Industry Pro: Music Composer, Producer, and Engineer Rene Garza Aldape
Music has enormous power. Even though you are not creating the narrative as a director does, you are helping determine the pacing, the tone, and the emotional impact of a scene. The right music can make a punchline funnier, a death more heartbreaking. Today’s Industry Pro has worked on TV, movies, and video games. His work ranges from a trailer for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL to a video game based on the movie DAYS OF THUNDER to the animated Comedy Central show, “Brickleberry.” That’s range. Read on to find out how he broke in and established himself as the go-to for top studios, game companies, and others…
Current position or recently completed project or projects? I own a music production studio in Santa Monica, CA. Sometimes I work on my own, other times I collaborate with other composers, depending on the project. I do music for video games, TV shows, and movie trailers, and for recording artists as well. As for my most recent project, this year I’ve been working – in collaboration with my colleagues Nico, Ale, and Tomás on the production of all the music for the TV animated show “Brickleberry”, which Daniel Tosh executive produces for Comedy Central.
Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
College and degree: I went to Berklee College of Music. I graduated with a dual major in film scoring and music production and engineering.
Did you have an internship while you were in school? Yes. I was in charge of recording bands at Berklee and I stayed after I graduated for a couple of months before I moved to L.A. I also did a couple of internships for small studios here in Los Angeles.
And then what made you want to be in entertainment or what made you want to be a musician or in music? Were you a musician from a young age? Yes. I started playing guitar when I was 9 years old. Later on, during my early twenties, I was in a rock band. When I went to Berklee, that band signed a contract with the record label BMG, but I decided to continue with my studies and get a professional degree.
And what was your first job in the entertainment industry or first job? I was fortunate enough to work as music editor on the soundtrack for the movie ABOUT A BOY. It was a great experience.
How did that happen? A friend of mine who was working on a project with the producer, Tom Rothrock, got me in contact with him. He was looking for someone to help him with the music editing for that soundtrack. I met him and worked with him for a couple of hours, then he decided to hire me for that project.
So can you fill in a few career highlights from that point? In 2005, I received a Grammy award for additional engineering in the Best Regional Album of the Year by a band called “Intocable.” That was a great stepping stone. In 2006, I did a remix for the CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY soundtrack. Also during that year I was part of the team of composers for the animated Warner Bros series, “Mucha Lucha.” Later on, we got nominated for the Golden Reel award “Best Music Editing for TV Animation” for that project. In 2009 I worked, in collaboration with three other composers, on the score for a Starz Media documentary titled “San Vanelona,” which is a really cool documentary about skate boarding in different places around the world. In 2010, I co-produced music for various Paramount Pictures video games, such as “Days of Thunder” and “The Warriors.” In 2011 my colleague, Alejandro Valencia, and I did the music for the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL movie trailer.
Can you talk a little bit about composing video games? From what I understand, it’s very different from composing a score to something that’s linear. Yes, you are right. The score for a video game is usually more flexible than the score for a movie because the pacing and flow of the story varies depending on the player. When we worked on the scores for “The Warriors” and “Days of Thunder,” we met with the producer Jeffrey Dickson and he gave us an idea of the flow of the story as well as the pacing of the game. Based on his description we decided which scenes needed music and which needed only breaks or bumpers. Once we produced all the basic tracks, we did variations of each one of them so that the game programmers could adapt them freely to different spots.
So they pull pieces out? Yes. For example, we produce a two-minute track, then we create about 16 different remixes of that same track, adding elements or taking some elements out like strings, guitars, and so on.
Cool. What do you consider your big break? I think it was a combination of my first job, on ABOUT A BOY, and composing the music for “Mucha Lucha.”
What’s the best career advice you ever got? To tap into your true creative potential you should look at every project with different eyes, or in this case, to listen to each project with different ears. Sometimes that’s difficult because to be efficient we tend to create formulas, but with that advice in mind, I try to find a balance between being efficient and being creative at the same time.
Makes sense. It’s kind of like looking at each project like it’s new, like it’s the first time. Yes, I think it’s okay to follow a formula that you already created when you are in a time crunch, but if time allows it’s better to start with a fresh and open mind.
I’m looking for a eureka moment when you realized that you did or did not want to do something or you want to do something differently? A eureka moment in my professional life was when I realized that I needed to start hiring people. I wasn’t sleeping enough hours and wasn’t eating properly because I was working way too many hours per day. I became aware of the fact that in order to grow, and not burn out in the process, I had to start delegating some of the workload, specially the administrative stuff.
Okay. So describe a typical workday in your current position. I know it’s different when you are trying to work on a project. But kind of give us a general idea what your work life is like? I get to the studio around 9am. The first thing I do is answer the important e‑mails, get that done so I can focus on my work. Then I get into creative mode, composing, recording, editing or doing sound mixing. I usually take a lunch break at around 3pm. After that I continue working until 8 or 9pm. If the project requires more hours then I would stay in the studio for much longer.
What has been your worst job or worst day in the entertainment industry? There hasn’t been a worst job really, but probably a situation that makes my job harder is when the creative team that I’m working with keeps changing the direction of the project or they don’t have a clear vision of it. Also when the musicians that I hire for a recording session arrive unprepared and/or are distracted, that makes my job harder.
What about your best job or best day in the entertainment industry? My best days, or the days that I enjoy the most, are when I’m working with people that I can communicate with really well in terms of the creative process. It can be a co-producer, an engineer, a musician or a director, when there’s good energy and good communication everything flows better. For me, that kind of creative process is what it’s all about.
What’s the best thing about your current job? Being able to awaken different emotions with sound and music. Being creative and collaborate with very talented people.
So what’s the worst thing about your current job? Probably doing spec work. After working really hard on a track, waiting for an answer is nerve-racking.
I’m looking for a brush with greatness. It can be a celebrity encounter or someone being brilliant at what they do. Recently, I worked in a recording session with the producer Phil Ramone. It was a great opportunity and an enriching experience. I learned a lot from him because he was very enthusiastic in sharing some of his techniques with me. He not only is a wonderful producer, he is a wonderful human being.
So what’s the one thing you wish you would have known when you started? To get an entertainment lawyer. That is extremely important. I wish that somebody had told me that earlier in my career. There are many aspects that a good entertainment lawyer can help you with.
What is it that makes you good at what you do? In other words, what is the secret of your success? Before being talented comes having a good attitude. I think that knowing your craft and being talented is a given in this town, but what really makes a difference is making people feel comfortable when they are working with you.
So what advice would you give someone just starting out? Be persistent. This is a career of persistence and endurance. Work hard, the more you work, the better you get at what you do. Also, meet as many people in the industry as you can.
Okay. What’s your next move or what are your next five moves? I recently worked on the music for a pilot, hopefully the show will be approved and my colleagues and me will produce the music for it. Also I’m developing a music catalogue with a very interesting variety of music genres. I’m planning on starting to license it soon.
To find out more about Rene’s work, visit his website.
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