Dayna Shereck had never written a song until she turned 35, but after her divorce, when she was finding her way through relationships, she started hearing melodies in her head.
“I got a friend of mine to teach me about four chords on the guitar, and I must have written 12 or 15 songs right away,” she said.
Now, five years later, one of her pop songs has been placed in a movie, and several artists, including country singer Marcum Stewart, have included her songs on their albums. She was a finalist in the Great American Song Contest and a semifinalist in the International Songwriting Competition for 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Although she’s more of a songwriter than a vocalist, Shereck sings beautifully on an EP of her alt country tunes that she released this year.
Shereck got her initial break in a difficult industry after she contacted the Songwriters Association of Canada. The organization hooked her up with a multi-platinum producer, Marcus Kane, who recognized her talent, and her first demo, Faultlines, was born.
Over the past five years, Shereck, who lives in Toronto, has made some 10 trips to Nashville to write and record. Her first taste of success in Nashville came when she co-wrote All I Really Want Is You with Stewart. The song was demoed and pitched to a major country artist later that same week.
“That was the first thing that made me feel, I’m here and it’s really happening,” she said.
Thousands of artists are in Nashville pitching songs, writing and performing at any one time, and Shereck said the “nature of the business often dictates whether a song is cut by an artist.” But she added that some people say the best songs do win in the end.
“When you’re in Nashville, you’re aware of the business, what they’re looking for, and you can end up writing for the market. The commercial market is not where I target my stuff,” she said. She’s had a major label “hold,” comparable to a reservation, placed on one of her songs, she said, but it didn’t make it onto the artist’s recording.
“So it’s an emotional roller-coaster,” she added. But the highs, when they happen, are exhilarating. The pop tune, Whadaya Say, which Shereck wrote with two co-writers, is a featured song in the 2015 movie On the Wing. It’s been shown at several U.S. film festivals and took the Best Feature Award at the seventh annual Louisville International Festival of Film last month.
Whadaya Say is hopeful and romantic, Shereck said, adding that she usually writes “heavier, sadder stuff,” like some of the songs on her EP, Suitcase Full of Dreams. The five-song EP, which she co-wrote with other songwriters, has a traditional country bluegrass sound. It includes the track Think Again, a song about the fragility of love. I Didn’t Chase All the Good Ones Away is a catchy tune about female empowerment, about valuing “yourself and hopefully one of the good ones will be there when you find yourself in that place,” Shereck said. Shereck is again on her way to Nashville to pursue her dreams. “This time it’s mostly about writing with people who I have already started things with, finishing songs that were in progress and writing new ones,” she said.
Shereck, a mother of two, David, 11, and Olivia, 13, also works for a not-for-profit agency, helping people with barriers to employment find jobs. “I’ve always encouraged people to follow their dreams and that’s what I’m doing now,” Shereck said.
Suitcase Full of Dreams is available for download on iTunes.