A Q&A with LA- Based Chinese Media Composer Ruiqi Zhao

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  1. Hi Ruiqi, we’d love to hear a little bit about your background- how you got started in music, and how you’ve continued with your musical career?

    I was born in a small town in the northern part of China. My parents love music so I started to learn music at a very young age. I began to play piano when I was four years old along with my ear training class. Since then, my interest in music has been growing and never stops. My major in college was musicology which I liked a lot. The professor of mine offered us a few film scoring analysis classes. I was totally blown away by the power of the score hidden beneath the scene. Not only does it bring the picture to life but it also propels the development of the plots. So I developed more interest in film scoring later on and I was self-taught regarding the knowledge and techniques of film scoring. After that, I got accepted in Contemporary Media and Film Composition at Eastman School of Music for my master degree. So I left my hometown for Rochester, New York. The composer of House of Cards, Jeff Beal, is the founder of our program at Eastman. He is also our mentor. And he is so generous to allow us to stay in his old property after he decided to move to New York. So after I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles to begin my career, working as a composer assistant for Emmy-Award winning composer, Nathan Wang. I am lucky enough to be able to work with him on a few amazing projects.

  2. You work not only as a composer, but also as an orchestrator, arranger, score producer, and additional music composer.  Do you feel the process for each is quite different?

    Yes, they are really different. When I am an orchestrator or arranger, my job is to follow the main composer’s music direction and the vibe he or she prefers. It’s less creative but I love doing work like this because I can get a chance to hone my skills. As a score producer, I need to make sure that the full score and all the parts are accurate and easy for conductors and players to understand. This role is also a really important part during the whole production process. However, when it comes to being an additional music composer, I can have more room to be creative and have more possibilities to decide where the music should go based on the tone that has been set up by the main composer. All of the roles are pretty fun. They require different skill sets, which pushes me to walk out of my comfort zone to take command of more skills.

  3. You’ve worked on some neat films, can you walk us through some of your most memorable projects?

    Sure! The first one is called “One True Loves”, starring Hollywood actor Simu Liu. It is an indie movie directed by Andy Fickman. I worked as an orchestrator in this project with Nathan Wang being the main composer. The movie is based on a famous novel  by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  We had lots of fun working on this project and we did the live recording remotely with the Macedonia orchestra. It was released in April, 2023. I was so thrilled to see my name on the big screen  for the first time. Another movie I worked on with Nathan is a Spanish movie called “Mi Otro Jon” which will be released in October this year. We recorded strings and woodwinds for this one. It’s always exciting to see our own music performed by professional players. In addition, the project that just got released in July 2023 is a Chinese movie called “Never Say Never”. It has generated over 700 million box office views in China. Our whole team is really excited.

  4. Many scoring workshops have accepted you, including NYU Film Scoring Workshop and Joy Music House Workshop to name a few.  What do you like about these workshops, and what are some important lessons you’ve learned from them?

    I love these workshops! After I stepped into the industry, I realized there is so much more that I need to learn,  because there are so many techniques and skills that you need to take command of in order to get more and different opportunities. They really help me fill in the gaps since I was totally self-taught before I went to Eastman for my master degree. For example, I really look forward to the Joy Music House Workshop because it focuses more on producing composers’ own recording sessions. I believe it’s going to be really helpful because one day, when we become the main composer for our own projects, we would like to have an efficient and effective recording session.  Also, through these workshops, I get to know a lot of famous composers as guests of master classes in the workshop and I also get to meet my lovely and talented peers.

  5. What does your dream career look like?

    I would like my career to be busy, but I still prefer to have some time for myself. Besides composing, I love singing, dancing and learning new skills. So, I really hope I can get enough time for me to nurture my passions while having a wonderful and busy career.

  6. I love your piece “The Elf Led Me to You” (on Spotify).  Was this from a project, or is a stand alone piece?  Can you tell us about the process for composing this?

    Thank you! This was actually a stand-alone piece. So, I have also worked for music licensing companies. One of them asked me if I could compose something that stands for a beautiful summer morning. So, this piece was composed based on their special request. I was inspired by Alexandre Desplat when I composed this piece. I analyzed some of his famous pieces and tried to feel the vibe when composing my own piece. For me, it is always helpful to learn from the professionals.

  7. Got anything exciting coming up that we should know about?

    I will have my own feature film to score soon if everything works out smoothly! And I will also work with Nathan on a few projects in the future.

    Check out the AWFC profile for Ruiqui Zhao

    Interview by Connor Cook

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