Stephen Cservenyak ’13

With a mom from a small, western-Iowa farm town and a dad from the south suburbs of Chicago, Stephen Cservenyak ’13 grew up listening to a good mix of country, Christian, hair metal, hip-hop and top 40 music. It seems, however, that country stole his heart, as he now takes the country music scene by storm as “Stephen Neal”– the front-man in his own rising band.

His journey toward music was quite unexpected. It wasn’t until his freshman year at USF that he started teaching himself how to play guitar, sing, and write music. Though he was a marketing major, he eventually took some Digital Audio Recording Arts classes, too, which he feels was a blessing because “it helped me get started on the path to realizing that music wasn’t just a hobby,” Cservenyak said.

After graduating with a B.S. in Marketing, Cservenyak went and got a “real job” and continued to learn business strategies and sales tactics
for a successful global company. It was through the things he learned in school and developed in his job that he was able to find success in his music career.

“I was very fortunate to have some great professors at St. Francis like Richard Vaughn, Steve Morrissette and Jim Haeffner, who always pushed two things: stay organized and think outside the box,” said Cservenyak. “It’s been those two things—especially thinking against what might be standard practice—that have helped to give me a leg up in this business as an independent. Ultimately, I am a one-man team on the business side of it, going against artists that have labels, management companies, promoters, etc. You really DO need to work smarter and not just work harder.”

Cservenyak started playing live in 2015 with a band that consisted almost entirely of former or then-current Saints. But as time went on and the path was “head to Nashville or call it quits,” the group split up. Only Jeff Glasscock ’17 followed Cservenyak and still plays lead guitar for him today.

Moving to Nashville, where he’s lived for over a year now, was pivotal, according to Cservenyak. “Being close to Nashville has been huge on a lot of different levels,” he said. “First, it just shows people that you are committed, which helps them open up to working with you. Second, there are only a few cities in the country that have the quality musicians you need to work
with in the studio and onstage, in order to start setting yourself apart. Nashville is, of course, one of them.”

Like many music artists do, Cservenyak found it best to change his name for marketing purposes. As much as he would have loved to keep his real name, he decided to go by Stephen “Neal”—Neal being his grandpa’s middle name—to make things easier. (“Even a Google search,” he joked.) The fact that his grandparents exposed him to country music at an early age made the choice a fitting and special one.

Cservenyak has a lot of things going on right now and plans to continue to tour and put out new music. He put out five new songs this year in an effort to show how he’s evolving and to share the new direction he’s heading with his music. He hopes that each new set of songs he releases will be different from the last. Fans can catch one of his shows in any number of locations.

“Looking at my schedule of shows this year and seeing nearly 80 all over the country—from Texas to New York to Utah, and everywhere in between—has made me smile and think, ‘Man I’m getting somewhere!’” said Cservenyak.

How can current Saints and friends of USF follow Cservenyak’s lead?

“It’s a tough question because there are so many different paths for people to become successful in music. I would tell people that if you really want to break through and make some noise, to be prepared to work harder and longer than you ever have before. Be prepared to be disappointed, offended, discouraged and beaten down often. Accept that you will fail but don’t accept failure. But the two most important things—just like almost anything in life—are 1) to surround yourself with great people that truly care about you (and care about them in return), and 2) don’t just sit and talk about it…do it. Be truthful to your work. Let it be full of passion that will make others feel the same way. That’s how you gain fans and followers that will be a part of your journey.”

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To learn more about Stephen and his upcoming tour dates, visit stephennealmusic.com.