An interview with Ana Ortiz Wienken – film music composer

Hi Ana, what is your profession?

I am a film score composer and music producer. I compose the soundtrack music and create sound effects for films. I have worked on well-known films from renowned studios like Warner Studios, Netflix, VGM and Montesinos Films (Oscar Nominee). You might recognize some titles within my musical work: Smallfoot, Elite, SLAB etc. I aspire to keep working and learning from my beloved film industry.

How did your musical journey begin?

My musical journey began when I was 5 years old. My family had dinner and they placed me to play on the piano. A few minutes later, someone mentioned how beautiful the song on the radio was…but they discovered it wasn’t the radio playing, it was me playing the exact notes of the tune I heard earlier! My parents decided to take me to a conservatory.

What was it like graduating from the prestigious Berklee college of music?

The experience of graduating and moving from what we call the safe atmosphere of the “Berklee Bubble” opened my eyes to an intricate world of creativity and discipline. It could be said that I learned so much from the industry once I moved to Los Angeles. Working under companies like Warner Studios, Music & Motion and Tim Disney has shown me the importance of having three qualities to be a successful composer: Character, Flexibility and Perseverance. Not everything was easy nor “magical”, but a tough-love lesson of how to swim among the most interesting creators of our beloved films.

Can you talk us through your creative process?

The creative process of a song composition (especially for film) is divided into three stages. The first one is the pre-production process. In this stage, the composer creates a rough draft, usually a piano sketch, of the soundtrack. Some composers might prefer to handwrite the themes and others use DAWs (Digital audio workstation). In this process, we composers mentally plan out the form and harmony of the song, the skeleton. The second stage is called the production process. Here, the composer conforms the piece in the DAW. I start to add more instruments and orchestrate it. Within this period we tend to have different sessions of composition called “rewriting”, where we listen back and tweak the piece. It could be said that this part is the muscles. We use MIDI sounds and some live recordings on this stage. The third stage is called “postproduction”. This is the most technical part as I master my track and prepare each stem (audio file) to be delivered to later record the piece with a live orchestra. The pieces that are in MIDI but are masterized, are called “mockups” and it is what we usually send the film directors to first listen to our musical ideas.

How did you score work with huge companies such as Warner Bros and Netflix?

I worked very hard, with honesty and perseverance to get where I always dreamed to be. I started working under internship programs that these companies offered and exponentially got to work on busier tasks. As I further developed my skills, I could offer the company what I learned in my internships, and therefore, have the honor to assist composers in their soundtrack creations.

Do you work to briefs?

I usually work for clients and companies who reach out to me through my company AOW MUSIC PRODUCTIONS. I compose music for all sorts of audiovisual media as well as independent film and film festivals. I also arrange music and conduct the orchestra at the recording sessions.

We hear you are a lecturer. Can you share some tips with us?

Indeed! I have given lectures and masterclasses at Hastings School of Madrid, Arganzuela School, Parque de Asturias Rivas School, Casa de la Juventud School, Casa + Grande Center and Sociedad Matritense City Hall Center. Some of the best tips I can share are: Always backup your musical work, know your clients very well and be up to date with technology. Also, review every now and then harmony and orchestration concepts from the Sam Adler’s Orchestration Book.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your line of work?

My work is mostly done virtually (70%). The composition and delivery process is done online and sent via WeTransfer, however, the recording sessions and production meetings have to be in person. Thankfully we have worked through Zoom or Skype. Technology has helped us composers and directors a lot through these hard times. We look forward to having a healthy and recovered workflow and getting back together, to keep sharing the joy of music.

How can others follow in your footsteps?

Wow! Just the idea of having someone else want to follow my footsteps and getting to know young composers who are willing to learn from my experience is already the biggest compliment! With all my passion, I recommend them to be constant in their work, never take anything personally in the industry and elaborate a business plan. Get to know your future clients. If you are willing to compose for film, go to film screenings and meet new film directors. Also, technology plays a big role in music! Learn about the newest plugins and be up to date with gear. Finally, always backup your work!