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Getting The Gig While Still In School

Henry McDaniel Of Musicians Institute Took The Quick Road To Success

Henry McDaniel

Henry McDaniel has got it pretty good. In his first year of study at Musicians Institute back in 2012 he landed a big-time gig with bassist Stanley Clarke, and the school helped him do it.

Clarke, a legendary jazz bassist who was a member of the seminal quartet Return To Forever, endows an annual $9000 scholarship at the school. In 2012 McDaniel auditioned and won the scholarship. “We competed in front of George Duke and many other great musicians on all instruments, so it was incredible to win that,” says Henry.

The competition was in April. Less than two months later, in June, Stanley Clarke called and said “I liked how you played at the school. Why don’t you come over and play with the band?” So Henry went. Stanley offered him the gig at the audition and he went on the road for two weeks. Just like that the student had become a touring pro. He spent a significant part of the next year and a half on the road with the band, going all over the world. [Note: Keyboardist George Duke died of leukemia in August of 2013.]

Henry was a self-taught drummer for most of his life. But decided that going to MI could teach him a lot about reading and the technical side of music. “It elevated by musicality and my ability to think technically about music,” he says. We interviewed Henry on his education, both in school and on stage.

DRUM! You say you were self-taught. When did you start learning drums?
McDaniel I began playing the drums at the age 3. Being that young I don't have much recollection of how it happened or began, but it was definitely a gift and I've been playing ever since I can remember.

DRUM! When did you know you wanted to be a drummer?
McDaniel Growing up, sports was my main focus. It wasn't until my senior year, at the age of 17, when I decided to take my drumming seriously and pursue a professional music career and I've been going strong ever since.

DRUM! Was drums your only instrument?
McDaniel Drums has always been my one and only instrument, but after learning more about the different avenues of music I began getting into the world of production. I am now learning to play keyboards and bass.

DRUM! What styles were you playing as you grew up?
McDaniel Growing up in the church I was influenced heavily by gospel music. Gospel was the first genre I was exposed to, and later I looked to expand my musical vocabulary and started branching out into other genres including: funk, fusion, R&B, pop, hip-hop, jazz.

Henry McDaniel

DRUM! Ok, so you were self-taught and committed to drums. But what made you go to Musicians Institute?
McDaniel That was my desire to dive into the technical aspect of drumming and just become a better overall musician. From reading music, music theory, playing other styles and learning new musical concepts.

DRUM! You say that Musicians Institute expanded your technical thinking about music? Can you talk about one specific thing that changed you?
McDaniel Learning to read music really expanded my mind musically. That opens your mind to so many new musical possibilities and being able to actually understand what you're playing is a great feeling.

DRUM! Did you get exposed to new ideas about other styles of music at MI?
McDaniel Definitely. The schools exposed me to different styles of music from rock, pop, country, and hip-hop to R&B, metal, jazz, funk, and Latin. At some point you will cross paths with at least one, if not all of these genres and it's awesome. Having classes and electives that vary in genre allow you to step out of your comfort zone. You may be great at funk and jazz, but not so much in hip-hop and pop and by playing music you're not so used to it allows you to get a good feel and gain comfort in other genres and become more diverse stylistically.

DRUM! Which professor at MI most influenced you. Why?
McDaniel It's really hard to choose only one. I definitely have a top 3, which is Andy Megna, Chuck Silverman, and Rob Carson. They all influenced and inspired me in many ways musically, in business, or just by having long inspirational talks. They all played a major role during my time at MI that is continually help mold me into the musician I'm trying to become. Overall there are a bunch of great instructors at MI and I've learned from many of them.

DRUM! What did you think when you got the call from Stanley? How excited were you?
McDaniel When I received the call to go on tour with Stanley Clarke and George Duke, I was beyond excited. It honestly felt like a dream. After winning the Stanley Clarke Scholarship Competition at MI, I had no idea I would get the great opportunity to tour with Stanley Clarke and George Duke. I was honored and it was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life thus far.

Henry McDaniel

DRUM! How familiar were you with his music before then?

I was fairly familiar with his music. Stanley Clarke is a legend and when I began really studying other musicians and some of the greats, Stanley Clarke's music was definitely in my playlist. After playing with both him and George Duke, I learned there was so much more that they've done outside of their own music that I had no idea of, from working with greats like Michael Jackson and Prince to scoring some of my favorite movies. It was pretty amazing and almost surreal that I was blessed enough to share the stage with two legends regularly.

DRUM! When you were out with Stanley and George did you play material from throughout their career?
McDaniel I played in the Clarke/Duke band and we played a lot of the funk, fusion, and R&B stuff. It was always crazy to me because I've covered some of their music before with friends or just shedding in my room, but actually getting to play their music with them live was pretty amazing.

DRUM! What kind of drum kit did you play with Stanley?
McDaniel I played a 7-piece DW Collectors Series kit. Toms: 8", 10", 12", 14", 16", plus 14” x 6.5” and 14 x 6’ snares

DRUM! Now with Big Sean what is your drum setup for hip-hop? Cymbal sizes, drum sizes, any special accessories.
McDaniel My setup actually isn't too different. I now play a 6-piece DW Collectors Series Kit. The only difference is more electronics. Playing hip-hop there are certain sounds that are very important to the music and using electronics it allows me to mimic or use the exact sound from the track. With Big Sean, I have two Roland SPDSX [multipads] and two Roland PD-125X. As far as cymbals, I proudly endorse Meinl Cymbals and they provide a sound that works in any genre, so going from Stanley and George to Big Sean it was a pretty smooth transition.

DRUM! What is the biggest challenge in playing hip-hop as opposed to jazz?
McDaniel There really hasn't been a challenge making a transition from playing funk and fusion to hip-hop. Playing for any artist or any style of music it's just important to be prepared and make the music feel good. I've made it a priority for anyone I play with to go in prepared, learn the music, play the parts, and be musical. It’s having that mindset that is always helpful.

Henry McDaniel

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