Since leaving Leeds Conservatoire in 2010, Pop graduate and multi-instrumentalist Dan McDougall has gone on to work as a live and studio drummer for leading industry names such as Ellie Goulding and Tom Odell, and is currently signed to BMG Chrysalis Publishing as a writer. We were fortunate enough to ask Dan a couple of questions...

What was your earliest musical experience?

I was very lucky to be the offspring of two musicians, both of whom are pianists. My dad was a touring keys player and worked his way into music sales when touring got too much, and my mum is a music teacher. Not that I remember, but I had apparently learnt what middle C was by the age of three and figured out how to play Ba Ba Black Sheep.

Who or what encouraged you to study music?

I knew that music was what I wanted to be a part of as I hit my teen years and discovered bands like The Stereophonics and the genius writing of Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. I don’t think I quite knew it at the time that music was what I would eventually be making a living from but being in bands, writing songs and playing them live was what I loved the most. I guess studying music just became the next logical step to that passion and helped turn my hobby into a career.

Then what made you aspire to a career in music?

My undeniable love of music and I imagine the fact that it’s in my blood. So I’d say my parents really. They have been so supportive and helped me to see that it’s OK to be in something for the long haul, even if you’re not making money. They’ve never doubted me for a second and without them I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Who’s your greatest inspiration?

I’ll have to answer this in two parts. Firstly as a drummer, I would have to say Abe Cunningham from the Deftones was a serious early inspiration. His parts on an album called White Pony all actually mean something and are entirely thought out. I just love the sound he gets and the detail in what he does. Then Chris Tsagakis from the RX Bandits threw my world upside down. An album was played to me called The Resignation when I was 15 and I flipped out. I’d never heard anything like it. He indirectly taught me so much by playing along to that album. Finally though, today, Steve Jordan has got to be my all-time favourite. His whole mentality towards his role as a drummer, these days, reflects mine. He plays for the song, and when you’re in the studio that’s what people want 99 times out of 100.

As a writer, I’d have to say I really started listening to songs as songs rather than just nice sounding audio when Parachutes by Coldplay came out. I will never forget hearing Trouble on the radio in the car on the way to school but missing the announcement of who it was. I tried to remember it all day, got home and struggled to replicate it on the piano. It took me two weeks to figure out who it was. I took my birthday money, bought a CD walkman and the album the day it came out, sat and listened to the whole thing on one of those ‘try your shoes on’ chairs in a department store while my mum shopped. As I’m sure he did and still does for a lot of people, Chris Martin set something on fire that day.

Was there anything in particular that made you choose Leeds Conservatoire?

I didn’t get in when I first applied to University so took a year out. In the gap year I discovered Leeds Conservatoire via someone I met who recommended it. I applied and got in the following year. I instantly knew it was where I was meant to be. There was just an instant humbleness to the place and warmth from the staff who work there. I felt at home.

What did you like about the course?

I’d have to say the diversity and modern approach to the Popular Music course. It looked to me like a three-year kick start to surviving in the music industry, and it was.

What's your favourite thing about being a musician in Leeds?

Leeds is such an amazing city. It’s so compact and once you know your way around and what’s what, you’re plugged in. I absolutely loved living, studying and working there. From playing venues like the Cockpit and its metal/punk nights to the Brudenell Social Club; or Hifi on a Sunday night with its soul/funk/hip-hop type thing; classical evenings; experimental jazz at ‘The Venue’ at Leeds Conservatoire – it is just so accessible for every kind of genre or scene you want to be involved in. There’s a space for everyone.

Who/what would be your dream collaboration?

My dream collaboration used to be Guy Chambers, however (and I have no shame in bragging here) I’ve been lucky enough to write with him so that is one HUGE tick off the bucket list. I’d love to work with Greg Wells. He’s my latest craze and if you check out his discography, it’s insane how diverse/talented that guy is. Or Dave Sardy. He’s made some of my favourite sounding records. In terms of artists, I really want to see how Adele ticks. I asked Eg White who is the most talented person he has worked with, and Adele was his instant answer – and that guy has worked with everyone.

Where would you most like to perform or record?

I would love to work at Sunset Sound in LA. I’ve worked in most of the major studios in London but I’ve heard the live room in there is magic.

What has your journey been like since leaving Leeds Conservatoire?

It’s been very exciting and lucky, however I’m a big believer in making your own luck and didn’t slack off in finding it. I finished my time at Leeds Conservatoire, and was playing functions at the weekend to make some money and attempting to find myself something else to do, when I was asked by a tour-managing friend of mine to step in on a European tour with a Californian band in need of a drummer. I obliged and initially got asked to join full time and live in the 'States. Who would say no? So I moved back to my parents place in Hertfordshire and waited for visas to get sorted. One thing led to another and the whole thing fell through. However I was right next to London, and started hanging out with my mate Bruno Major (a Jazz graduate who’s an amazing artist and guitarist signed to Virgin US). We ran around trying to find session jobs and I landed myself one as Tom Odell’s drummer. I played on his album, toured a lot for a couple of years whilst trying to get myself into writing on the days off. In the meantime, myself and Bruno wrote a load of songs and in turn got some interest. Himself as an artist, and myself as a writer. I met my manager, Amy via an introduction from Dan Grech who was producing Tom’s album, did lots of writing and in turn got a publishing deal with BMG/Chrysalis and here I am! That’s an incredibly short version of events but that’s pretty much it.

How have your studies at Leeds Conservatoire aided your career so far?

I obviously utilised the more academic aspects of the course and learnt a lot that way but where I gained the most benefit was the self-discovery that I wasn’t an artist. I was writing my own songs but felt nothing from the performance side of things. I just didn’t have the passion to shout these songs out with my own voice. It took those three years to realise that my love for writing remained behind the scenes, and with some great guidance from Danny Cope, my songwriting tutor, I worked out that co-writing with other artists was my thing.

What has been your greatest achievement?

In terms of drumming, playing on Tom Odell’s number one album.

And with writing, for now, it’s getting myself a publishing deal. The idea of that seemed so unreachable a few years ago. But moving forward, there’s a lot of cuts due to come out soon so I’m hoping I would answer that question a little differently in a year!

Where would you like to be in five years?

As long as I’m still a full time musician, I’ll be happy! Although winning an Ivor Novello would be nice…

If you had one piece of advice for a prospective student, what would it be?

Say yes to everything. That was my mentality at university. You have three or more years with nothing to lose and the oddest links come from saying yes to something else. The industry is as much about reputation and relationships as it is talent. If you got into Leeds Conservatoire, you’ve got the talent, so go find out why everyone else got in too.

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