A Q&A with with Bleeding Fingers Composer Denise Santos

  1. You were born and raised in Manila (Philippines) before you came to the US. Are you incorporating elements from your home culture in your music or is there something else you would call your signature sound?

    Guitar is a big part of our culture, and I find myself always trying to incorporate it into my scores. Literally, when you enter the Philippine international airport, you are greeted by a quartet of guitarists and singers performing a welcome song, haha. The acoustic guitar’s sound is so ingrained in me that I like to have it even as just a textural element in a mostly orchestral or synth-heavy piece.

    Percussion is also quite prevalent in our music. When I would attend music festivals back home, my fondest memories include dancing along to drum circles jamming endlessly with all their different djembes, kahons, and several other hand percussion instruments. I love writing action/adventure cues because I get to emulate that energy and memory.

  2. You have worked on an impressive variety of projects in your career. Which project was the most memorable scoring experience for you so far?

    It would have to be the first film I ever scored with an experienced director. At that point, I had only done one full-length film with fellow first-time filmmakers and was recommended to this director. It was a straight-up action film, and being the noob that I was, I overscored it. When it was time for him to give me notes, we sat down and watched the film with my score on it, and he would stop me each time he had feedback. Sometimes he would just completely take out my score; other times, he would ask me to move a cue a few beats later. It was a masterclass in film scoring that I so badly needed. I was so ashamed during that meeting, but I learned so much coming out of it.

  3. As a team member of Bleeding Fingers you get to be at one of the most sought out studios in Los Angeles, collaborating with some amazing talent. What are some of the biggest lessons that experience has taught you?

    Trust the process

    I’m easily intimidated by projects that I get at work, especially at the beginning stages, when nothing has been established and approved yet. Usually, it’s around that time when my self-doubts start creeping in, and I start thinking that I am not good enough for it. And then I saw firsthand how my colleagues dealt with their own projects, and I realized that while we are not expected to know everything right away, we are expected and capable of rising to the occasion and filling in the blanks for ourselves. It was very valuable for me to witness this from composers I admire, and it taught me to use my vulnerability as a tool to improve on my skills rather than a barrier for betterment.

    Keep learning and evolving

    As a company founded by one of the greatest innovators in film music, we are expected to be as daring with our writing and production techniques and methodologies. So one thing I’ve picked up from Bleeding Fingers is that hunger for new knowledge. I’m always trying out new libraries and plug-ins, which also helps keep things fresh and exciting.

    Don’t overthink

    My colleagues talk about this a lot, and I value this piece of advice so much. Part of the job demands us to be quick, and that “just do it” mentality has helped me meet that demand better throughout the years. I consider myself an overthinker, idealist, and perfectionist, and to some degree, I like that about myself. But on days when the deadline was..yesterday..my colleagues’ advice resonates more with me. Go with your first idea; there’s no time for doubts. Because of this, too, I’ve learned to trust myself more.

  4. Tell us a bit about your creative process both with filmmakers and with your fellow composers.

    With filmmakers, I love interviewing them about the film and coming into it from a literary perspective. I want to get to know the story first, the characters, and their arcs and transformations. I love reading scripts too. Once I have a good grasp of what and who the film is about, I like talking with directors about their musical preferences, and often we’ll talk about which artists they like and what they envision in the music of their film. Spotting is crucial for me too because, as I’ve learned throughout the years, different directors have very different preferences on how scored they want their films to be. And then, ultimately, I start scoring the film from there. With enough time, I’ll do a full pass of the score and then present it as a whole. But I’ve had instances where I had to send scenes as I finished them.

    When co-scoring with a fellow composer, the good thing about it is we each have our own strengths that we bring to the table. So some scenes may resonate more with one composer than the other. We like to do another spotting session between the team and assign scenes to each other. I like to work in isolation for the most part, and then when I’ve done a first pass of a scene or chunk of scenes, we listen to each other’s work and get inspired by it. We like to share what instruments we’ve used and either revise what we’ve currently done based on the new information or move on and apply those new ideas to future scenes.

  5. Can you tell us more about what you are working on / will be working on? What are some milestones you are trying to achieve next and what projects are you looking forward to the most?

    This is always a tough question because we can never really talk about what we’re working on until it’s done! In terms of milestones that I’m trying to achieve, I would love to have a full orchestra recording of my scores. I also long to do more scripted shows and films.

    Lastly, I’ve also always wanted to do arrangements for artists. I was lucky to do one recently for a trailer album that’s going to be released soon. I want to be able to keep doing stuff like that! It would be such a dream to do arrangements for Imogen Heap, Sara Bareilles, Phoebe Bridgers, Bon Iver, Daughter, and Maggie Rogers, to name a few from my very long list of dream collaborators.


    Interview by Anne-Kathrin Dern

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