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Meet Kayte Deioma

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kayte Deioma.

Kayte, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Some creative people are super focused on one thing, but many of us create in multiple directions. I’m a singer/songwriter, a music producer, a photographer/videographer, a writer, and have many other interests.

I grew up 2nd of eight children in an Italian-Irish family in a small town in Ohio. I’ve been writing poetry, songs and stories as long as I can remember. I come by it naturally. My Irish grandmother would burst into song or stories whenever she walked in the door. I just thought she was being odd until I went to Ireland and realized she was just being Irish.

My mother played classical piano, but none of her children learned to play. Instead, I started taking guitar lessons at 13, which is also when I started singing and playing for an audience at church – my first paid gig as a singer.

In high school, I worked on the literary magazine and performed in the school folk group, choir and annual musicals. I learned how to use an SLR camera to take photos for the yearbook. I was also an avid reader and was fascinated by the cultures and languages of the world.

I went to the University of Cincinnati to study musical theatre, but quickly realized I hated auditioning. I was studying Italian, Spanish, French and German and had a lot of communications credits, so the university let me use their honors independent study program to customize a degree in International Communications. That included study abroad in Spain, Mexico and Germany. I always traveled with a guitar, camera and notebook.

I had been working in Germany for two years after college when I got news that I received a full scholarship for the PhD program at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. The program wasn’t really a good fit for me, so I exited as gracefully as possible with a Masters instead of a PhD, but it got me to LA, for which I am endlessly grateful.

A connection I met through that experience led to a job running social service programs for Cambodian refugees in Long Beach. My passion for writing was channeled into grant writing, and I used my photography skills to document and report on all our cultural programs. This led to my first photo exhibit on Cambodian arts and culture. It also inspired my first travel articles and photos which were published in a Cambodian American magazine and in the Phnom Penh Post. My Khmer language skills didn’t develop beyond some basic phrases, but I speak Cambodian food really well.

Eventually, I left that job to focus on a professional photography career. Although my goal was to break into travel photography, most of my work was with local governments, businesses and special events until I added travel writing to my offerings.

I learned that travel writers had more opportunities for sponsored travel than photographers, so I started my own online travel magazine, RainyDayTraveler.com – a name inspired by a four-week trip to Europe where it rained in every country. The site had the desired effect and led to travel columns in a local newspaper and magazine and other travel writing and photography assignments. It also helped land me the coveted position of “Los Angeles Travel Expert” on About.com (now TripSavvy.com). I wrote about and photographed everything a traveler would want to know about visiting Los Angeles. It was a big part of my life for several years and 1000+ articles, many of which are still online. After using up all the words I could think of to write about Los Angeles, I left in 2017 to focus on my music and photography.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Unlike writing and photography which had stayed with me through multiple careers, my musical life took a very big detour. When I first started working with the Cambodian community, I was still actively involved in music. However, I soon developed some problems with joints swelling in my hands so I couldn’t play my guitar. I stopped singing altogether. I focused on social work. I focused on photography. I didn’t sing. I barely even listened to music.

I periodically dipped my toe back in the musical world. I sang briefly with a madrigal group but didn’t love the music. When my hands were better, I took a mariachi guitar class and sang songs in Spanish with a bunch of 14-year-old boys. I would start getting so involved with music that I would neglect my work, so I would stop singing to refocus.

One night at a party with some musician friends, I was singing along with a cover song they were jamming on, and one of them said, “you should come sit in with us sometime.” I said I would love to if we could rehearse. “Just practice with the record,” he said. I told him I didn’t want to sing in public without rehearsing together and his parting comment was, “You’re wasting your voice.”

Cut to a few weeks later. I win a raffle prize of a 2-hour session with spiritual guru Dorothy Donohue. I want to talk about new directions for my photography and writing. She says my spirit guides are telling me I’m supposed to be singing, and “Your friends say you’re wasting your voice.” Those were her exact words.

My photography and writing work was doing well, but not inspiring me, so I was looking for a new challenge. My schedule was flexible, so I figured it was as good a time as any to try some singing on the side without having a negative impact on my work. First, I took a few voice lessons to get my voice back in shape. My voice is not a pop voice. It’s more Julie Andrews and Doris Day, which works great for children’s music and crooner songs. So the next thing I did was to record Lullaby of Hope, a song I wrote for my youngest siblings when I was 16.

In celebration of reclaiming my voice, I planned a “return to the stage” concert of jazz standards at Sir Winston’s Lounge on the Queen Mary. I had been writing about the Queen Mary as a tourist and dining destination for years. On one visit to do a restaurant review at Sir Winston’s, I swear the ghost of Marlene Dietrich tapped me on the shoulder as I was taking photos of the Art Deco piano in the lounge and said “You have to sing Falling in Love Again in this room.”

I didn’t grow up listening to jazz standards so I had to learn all the music from scratch. I did a bunch of research, hired a pianist and put together a set of songs along with the stories that related them to the ship and called it “Songs of the Queen Mary.” I included Dietrich’s Falling in Love Again and talked about the decadent love poems she wrote in German while cruising aboard the ship.

That was so much fun! I would have made that my life there and then, but finding and affording an accompanist willing to rehearse was surprisingly challenging. I was still busy with photography and writing, so I didn’t pursue it further.

Lullaby of Hope was sitting out in the musicverse on streaming platforms with no one listening to it. I thought to myself, “I need to write some more children’s songs to keep it company so I’m not just a one-song artist. But in order to write a song, I need a day with nothing else on the calendar.” My next thought was, “That’s a silly limiting belief. Just write something.” The next day was Thanksgiving. I got up in the morning and wrote a song before I went to dinner at my cousin’s and wrote another song when I got home.

I was inspired by conversations with my young nephew to write songs that help put a complicated world into perspective. When he was five he told me he would catch and kill all the pirates when he grew up. I suggested maybe he could just take them to jail instead of killing them and he agreed that he could take cages on his ship to haul them off to jail. That led me to write the song Pirates Are People Too.

At that point, I was writing children’s songs with recording in mind and wasn’t even thinking of performing them live. I was looking to the universe to light up the path for either photography, writing or music to take me the next step in my career. I went to a Make A Wish Foundation fundraiser and met Marcia Wieder, an inspirational business coach who helped crystallize the vision of Auntie Kayte, Children’s Music for Conscious Kids.

In addition to being sparked by conversations with kids, my children’s songs are inspired by all the adults I’ve encountered at personal development workshops who feel unworthy, unable and broken. I hope to plant the seeds of confidence, empathy, worthiness and community into young minds to counteract some of that programming in advance.

To test out the material, I volunteered to perform in a few grade school classrooms, which is how the live show and CD came about. Teachers kept asking me if I had recordings of the songs they could use in class. I had a whole batch of songs written, but I was at a loss for how to get them recorded.

I met the brilliant children’s musician, composer and producer David Tobocman at a reception for GRAMMY-nominated children’s musicians and started working with him on recording my songs. He has an amazing gift for interpreting exactly what’s in my head. When I don’t have an arrangement in mind, he always comes up with something that’s a perfect fit.

I had no budget, but a few of my relatives and friends chipped in, and I just kept recording little by little as I could afford it until I had enough songs for a CD. Rufus the Unicorn and Other Upside-Down Fairytale Songs was released in 2017 and won awards from the Parents Choice Foundation, Family Choice Awards, Creative Child Magazine, and LA Parent Magazine’s National Parenting Product Awards.

Since then, I’ve been performing the music from the CD and dozens of other original songs for children and families in themed programs at libraries, schools, summer camps and on stages around LA. I have recorded tracks for the songs on the CD and a few others, but I had to start playing the guitar again to be able to perform some of the newer songs, which has been a challenge after so many years not playing.

I have also gone back to writing and co-writing music for adults – some songs that I record under the artist name Mischievous Miracles (I decided my name, Kayte Deioma, was already too identified with my photography and writing work to use it for music), and some that others sing under various artist names. I again faced the major challenge of how to get songs recorded as an indie artist.

After hiring a few different producers and collaborating with co-writing producers, I finally got up the courage to start learning music production myself. I took some online classes and watched a lot of YouTube videos. Once I had a basic understanding of the tools, I hired producer Alex Helton to come to my apartment and coach me in production on my own songs. That was super helpful and really advanced my productions skills.

I’m still very much a beginner at music production, but last Christmas I released, I’m a Little Angel, the first song I wrote, sang and produced from beginning to end. The original is released under Auntie Kayte. I’m working on a jazzier Mischievous Miracles remix of the same song. I also have a couple of unreleased adult songs I produced that are represented by licensing agents for potential placement in TV, movies and ads. It’s incredibly validating to have industry professionals believe that my songs can compete in that market.

Kayte Deioma Creative – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Everything I do is about telling stories that uplift – in songs, photos, videos, and occasionally still in writing. I am still a pen (computer keyboard) and camera for hire as well as a performer.

I prefer to tell stories that shine a light on what’s good and focus on where we want to go rather than dwelling on things that are wrong, but sometimes you have to find people where they are to show them a way out.

• I am available virtually – and when live performances are permitted again – to perform children’s music programs for libraries, schools, summer camps, festivals and other events.
• You can hire me to travel to your country, sing in your hotel lounge and write about the experience (when travel bans are lifted).
• You can hire me to shoot an event, a music video or album cover, socially distant front porch family or “school” photos, or other photo assignments.

My children’s songs are designed to spark discussions. I especially love working with classrooms, summer camps and after-school programs where I have more time to debrief each song. Six to twelve-year-olds want to go deep on When I Talk to Myself, Am I Kind? and What Can I Do for the World Today? Rufus the Unicorn inspires exploration of being who you are, finding your tribe, making diverse friends and bullying. In recent virtual conversations, we’ve used Pirates Are People Too to talk about human rights and the fact that even people who have committed crimes deserve to be treated with humanity.

During the pandemic lockdown, I’ve been busy creating recorded programs for use in online classrooms as part of the Passport to the Arts program funded by the Arts Council for Long Beach. Those 23 to 33-minute programs are available for licensing. I’m also available for socially distant sidewalk or porch concerts until regular live events are possible again.

My photos are available to license from me or from Alamy.com. My songs (released by Auntie Kayte, Mischievous Miracles and Suddenly Flying, and also unreleased songs) are also available for licensing from me or from Sweetontop.com.

I have to admit that it’s exciting, and I’m proud, when I see one of my photos on a billboard, a story in a magazine, a video I worked on getting millions of YouTube views, or someone tells me they planned their LA trip using my online guides. But what really fills my heart is when a boy comes to a concert already knowing my songs from the CD he got at the library; a girl recognizes me at the store from seeing a performance and starts singing A Princess Can Be Smart and doing the dance; or a child comes back to tell me she made a new friend after learning the lyrics to What Can I Do for the World Today? It touches me profoundly. I feel like the Grinch at the end of the story with my heart growing and growing.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
For me success is being able to make a living doing work that I love every day. It’s seeing my creative product, whether it’s a song, a story, a photo or a video resonate with an audience. It’s photo clients calling me back to shoot another event because they feel great not only about the photos I provide but the experience I create for them. It’s people supporting my music by downloading it, streaming it and sharing it. It’s potential contracts becoming long-term clients. Even The little yeses on the way to a final no; the not right for this, but I love it; the not this, but send me something else…are all signs of success to me.

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Image Credit:

Kayte Deioma (5), Amy Cantrell Photography (1)

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