How did you get your start in the music business as both a DJ and a producer?
Here's a little story... I started out my career in music by playing the drums. My uncle was a drummer and guitarist and taught me how to play a basic drum beat on his 4 piece kit when I was 7 years old. My mom, who also plays piano and guitar, loved the fact that I was into music and immediately signed me up for piano lessons. I dropped out.
Fast forward 6 years to Junior High where I randomly signed up for summer band. I ended up getting placed in the percussion section. All I wanted to do was play the drum kit - they stuck me on the xylophone! I hated it and asked to switch classes everyday. One time, they even had me do a 4 minute long xylophone solo at one of the performances. Turns out that's how I developed my ear for melody, learned scales, and even some chords - so I'm thankful for that now, but, man, talk about a tough way to meet girls.
In High School, I dropped out of performance music altogether and just became a huge fan of listening to music. I borrowed music from friends, bought CDs for 17.99 at the mall, and just listened to everything I could get my hands on. My parents had blocked MTV at the time so I only had the radio to listen to, along with my trusty CD collection of course. I was mostly a fan of Rock and Alternative at that time, but was aware of most of the big Rap and R&B hits. My ears were mainly tuned to the radio, and I would buy the albums based on me liking the artist's singles.
I had no clue how music was made. It didn't even occur to me that there was such a creative process behind every single one of those albums that I knew and loved. No one told me that, "one day, if you try really really hard, you could take all this drumming and music knowledge and turn it into a career." I was a white kid from the burbs - that's just not what we do. So...I continued NOT doing music until one night when I was at a party. I heard some kids playing music really loud and "freestyling" in the back. I walked in and saw the instrument that changed my life - the Korg Triton. That was the moment that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I asked if I could make a beat, they agreed, then proceeded to call it "some white boy s***, and laughed at me. Little did they know, I had made up my mind.
Through my first years in college, I studied Finance at CU Boulder, and put music on the back burner again. One day I couldn't take it any longer. I sold EVERYTHING I owned - refrigerator, desk, baseball card collection, etc. I STILL didn't have enough to buy a Triton keyboard. Not until I found 3 boxes of 100 souvenir baseballs at a Rockies game, which I then sold on eBay for $4.50 a piece, did I have enough. FINALLY, the keyboard arrived. Man did I love that thing. I knew it inside and out, and even had it hooked up to my computer to record 2 tracks into Cool Edit. A few months later, I realized that the Triton, which I spent every last penny on, was not going to generate income anytime soon. What did I do? I took my friend down to Guitar Center with me and financed 2 Turntables, 2 PA Speakers, and a DJ mixer - DJ Frank E was born haha! I begged and begged a local DJ (DJ Petey) to teach me his skills, and he finally did after I told him that I sold advertising. In exchange for DJ lessons, I sold ads for his mixtapes and helped him break even on his venture. He would also bring me extra records from his record pool. From there I used my relationships with sororities to DJ all of their parties, then leveraged that into working at bars and clubs. Everyone would hire me because I knew all the sorority girls in town and could bring 20-30 girls in with me every night.
Before I knew it, I was fairly well established in the local DJ community, and the rest kind of just kept rolling. I was producing and remixing on the side in my apartment, and finally found my way to Denver where I met Adelio Lombardi, the owner of Side 3 Studios. That's when my eyes opened to the producer world. A few long nights and several ex-girlfriends later, I was working out of his studio regularly and DJing 3 to 4 nights a week every single week. I did that for almost 4 years straight.
In the meantime, I was trying to find a way to break into the industry as a producer. I tried everything... I mean EVERYTHING. Looking from the outside in, it's hard to imagine what the industry is really like. To me it was like a secret society, and none of my friends knew much about it. I wasted so much time and energy barking up the wrong trees. One day, my girlfriend at the time was reading through a copy of the new Scratch Magazine (RIP)(Magazine, not girlfriend). She found an ad for PMP Worldwide and suggested that I spend my last $450 on a subscription. I checked out the site and immediately signed up - it was the best thing I had found by far. 2 months later I got a call from Mike Caren at Atlantic Records after submitting for a Juvenile track dump. He was starting to build his publishing company at the time. He tested me for a few months, and we sent ideas back and forth. Shortly after, I gave him a song for Flo Rida's first album using a sample he'd sent me, and the rest of the story starts at the beginning of my discography.
How has being a professional DJ helped you progress to becoming one of the top producers in the industry today?
Being a DJ is one of the most all-encompassing jobs in the music industry. To be a DJ you need to be any or all of the following things: an A&R, a taste maker, a people person, a business owner, a salesman, a leader, a performer, a creative person, and most importantly, a musician. You need to know your demographic - who to target your skills towards. From my experience in the business, the most successful executives, A&Rs, producers, and even some song writers, either started as DJs, or act, think, and talk, like a DJ. Mike Caren was a DJ. Craig Kallman was a DJ. Dr. Dre and Dr. Luke were both DJs. It just exposes you to so much of the business that you can't help but soak it in. Even if you're not an actual DJ, learning to think like a DJ is very important in my opinion.
For me, DJing is a great way for me to follow trends, see what people are reacting to, and test new ideas. It's the perfect type of research for a producer, depending on your crowd of course. I used to sneak in my own songs or remixes at the club to see how people would react. I learned so much from DJing that I never actually realized. DJs just have natural instincts that tend to make them good producers. It's like they are walking encyclopedias of what works, what doesn't, and why. Everyone should take a DJ class.
Denver is not the first city that comes to mind when people think 'music mecca'. What is the scene like out there and how did you overcome the hurdles of operating in a mid-sized commercial market?
Honestly, before I got "the call" I used to think the same thing about Denver. However, in the past few years... maybe more... it's becoming one of the BEST places to harvest talent. Denver has great DJs, most notably, the "Radiobums" (founded by DJ Chonz) is a group of Denver DJs that can compete with just about any group of DJs in the country. There are huge bands from Denver. My friend Ryan Tedder and his band, One Republic, come from Denver. 3Oh!3 is from Denver and actually went to the same college as I did. There are a lot of great electronic music producers/groups from Denver. Pretty Lights is from my hometown, Fort Collins. There's a ton of amazing stuff happening there (A&Rs I want a cut of the back end)!!
Overcoming the hurdles of coming from a smaller market was easy... once I found PMP Worldwide. The internet changed everything. I seriously never thought I'd get my music out to a national audience, but now I'm living in LA and working out of some of the biggest, most beautiful studios in the world. I always tell people, don't let where your from get in the way of where you want to go!
I'll throw in a funny story about trying to get out of Denver: When I was trying to get my music heard, I used to google record labels in New York to find the front desk number. From there I would call and ask for A&Rs. The only problem was that I didn't even know any A&Rs actual names, so I'd make them up, hoping the receptionist would slip up and give me one. "You mean... LA Reid, right?" I was totally faking it. Unfortunately, most assistants were well-trained enough to filter out my calls, but Def Jam did transfer me to promotions and send me a package of CDs and Vinyl one time. Shout out to them.
Are you at the point of you career when you're looking to actively sign other producers yourself as well as develop and release your own artists?
At this moment, I am working with a few producers who work under me regularly and send me drums, track ideas, templates of sounds, etc. I learned from the best that finding and working with people who complement your style and do some (or all) things better than you, can really end up in some game changing scenarios. I'm currently looking for more people. I will probably have to set up a track dump soon!
As for artists, I wish I could say that I've found an artist that I love and will be featuring on all of my songs soon, but I can't. I'm still hunting for that one special artist that inspires me to work tirelessly, day in and day out, until we create something amazing together. That's definitely a dream of mine. For now, I'm focusing on working with the biggest artists possible to build the DJ Frank E brand.
What is your role in Side 3 Studios and do you handle most of your production work there or elsewhere?
There is Side 3 Studios Denver and Side 3 Studios Hollywood now. I am a partner in both, but spend most of my time in LA because everyone is out here working. We are building a team in Denver that the world will soon hear about. We're finding tons of young talent and letting them separate themselves by working hard and see who rises to the top. There is no studio better in the world for me to work in than Side 3 Denver, and I go back every month to get away. For now, LA is where I have to be.
How did you find out about the PMP and how useful of a resource has it been for your production career endeavors?
I found PMP in Scratch Magazine, and have found it to be a great way to get REAL music industry contacts and submit to the artist track dumps and get your music heard. Plus, the articles you guys generate are amazing. Stuff that you can't find anywhere else. It's the perfect insider look that no other site can offer and I am thankful every day that I found it. Without PMP, I might not have a music career. That's not an advertisement, that's the truth.
Describe the relationship between yourself and Mike Caren in regards to APG Publishing and helping you secure work
I can't say enough good things about Mike Caren. I recently spent an entire day with him in the studio just watching how he operates. The guy is unbelievably talented. He's responding to emails while producing a record... all the while, he's on the phone with producers and artists working out deals. Then, he takes another call from a musicologist who explains that he can't use a certain guitar riff in a song, so Mike has the musician change it. He's doing a million things at once and having success at it. It's unreal.
Mike and I have grown closer over the past year. Before I would send him emails every night with my tracks for the day and wait for his response in the morning. Now, we come up with ideas for different artists, whether it be samples, song titles, melodic interpolations, etc. He's a very established producer in his own right (I don't know how he finds the time) and is a very creative person. He sends me drum samples, songs he's recorded off rare Brazilian vinyl, and more. Whenever I'm out of ideas, I call Mike. He's extremely passionate about what he does. He studies music and also the music business. He's very "cool" and is always up on new trends (music blogs, vst instruments, new music to sample). There are not a lot of people like him. Mike Caren is about the music.
APG is run by Mike Caren and Ben Madd, another great talent. Between those two shopping my music and sending me opportunities to submit for, the work is endless. I've never been so busy in my life. APG has also signed many other top level producers like Kane Beatz, who has had a great run on the charts this year. Mike and Ben are great at spotting talented individuals and grooming them for the big leagues. I signed to APG because it was a boutique publishing company, with all the benefits of a big one. I get special attention from Mike and Ben, whereas, in some companies, I might have been lost in the sea of talent. That alone has made my career develop faster than I ever thought it would. I'd recommend APG to any producer, big or small because, there's nothing like getting results.
Now that you've reached a certain level of success is the music industry all its cracked up to be in terms financial stability, notoriety, ladies, etc...?
Great question. I guess I'll see when those "Airplanes" checks start rolling in!! Notoriety within the industry has changed, but the outside world is just like I used to be - they think that hit songs grow on trees or something. No one cares that I made the beat for so and so, but.... just wait til I get in the video.
How do you strike a balance between creativity and finance?
For me, it's easy. I don't have the artist dilemma that I see some people have. I told Mike Caren the very first time that we spoke, "I'm in this business to make money. I love music, but if wanted to do music as a hobby, we wouldn't be having this conversation." Every time I sit down to write, I try and think of the most creative way to make a 5 million dollar song. Each song to me is like a lottery ticket, and hopefully one day I'll win a couple times. That to me, is still being creative, without hindering my job as a producer of popular music. People may read this and say "he sold out" or "he's not a true artist", but I'm just being honest about my creative process. I'm a business, man.
What has been your most memorable studio experience thus far?
By far, it was when I flew to New York for the first time to work with none other than... Madonna. By myself. Well... my manager was there too, but she kicked him out. Talk about stress. It felt like I was about to meet the President or something. I got to the session 2 hours beforehand to set up and give the files to the engineer, and I can't remember a longer 2 hours of my life. It was like a countdown. Every 5 minutes I'd get an update on her status. I received updates up to the last 15 seconds, when she finally walked into the room. She said, "So YOU'RE the one?" and I politely answered, "No... YOU'RE the one." We got along great after that, and finished the song on my 2nd day with her.
I will never forget the feeling of leaving that session after vocal producing Madonna, and thinking to myself, "It can't it really get any harder than this." I've taken that mentality into every other session I've been in, and it's helped me make the session and song more of a success. Unfortunately, the mix sounded like crap and the song flopped, but hey, you win some and you lose some.
You've co-produced one of the biggest records of the year "Airplanes" by B.O.B. featuring Hayley Williams. Describe how that come together.
Honestly, I have to give a lot of credit where credit is due on this one. For one, the label (Atlantic) found an amazing song and hook and had the writers agree to have other producers produce it. I was one of the producers that they sent it to, and I did about 4 different versions of the record. Alex was also someone who they had sent it to also, and he had done multiple versions as well. To this day, we've never even met, exchanged an email, nothing. The label said B.o.B. likes your version and likes Alex's version. Take them and put them together. So I did. They went crazy for it. I went to Atlanta and recorded verses with B.o.B. and then mixed the record with Manny Marroquin. I didn't know that it would be quite as huge as it was, but I'm very happy to have been an integral part of making that record happen.
What are your thoughts on the popularity of electro/dance in recent years and is it here to stay?
I love it. I've been playing DJ sets consisting of mostly uptempo tracks since around 2005/2006. I love the energy and the crowd that it draws. I went to Electric Daisy Carnival in LA for the first time this past summer, and that really changed a lot for me. I decided on that night that I would focus primarily on uptempo, club driven music for the next 4 months. Wait til you hear what I have coming out!!! Chris Brown - Yeah 3X, Enrique Iglesias - Tonight, Flo Rida - Turn Around (5,4,3,2,1) and more. It's gonna be fun to play all those songs in my DJ sets as well. Dance music is here to stay as a part of our popular culture. Overseas, it's undeniable, and I'm glad that it's working it's way onto Top 40 radio.
Walk us through your creative process
My creative process seems pretty random this is what I came up with:
Listen to music. Make music. Go to the club. Make music. Listen to mixtapes. Make music. Scour the internet for samples. Make music. Chop drums. Make music. Buy new sounds. Make music. DJ a set at a club night. Make music.
Kinda funny how that works.
What lies ahead for DJ Frank E?
I am looking to expand the DJ Frank E brand both as a DJ and a producer. I'm excited to build a team of young, talented, self-motivated individuals, that will hopefully become the next generation of music. I have people every day bringing me new acts, trying to find the next Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber or even something left like LMFAO. I'll know it when I find it. I also am starting to get my name featured on songs, and am planning on releasing a DJ Frank E album through a major label. I'm rebuilding http://www.djfranke.com/ and will have exclusive content of me in the studio with artists, musicians, songwriters, and other producers. Also, I've been documenting my experiences as a club DJ as well. Follow me on twitter.com/djfranke and renew your PMP Worldwide Subscription. People are listening. I'm proof of that.