We had the good fortune of connecting with Daniel Ellsworth and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Daniel, what’s the end goal, career-wise?
When I started pursuing music professionally, the end goal was never fame or fortune or whatever movies make it seem like it will be. It was always to be able to do what I love and make a living doing it. I think that’s what made the first 10 years so tough. I was pursuing my dreams but constantly failing at reaching my goal. Always scraping by, but never making a living. Pursuing music as a career was (and still is) a constant series of back and forth between failures, small victories, and – if you’re lucky, dedicated, and patient – some bigger successes. I’ve been incredibly lucky these last few years to feel like I’ve achieved my “end goal.” It’s not at all what I thought it would look like or where I thought I would be, but I’m thankful for all of it.
Moving forward, I think my NEW end goal is to keep pushing myself into new territories with music, never settling, and allowing for change more readily than I have in the past. I’d love to do some film scoring, I’d love to write a musical, I want to continue to collaborate with artists and producers across all genres…But truthfully, if none of that happens and I’m just lucky enough to continue to make a living doing what I love, that will be enough.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I’ve been playing music and performing in some capacity for my entire life. My earliest memories are either playing or performing at home or on a stage. It was always just an innate thing for me. Something I had to do. Something I was LUCKY that my parents encouraged me to do. I started taking piano lessons at 8 years old. and then it was musicals, then it was choirs, then it was anything else having to do with music that I could my hands (or ears) on. From the very beginning, music was the most important part of my life. I don’t remember a time when my life didn’t revolve around music.
I’m not too good at saying kind things about myself but…I think I’m most proud of my tenacity and determination to remain completely independent while finding my own path in the music industry. I was really lucky early on to have a manager who told me whatever I do, to never ever give away ownership of my publishing or masters. I’m so glad that he did and I’m so glad that I listened. Anyone will tell you, it’s incredibly hard to make a meaningful living in the music industry. Maintaining my independence and autonomy over my intellectual property has been the number one thing that has allowed me to make a living in this industry. Having complete control over how and where my music is used is the reason I have a career.
Getting to where I am now has been a 15 year career journey of constant ups and downs (definitely more downs than ups). In college I studied classical composition, jazz piano, classical voice, and music business. Immediately after college I turned down a full time touring gig and instead recorded my very first album in Nashville. After that I hit the road playing anywhere and everywhere I could. At that time I was my own manager, booking agent, publicist, tour manager, merch guy…everything all at once. For all intents and purposes the album was a failure, but I had enough tiny successes – a few radio spins, some bits of press, etc – to push me to keep going. I eventually formed a band called Daniel Ellsworth + The Great Lakes with the most talented musicians that I knew. We’ve been making records and touring for over 10 years. We’ve seen every failure and hit every roadblock there is to hit in the music industry but we’ve always stayed independent and we’ve always kept going. We’ve never quite gotten where I think we hoped we might have in our career trajectory, but we’ve worked extremely hard and I’m extremely proud of all the music we’ve created (and will continue to create) together. In an industry that requires diversifying, I started working with other writers and producers creating music to pitch to tv shows, movies, and ads. Through that process, I formed an electro-pop duo with one of my best friends Kyle Andrews called Chaos Emeralds. It was something completely new and exciting and It woke up something inside of me. I realized there was so many other things I wanted to try in music – so many other passions that I wasn’t pursuing. After a couple of years in a pretty dark place personally and professionally, I made the move out to Los Angeles. Since moving out here 2 years ago, I’ve thrown myself fully into writing for sync licensing, learning production, making solo music with tons of different writers and producers, and also forming a pop/hip-hop duo with Christopher “C4” Umana called DARKMINDS. This year I will have independently released 4 solo EP’s and 2 full DARKMINDS albums.
The path I took (and am still taking?) was definitely not the easiest, but looking back on it, it was exactly right for me. Every failure and setback and success and then failure again brought me to where I am now. None of it would be possible without the support over the years of my wife, my family, my friends, the team I’m lucky to get to create songs for every day at Terrorbird Media…Without support from all of them, I would have thrown in the towel long ago.
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way is that if you want to follow your dreams – whether it’s in music, art, or anything else – that you have to be resilient, kind, patient, and open to change. Resilient because there will be failures. Lots of them. And you’re gonna wanna quit. Lots of times. But don’t. Choose instead to embrace your failures and learn from them. Kindness because in the end, that’s all that matters. Life is so short. Treat people kind. Work with companies who treat people kind. It’s the most important thing there is. Patience because it’s not going to happen overnight. It just isn’t. Whatever you’re chasing or whatever you’re hoping for, it’s probably going to take years and years of hard work to get there. Keep going. Openness to change because I promise you whatever you think your path is going to look like, it’s going to be completely different. An unwillingness to change course or change your mind about something is a sure fire way to hit a dead end. Trust me, I’ve been there. Allow yourself to be open to the path that is “different” and it will open up doors you didn’t even know were there.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Breakfast at Highland Cafe in Highland Park
Record shopping at Permanent Records
Lunch at Kitchen Mouse in Highland Park
Hike at Ernest Debbs
Dinner at Homestate (you’re gonna want the 16 oz spicy paloma)
Coffee and a vegan breakfast sandwich from A Bloc in Highland Park
Drive out to Malibu for a beach day. I like La Piedra and Point Dume
Lunch at Neptune’s Net
Back to the beach for naps
Dinner at Sunset Restaurant in Malibu
Breakfast at Gloria’s Cuisine in Highland Park
Head to the San Gabriels for the day for some hiking somewhere near Mt. Baldy
Lunch at Mt. Baldy Lodge after the hike
Take a nap
Dinner on the patio at Pocha in Highland Park with live Mariachi music
Breakfast at Penny Oven (Mushroom croque toast…trust)
Head to Venice – people watch on the boardwalk, rent bikes and go beach cruising
Lunch at Butcher’s Daughter in Venice
Sit in traffic back to LA
Grab some pizzas from Triple Beam and a couple bottles of wine and go have a sunset picnic at Barnsdall Art Park
Breakfast at Trails cafe in Griffith Park
Go hiking at Griffith Park
Lunch at The Good Good
Dinner at Nic’s On Beverly
Catch an outdoor movie somewhere (Hollywood Forever Cemetery?)
Late night drinks at Hermosillo
Breakfast – pick up donuts from Colorado Donuts in Eagle Rock
Head up the coast for a day trip to Ojai – maybe some hiking, eat some good food, drink some wine
Stop for ice cream at Coastal Cone in Ventura. Go eat it on the beach.
Dinner at Night + Market Song
Late night drinks at Jonny’s in Highland Park
Breakfast at Mary’s Market in Sierra Madre
Day trip to Idylwild to meet the mayor who is a golden retriever named Max
Dinner at Joy in Highland Park
Catch a show at Largo
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Absolutely without a doubt my parents. They have been my biggest supporters since day one. I’m so incredibly lucky to have parents who never once doubted me or questioned my career choice. They introduced me to music, taught me how to sing and play guitar, and put me in piano lessons when I asked. They came to every single concert, recital, musical, or whatever other thing I might have been performing in. They are still my biggest supporters to this day. They’re the first to share about any successes I might have, big or small. They’ve been at shows where I was playing to 10 people and they’ve been at shows where I was playing to hundreds. Without them in my corner, there’s absolutely no way I would be where I am. It’s a privilege and a gift to have parents who encouraged their kids to follow their dreams, and I’m forever thankful.
Other: www.DEandTGL.com www.instagram.com/deandthegreatlakes www.twitter.com/DEandTGL www.facebook.com/danielellsworthandthegreatlakes www.youtube.com/danielellsworthandthegreatlakes www.instagram.com/darkmindsmusic www.twitter.com/darkmindsmusic www.facebook.com/darkmindsmusic www.youtube.com/darkmindsmusic www.instagram.com/chaosemeraldsmusic www.twitter.com/chaosemeralds_ www.facebook.com/chaosemeraldsmusic www.youtube.com/chaosemeraldsmusic
1. Daniel Ellsworth + The Great Lakes, credit: Beth Mathews 2. Chaos Emeralds, credit: Savvy Film 3. DARKMINDS, credit: Beth Mathews 4. B&W Daniel Ellsworth + The Great Lakes live at 3rd & Lindsley, credit: MF Sagi 5. Daniel Ellsworth + The Great Lakes live at ACL Fest, credit: unknown