Berkeley native Sydney Reeves, who goes by her stage name, SydneyNycole, talks about her new project, recent deals and what it’s like to be a Black woman in the music industry.
“When people look at me, they don’t expect for me to make the type of music that I do,” Reeves told Berkeleyside in a recent interview via Facetime. The 25-year-old singer and songwriter, whose glowing brown skin beautifully sets off her choice of fine fabrics, gives off the vibe of soulful women singers who have come before her, such as Angie Stone, Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott.
Reeves, who recently signed a publishing deal with Sony Records said, although she might not be as soulful as people expect, her goal is to transcend genres and make music people of all ages and backgrounds can appreciate.
During her conversation with Berkeleyside contributor Delency Parham, Reeves talked about her upcoming EP, the struggles she faces as a brown-skinned woman in a white industry, and what a successful career in music looks like to her.
It’s still very early in your career, but what has it been like being a young, Black woman in the music industry?
Being a brown-skinned girl has made it somewhat difficult, as it would be for any Black woman trying to make a name for herself in any field. I’ve come across my roadblocks, faced my own trials and tribulations. I’ve always heard of some of the prejudices and stereotypes that I might face, but I try not to let it stop me from my goals. For example, when I was 18, I had a meeting with a major label in New York. I was really excited. I flew out there, sat down with one of their executives and they told me with a straight face that one of their main concerned was me being brown skinned and sounding “white.” They felt that this would be a problem because it would be hard to market a Black girl that sounds “white.” It only made me work harde, though.
Now when someone tells you that you sound “white,” how do you interpret that? What does sounding “white” even mean when it comes to music?
It’s no secret that white women have always dominated mainstream pop music. So anytime you hear pop music coming from a woman, people will subconsciously assume it’s a white girl singing the song. So the fact that I was even making pop music as a young Black girl, people said “she sounds white” instead of “here’s a Black girl doing pop.” It’s a really basic and ignorant way of thinking.
So who was Sydney Reeves before the music?
I was an all-out athlete. I played volleyball, softball and even did some gymnastics. I played both softball and volleyball for Longfellow and Berkeley High, I was actually quite good at both. I really saw myself going to college for softball, but then music happened.
At what point did you make the conscious career choice, like “OK, I think I’m going to give music my all?”
It was right after softball season had ended my senior year. Like I said, I had thought of playing in college, but something inside of me just had to pursue music. After some contemplation, I was just like, “I can make a career out of music. I’m going full force with it!”
So how did you get into music? Does your family have a musical background or did you just forge your own path?
Well, I’ve always loved music. As a child, I was always singing. I wrote my first song when I was around 9 years old, but yes, my family does have a background in music. My father (Gary Reeves), managed Jamie Foxx and Magic Johnson for seven years, and he’s served as a business partner and manager for Blair Underwood for the past 20 years, so he’s always had his hands in the entertainment industry. On my 16th birthday, I told my father the only gift I wanted was for him to let me get in the studio. So I had the pleasure of recording my first song as a gift for my 16th birthday, and later that year I would sign my first deal as a songwriter for Foxx-King Entertainment, which is Jamie Foxx’s publishing company.
How has your father being in the entertainment industry played a role in your career?
Of course it has opened up a number of doors for me. I don’t think I would have had access to Jamie Foxx if it weren’t for my father, but it also comes with its downsides. You have to think about the number of people who work in the entertainment industry who are trying to parlay an opportunity for their children. I’m pretty sure my dad wasn’t the first to say “listen to my daughter’s song, she can really sing!” Then think about how many times that child actually couldn’t sing. So I think executives and A&R are often weary of parents in the industry trying to get their kid’s foot in the door.
You recently signed a deal with Sony Records, can you tell me more about that and what that deal entails?
The deal I just inked is with SonyRed, which is a division of Sony Records. The deal I signed is a distribution deal. Meaning they’ll be paying for all my promotion and making sure my music reaches more people than it would if I were to release it myself. I also just signed a three-year deal with 3T Entertainment that I am very proud of and excited about. It’s a three-year contract for 30 songs, so I’m hoping I can get three albums done before my contract is up.
You’re also doing a jingle for a television show, right?
Yes, I’m working on a jingle for a show called “Give” and it’s supposed to come out this winter. It’ll be hosted by Blair Underwood. It’s a show that’s based on giving back to communities around the nation. T-Pain did the hook and I’m going to do two verses. It’s weird for me because I’m a huge T-Pain fan and I never thought I would be working with him. It’s truly an honor and I’m excited.
We talked about the role your father has played in your music career. How has the rest of your family contributed?
My family as a whole has been extremely supportive. My mother has always been my biggest fan, the faith that she showed in me at the beginning of my career, it really gave me the confidence to keep pushing and chasing this dream. Then there’s my older brother Brandon. He had the privilege of shadowing my dad and learning what it means to be a manager in the entertainment business. So he’s been applying what he’s learned from my dad to help me with my career. Whether it is scheduling meetings, answering phone calls, he does a lot for me.
What has been the hardest part about working in the industry?
Being turned down is the toughest part about working in entertainment. And after being turned down it’s extremely difficult to stay motivated. There have been a lot of broken promises because this is the music industry. But I’ve gotten better at just keeping going and just keeping working. It wasn’t always like that. I used to get discouraged. Eventually, I realized, it just comes with the territory. If I’m really going to be an artist, I have to learn that not everyone is going to like my music. Doesn’t mean there won’t be people that will.
One to Watch: Berkeley model, fashion producer Tiana Lee (05.18.16)
Ones to watch: Berkeley filmmakers address gentrification in horror sci-fi film ‘2037’ (05.10.16)
One to watch: Berkeley drummer James Small (05.03.16)
One to watch: BHS grad, musician Spencer Stevens (04.26.16)
Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and Facebook or get the latest news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s Daily Briefing. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep Berkeleyside running and support independent local journalism by becoming a member.