Dan Franklin is a Los Angeles based producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist. Originally from Ukiah California, Dan moved to L.A. to finish his bachelor’s degree in the heart of the music industry. Throughout the years, Dan has amassed a diverse list of clients and credits. As a multi-instrumental performer, he’s spanned every genre, playing with everyone from Slash to Leann Rimes on every stage from theme parks to the Grand ‘Ole Opry. In addition to playing well with others, Dan also has his own project, ‘Dan and Leland’. Featuring guitar monster Leland Jackness, the duo is currently recording their fourth album which has a companion 200 page graphic novel they raised $32,000 on kickstarter to create. He has also released several singles of his own and has a popular YouTube channel at DanFranklinMusic featuring videos from his artist and Pretty Little Liars star, Sasha Pieterse. On the production side, Dan has had his scores and songs featured on Fox, MTV, RTD, VH1, CBS, NBC, Comedy Central, as well as the big screen. We recently had the opportunity to interview Dan Franklin, here’s the exclusive interview. (Photos: Top: Dan’s selfie from Abbey Road recording Studio. Left: Dan performing with Skullduggers. Image courtesy Joyous King).
RA Beattie: Dan, you’ve been playing a number of big gaming and Comic-con-esq events recently. How did you get introduced to this niche?
Dan Franklin: I've been playing in a pirate band at a major theme park in Southern California for a decade now - That's where they discovered us. It turned out that this company called Rare Ltd. in England was developing a new pirate video game for Microsoft for XBOX called "Sea of Thieves"
For part of their promotional efforts they wanted to have a pirate band doing some of the songs from their video game, as well as public domain sea shanties, which we know a billion of, for their events.
Wearing their banner and promoting their game.
Beattie: That's wild. This has to be very, very new territory as a musician, right?
Franklin: When I started doing that gig in 2006 I only knew a handful of sea shanties, the really popular ones - Drunken Sailor, Blow the Man Down. It's a really beautiful world of melodies. It has a lot in common with bluegrass and it has a lot in common with folk and there's just a lot of Celtic stuff that bleeds into it. If you know a lot of that kind of stuff it comes very naturally.
Beattie: I know you play a variety of instruments. Are you playing mostly mandolin in these pirate gigs?
Franklin: I play either mandolin or upright bass in that band. A lot of times for these gigs we're strolling and it’s hard to stroll with an upright bass.
Beattie: Gotcha. You just played Comic-Con in San Diego. You played a huge venue and a huge event in Germany.
Franklin: Yes. Called Games-Com.
Beattie: This must just be wild, right? You have, I would assume, every cast of character. People dressed up in outlandish costumes? All sorts of crazy activities going on around you?
Franklin: Man. It IS wild. It's unlike any thing you've ever seen and if you go look at pictures on Instagram or anything - If you look up Sea of Thieves or Skullduggers, which is the name of that band, you'll see every type of bizarre dress up cosplay creature that you can imagine and we're dancing with them and rocking out and having a good time. It was super fun.
Beattie: It must be amazing because if you think about it, people can really let their guard down, I would assume, and probably take partying and having fun to a higher level. Once you're in a different persona or costume you probably have that freedom to really go crazy, right?
Franklin: Absolutely. Much more so in Germany because their culture is just a lot more open about that kind of thing. We're walking around Cologne just drinking beers walking through the streets. Stuff you'd never get away with in the States.
Beattie: You wear a number of different hats, so to speak. Songwriter, performer, composer, producer, all these different roles; What's your true passion? If you could only do one of those things, what is your best strength?
Franklin: At my core, I am a chameleon and I can't be stuck doing the same thing no matter what it is. I have to have variety in my life and my strength is that I do a million different things. I'm okay with that.
I love being an artist and releasing albums. I just did a documentary where my friend who's a filmmaker named Paul Carganilla challenged me to a songwriting and recording challenge where I had to go up to a cabin in Lake Arrowhead and I had to write and record 10 songs in 3 days entirely on my own. I brought up a mobile recording studio to the cabin and a plethora of instruments. He made a documentary of it, which he is shopping to film festivals.
Beattie: Moving back in time a little… when did music start to play a role in your life? Did you come from a musical family?
Franklin: No. My family is not musical at all. When I was five I was writing and recording songs about the film Ghostbusters. I had a duo called The Pickle, which was my buddy Seth and me. He would bang on pots and pans and I would pretend to play ukulele and sing songs like “The Venkmen Blues”.
It was just fun. Then later in life my brother told me that if I played guitar I'd get chicks. Honestly that was my first motive to learn an instrument but then it just sort of took over my life.
Beattie: Haha. That’s true. Is the guitar then the first instrument you mastered?
Franklin: Yes. Guitar and singing.
Beattie: How many instruments do you currently play?
Franklin: I'm not really sure. It depends on what you mean by play. It depends on how proficiently you mean that. I have written and recorded and worked with brass and woodwinds, as well as anything with a string on it. I play drums though I’m not a drummer. Primarily I just think of myself as a vessel. I don't really care what the medium is. I just like to create.
That sounds so pretentious.
Beattie: It makes sense though. Do you gravitate toward one specific instrument?
Franklin: No. I gravitate toward one specific project and what that needs.
If I want to write a bluegrass melody or something like that, I'll grab a mandolin. If I want to work on some classical piece or something I'll use those instruments. It just depends on what's happening.
Beattie: It sounds like you have a tremendous amount going on. What are the big ticket projects you have in the works?
Franklin: Last year I did an album called The Best Ride of Your Life. As far as that mandolin is concerned I got a really unique opportunity. We recorded a bunch of that record at Abbey Road in the UK, as well as Real World Studios, which is Peter Gabriel's house in Bath. He actually built a studio out of a castle. It's incredible.
I had this really surreal moment. There's a song that I wrote called “The Song Goes On,” which is about those moments when you're performing and there are kids present and they're watching you and you can see that same spark get lit in them that you had when you were little.
Every now and then you can just sort of see it and you can see that music being passed on to the next generation. The song is mandolin and vocal only and we recorded it in Abbey Road Studio 2, which is the room the Beatles used mostly. It was recorded live through all the old gear and mics and everything to half inch tape. That's what you hear on the record.
Beattie: Is it possible to describe the sensation of being in that place, in that moment - or is it too overwhelming?
Franklin: It's difficult to describe. It's a little like looking through cellophane. Kind of like when you're dreaming. It's like, "Is all this actually happening right now?"
Beattie: I think a lot of people would probably just melt or shut down and just be overwhelmed by the gravity of that situation.
Franklin: It's heavy. We had already recorded a bunch of different stuff for the album that day. I brought a drummer friend and a bass player friend and a piano player friend. These guys are having this same out of body experience playing like THE Lady Madonna piano and then finally at the end of the day it was time to cut my tune and they're like, "Okay your turn. Good luck."
Beattie: For readers who want to listen to these recordings - what's the best way for them to do so?
Franklin: It's all available online. iTunes is probably the best.
If they want the audio file experience they could go to my band camp and download a flac file there. Higher quality.
Beattie: What else do you want folks to check out?
Franklin: The documentary is called The Live the Dream Project. We're just finishing up the final sound mix on that and then it's going to be going to film festivals.
The album that we recorded in 3 days is available online now.
Beattie: Let's change gears a little bit. It's amazing how many places you've played. This could be hard to answer and maybe you don't have an answer – out of all those places, is there any that have really stuck out as being life changing or just really amazing experiences?
Franklin: Playing at the Ryman Auditorium, which is the Grand Ole Opry. That was on a similar level to playing at Abbey Road because the ghosts are all in that room and you're sharing the stage that has seen the biggest names in country music. Playing on that stage was other worldly.
Beattie: Any venues out there that are on your bucket list that you still need to check off or that you'd love to check off?
Franklin: There's always Carnegie and I haven't played the Hollywood Bowl. I even live here! Hopefully that will happen soon.
Beattie: You're involved in so many different facets of so many different genres and types of music, and types of media. From your perspective, music's obviously changing really, really fast with technology and the way in which it is distributed... What kind of up and coming trends are you seeing in the music biz?
Franklin: The thing about it now is that it's total chaos. Everything is shifting so quickly that by the time I answer that question and you post it on a blog it will change. People are just finding new and creative ways to get out there. That's my thing is that every next project I do I'm like, "Okay how can I innovate this time? What new thing can I use?" People aren't buying music anymore. It's just seen as a free commodity. Honestly I can't say if that's good or bad.
I think, honestly, in a couple hundred years we'll look back at the 1900's as that weird century where music was bought and sold. That is just going to continue unfortunately and people are going to have to fight harder and harder to create alternative revenue streams.
At least right now you still can't download a T-shirt. You can't download the actual feeling you get seeing a band live. Who's to say that's not going to change? That virtual reality isn't going to get to the point where you can go back in time and see an Elvis Presley concert and it feel just as real?
Beattie: I think you hit on a very sensitive topic, which is that if you can't monetize the art form anymore, how do people make a living at it and how does it perpetuate and continue?
Franklin: Right. Why will they continue to make quality art? You know?
Beattie: How active do you have to be as a musician nowadays with things like social media technology?
Franklin: All that matters anymore is your business chops and your social media savvy. Unfortunately, good music is totally secondary. There's horrible music that is produced badly that is completely passionless and unauthentic that is making millions of dollars.
It's just because the machine is behind it. An unfortunate reality I've learned is that people listen with their eyes.
The layman isn't going to hear the difference between an album that I went to the UK to record at Abbey Road with all the best gear in the world versus an album that Joe Shmoe with a label connection made on his laptop with no experience or.
Beattie: For artists with a distinct passion. Folks like you that started at a very young age and are just fueled by that passion to play. How do you fuel your passion, fuel your soul, and also try to be successful? Do you have to be creative sometimes because you're passionate about it and know that it's not going to perform well financially?
Franklin: You nailed it. I create the art that I create because I have to. I get this idea in my head, "I want to go do this piece of art". Really the monetary consideration doesn't come into my mind as much. I feel like I need to keep creating the art that is in my soul. As trite as that sounds. It would be much easier for me to compromise on that and just release some pop songs and try to do that, but it's just not who I am.
Beattie: It has to be very challenging.
Franklin: It is, but I will say that I have a really phenomenal fan base that are extremely supportive and loving and come to all the shows. They support all of my Kickstarters. The Best Ride of Your Life. The album that I did. We raised $45,000 for that album.
Beattie: Okay. You've been utilizing platforms like that then?
Franklin: Specifically that platform. I have been through and I have pro/conned all the different crowd sourcing websites and so far for me Kickstarter is the only proper option.
It has the right components. It has the brand recognition. People are comfortable giving Kickstarter their money. You don't get your money unless you make your goal, which is absolutely critical because that way your fans aren't going to get a substandard product when you only raise half your resources.
It creates a sense of urgency.
Beattie: Very cool. For a lot of our younger readers and folks that are kind of getting their start in music or aspiring to be musicians, what kind of advice do you have for younger folks?
Franklin: My Grandpa always used to say, "If it ain't fun, don't do it." For the longest time I was like, "Oh that's great. Just do things that are fun." I think that what he meant by that is take the things in life that are not fun at all and make them fun. Find a way to spin work into something that you enjoy. For a lot of people starting out in music, you'll never stop paying dues. You'll never stop practicing. There's always another level and you're going to be constantly striving to be the best that you can be. You've got to make that entertaining to yourself or you're just going to hate it.
Beattie: That's really good advice. Particularly for the younger generation right now I think that's really, really good advice.
Franklin: A lot of people look at this business and they're like, "I've got to write catchier songs than than Taylor Swift" or I guess in the mandolin world I've got to play better than Chris Thile or whatever it is. The only person you have to be better than is yourself. You just need to be the best you that you can be.
Focus on the art and enjoy what you're creating. Always create the best thing you can.
Beattie: Dan, thank you so much for your time. It was great chatting with you. I really appreciate it.
Franklin: Thank you.