A Q&A with Film & TV Composer Chanda Dancy

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  1. “Create Your Own Opportunity” is a motto you’ve built your career around. Can you please elaborate on what you did, how you did it, and what are some milestones you’re super proud of?

    Of course, there is no set path to becoming a working film composer, but one thing that seems to be true for most everyone is that years and years of preparation with an injection of luck at just the right time leads to big, big opportunities. The biggest and best preparations I have done are:

    • Writing for and playing in orchestras. I’ve been composing orchestral music since middle school, so hearing the full orchestra in my head has become second nature to me, as well as what conventional and unconventional sounds each instrument is able to make. This is really advantageous when you’re under the gun and have to write hours of orchestral music in just a few weeks.
    • Learning ProTools backwards and forwards. I compose, edit, mix and master solely in ProTools. The audio processing tools in PT are, in my opinion, the best out there, and even working in midi in PT is very easy, and has helped to create incredible sounding works. PT is also industry standard on dub stages and with music editors/editors, etc, so the workflow between parties is seamless, which is important when under very tight deadlines.
    • Working on as many projects as possible, regardless of budget or if I think it’s going to “go somewhere”, and to create the absolute best sounding score I could possibly muster. I tended to go overboard – beyond what was expected. Many projects I worked on had no budget for live musicians and definitely not for an orchestra – but that didn’t stop me from creating orchestral scores! I was recording myself in my bedroom closet 30 times to create a string orchestra (I play violin, viola and cello) and mixing all of my live playing with samples, custom produced sound/music effects, etc. to create what sounds like the real deal. In all of those scores, I made sure that I was proud of what I made. There was no “oh, sounds good enough for what I’m paid!” Only, “ah – this is what I wanted to create!”
    • Releasing many of my scores on self-published albums to digital stores. After years of doing this, I found myself with hours of music on Spotify, etc, that were great sounding, authentic works that represent who I am as a composer.
    • Making true friends with your fellow filmmaking humans. Everyone I have worked with has become a friend of mine – not just acquaintances, but truly trusted companions. People who literally come over and babysit my son while I attend a film event! Relationships are a MUST – and are the best investment in your life, let alone your career. When opportunity knocks, your friends will vouch for you!

    So after all of this preparation, luck happened, and opportunity knocked. A big producer was listening to my music on Spotify, and he and the music editor he was working with contacted me and offered me the opportunity to demo for a big show they were working on. Thankfully because I’ve had years of experience writing orchestral music, working in ProTools and creating convincing demos VERY quickly, working on a wide range of film projects with many directors and differing personalities (some of whom this producer called up asking about me), I was hired. That show was “The Defeated”, which turned out to be a catalyst in taking my career to another level.

  2. You’re the owner of the boutique post-production studio, Cyd Post! How did you get started, what services do you offer?

    CYD POST is a tiny, tiny studio that mostly does post sound on independent projects. We’ve done sound design, sound editing, ADR, and foley, with the most recent project the indie film “Raise Your Hand”. I started CYD POST in 2014 after my experience of working in sound in addition to music. I used to work for a pretty neat post production sound house after graduating from USC, doing sound for video games, films and t.v. and I just always continued to work with sound since then.

  3. What was your experience working on the Netflix series, The Defeated, and how did you approach the score for a story that takes place in 1946’s Berlin, in the chaotic aftermath of the war?

    This was the wildest and most amazing project ever. The producers wanted a big epic orchestral score with modern elements (i.e. synths, sound design, etc) to create a world that is dark, seedy, and thrilling. It’s an epic show that has everything from post war spy intrigue, to Nazi hunters, to love and loss and everything in between. I had a wide-open canvas and an 85-piece orchestra to work with. Our music editor, Paul Apelgren, was paramount in helping to establish the feel of the world early on with a great temp score, because once the writing started, it was pedal to the metal until the final dub! I found myself writing 4 hours and 15 minutes of music in the span of about 6 or 7 weeks. We recorded the score in Prague over 8 days, and mixed in about 2 weeks. A huge shout out to Paul, my assistants on the project Alexandra Kalinowski and Shawn Chen, my mixer Alvin Wee and orchestrators Zuzana Michlerova, Adam Klemens, Bernhard Eder, Ana Kasrashvili, and David Federman. It was nothing short of a miracle to get all of that done in such a short time.

  4. You recently scored The Secrets She Keeps (Lifetime), On These Grounds (STARZ), the Sundance award-winning documentaryAftershock (Disney/Onyx), and the upcoming Korean War era feature, Devotion (Sony) coming to theaters Thanksgiving. That’s so much work for one person! As an in-demand composer, how do you balance your demanding career and your personal life?

    Yeah, that’s a lot – And I’m also a single mother to a rambunctious pre-schooler, so life is certainly not boring! The only way that I have been able to do all of this is:

    • Family – My parents and my mother and father-in-law have supported me immensely throughout the pandemic, caring for my son while I literally slept in my studio during crunch times.
    • Friends – I have good friends both inside and outside the industry who I hang out with when we get the chance. We go on lunch outings, play dates with our children and generally encourage and build up one another.
    • Team – I have awesome assistants who have written additional music, orchestrated, and helped on the technical side of things, and an amazing agent, Kevin Korn, who cares about my well-being as a fellow human and is encouraging and steadfast. Along with great teachers at my son’s school, therapists, and a great personal chef (I use Mint Personal Chefs – it’s surprisingly affordable and it’s one less thing to worry about), I have been able to lead a pretty healthy and well-balanced life, no matter the obstacles.
    • Organization – I run things on a schedule. I wake up at the same time every day, and I have the same routine each day which allows for a certain amount of composing, time for meetings and administrative tasks, time for my son, time to socialize a bit, and time for myself. During crunch times, I rely on the help of my family, friends and team – lather, rinse, repeat.
    • Knowing When to Say No – I can’t do everything. Even if I’m really interested in something (a project, or some cool activity), if it’s at the expense of the balance I’ve created in my life, I have to say no. Pick your battles and always put your health, both mental and physical, and your children (if you have them) first. Then you will have the creative and physical energy to compose well and meet deadlines. This career is a marathon, and you can’t burn yourself out.

  5. Besides composing, you’re also known for your performances with the indie band, Modern Time Machines-  as a violinist, keyboardist, and vocalist. What makes you passionate about rock music, and being on stage? Do you also incorporate rock elements in your film-scoring work?

     

    I don’t really perform much with the band anymore as there just isn’t the time, but when we were performing together, it was divine! I definitely use rock elements in my scoring. MTM is a shoegaze band, so my aesthetic is more of the ethereal swirling mass of guitar sound. But really, I’ve found that I incorporate a lot of different genres that I love into my scores, including EDM, R&B, Jazz, and experimental/sound design elements on top of the traditional European classical orchestra.

    Check out Chanda’s AWFC spotlight.

    Interview by Nami Melumad

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