If you watch Ray Donovan on Showtime, then you’ve heard Secaucus resident Dave Cirino. One of his songs was played during an episode of the hit series. Others were on Up All Night on NBC, and New Girl on Fox.
With a burgeoning music career in television, his is a story of perseverance and of belief in himself and his craft. Writing, recording, and producing his own electronic pop music with the help of his brother Stephen, the 33-year-old musician has released a number of albums and been selected as the featured artist on MySpace and other music sites.
Born in New Jersey to a Puerto Rican father and a Jamaican mom, Cirino built a home studio – several of them, in fact – where he records his tunes. Taking it one step further, he created a series of YouTube videos to teach other aspiring artists, producers, and engineers how to assemble a studio on a budget and make their own music. His YouTube channel has garnered over a million views.
Getting into music
Cirino’s musical career has been circuitous, but it began in a familiar way, with his parents signing him up for piano lessons at age eight. As a youngster he obediently practiced classical music until he was 15, when sports took over and he flung himself into baseball, basketball, and cross-country, with piano fading into the background.
But music remained a part of his life. “I was always in choir,” he said. “I was in band. I was always a singer. When I was in college I was in the gospel choir and I started playing the piano. My parents bought me a little Radio Shack keyboard and I had it in my dorm room and I was messing around. I used to write little songs in my room by myself and that’s when I started getting that bug, that itch.”
“When I heard it on TV, the feeling was just unreal.” –Dave Cirino
Digging deeper into D’Angelo’s influences, Cirino discovered Jimi Hendrix, Kool and the Gang, and others. Then when he met his current fiancee, she broadened his horizons further. “She listens to a lot of different types of music, like classic rock, and I started getting into all that stuff like Queen and the Rolling Stones and all these guys. My favorite bands right now are Daft Punk and Pharrell, I love what these guys are doing.”
Illustrating his eclectic nature is the framed poster of Miles Davis on the wall above his keyboard, surrounded by other favorites including Huey Lewis and the News, J. Dilla, Arcade Fire, and Duran Duran. Eclectic he is.
Like many others, Cirino started playing live gigs and trying to get signed by a major label. Like many others, he found it a hard and discouraging slog. Signing to a manager after college, he heard all the promises and all the praise, and suffered all the disappointments of a career that always seemed to be on the verge of breaking through. It was enough to make him quit music. Almost.
“It kind of crushed my spirits a little bit,” he said. “At one point I was just like, it’s over. You work for years and try to get something happening.” Then, just when he was ready to give it up, his brother talked him into giving it another shot. It didn’t hurt that his brother worked for Sony Records, so he knew music.
“My brother was always there,” said Cirino. “He’s my manager, my best friend, and my biggest supporter.” His brother also co-produces and sings backup on Cirino’s songs.
Taking a hard look at how much money they had spent on recording in professional studios, they decided to build their own home studio to continue recording. It was Cirino’s brother’s idea to document the process and turn it into a series of instructional YouTube videos.
“That’s when the whole independent, do-it-yourself era within my career arose,” Cirino said. “I learned everything. I was always a natural songwriter, a natural producer. That for me came easy. But the hard part for me was engineering. And I didn’t want to disrespect the art of engineering. So it took me about a year to learn by myself.”
Cirino’s self-recorded music was getting heard, it was getting good feedback, it was generating interest. But he still wasn’t getting signed to a label.
Then, through one of his brother’s industry contacts, he hooked up with Aperture Music, a licensing company in California. And they placed one of his songs on Up All Night, the network show starring Christina Applegate.
“When I heard it on TV, the feeling was just unreal,” he said. “It showed me we are good enough to get to this level. We had a party and we were very, very grateful. But deep down inside, a part of me said it’s just luck. Then when the second placement happened, that was even more special than the first because it told me that this is the route that we’re supposed to go. Because the other route that I was doing, with sending my demo tapes to major labels, trying to get into the company, trying to get meetings, trying to do this and that, getting shot down from everybody, was not working. So that showed me that there’s another lane in the music industry that you can make a career out of. Instead of trying to become the most famous person or the most rich person, you can actually make a decent career.”
The track that made it to Ray Donovan was taken from Cirino’s EP Spaceman, recorded in his very first studio. “What makes it more impressive to me is there’s no major backing behind me and my brother. We’re a team. We make the music, we do everything. We started in the basement. The track we did, that was in Weehawken, a basement studio where we had bootleg memory foam in the closet. Everything was straight underground.”
With this new career opening up in licensing songs for television, has his songwriting changed? “Us getting placed made me think, what are companies looking for?” he said. “So I came home and watched all type of different shows. What’s the ending credits? What’s this? What’s that? That’s what they’re looking for. The music that we made on Spaceman, we didn’t make that music to be placed. That was our natural, original music from the heart. And when they picked those types of songs, okay, that’s what they like. So that’s kind of why I’ve shifted toward more electronic. It’s really cool stuff. It’s universal.”
Living in Secaucus, which he describes as “a hidden jewel,” Cirino still has a day job while he continues to work on composing and recording music. His most recent release is the single “Drinking,” available for a limited time for free at www.davecirino.bandcamp.com.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.