Daniel Miller’s first stint with music was singing the children’s song “Speckled Frog” in front of his music class at 7 years old.
“I was the center of attention, so that’s why I found (music) so awesome,” Miller said.
Now, 12 years later, he’s come full circle, teaching young children their first percussion songs.
Miller teaches inner-city youth music lessons as part of the group SLAM! at UCLA. But teaching is just one of his several music endeavors. Having left his home country of Spain to attend UCLA, the first-year sociology and pre-communications student said he has been smoothly transitioning into the musical community in Los Angeles as a singer-songwriter.
Growing up, Daniel Miller and his older brother, David Miller, would practice their music together and perform in high school talent shows – Daniel Miller would play the drums and David Miller played the guitar, said David Miller, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics student.
As a teenager in Madrid, Daniel Miller became involved in his high school’s music program by performing in open mic nights and musical theatre productions, he said. During his senior year of high school, he played the role of Gaston in a high school production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
Miller also worked to get involved in Madrid’s musical community outside of the school setting, he said. He volunteered with an organization in Madrid called Serve the City, where he performed music in old folks’ homes and in drug rehabilitation centers. He also found nontraditional ways to share his music: Miller said he busked – played music for voluntary donations – in Madrid’s metro stations for up to three hours a day.
“Street performing is great,” Miller said, “Basically 95 percent of people just walk by and don’t even recognize your existence, but you really learn what works and what doesn’t … It’s basically having free ears to listen to your music.”
Miller said moving across the world to Los Angeles for college has been great for his musical endeavors since there are so many different producers and studios for him to connect with. Miller said that he is currently emailing people all around the city in order to book gigs and perform shows so that he can branch out into the music scene.
One of Miller’s first gigs in Los Angeles was in UCLA’s branch of the College Talent Tour, a national singing competition for college students, during fall quarter, he said. He was one of 10 UCLA students to perform in the James Bridges Theater, where he sang one of his original songs, “How Can She Smile?”
Miller wrote the song two years ago about two strangers crossing paths and smiling at each other out of uncertainty.
“It’s a broken-hearted love song,” he said.
Miller spends about two hours a day writing lyrics without judging or placing restrictions on what he writes. Then, he goes over and edits what he wrote, later weaving his lyrics into songs with his guitar. For every 50 songs he writes, Miller said that usually only one song turns out really well.
In addition to writing his own music and performing in the College Talent Tour, Miller has been volunteering with the UCLA group SLAM!. Miller enjoys teaching young students music because it reminds him of the songs he first learned.
While he mainly focuses on teaching the kids the basic foundations of playing percussion instruments, Miller said that he and the kids occasionally jam out to pop songs such as “Ride” by Twenty One Pilots.
“It’s cool to go back to the first things you learned, because sometimes you take everything for granted, like tempo and stuff like that,” Miller said. “And then when you go back and you’re thinking about teaching this stuff you have to really think about how you’re doing it.”
Since arriving in Los Angeles, Miller has been finding his place in the musical community, playing more music than he ever has in his life, he said. Along with his performances and volunteer work, Miller collaborates and plays music with friends, like percussionist and first-year physics student, Shivainn Mehra.
Mehra and Miller have jam sessions, playing spontaneous music together whenever they meet up. The two met at the beginning of the school year through a mutual friend.
During one of their jam sessions, Mehra said Miller came up with a song that they later posted on the UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens Facebook group.
In the two-minute video, Miller strums his guitar and sings his witty observations on couples at UCLA, singing about a “couple, stuck in their bubble.” Mehra said the song was inspired during one of their informal jam sessions, in which Miller and Mehra decided to sing about all the young couples they crossed paths with on campus.
Another UCLA student who Miller frequently plays with is Eva B. Ross, a fourth-year history student who also performs with his brother David Miller.
Ross and Daniel Miller met on a summer trip to Spain while she and David Miller were performing music together throughout Europe. Now, Ross said that she and Daniel Miller exchange songs-in-progress to get feedback from each other.
“He’s an honest storyteller; he likes to explore human interaction in a very honest way,” Ross said. “(His music) is very unpretentious.”
As for his future in the Los Angeles music scene, Miller said he’s looking for more places around the area to play show and is interested in becoming a ghostwriter for famous pop artists.
“The reason I do music is to bring people together,” Miller said.