Interview with our ReverbNation Winner, UK’s Sami Sumner!

1. Who are you as an artist? What is your story? 

As an artist, I feel that I have always just created music that comes naturally to me, not trying to follow any formula or musical trend currently in fashion. It’s always been the most authentic way for me to express myself. My story is that I am essentially a one-man machine – I write, produce, perform and mix everything myself. I’ve been able to build up skills in doing all these things over the years as I have been doing this a mighty long time! I can remember my earliest memories being inspired watching MTV as a kid and writing my first song at age 11. I have written over 200 songs and recorded almost 100 of them, finally releasing my debut album last year. My album is very much a pop, soul, r&b hybrid but I make almost every kind of music – jazz, dance, electro, classical and I hope to show the world all sides of my musical soul over the years.

I play piano and saxophone to a high level, I have had a lot of great teachers but a lot of what I know is self-taught. Really to be honest though, I have done a lot and struggled a lot too. My music has taken me around the world, I used to play piano and sing on international cruise ships, I have performed in LA and all around the UK, and have had many ups and downs along the way. Ultimately, my story is one of never giving up, taking a painfully long time to believe in myself and struggling with doubt and negative feedback over the years. I came very close with record labels and publishing companies over the years but it didn’t quite work out, so I decided to go it alone and release my music independently. I began playing the piano age 7, saxophone age 10, singing and song writing age 11, and producing music age 15. I have a vast catalogue of music for the world to delve into and I don’t intend on slowing down any time soon.

2. Who are some of your favorite artists and music influences?

Without a doubt my main musical influence is the late, great King of Pop Michael Jackson. I have vivid memories as a kid singing along to his music and copying his every dance move in front of the TV – a lot of people my generation have the same memory. I used to be in front of the TV for hours and hours recording my favourite songs onto VHS from MTV and VH1, in the early 90’s before the days of YouTube!! Even to this day, when creating my own music, a lot of what he did is still so revolutionary and ahead of its time. I think King of Pop is a just title!

My other main influences and favorite artists are Prince, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, Elton John, George Michael, Bee Gees, Earth Wind and Fire and Babyface. As you can see, I am influenced most by classic, legendary artists who made real, authentic, honest music, I hope this is reflected in my own music! I also love Jazz and Smooth Jazz with a passion, particularly inspired by artists and groups like The Rippingtons, Fourplay, Ronnie Laws, Dave Koz and Jeff Kashiwa to name just a few. 

3. What is makes your music worth it? To the world? To your fans? 

I feel that I offer something with my music that is largely lost in today's industry. I feel that music today is more superficial than it’s ever been and the subject matter of most pop music is repetitive and meaningless. I am offering the opposite, my music is mostly about love, peace, caring for one another, believing in yourself as well optimism for the future. When my music reaches a larger demographic of people in the world, I hope they will experience these things in their own lives, with my music being a massive help to them. 

4. What is the future of music and the industry?

The future for me will be all about how the music makes people feel and the subject matter of the music will be more about the improvement of people's lives rather than superficial, topical matters. I also see a future where live music is even more important than it is now, as people reach for music as an experience rather than just a product. With the proliferation of artists and new artists breaking all the time because of the internet, I see a future where branding of an artist or band is even more important than it is now, so as to be recognizable and unique in such a diluted market. 

In terms of musical style, I see being 'vulnerable' as the new 'cool', the new 'swagger' if you like. It will indeed be cool to be vulnerable with your lyrics and music and to really put your soul into the music again.

5. What surprises you the most about the music industry?

I guess what surprises me the most is how much repetition and copying there is in the music industry. When there is a huge hit with unique sounds and production, then a slurry of hits will follow in the same vein and style. There is a serious lack of originality and it always surprises me because what made the original hit so popular was that it was different so surely you would try and make something unique yourself?

I’m also quite surprised by the sheer amount of quality music out there that doesn’t get any commercial success. Some of the best music I have heard in the past 10 years has been under the radar and music that seems to never get a second thought by record labels.

6.  What’s your Poison?

Courvoisier, no ice, room temperature…delicious!

In terms of music, my palette is so wide and varied but my favorite types are pop, soul, r&b and jazz/smooth jazz. I also love a lot of dance music including uplifting melodic house and trace.

7.  How is your Art “your religion”?

It is the main driving force in my life and something I literally cannot live without. Despite a busy work schedule, I have to find at least a little bit of time every single day for music to feel fulfilled. From the first thing in the morning when I get up, music is whirling around in my head and ideas are flowing and of course the desire to create and play music is there.

A lot of people have a very casual relationship with music and some can even take it or leave it, but for me it provides the very fabric of my everyday life and for me its an emotional connection to music. As the song ‘Music and Me’ says: “there have been others, but never two lovers, like music and me”

8.  What are you truly creating with your music that changes the world, changes society?

A feeling of hope and optimism for the future. It all starts small but if every person decided to treat every person better and empathize with others, we could slowly make a better world. I am also creating a varied catalogue of music that has something for everyone and bringing the various genres together is another example of coming together rather than being divided and apart. 

9. What is the message of your music? 

My message of one-ness. We are all the same, we are all connected and we all want the same things from life. I hope that my music can help to heal some wounds in people’s lives and affect a change where people treat each other better. I would like to be able to help people with pain and anguish with my music and bring joy into people's lives. 

10. Have you been “lucky” or “gifted” in the music industry so far? Tell us more:

I was very proud to be getting radio play last year, that was a real feat for me but I don’t really think I’ve been lucky so far in the industry. I have performed a lot of great gigs, reached a lot of people with my music and independently released my debut album but everything I have done has been hard work and sheer determination. 

I used to play as session musician (keys) for various artists and have played some pretty big stages - including Glastonbury, when I played keys for funky house artist Donae'o. I was also very lucky to have gone to college with some amazing, world-beating musicians and very lucky to share classrooms with Adele, Jessie J and Katy B over the years.

However, in general I do feel gifted and very lucky to be able to share my gift with the world and to have the talents that I do have. I wouldn’t change them for the world, music is everything to me and I am so happy to have it in my life.

11. What do you really think it takes to make it in the music industry? Tell us 3 keys. 

The three main things I would say are 1) Patience – you have to be patient and take your time perfecting your craft, practicing, writing, performing and don’t expect it to happen overnight. 2) Belief – you need to know that it will be hard and it could take a long time to get where you want so never give up and always keep believing in yourself. Believe in your own abilities and in the fact that you deserve this great career you are after. If you don’t believe in those two things I don’t think it’ll ever happen. 3) Thick Skin – especially online - I myself have had my fair share of negative feedback and comments and lots of “haters” over the years so I know first hand what it is like. Always be strong and proud of yourself, but most importantly develop thick skin, so that the comments and the unkind words don’t sink in and put you off course. “Water off a duck’s back” is the philosophy that is needed. 

I would say that these are the main things that are needed, but much more is needed too – of course musical talent and the determination to keep working hard, improving and practicing. 

12. What is your main inspirational philosophy in life? Favorite quote?

My main inspirational philosophy of life is that we are the co-creators of our lives and our experiences. We can shape our everyday experiences and have the power to achieve everything and anything we want. My favorite quote is "Whether you think you can, or you can't, either way you are right" - Henry Ford. This sums it up completely and describes the creative power we have for both positive and negative outcomes. We have the power to create our destiny - as cliche as that might sound - but I really do believe that!

13. What do you regret the most in your music and would have done differently?

There’s not a lot I regret as regret won’t change anything or make the past any different. But something I would say is I have learned from the past about not second guessing my decisions, not being decisive and the also the danger of procrastinating. I no longer bother with these things anymore, so I guess instead of regretting them I have learned from them.

I do wish I had released my debut album earlier in my career, but only released it last night. But the thing is, it was ready when it was ready and it is what it is. I have learned not to be too hard on myself these days but it took a long time, I used to beat myself up a lot and put too much pressure on myself.

14. Where do you see your career going in five years? 10 years? Next year?

In the next year I plan on releasing my second album, filming another few music videos and really making lots more video content and expanding my live show. I also want to get some music placed in adverts, tv shows and films as that side of publishing is something I am massively passionate about. Another long standing ambition I hope to achieve soon is to having some of my songs released by other artists, I am versatile as a writer and will be able to share my craft with the world in many ways.

In 5 years, I hope that my fan base is large enough and the career is going well enough that music can more than support me as my only source of income. Currently, I do my music along side my day job, but this is what will really set me free and hope to change that around in the next 5 years. 

In 10 years time, I hope to be in a position where I can really experiment and explore new avenues with my music. I have always wanted to make a jazz-fusion/smooth jazz project with my brother who is an expert guitarist, composer and singer himself. We have always said we will do it and by then, we will be well into successful careers to be able to try this new venture.  

15. Legacy: At the end of the day, how do you want your fans to remember you and your music?

I guess what I really would like is to be remembered for is that my music made people happy. That in the end is my main goal, if my music improved the life of just person that I have been a success. The ultimate dream is that I can be counted as a legend in the same league as the legends that have inspired me.


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