Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Brooke Ramel
Brooke Ramel, a beautiful blonde Raytown, Missouri native and gentle pop vocal songstress, moved to California like so many artists to seek her fame and fortune as a performing singer-songwriter – well, yes and no.
Ramel has been setting and meeting goals and fulfilling her dreams since she first picked up a guitar at age seven. She was performing at local churches, fairs, pizza parlors and the state prison at age eight. At nine she made her first television appearance on a local talent show and did a one-hour live radio show. The following year, her family relocated to Kansas City, Kansas and there she found her creative outlet participating in every choral group, play and musical possible throughout junior high and high school.
Her trusted Taylor guitar and a handful of songs, some covers, helped Ramel support herself through college while attending California's Stanford University. While at Stanford, she made a quick educational jaunt to Paris, then a pit stop in Los Angeles to check out the local music scene. However, Ramel found herself in a quandary. After assessing the L.A. scene, she could not decipher her creative musical niche, so she headed to Nashville, where some of the best original music was coming from. The move proved to be a good one, as there she met her current producer, Johnny Pierce, and cut her first album.
Since returning to L.A., she's made five more albums, including holiday and compilation CDs that have sold consistently, primarily at live performances. She performs 4-5 nights per week in local clubs, coffeehouses, festivals and, small and medium-sized venues both locally and abroad, and selling her CDs – and, all without a record deal or booking agent! Songs from her albums continue to receive featured radio play on commercial and Internet radio. Additionally, her songs have found placement in many prime time television, independent feature films and, most recently, major studio feature releases.
[Gabrielle Hewson] You started paving your own way musically early on from grade school to supporting yourself while attending Stanford.
Brooke Ramel Everybody was waiting tables. I was making $60/might waitressing at a pizza parlor. I figured out that I could make the same money and sing, so I just went to a couple of restaurants and said, "Would you pay me $60/night to sing?" I was young and in many ways unpolished, but I was pretty good. I had basic talent. I was really young. But they said ‘Sure.' $60 to a restaurant is not a lot of money -- one table. So, I started singing happy hours at a Mexican restaurant near the Kansas City Royals Baseball Stadium.
[Gabrielle Hewson] And, for a time, you studied in Paris?
Brooke Ramel It was great. I learned to speak French and absorbed the culture. One of my passions is singing in French. I just love it.
[Gabrielle Hewson] You migrated to Los Angeles to make a connection after Stanford.
Brooke Ramel Yes, to pursue my music full time. I dedicated myself and focused completely on my music. I trained like an Olympic athlete. I did six or seven gigs a week.
[Gabrielle Hewson] What drives you to write the songs you choose to write?
Brooke Ramel I sing and write songs because I love to do it. Music is for people and I know my music speaks to them. I want to communicate with as many people as possible through as many ways that I can – live performances, TV and film placements, radio and national/international tours.
[Gabrielle Hewson] And TV film placement seems to have made new fans of your music.
Brooke Ramel One of my goals has been to reach more people through TV and Film. It's a fulfilling feeling for me personally, to have placements in series, independents and features. Each placement I get in a film or TV show also raises my confidence in what I am doing and inspires me to go on with this adventure called the music business. The money is just an added bonus.
[Gabrielle Hewson] The L. A. Music scene was limited at the time you first landed here.
Brooke Ramel I was at a loss as to where I fit in musically. There were great songs coming out of Nashville a the time. I wanted to pursue every option.
[Gabrielle Hewson] Why Nashville?
Brooke Ramel I wanted to pursue the songwriting scene there and check out the country music scene as well.
[Gabrielle Hewson] And that's where you met your current co-writer and producer?
Brooke Ramel Yes, I met Johnny Pierce through a mutual friend, film composer Geoff Levin. We recorded my first CD, Movie Star. We work great together and he is always open to my creative ideas. We co-write most of the songs on my albums. I write about 95% of the lyrics and we both write the music. I love his melodies.
[Gabrielle Hewson] You essentially began your music career as a solo act. When did you start performing with a band?
Brooke Ramel After cutting Movie Star, Johnny and I moved back to Los Angeles. That's when I put together my first band and started playing L.A. clubs like The Troubadour and Ghengis Cohen.
[Gabrielle Hewson] And when did radio come into play?
Brooke Ramel My first radio recognition came about a year later when KROQ's Rodney on the Rock debuted "Mainstream", as one of his "Top 5 Picks of the Week." I have also been featured on KIIS, KNAC.com, interviewed on 95.9 The Mix, and have been featured on unsigned artists' specialty radio programs across the country.
[Gabrielle Hewson] When did you begin getting your songs placed in film and television?
Brooke Ramel I met Doug Stebleton of Kid Gloves Music, through Karl Louis, my first manager. They'd once worked together at an Indie label called Risk Records. Kid Gloves Music specializes in placing songs for television and film. Doug's first placement for me was getting "Down" from my Movie Star CD featured on Fox's Party of Five, and "Love Is Gonna Find Me" and the title track in the NBC Saturday morning series All About Us.
[Gabrielle Hewson] Your songs seem well suited for both film and television.
Brooke Ramel I think I have music that appeals to the market – a perfect fit. One of my goals includes placing a theme with a new show like the Rembrandts' for Friends or the song from Cheers.*
* The Rembrandt's theme song for Friends is entitled "I'll Be There For You." The Cheers theme, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name," was written by Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy and performed by Portnoy.
[Gabrielle Hewson] What's your arrangement with Kid Gloves?
Brooke Ramel It's a non-exclusive relationship. I can also shop my music anywhere I want.
[Gabrielle Hewson] You are truly an independent artist and a woman of independence, booking your own live performances and making opportunities happen by connecting with your audience after your shows. Hard work that has paid off admirably for you.
Brooke Ramel I know what to do to find a job, book a show, book a TV spot, so I keep pursuing the things I do know about and learn as I go. I keep my eyes and ears open and try to follow every lead that comes my way. I believe that when people are talented, if they put themselves ‘out there' in the public eye, opportunities will present themselves to them and it is then up the them to follow up and make something happen.
[Gabrielle Hewson] Your second album, Tulips Bleed, and the track "The Answer," seems to have been just that for showcasing your talent and providing Kid Gloves with the appropriate appetizers to whet the appetites of a handful of film and television projects. It was essentially a break out hit for you with two runaway hit television series.
Brooke Ramel Yes. The song was placed on the WB's Charmed and Dawson's Creek made me a spotlight artist of the week on its web site, and featured a picture and write up on their front page. That has been a good song for me. I also got radio play with it on 95.9 The Mix in Los Angeles after they interviewed me.
[Gabrielle Hewson] What got you the interview?
Brooke Ramel They were hosting a Taylor Dayne performance earlier that week and I opened for her.
[Gabrielle Hewson] And Napster was the conduit for increased CD sales.
Brooke Ramel Pretty much. The song became a Napster hit shortly after it aired on the WB, due to its popularity with fans of the show.
[Gabrielle Hewson] How do you feel about Napster?
Brooke Ramel I don't agree with Napster or other such sites because as an artist, I want people to exchange with me for my music; to buy my CDs rather than burn them for one another. At the same time, when I was just starting out, Napster was a really good thing because it got me a lot of exposure and a lot of people heard my voice and my song without ever seeing me or hearing my album. I know after hearing ‘The Answer' on Napster, people ordered my CDs.
[Gabrielle Hewson] Tulips Bleed had additional placements.
Brooke Ramel "Anything" was in another episode of Dawson's Creek and NBC's Ed, the following season. The WB's Glory Days also featured "Tornado" and "Goodbye." "Goodbye" was also featured on CBS's That's Life.
[Gabrielle Hewson] And, your third album, Make Tomorrow Up not only sold quickly, you also made your first music video, directed by Robert Cassard for Edge Films.
Brooke Ramel Yes, Robert Cassard heard me playing at a private birthday party for a 3-year-old and he told me that he directed videos. About six months later, we ended up doing it. He and his partner were also working on a pilot for a new television show called "Under the Rock," about unsigned, unknown acts making a living as music artists, and he ended up featuring me in the show. They are currently pitching that to the networks to get it produced. So a video and a pilot television show came out of performing at a 3-year-old's birthday party.
Ramel met producers Joel Vittel and Marcos Efron, who approached her about making music videos for two other tracks on the Make Tomorrow Up CD, after her performance at a local art gallery. In the spring, Ramel completed videos for "Someday," directed by Vittel, and "No Fear," directed by Efron.
[Gabrielle Hewson] I really like the title track. You just can't be anything but happy and hopeful when you listen to it. Adds a skip to your step.
Brooke Ramel I feel the same way when I sing it. It‘s my most requested song. It appeals to people of all ages. Kids love it. It's about hope and creating the future and it's a truly optimist song.
[Gabrielle Hewson] It's received substantial placement as well.
Brooke Ramel It's been placed on the NBC Saturday morning series All About Us and used on a commercial for Dawson's Creek. And "My Love Will Follow You," from the album was recently placed on The Chris Isaak Show.
[Gabrielle Hewson] Tell me a little bit about 7th Heaven and how you came to actually perform the song on camera.
Brooke Ramel Steven Collins and his family became fans of mine, having seen me regularly on Saturday nights in Laguna Beach. Because I'm always out performing at night, I don't watch a lot of TV, so he was vaguely familiar but I couldn't place why. One night after a show Collins introduced himself as an actor on the WB's 7th Heaven. I gave him my CDs to give to his producer in case an opportunity ever arose. And such an opportunity did, in the form of an episode written with a street singer and I got the call without an audition. I asked them what they wanted me to sing for the scene and they said, "Something of your own." So, I chose "Make Tomorrow Up." I have no idea whether I'll work on the show again. I do stay in touch with Steven via email, but I don't ask for work. I don't want to always be wanting from people. I don't like that flow. He knows I'm here and if they are doing anything I can do, I would love to help. If not, that's fine.
[Gabrielle Hewson] You're non-stop proactive, having had your hand in every aspect of your career from the very beginning. Where does this come from?
Brooke Ramel I'm inspired by do-ers: Madonna, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Dolly Parton, Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Lauren Hill. These are women who do more than just sing. They run their own careers. They are ambitious, dedicated, powerful, hard working and basically are powerhouses. They are superhuman in a way, and that's what I think it takes to really make it in this world as an artist and as a human being. That was the inspiration for my song ‘Superhuman World,' off the Be CD. The demands of life in 2002.
The best thing an artist or band can do is find ways to get your music to every music supervisor, director, producer, etc. possible. And always keep working on your music. It is your product and you should continue to try and make it better and better and better. That's what I do. Keep improving the quality of my product while outflowing as much as possible. And don't be afraid to play your stuff for anyone! Go for it!
And, I can't stress enough how the majority of my contacts in this business were made at my live shows. It was my live performance that gave me a chance to meet Steve Collins. While performing at the Crooked Bar in the basement of the Coconut Teaser on Sunset, I met my first manager, Karl Louis. We worked together for a little over a year and he helped me enormously.
[Gabrielle Hewson] The events of 9/11 have effected us all in ways that are sometimes hard to express. Your form of expression in the wake of this national tragedy was to reach out to your fans.
Brooke Ramel I decided to make a compilation CD called You Are The Wind made up of uplifting songs with positive lyrics. It was a difficult time and people wanted to hear positive music.
[Gabrielle Hewson] With your fourth album Be, you numbered and signed your first 1000 copies. Why?
Brooke Ramel I wanted to make the first 1000 special, especially for people who have been following me for many years. It makes it more fun. I wanted to do that because I have a following of people that have gone to see me at my smallest of gigs and filled my tip jar night after night and kept me going. I wanted those CDs to be different than the CDs I sell to everyone else.
[Gabrielle Hewson] And Be has received a lot of mileage both on radio and in placement.
Brooke Ramel I've been very fortunate. Kelly Cox of 95.5 KLOS, one of the premier rock radio stations in Southern California, featured six songs: "Superhuman World," "No Fear," "If You Love Me," "Someday," "Now" and "Colors" on her "Local Licks" program this past April. And "Someday," "Now" and the title track were featured on Glory Days.
[Gabrielle Hewson] Combined, your albums have done you well, selling approximately 30,000 copies. The sales have helped you earn a comfortable living as a singer-songwriter/live performer and net coveted "mailbox money" through quarterly royalty checks from BMI, through consistent placement of songs from each.
Brooke Ramel To date my songs have been used as source music, although I've been featured artist on some of these shows and web sites. I don't make a lot of money up front from my placements because I am an independent and pretty much accept whatever I am offered. However, I do earn money down the line in royalties, based on when shows are aired. My goal is to make it to a soundtrack. But I'm happy with the outcome so far. Television placement has increased my exposure and raised my value to labels. However, I'm not in this business for money or deals or anything else. I'm in it because I want to make music and others to hear it and enjoy it.
[Gabrielle Hewson] Tell me about some of the independent film placements you've had.
Brooke Ramel "Ou-es tu?" ("Where Are You"), from Tulips Bleed, was featured in the closing credits for Wednesday's Child and "I Wanted You to Know," from Make Tomorrow Up, was placed in Far On Foot. I rewrote some of the lyrics and redid the lead vocals for the director. "Mainstream" and "As For Me," both from Movie Star, were featured on two other film projects that went straight to video. It may not seem like much when you get a song placed in a film that goes straight to video or a lower budget movie. You still get checks every quarter. I also wrote and recorded a demo of a Country song, "You Just Won't Go Away," that wound up in a film as well.
[Gabrielle Hewson] You've accomplished so much and life is good. What do you hope to have accomplished looking back at her cumulative career as a performing singer-songwriter?
Brooke Ramel I am doing everything I want to do and love to do. I just want to do it on a larger scale and continue to improve as an artist. I would like to know that I made a positive difference in people's lives, that people were glad that I was here and that I wrote/sang/played music — That I achieved what I set out to do. Express myself, create and communicate."
And, that's exactly what she's doing. Touching hearts and souls, enhancing visual media with her songs and building a diehard base of happy, loyal fans.
During the writing of this interview, two of Ramel's songs were placed in major studio feature films: "Someday," from her CD Be, will be featured in Warner Bros.' feature film, White Oleander, starring Michelle Pfeifer, Renee Zellwegger and Robin Wright Penn (opening October 11th) and "Anything" from Tulips Bleed will be featured in Sony/Columbia Pictures' feature, Stealing Harvard, starring Jason Lee, Tom Green and Dennis Farina (opening September 13th).
There is no doubt Brooke Ramel is well on her way to meeting and exceeding her career goals as an artist. For this I am thankful. She is truly a beacon of inspiration and calm in the otherwise cluttered and confused world we all navigate daily — a dose of musical sanity amidst the chaos.
For more information on Brooke Ramel visit her web site at: www.brookeramel.com