Q&A WITH GRANT DENAPOLI ’93
Striking the Right Note
Grant DeNapoli discovered his passion for music at Pomfret and made it his career.
During his sophomore year at Pomfret, Grant DeNapoli ’93 picked up the guitar for the first time and never looked back. He studied at Berklee College of Music and went on tour with his band Whiskey Kitchen. After a couple of years, he became a trader by day and musician by night — writing more than 200 songs and learning the technology of recording and production. In 2015, he returned full-time to his passion for music and began producing music for big-name advertisers, including Gatorade, Glade, and Disney.
Where did you discover your passion for music?
I discovered my love for music at Pomfret. In my sophomore year, I started playing guitar because my roommate played the guitar. My oldest brother — Ted DeNapoli '89 — said to me, “Grant, imagine how good you'll be when you're my age.” He was 17 and I was 14, and it stuck with me. I started to really get into the music. I got to know my instrument and learned about music and music theory. I had a band at Pomfret and did my senior project focused on music. My first time on stage was for the Pomfret talent show and I loved it! I wanted to be a rock and roll guitar player.
How did you go from playing to writing music?
I graduated from Pomfret and went to Berklee College of Music. When I met my two roommates, they were both sitting on the couch playing their guitars. They were just so good — it was like they had been sitting in rooms for ten years doing nothing but practicing. I said to myself, “I'm not going to be a rock 'n' roll guitar player.” It was at that point I decided I better learn how to write. I got so into writing that I transferred to DePaul University to get an English degree and started a new band.
Tell us about the band and what was life in the band like?
I was in a band called Whiskey Kitchen. We would write country songs, play our acoustic guitars, and drink whiskey in my parents’ kitchen. We spent three or four years touring and recording records, playing 200 shows a year all over the country, from Nashville to Lawerence, Kansas. After a few years, I couldn't do it anymore. I was waiting tables to make ends meet and was eating a lot of Cup Noodles. I needed a change and to start to thinking about the future.
What was the change you made?
My brother Ted was working at the Chicago Board of Trade. They needed a clerk and the hours were 9:30–1:15. I thought I could do music the second half of the day. I turned out to love being a trader. It reminded me of being on the Pomfret football team — it was three hours and forty-five minutes of full contact and competition.
How did you transition from the financial industry back to the music industry?
Technology is woven throughout my journey. In 2015, technology led to the closing of the Trading Pits at the Chicago Board of Trade, but I used technology to bring me back into music. While I was working at the Board of Trade, I spent my free time writing over 200 songs and learning the technology of recording my music. I learned how to use technology to bring the sounds of a French horn into my music. Instead of locating a French horn player, getting them into the studio, and paying them an hourly rate, I could use technology. We can now talk to clients and have something turned around within the hour.
What made you decide to do commercial music production instead of writing and producing songs?
I wanted to use my writing skills to write for application because I knew there was a market for it. I believe if you want to succeed in writing songs for other artists you need to be in Nashville, in the scene, and doing that full time. Being in Chicago — where the advertising and marketing market is so big — I knew that there were paths for me to be successful. I recorded another album of the songs that I had written while at Board of Trade. The album's producer was a master-level producer, and we teamed up to write an original song for the Museum of Science and Industry spot. From there, other opportunities kept coming in.
Tell us about your production process.
I do a lot of recording and writing. I delegate components that are out of my wheelhouse. I have a team of people, who each has their own specialty. One guy does the top-end producing. If I need something that's a classical track, I have a good friend who does classical composition. EDM is not my thing and I have a friend that's great at it. If we need new talent, we find it through our inter-web of composers.
How did your career in the financial industry help in your music business — Barrelhouse Music?
Being in the trading pit was a sales job more than a financial job. It was trying to read what the other guy was doing. Trying to see what angle he might be coming in at and figuring out how you could come to an agreement or compromise. That's very important in sales. A lot of what I do is sales, working with advertising agencies. It’s a close-knit set of skills.
What have been some of your favorite projects you have worked on?
One of my favorite commercials was the Museum of Science and Industry because my kids are in the video, and I wrote the song for them. Another one of my favorites was a Subaru commercial about a dog. Dogs are so near and dear to my heart. We did not get the spot — Willie Nelson did, so I don’t feel so bad.
We did a video game — Watch Dogs 2 with Ubisoft. Usually, we would work with an ad agency to strictly do audio for an application, a digital spot, or a commercial. But in working with Ubisoft, it was like a movie — there are so many different departments. It's a big production, and that was exciting. We got to see and be a part of all the facets, not only music. We did sound design and worked with voiceover people. It was awesome and so cool.
What inspires you?
Art inspires me. It is my hobby — I have gotten into painting, art, and the whole process. I remember being in the art studio at Pomfret and just loving it.
My daughter Fallon is also inspiring. She is the first female born in the DeNapoli family in five generations. She is tough and motivated.
Tell us about the rest of your family.
I have a son, James DeNapoli ’24, who is at Pomfret now, and my wife, Kim DeNapoli. We have Clumber Spaniels — Annie and Hobson.
How are you helping young people get into the music industry?
Living in a small community, I have connected with some kids who want to go to music or theater school. I try to serve as a mentor, similar to how I was mentored at Pomfret. I provide tutoring on music theory and technology, help them develop and curate their music portfolio, and write letters of recommendation. It’s not a common path, and they need some guidance. I also volunteer at Camp Deerhorn in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. There is a music culture there where kids are helping kids play around the campfire at all different skill levels.
What would you tell young people who want to go into the music industry?
You have to learn how to write. Writing is something that's not replaceable — it's the most important part of what we do. Learning how to write and hone your craft at writing can serve you for the rest of your life. It's tough enough to be a singer, a musician, an artist, or an actor, but the writing really is the most valuable asset. When I was working at the Board of Trade I wrote every day. I was using that muscle every day, and it was such a valuable time for me to get to where I am today.
If you were to give a Chapel Talk today, what would you say?
- Do what you'd love because if you don't do what you love, life can get tough.
- Love what you do, because if you don't love what you're doing, you're never going to be any good at it.
- Learn how to take what you love and make a career out of it and support yourself doing it.
Those are the three keys to professional success — in my opinion.