to perform not once but twice at the Canadian Music Week, where she also got a chance to network.
The trip turned out to be more than she bargained for.
“One of my major objectives is to place my music in television and film, so I signed up for a pitching session, where you get to sit in front of major film, television and advertising executives and sell your music,” Debbie explained.    
When she walked away from that session it was with invaluable knowledge, a solid game plan and the personal email addresses of big-name music supervisors at companies like Chop Shop Music, responsible for placing 70 per cent of the music for ABC network, GMP Marketing, which places music for Lifetime Television and the History Channel, and Shine America, which is responsible for music on hit shows like The Biggest Loser.
“It was an amazing experience. The music supervisors I talked to were brutally honest and to the point. They helped me identify the things about myself and my pitch that would stand out the most to them. For example, when one heard I had placed a song in a local film already, she advised me to lead with that. I also got to watch the pitches from the professional pitching companies, so I have a better idea now of what makes a successful pitch and what they are looking for,” Debbie added.
“It has also inspired me to get to work writing and recording more songs. They are very specific in their requirements for songs and advise you not to send anything unless it fits what they want exactly. So at some point placing music for TV and film becomes less about creativity and more about numbers. The more variety you have, the more likely you are to get a placement,” she went on to say.
In her words, the trip was a resounding success. “I had a great time. The performances went very well and the conference was extremely productive. I couldn’t put a price on the value of the contacts I made there.”
Debbie is gearing up to do a live session of her songs off her new EP at Cin Cin next Sunday and she says each song has a message she’s hoping someone can relate to or benefit from.
“Each song has something deeper I wish the listener could take away and feel great about or feel stronger and wiser about like with the messages behind Amber and Kisses On The Wind. Sometimes there’s a song where there is no lesson but maybe just an emotion that I feel I want to encourage in someone else like We Are Love. Each song is also a snapshot of who I am, from friendship to family to love and relationship. But mostly each song is everything that is human and everything that is soul.”