Kaz Haga is a composer and producer at Syn an agency that provides music strategy, composition, sound design and sound branding for commercials, film and television. They also provide music supervision, licensing and curation services, VO, ADR and narration. Syn has offices in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Beijing and Manila.
Born in Japan, Haga studied jazz drumming and composition at the Leeds Conservatory in the UK. Since returning home to Tokyo, Haga has been active in the performing arts, was responsible for the music for the recent documentary film Yuyake Kids Club! (2019) and is a music producer, musician and composer at Syn.
Her favorite part of the job is “meeting people with great creativity, passion, talent, personality. I like to make these people happy with what we offer as a music production agency.
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Can you tell us about what goes into being a musician, composer and producer?
I find that they are totally different professions, so here is how I see each one:
Producer: Being a music producer means being a good communicator between the director/client and a composer. I want everyone in the team to be happy, but it takes a lot of attention and effort to find that perfect middle ground that not only makes the team happy, but also brings a great result.
Musician: I don’t consider myself a great musician, so I totally admire those who play their instruments amazingly. But sometimes I play on the theatrical work that I compose, or I do small concerts as a drummer – and when the magic happens, nothing can replace it! My dream is to play jazz until the day I die, with gray hair (if I have any) and a cigar in my mouth.
Composer: Being a composer is where my sincere passion lies. It’s something I can never stop doing. I particularly like to compose for plays. I’ve been doing this since I was 25, so it’s been 13 years. Creating something from scratch that didn’t exist in this world is pretty exciting, and when it adds chemistry between the stage and the actors, it’s great.
What is your favorite part of the job?
To meet people who have great creativity, passion, talent, personality. I love making those people happy with what we offer as a music production agency and being able to create something awesome for them to wow the intended audience with. Honestly, I feel like it’s an extension of playing with my friends in my youth, but with a healthy dose of seriousness and responsibility.
You had to walk the line between different genres. Can you talk about that?
With TV commercials, 15 seconds is the most common length in Japan. This means we have very little time to tell a story or create drama with music. We constantly face the time limit trying to squeeze everything together in a split second.
On top of that there’s this unique system called non-modulation, which requires total silence for 0.5 seconds at the start and end of the piece – meaning we actually only have 14 seconds of advertisement to work on. (This phenomenon only affects TV commercials and not web commercials.) This system was created at the time to clarify the end and the beginning of commercials.
But if there were no limits and we had complete freedom, it might be even more difficult to create something, because there is no definitive answer. You could go on forever trying to improve it. I think music composition is a form of design, and design is always a solution to a problem. For example, a faucet is designed to solve the problem of not having access to water when you need it. So having a “problem” always helps to develop the ideas of the composition. It is ironical.
What is your grading process? How to start?
I start by understanding the script well, then I try to capture the type of emotion I want to convey after watching the movie or the scene. Then I start collecting sounds and notes to create the emotion in a complete piece of music.
I usually start with the piano. When I’m working from the melody, I record my humming on my cell phone and end up trying really hard to figure out the notes I was singing later.
Can you tell us about a recent project?
I used this workflow for an Amazon holiday campaign: Briefing a client ＞ Choose a reference track > Make demos > One of the demos has been selected > Review > Record live instruments > Final mix > Multi-audio session (where we do post-production after a final mixdown for the music. In this session, we match the sound effects to the music, balance it with the narration, and then match it to the image .) > Submit!
Do you write based on a genre of project – spot, game, film, television – or do you just write?
I mainly write on a project basis, but I also write my own pieces in my free time.
If you didn’t have this job, what would you do instead?
I would be a roaster.
What projects have you worked on?
Kansai Paint, a sponsor of Manchester United, produced a 100th anniversary film. I played with the paint cans to create the rhythm. I also worked on Syn Music’s concept album, titled “Made in Japan”, which features many authentic Japanese artists who have created hybrid tracks between traditional Japanese sounds and modern music. And “Rakuten Ondo”, the song of the Rakuten company performed in a festive Japanese style with English lyrics sung by two American singers.
What about recent work?
TV commercials for Amazon, McDonald’s, Subway, BMW, Bridgestone and GSK.
What project are you most proud of?
Our Amazon Holiday Campaign. We used cardboard boxes from Amazon as percussion instruments and recorded them in one of the largest warehouses in the world to capture the realistic echo sound. This project won a Bronze Award for Music and Sound Design at AdFest 2021 and a Gold Award for the AVA Digital Awards. I am very proud of the whole team.
Can you name three tools/equipment you cannot live without?
Universal Audio 6176, a Yamaha upright piano and DAW software (Logic, Studio One)
Finally, what do you do to de-stress from all this?
Be in nature, watch cartoons or movies with super cold beer, or get plenty of sleep.