You may not have heard the name Daniel Ingram before, but I can almost guarantee you've heard a song he's written if you watch cartoons on The Hub Network. Daniel has composed music and written songs for shows like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Chuck the Truck: Chuck and Friends, Pound Puppies, and PBS' Martha Speaks. His latest project is The Hub's newest cartoon, Littlest Pet Shop. I got a chance to chat with this cartoon composer and learn more about his job.
Tori Michel: What is your musical background? Obviously you're a composer, so you have some musical training. Tell me a little bit about that.
Daniel Ingram: I started out like a lot of kids being put into piano lessons. When I got into high school, I picked up the guitar and started playing a lot of '60s and '70s music in a rock band and learned a lot about songs and melody at that time. I ended up going to university and doing a degree in composition. I also spent a couple of years in Ireland studying Irish traditional music. I've had a very eclectic musical training.
TM: So how did you get started in making music for cartoon shows?
DI: I started to apprentice out of university, but that was under a local composer who was doing a lot of animation. His name is Hal Beckett. As his apprentice I was introduced to this world. As a child, I actually wanted to be an animator. My initial childhood dream was to be a cartoonist. I got really excited when he was working on cartoons, and when he started to bring me in, I embraced it and transitioned quite naturally into doing my own shows.
TM: What is your typical day like in cartoon music composing?
DI: I wear two hats: I'm both a song writer and an underscore composer. So a typical day, well there is no typical day! (Laughs) One day, we'll be focusing on writing songs. On that day, I might be sitting down and writing some lyrics and then I will be producing background music. I'll bring a singer usually that day, and we'll work with the artists directly to record that. That's the typical day as the songwriter. The typical day as an underscore composer would be a lot of meetings. We'll watch an episode with no music and then we meet with the directors and we discuss what music will really support the existing animation and the storyline.
TM: You've worked with a lot of great shows (My Little Pony, Martha Speaks, and this new show Littlest Pet Shop), which cartoon has been your favorite project musically or which one are you most proud of?
DI: I'm proud of every show I've done, because each show offers a unique challenge to me. To try to discover what sound the show will have and put a signature stamp on that, and each time I kind of crack that and discover it and get into that new sound, I've been very proud. I know with My Little Pony, it was the first time I was doing very ambitious songs, and naturally I'm very proud the songs and I'm grateful for the opportunity that Hasbro and DHX afforded to really push the boundaries of what we could do with daytime television songs, so naturally I'm very proud of that. And actually I've gotten to do the same thing with Pound Puppies and with Littlest Pet Shop. I've got to say I'm pretty blessed to have had so many wonderful projects.
TM: So do you have a favorite song that you've done for any of the shows that you've worked on?
DI: The song I'm writing right now is my new favorite song! (Laughs) There's so many that I like, it's hard to choose! There have been over a hundred songs now between all the different projects (you didn't even mention Chuck the Truck: Chuck and Friends, which is another show I've worked on) it's hard to pick a favorite. They're all my kids!
TM: Do you personally have a favorite musical artist or band?
DI: I listen to a lot of music and a lot of styles, and so in any particular genre there are people who I really look up and admire. I know in this world of cartoons and daytime television Will Anderson, the composer who worked for My Little Pony is a real inspiration to me. He's done so much and had an incredible career. Mark Mothersbaugh, with his work on Rugrats and Yo Gabba Gabba, he just thinks so far out of the box. I love that. I really look up to Randy Newman and Ron Jones who are great songwriters for children's songs. I aspire to do what they've been able to do.
TM: If you could pick any cartoon, past or present to either compose music for or write songs for, what cartoon would you choose and why?
DI: That is a hard question! When I was a kid, I remember that I always hated when songs would happen in shows! (Laughs) I would be like "ugh! Turn it off!" It's typical I guess for a young boy. I was a huge fan of Inspector Gadget as a kid, that was my favorite cartoon. Wait, I'm going to change that actually: DuckTales. If there was anything I really would have loved to have done, DuckTales, I would absolutely accept that show.
TM: So you're definitely a kid of the '80s then?
DI: Yeah, for sure!
TM: Because I've never had anyone say "Inspector Gadget" as a favorite before! That one is really out of left field, but I love it!
(We then proceed to hum the song together. Yes, this really happened, folks.)
DI: I would be late for elementary school because it would start at 8:30 and I would have to be at school at nine and I would just try to catch the end and then run out the door and be really late. (Laughs)
TM: So do you have anyone you'd consider who isn't in the cartoon world who has influenced your music style?
DI: For sure. I listen to a lot of bands, and there are some pretty obscure bands. Stuff I grew up with, I absolutely love the Beatles. I learned how to play every Beatles song. I learned every chord progression. I was also a big fan of Zepplin, and Jimi Hendrix, and a lot of music from that era, singer/songwriters from that era as well like Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac. I guess a lot of that still influences my sense of melody and my craft of songwriting.
TM: Do you have any other side projects that you're working on? Any CDs coming out?
DI: I've been working with Michelle Creber, she's one of the voice actors on My Little Pony. She plays Apple Bloom and she sings. She's a great local talent, and I produced a Beatles song for her, Here Comes The Sun. So that CD has just been released. There are also several local singers I've been writing songs for, just as a fun side project. Certainly I'm going to announce any songs that I do as they get released on my Twitter and Facebook page which is @Dannyimusic for Twitter and facebook.com/Dannyimusic.
TM: One last question: Are you DJ Pon-3?
DI: (Laughs) No, but that would be cool! She's one of my favorite secondary characters.