On the Record: Q&A with Dan Diaz

On the Record: Q&A with Dan Diaz
September 18, 2015 Sally House


Composer and Producer

Composer and producer Dan Diaz is based out of Los Angeles and his music and sound design have been featured in trailers for some of the biggest blockbuster movies and video games of our time including Iron Man 3, The Avengers, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, Her, The Wolverine, The Conjuring, Deadpool, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and Call of Duty Ghosts. He has also composed music for video games such as Electronic Arts’ Skate 2, Skate 3, and Skate It (which combined have sold more than 2.5 million copies), as well as countless television shows on networks such Fox, CBS, MTV, Vh1, E!, The CW, and many more. In addition to his career as a composer, Dan has also worked as a producer, engineer, and mixer, with artists including Jason Mraz, Martin Storrow, Dawn Mitschele, Kyle Phelan, and many others.

Dan was kind enough to sit down with us in between composing sessions and give us an unfiltered insight into what makes him tick and why he loves music. Below, the reveal.

Dan, what first inspired you to write music?

From the time I was little my parents always had music playing in the house. My dad’s a big fan of all different styles, from Elvis, The Beatles, and Dean Martin, to Dwight Yoakum, Garth Brooks, and beyond, so I was exposed to music from an early age and always loved it. He also had a a guitar, and at a certain point I found myself making up songs, pretending to play, and even recording “albums” of my songs into a cassette recorder.

There were probably others before songs before it, but I first remember hearing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the “Wayne’s World” soundtrack, and it blew my mind. I couldn’t stop listening to that one. It definitely solidified my love of music.

So you started with guitar, but what instruments do you now play?

Yes, first guitar, and now also bass, drums/percussion, and a little bit of keyboard/piano. Also, I wouldn’t call myself a singer, but I enjoy singing on tracks from time to time as a baritone. Mostly polka based classical death metal. And sometimes pop/rock.

Polka? That’s certainly eclectic. What’s your favorite genre of music to write?

I love writing in all different styles. Variety helps to keep my wandering attention span in check. Well, sort of… but I always enjoy anything with a great groove or anything I can play some fun guitar on. Or things that rock. Or that have a cool drum part I can play. Or bass part. Or big, movingly-emotional orchestra. Or… See, there it is, my wandering focus…

What is your music writing process for a trailer, a commercial, or for fun?

For a trailer or commercial I always start with an objective, either from a specific creative brief or an overall stylistic-rundown for an entire album. I’ll then try to figure out how I can accomplish that objective in a unique, interesting, and slightly inventive way. That takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and then one of two things happens: if it’s for a quick turnaround custom-type project, I’ll quickly come up with either a guitar, drum, or keys part, lay that down, and then immediately start layering in other parts and sounds and composing as I go. If it’s for a project that I have more time with, I’ll usually start by writing with only a piano patch open and focusing heavily on the composition itself. Once the basic parts are written, I’ll then start orchestrating and producing what will become the finished product.

If it’s for fun it totally varies, but I will usually start with either a riff, vocal idea, or some other “instigating part” and I’ll run with it from there.

I really draw my inspiration from wanting to create interesting and moving music that affects people in the positive way that music has always affected my life, and also from the want to not be homeless.

Ha! Good reason to create. What hobbies or other interests outside of music inform your composing?

I love to read biographies and learn about other people’s lives. I also really enjoy watching movies and good TV, spending time my wife, Britta, and dog, Jackson, and other family and friends, traveling (not enough at this point, but working on it), and spending time in nature. Every moment of everything I do informs my music in one way or another!

Great! What is your greatest strength as a composer?

Because I can never answer a question in the singular, I’ll say my strengths are creativity and curiosity, a love of strong melody, and solid production and arranging skills.

How did you and The Hit House first begin working together?

Sally, Scott and I became friends in the course of seeing each other around various trailer industry events as I was running my own company, “Anti-Hero,” and eventually realized it would be too much fun to work together to not do it! Also, Scott owes me his life for reasons I can’t disclose in this interview. At least that’s what I keep telling him when I want him to do me a favor.

Wow, won’t even follow up on that one… So, what’s your favorite piece of music you’ve written for The Hit House in an album?

It’s always hard to pick a favorite piece, but I definitely feel particularly proud of “Angst” and “Greed” from “Over Re:Action”, as well as “Falkor” and “Norbert” from “Epic Funny Bone: The Third.” [See link at bottom to listen.]

What is a common layman’s misconception about composing music?

That we spend most of our time fending off girls and groupies. It’s more like all our time.

So aside from “beware of groupies,” what advice to you have for young composers or those interested in the industry?

Hone your talents and become as good as you possibly can at writing music that moves people. It’s very hard for the industry to ignore people who are really good at making great music. Also, learn as much about the business side and good money management as possible so you can sustain yourself through both tough and good times in your career.

Is there any question you wanted to answer that we did not ask?

Sure, I definitely accept complimentary desserts sent to The Hit House in my name. Especially pastries. Or coffee cake.

Thanks for your time Dan. We’ll be sure to send those desserts directly to you!

Hear some of Dan’s recent compositions:
EPIC FUNNY BONE – The Third: Orchestral Escapades

More on Dan and Anti-Hero:
Dan Diaz Wikipedia