Nolan Frank

Reckless Positivity & Stemming Out Songs

An interview with musical director, musician and composer Nolan Frank (Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Jimmy Fallon, Rolling Stones, Elton John)

“I was surprised with how fast RipX DAW’s interface became intuitive and incredibly easy to work with. The ability to stem out songs from a single audio file is a game changer. Whether it’s to rehearse, to send out files to musicians, or brainstorm ideas during pre-production. RipX DAW is fast becoming the newest, most indispensable part of my tool kit.”

Raised in Lawrence, Kansas, Nolan Frank’s musical journey began at the age of just 4 years old, guided by his grandmother’s piano teachings. His formative years were enriched with classical training in piano, voice, and trumpet. Eventually relocating to Los Angeles, he undertook advanced studies at the prestigious USC Thornton School of Music and has since flourished as a versatile musician, excelling as a touring keyboardist and musical director. His talents have recently led him to the realm of composing, where he creates captivating scores for advertising, film, and television. 

“I began working in the music industry in 2013 as a keyboard and trumpet player for New Zealand artist Gin Wigmore on Vans Warped Tour. I toured for several acts in the following years including Justin Bieber, Madison Beer, and Sabrina Carpenter. In 2016 I began to transition to my role as a Musical Director for some of these artists. Since then I’ve MD’d for artists like Noah Cyrus, Grace VanderWaal, Jeremy Zucker, and Jessie Murph, plus many more.”

As for some of his most memorable and unforgettable moments so far?

“I enjoyed taking my work with Noah Cyrus from the stage into the studio when I produced her cover of Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks.” It was a special moment to be trusted to inject a record with some of the same live “magic” we go after in the show. Also – in 2014, I had the opportunity to be a band member briefly for a project called North Of Nine. It only lasted for a year and didn’t really go anywhere, but our manager was American Idol’s Randy Jackson. We were all surprised to learn during that year that not only is Randy a fantastic person, but he also began his career as a touring bass player and producer! The rest of the band members and myself all felt a special kinship with him because of this and we still have a good relationship today.”

“I also had the opportunity to arrange a version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ famous record “Achy Breaky Heart” with the Noah band a few years back. We were opening for Katy Perry on her Witness Tour, and Billy was stepping in to feature on the show in NYC at Madison Square Garden. I wanted to make this an extra special performance, so I dug up a live version Billy had performed in the 90s that included an old school country medley. We put our own spin on it, and of course our incredible band pulled it off in spectacular fashion. The memory I treasure from this time was Billy pulling me aside afterward and telling me he hadn’t had so much fun playing “Achy Breaky Heart” in 25 years. To me it was an encapsulation of what my goal is as an MD. I believe by helping an artist have as much fun as humanly possible onstage, that feeling will inevitably carry over to the audience.”

As a musical director, Nolan recognises the importance of managing the dynamics of working with different artists and bands during tours.

“Every artist and band is different, and they can require different approaches. I try to listen as much as possible to everyone on the team. Primarily to the artist of course, but also to their management, their label, sometimes even their parents or close friends. My role for the most part is that of a musical translator, taking the non-technical requests of an artist or business person and translating them into a musical reality. The more I listen, the more I can piece together their unique vernacular and verbiage, and the quicker that process becomes. If I’ve spent a lot of time with a particular artist or team, I can often get it to the point where they feel like I can read their mind, although I assure you that I can’t.”

But as he reveals, every tour has its lighter moments.

I once had a call time moved up on me last minute during a day off, which virtually never happens. Shoddy tour management aside, the result of this decision was that I needed to stop my laundry mid-cycle and pack all of my still-wet clothes into my suitcase. It wasn’t until the next morning at the venue that I was able to hang everything on venue guard rails out back to dry. It was certainly funny to see me out there all day sitting on a road case guarding my clothes as they dried the old school way.”

Positivity is also crucial to Nolan, although he recognises that having good chemistry in your touring group unfortunately isn’t always a given.

“It will always get tough at certain points, but I believe in the power of reckless positivity. I try not to complain too much on the road, because more than likely the thing that I’m complaining about is something that is affecting the whole group as well. The shows are always fun, that I can attest to. I try to charge all of my batteries as much as possible with good energy from the shows.”

As for RipX DAW, how does the software complement his work? “RipX DAW solved a problem that I had experienced for a long time. Most frequently and especially with younger artists, you inevitably spend a lot of time waiting on stems for new records. I can’t count the number of times when I’ve been unable to rehearse or arrange a new record because of a lack of stems. “Can’t we just rehearse with the master?” is a question that can become the bane of my existence. RipX DAW now gives me the ability to proactively rehearse and prepare regardless of variables on the business end. For it to work so smoothly, exactly as advertised, is just icing on the cake.”

RipX DAW has even challenged his thinking in terms of how DAWs should be designed.

“I think everyone is used to the typical “arrange”view in some of the big DAWs like Logic, Pro Tools, and Ableton Live, myself included. However, I was surprised with how fast RipX DAW’s interface became intuitive and incredibly easy to work with. As I described earlier, the ability to stem out songs from a single audio file is a game changer. Whether it’s to rehearse, to send out files to musicians, or brainstorm ideas during pre-production. RipX DAW is fast becoming the newest, most indispensable part of my tool kit.”

Has RipX DAW ever proved useful to him for a show?

“Not yet! However, I’ve only been using RipX DAW for a couple of months. It has absolutely saved my ass for more than one rehearsal, and I can imagine it’s only a matter of time before it will be crucial to keeping a show on its feet.”

Looking to the future, how does Nolan envision integrating RipX DAW into his upcoming projects or musical endeavors?

“It’s already integrated! I look forward to continuing to use RipX DAW to the betterment of my shows and projects for years to come. I can’t wait to see the growth of this exciting new software.”

Finally, what advice would Nolan give to aspiring musicians and musical directors?

“Keep an open mind, and never pigeon hole yourself! I was once given the advice that this business is only hard if there’s only ONE thing that you could see yourself doing within it. If you are passionate about making a living in music, then I’m sure there are a number of different jobs and positions you could fill. These opportunities sometimes can feel like they fall around you like rain while sometimes feeling like your phone will never ring again…so don’t be too picky or proud when they do come along. Carry your best self into every room you enter, and do your best to be of service to the music being made that day. I couldn’t have painted myself a picture in my early twenties of where I am now, and I hope to say that again in the next ten years.”

Find out more about Nolan Frank HERE.

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