It’s been an amazing year for Canadian singer/songwriter/pianist Daniel Powter. His song ‘Bad Day’ has become one of the biggest hits in recent years, receiving worldwide radio and TV play for a full year now, and is still going strong. His debut album Daniel Powter was released in April on Warner Bros. Records, and was quickly certified gold in the U.S. and is platinum in several other countries. In addition, Powter has just launched his first U.S. tour, and has released his follow-up single, ‘Jimmy Gets High.’
Powter’s rise to success is not your typical, music industry story, where a young artist (in his teens or early 20s) is signed by a label and releases a trendy hit. Powter is enjoying his breakthrough success at a relatively late age (he’s 35), and he admits that he didn’t even write songs until he was 27. The success of Powter demonstrates that a singer/songwriter can develop his/her craft at a slower, more deliberate pace, and still achieve major success if the songs and recordings are exceptional.
Powter grew up in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, where he learned to play violin first. When he reached his teens, he switched to piano playing, and he also began singing and playing in bands. Then after high school, he studied music at the Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.
It was after college that Powter moved to Vancouver, and started working as a professional musician. ‘I played keyboards in other bands before I started to write songs,’ explained Powter. ‘One of the gigs I did as a musician, was to play briefly in Chris Isaak’s band.’
hen in 1997, Powter met producer Jeff Dawson, and they started a collaboration which enabled Powter to develop his songwriting and create his soulful pop, piano-based sound. ‘Jeff and I bunkered down in his apartment with a little studio – it was at 1310 Burnaby St. in Vancouver,’ said Powter. ‘I started writing songs, and he and I would come up with these great production ideas. I got so addicted to it that I was working on these songs all day and all night. It was like a door opening. Everything became easy. I would have the song written in just a day, and Jeff and I would get all these bass parts down and start making loops. In the studio, we had a ProTools rig, and we used a Mackie board with a preamp.’
Powter recalled how he wrote ‘Bad Day’: ‘ I wrote ‘Bad Day’ about four years ago. I had this melody which was stuck in my head – it wouldn’t go away. I would just sing it over and over again. Then I came up with the chord progression. In the chorus, I sang the words ‘Bad Day’ and it just seemed to fit. Then we recorded it. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that it would be a hit. I was just trying to make music.’
Here’s the video of Daniel Powter’s hit single “Bad Day.”
‘Bad Day’ was included on the CD which Powter and Dawson initially shopped to record labels. The duo generated interest from several major labels, and executives flew Powter to New York to audition. However, these showcases didn’t go well, because Powter hadn’t developed his performing skills yet as a solo artist. As a result, the label execs passed at that time. ‘ I wasn’t ready,’ said Powter. ‘I got killed. And once a record company says no, it’s difficult to come around again. So I decided to forget about it, get back to Vancouver, and keep writing songs.’
After this round of label shopping and showcases had concluded, Powter did meet with Los Angeles manager Gary Stamler, who began representing him. Stamler subsequently played Powter’s demos to Tom Whalley, Chairman of Warner Bros. Records. Whalley loved the songs, and offered him a label deal. Despite this offer, and the excellent relationship he developed with Whalley, Powter decided to take some time before signing the deal. ‘It took me about seven months to decide whether to sign it. It was a big decision, whether to stay behind the scenes as a songwriter, or step out as an artist. I had considered myself a songwriter first and foremost. Finally, I signed the deal in April 2003.’
Following the signing, Powter focused on completing his album in Los Angeles, which had already been written and recorded with Jeff Dawson in Vancouver. Stamler introduced Powter to hit producer Mitchell Froom, who was known for working with Crowded House, Paul McCartney and Los Lobos. Powter and Froom hit it off, and Froom was brought in to complete production, working together with both Powter and Dawson (who flew in from Vancouver) to finish the album.
When the album was done, it was decided that Warner Bros. would first market and promote Powter’s music in Europe. ‘The album was released in France first, in 2005,’ he said. ‘Warner Bros. France said they loved the record, and they were the first Warner label overseas that really got excited about it. I want to mention that there was a marketing exec for Warner Bros. France named Stephan Tardeville, who was a big supporter for me there. He really helped build the momentum. And after the album started happening in France, then it spread to Belgium, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Holland, then England.’
The success of the album was spurred on, of course, by the massive airplay and sales of the smash hit, ‘Bad Day.’ This single turned out to be one of those rare and special songs, which has a memorable lyrical theme and haunting melody, which just connected with people around the world. ‘Bad Day’ received added promotion when it was played regularly on the American Idol telecasts, and as a Coca-Cola commercial in Europe. The single ultimately reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is still in the Top 20, and it’s still holding firm at #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It has also been certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA.
The notoriety and acclaim of ‘Bad Day’ and his album has given Powter the ability to launch major concert tours in Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Asia. It’s been a whirlwind year of traveling for Powter; when he finishes his current U.S. tour, he flys to Japan for a tour, then to England, then to the U.S. for another tour.
In addition, Powter has just released the album’s second single, ‘Jimmy Gets High,’ which is already a hit in Europe. ‘The follow-up single was always going to be “Jimmy Gets High,’ which is a very important song to me,’ said Powter. ‘I think it’s a bit risky to release it as a single, considering the lyric message of the song. But I believe in this song. It’s a song that I would travel and tour anywhere to promote it. I love that I get to play this song and people get the message.’
Lastly, when asked what advice he would give to young songwriters and artists who are trying to break into the music business, he said: ‘Try to be completely honest with yourself in your songwriting. Don’t try and copy a sound or style that somebody has already created. Don’t try to copy a style like Gnarls Barkley, just because it’s hot. Write for yourself and your family and friends ‘ write what makes you happy as a songwriter. It’s important to get yourself in the studio, to get ‘naked’ against the record. Put a song together with just you, and your own song sensibility.’