Back in 2009, accomplished jazz musician and songwriter, Daniela Spagnolo, realised that she didn't even have a decent demo CD. It was time to get her act together. So that's what she did.
"I had always written my own material, so I thought why not put something together fusing some standards and some originals? I recorded a few songs, thought it sounded pretty good, and then just kept going," she smiles. "I was pretty sure I had enough for a CD, but wanted to make sure the original music matched the standards I put out there, so it didn't sound like two different records."
Daniela chose her standards to match the vibe of her originals, so "didn't swing them too hard". She admits the idea of putting her own material out there was terrifying, but what happened next was pretty staggering.
"I sheepishly called Al Schmitt at Capitol Records, and asked him if he would mix it for me, and he said, 'absolutely'." Daniela explains. Wow. "He was such a gentleman, and totally understood the process of that first record. So he mixed it, and then my husband Curt [Bisquera, producer and top LA session drummer] said I should submit it for a Grammy. I thought that was crazy! But we went online, followed the procedure, put it in the mail, and I received a mail saying it was being considered for a Grammy! I had no label or producer or team, and I nearly fell over! [laughs]"
It didn't win, Daniela tells us - but that's hardly the point. What an achievement, and a real positive sign for any aspiring musician who dreams of receiving such an accolade.
"[smiles] Well, I certainly didn't start doing music to win something; I just want to put stuff out that's honest and is of quality, and now I have a whole record of original music which I am in the process of recording now."
She does indeed. Her home studio sounds pretty idyllic, to say the least, and thanks to a simple (but very high-end) recording setup, Daniela is able to make music all day every day.
"I live a little out of LA - enough to see the sky and hear absolute silence - and I have a garden, which is a real blessing," Daniela explains. "There's no pressure, because I have everything I need here to record, and I'm pretty sure Al Schmitt will mix this next record too, so we'll follow the same process – but I'm a little more confident this time!"
Daniela is also a recording artist for Master-Phonic, a company that creates music for licensing.
"Through those guys, I've been doing some writing for TV and film, which has been great; and being able to record myself, edit myself, and just do it on my own, is an incredibly freeing feeling, as I'm not waiting for other people to do anything," she says. "It's been a real learning curve getting my head around this equipment, but I did it, and now I love it. I can just sit there and get into the zone, and do what needs to be done in order to create."
At the centre of proceedings is Daniela's Yamaha C7 piano, which is miked up with a pair of Audio-Technica ATM450 cardioid condensers. She also uses an AT4050 multi-pattern condenser for recording her vocals, and her trusted RME Fireface recording interface, which she uses with Pro Tools.
"My husband has this knack of knowing how to put things together without manuals, which is very useful," Daniela laughs. "It's a very simple writing studio with some of the best equipment and the best microphones. We have Pro Tools, we have the Fireface, and because my home has really high ceilings, the piano sounds great – we get a great sound overall.
"The Fireface provides such a smooth sound, and it's so simple to use, especially for someone like me, who's not a professional engineer. I feel like that interface is created for people like me who want this great high quality elegant sound, but by not having to do a whole lot! I don't have a complicated understanding of technology, but I understand this. It does exactly what it should do: it lets me write and put my stuff out there at a really high sonic level."
The two ATM450s are set up inside the piano permanently; Daniela just makes sure she hides the wires and cables, so she can plug straight into her little breakout box at any time, and start creating.
"Curt also records his drums here, so that's all done using Fireface as well; it's this thin, little sexy box, which sounds expensive and elegant to me. That's the best way I can describe it! And the A-T mics are warm and rich sounding; the combination of the two is perfect for me."
So, a Grammy for 2017, then?
"[laughs] Grammy submission is definitely the deadline for this record, as I feel much more clear about things. I've given a certain amount of permission to allow myself to create," Daniela insists. "I was raised in New York, and spent a lot of time sitting in and learning from the greats, so I am a huge Ella Fitzgerald fan, but I am also a huge Yes fan; I even skipped my senior prom to go and see Yes! Because I am classically trained, Rik Wakeman was the closest I could identify with when I was studying. The question then was, how do I fuse all that together? And now I realise it's just a case of allowing what comes out musically to come out. And I like what I have been coming up with, as it feels good and honest; we're in a time where doors are a little more open, and not as confined to tradition as they were, which can only be a good thing."
We wish Daniela the best of luck with the new record (and the Grammy submission!)