Jerry Danielsen – Composer, Music Teacher, Sound Engineer

  Jerry Danielsen and his son Sean (Smile Empty Soul) at Busy Signal Studios.

I first met Jerry Danielsen back in the ’80’s when we were both studying music at California Institute of the Arts. I joined his band Busy Signal and it was my first time being the lead singer in a professional band. I was nineteen, it was my first time away from “home” (Santa Cruz, Ca.) and I was living in SO CAL. My bandmates Jerry, Grady Floyd, Carlos Costa and Larry Stein were all so professional, kind and fun to work with! Through that experience, I learned A LOT about being a musician and what it takes to perform live.

Since then, Jerry has become a highly successful Recording Engineer and he is the CEO of Busy Signal Studios. He is both a Modern Rock musician / Songwriter and an extremely well trained Classical Music Composer. He also owns a Production Company. In addition to this he writes film scores, produces bands and is a very busy music teacher. His son Sean also developed a passion for music and is in the award winning band Smile Empty Soul.

This is a unique opportunity to gain knowledge, insight and advice from a musician who is involved in many facets of the music world. It is also worth mentioning that Jerry Danielsen is an extremely popular and talented Poet he has a few Poetry books that have been published. Also, Jerry has produced a few short films and has won awards for his work. If you are interested in finding out more about Jerry Danielsen go to:

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Ash Andersen (Rock and Hello Jerry! My former bandmate, and classmate. It has been too long! Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with me!

Jerry Danielsen: Hi Ash! It’s nice to be in touch!

Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.Biz): How did you become such a talented, versatile rock  musician and Classical Music composer?

Jerry Danielsen: Well, I was always in love with music. I’ve spent endless hours practicing and writing. I preferred making up my own music more than copying other people’s stuff. But… One learns from playing all different kinds of music. I had quit a job that I didn’t like and was doing music full time when I met you at Cal Arts. I wanted to continue to grow and push myself and I still do.

Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll): Obviously, you are in a musical family with your son Sean going on to great things in the award winning band Smile Empty Soul. Are there any other musicians in your family?

Jerry Danielsen: I didn’t grow up in a musical family. My older brother loved music and turned me on to many different styles of music. I was training my ear from an early age. My son grew up in a recording studio environment and went on to make music his full time gig.

Ash Andersen: ( Where did you go to learn how to become a recording engineer?

Jerry Danielsen: I went to a recording / engineering school called Sound Master when I was in my early twenties. They gave me a good start. I’ve been recording and keeping up with technology ever since.

Ash Andersen: Please talk to me about your personal creative process. How do you create your Classical Music compositions? What is your approach to writing rock music? Is there a difference?

 Jerry Danielsen: My process can vary depending on the genre of music I’m creating. With instrumental film scores, or Classical Music compositions, I usually start by sitting at the piano.  Arrangements from that point depend on the reason and application. An art for “Art’s Sake” type of piece or song is different for me than writing a piece for film. I ask myself “what is needed here?” Should there be traditional orchestral instruments like piano, strings and winds? Or does it require keyboards, pads and synths and guitar? Lately, I’ve been writing cues for a couple of Reality TV shows. In most cases these types of shows want more electronic music, with drum programming and more of a modern, contemporary or urban type of sound.

When it comes to writing songs with words, I usually develop a melody with chords and lyrics first. Then, I try to put it all together. The marriage of words and music can point me in certain directions. Depending on how that’s developing, I may adjust the phrasing or the tempo of a song.

Ash Andersen ( What is an average day like for you as a music teacher?

Jerry and some of his students at the Annual Student Recital he holds for them. Valenica Hyatt Ballroom in Valencia, Ca

Jerry Danielsen: I used to teach private music lessons five days a week, with over fifty students. Nowadays, I do about half of that and devote more time to writing and recording. An average teaching day usually starts around 2:30 – or 3:00 pm and goes non stop for five or six hours. Students usually get a half hour lesson and some go longer if they wish.

The rewards are watching each student grow, progress and improve. I’m an academic type of teacher and my students learn theory, technique and fun songs. I also arrange recitals and recordings for the pieces that have been accomplished.

I’d say one of the least favorite aspects of my job are the hours. I’m teaching during the times most people have off. This sometimes makes meetings, conference calls and socializing a challenge. Another aspect I do not like about my job is when students don’t practice, give up or don’t try. With the popularity of shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice” some people in our culture nowadays have been programmed to think that singing is the most important part of music. They do not realize that there are hundreds of other aspects within music.

 Also if something doesn’t come easy some students may not try as hard. That’s not usually true. While some people have natural talent, most people can learn to play music to some degree.

Ash Andersen ( I know you were the “Sound Guy” for my dear friend, award winning Music Supervisor – Musical Director Paul F. Antonelli when he was playing in the Synth Pop band Animotion. What are some of the challenges you’ve had to deal with doing sound for live shows?

Jerry Danielsen: How did you know that I worked with Animotion? They asked me to tour with them and I turned it down. I’ve always wondered whether or not that was a good choice. (Laughs.) Live sound challenges I have personally experienced can range from power outages, frying amps, cables and mics that don’t work. Also there can be monitor mixing issues… Particularly when two or more people are sharing a monitor and they disagree about how loud the mix should be or what instrument should be prominent.

Ash Andersen ( Who are some of your favorite Classical Composers and Modern Rock musicians? Who inspires your music?

Jerry Danielsen: Instrumental art music (“Classical”) in the last five hundred years can be divided into five basic categories. Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Post Modern. I like Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and William Byrd from five hundred years ago! The Baroque period has lots of greats: Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Scarlatti and more. That period featured the development of our present tonality system. Previous to that, music was modal. These days we sometimes hear modes in guitar solos. It’s fun! Of course I love Beethoven, but also Bartok, Messiaen and Dubussy. I must have listened to and studied “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky over a hundred times. If you want to expand your mind and learn Atonal music, try Schoenberg or Xenias!

Regarding Modern Rock or Pop music, my guitar playing has been inspired by Robert Fripp, Frank Zappa, John McLaughlin, and Adrian Belew. Also George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix and Steve Howe is great too. My favorite all time bands that influenced me at a young age were: King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Gentle Giant, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Beatles, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Yes, David Bowie and many more. You can see it’s a wide range of styles. Perhaps it’s the uniqueness and stretching of norms, along with great playing that I love.

Ash Andersen ( Do you own your own music label? Are you a member of any music organizations? Are you currently producing any rock bands now?

Jerry Danielsen posing with one of his many beautiful guitars. Getting ready to perform live at the Key Club – Hollywood, CA.

Jerry Danielsen: I don’t really own an “official label”, but I do own a recording studio and production company. Busy Signal Studios is my home base. We’ve released many CD’s and videos. I’m a member of the Recording Academy (Grammy’s) and I’m on the Executive Committee of the Audio Engineering Society – LA section.

I’m producing a band right now! It’s fun to work with a live drummer and several different musicians at the same time. We bounce all kinds of ideas off of each other. In most cases a band will already have all of their individual parts arranged before they come and pay me a visit.

A great number of my clients right now are singer / songwriters, who want me to help develop their songs and add instruments if and when necessary. In general, a client like this plays guitar, piano and sings. I play guitar, bass, keyboards and can sing as well. I can also arrange background vocal harmonies and do drum programming as well.

I also work with singers who write lyrics  who want me to help create all of the backing music for them. We work on the song(s) together. I have two compelling projects like this going on right now. I also do podcasts and sound design. We have a whole show retelling the history of Rock N Roll. It’s called “Rock nd Roll Archeology.” Google it.

Ash Andersen ( What are some of your very favorite brands regarding musical gear, equipment and music software? What is it that you use to create your Classical Compositions and Modern Rock music or songs?

Jerry Danielsen: That list could be very long! I have several Gibson guitars, but many others too. I have a Marshall 900 and a 2000 guitar amp and a Mesa – Boogie dual Rectifier Road King. I have a Schecter 5 string bass that I use a lot. I have a Pearl Drum Kit and several keyboards too.

I use Pro Tools 12 on a Mac computer. I have TONS of plugin effects that are great. I have lots of Rode, Shure, Audio Technica and a Neumann microphones. I love it all!

Ash Andersen: ( What’s the craziest experience you’ve ever had performing live as a musician?

Jerry Danielsen: Well, there are a lot. There was that time that someone threw cake at the keyboard player and he jumped off the stage to defend himself. You were there! There was a time at the Whiskey that suddenly a man jumped on the stage and tried to come at me violently!  I wound up having to defend myself with my foot while playing guitar. There was a time that a drunk girl started to pole dance on my leg! Or one girl, who was sick and puking ran up on the stage while I was playing one time. Unfortunately for her though she tripped, fell and landed right on top of my guitar effects pedal board…

Ash Andersen ( Ha, Ha! Well, I would agree with you! Those most certainly are some really crazy experiences! And yes, I do remember what I call “The Cake Incident…” It still remains the craziest experience for me that I have ever had as a musician and performer! You had to be there. But if you were, it was definitely a night that can never be forgotten!

You must be so proud of your son Sean’s achievements as a member of the award winning band Smile Empty Soul! I remember him and still think of him as a very little boy. But, he has certainly grown up hasn’t he?! My God! Now, I feel older than I already do! (Laughs.) Were you his first music teacher? Do you ever write or collaborate musically with him?

Jerry Danielsen: I’m very proud of him! He’s a successful singer / songwriter with a huge amount of songs. I was never really his “official” music teacher, but I tried to show him some stuff along the way and help him out. We used to jam together for fun sometimes. He’s done some recording in my studio occasionally over the years. He also made an appearance singing a part in my song “Looking” and accompanying me musically in the video for my song “Looking.” That was back when I recorded my CD “Deaf Ears.”

Ash Andersen ( What advice would you give to folks who are wanting to become musicians. What would you say to people who are trying to make it in the music business today?

Jerry Danielsen: The current music business today is challenging! But it’s never been easy. It sounds cliché, but I’d say work hard and don’t give up and be true to yourself. If you don’t have a plan B then you have to just do it and GO ALL IN! If you put quality out there, good things can happen. Educate yourself and practice all the time. Sometimes someone might have to wear a few different hats, like I do. Find the niches you love  and make it your life. Sometimes, it doesn’t wind up being the “Starving Artist” or rich the “Super Star.” Between those extremes is OK…

Ash Andersen ( Thanks again Jerry! It was great to catch up and I’m so glad that learned more about you and your work in the music industry.

Jerry Danielsen: Thank you Ash!

Interview by Ash Andersen.

Ash Andersen ( Please tell me about the books you have published and those relating to poetry.When did you first become interested in poetry? Please let people know where they can go to get a copy of your books.

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