Tags: interview, music
Yu-Gi-Oh! composers Elik Álvarez (left) and Freddy Sheinfeld
On Friday, Elik Álvarez and Freddy Sheinfeld, two members of a team of talented composers for the many Yu-Gi-Oh! series and movies, appeared on the most recent episode of Soundtrack Alley, a podcast that celebrates the love of movie soundtracks. In a 40-minute interview, the duo speak with podcast host Randy Williams about their work in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions and other recent projects. This post includes a few highlights from the interview.
Adding a New Flavor to an Old Favorite
Elik Álvarez and Freddy Sheinfeld are both composers originally from Venezuela who are now working out of Los Angeles. Their involvement in Yu-Gi-Oh! began with the first Yu-Gi-Oh! movie, Pyramid of Light, which led them to work on season 3 of the classic Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series and, eventually, every season and spin-off since then. For Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, the pair tried to move away from the style of music seen in the TV series in an effort to make the score a little more cinematic, explained Álvarez.
“How [do you] make it more cinematic?” asked Álvarez. “Well, you just do. That’s what you do as a composer. You are able to switch gears when they need to.”
One of the things that the two composers really pressed for in The Dark Side of Dimensions was the inclusion of more choirs.
“That doesn’t mean we haven’t used choirs in the rest of the series, but not as much probably as we do in this one. We really pushed hard for that one,” Álvarez added. But the most challenging aspect of scoring wasn’t actually the composition process.
Álvarez continued: “What is difficult is to have people who oversee the music — the music producer, the producers, the writers, whoever is listening to the score — this movie is a little bit different because even people in Japan were listening to this, people in Konami, I believe. So the difficult part is to convince them, ‘Listen, let’s try to do something different.’ They are so used to listening to a certain style of music. To propose something new takes time and persuasion and things like that. But to switch gears, in my opinion, is something that comes very natural to us.”
Sheinfeld noted that the their experience with Yu-Gi-Oh! has come full circle. The pair began with Duel Monsters, which had a certain style of music. They then moved on to other series, each with their own unique sound; GX was a little more rock-oriented and 5D’s had electronic industrial elements. Now, after more than ten years, they’ve returned to the original Yu-Gi-Oh! and needed to approach it with a fresh perspective.
“We kind of came back to some of the original ideas as far as the themes that we needed to use because those are characters that everybody knows,” said Sheinfeld. “But at the same time, we wanted to do, like Elik said, something fresh, something more cinematic. And somehow, the way it worked, to sound a little bit more cinematic was actually going a little bit old school.
“It’s funny because in the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, if you listen to the music, there’s a lot of electronics going on. A lot of electronic percussion, a lot of techno stuff combined with an orchestra. But [for The Dark Side of Dimensions], we were a little bit more pure. We tried to avoid that just a little bit just to sound a little bit more modern, which is weird but it kind of worked that way. A lot of those sounds [in the original Yu-Gi-Oh!] now sound a little bit dated if we use it, so to sound fresh, we avoided it as much as we could. We were for a more traditional sound. You know, still mixing some of the modern electronic sounds that we use these days to still have that modern feel. But overall, it was a little bit more traditional orchestration approach to this film.”
Getting the Style Just Right
Both Álvarez and Sheinfeld gave a lot of credit to Mike Brady, 4K Media’s music producer, who offers them lots of freedom to compose to picture. Brady doesn’t give the composers a temp track — a sample piece of filler music that editors and producers use to set the mood of a scene.
“We just get plain animation with dialog and rough sound effects and sometimes rough dialog, and we just write music to it,” explained Álvarez. “So that’s a very, very important point I want to make. We’re pretty lucky with this because temp tracks sometimes could be a big help, sometimes they don’t. So one thing for this is we don’t get any temp tracks. He just sends us picture with dialog, and that’s it. There is no music there. So we really create from scratch.”
“I think the producer, Mike, is very good at what he does,” Sheinfeld said. “Like Elik says, he doesn’t give a temp track, but he has a very specific idea of how the show works. It took a long time to understand it but now it’s a matter of trying to understand what is important, what you need to accomplish with the music, and on the other side, what you can add to it as far as being creative. So it’s always that balance. You want to make it work and you also want to make it as cool as possible. There’s a lot of work involved. As far as making things work, it’s funny because it’s even though it’s an animation, I think the level of thought that goes behind each detail is much more deeper than a lot of the dramatic films that I’ve done in the past.”
After working on Yu-Gi-Oh! for more than ten years, Álvarez and Sheinfeld have a good feel for what the producers are looking for and what style of music works well in the anime.
“We understand the language pretty well of these types of animations,” said Álvarez. “I gotta tell you, it’s very, very complex. It’s very complex. Sometimes, on TV, you don’t really listen that much to the music. There is a lot of dialog. They don’t mix the music that loud. But it’s very complex what we do over here, and it took us quite a few years just to nail down the style and not to be afraid.”
And getting the style just right really is the key, since the music dictates so much of how characters and scenes are perceived by the viewers.
“As Freddy said, each of the characters over there, they have their own personality and we need to make sure that people can understand that,” Álvarez said. He elaborated on this point using Kaiba as an example, explaining that when composing for this character, Brady emphasized not to treat Kaiba as a bad, evil guy but also not as a good, heroic guy.
“These characters are complex. And you know, people don’t realize that,” stated Álvarez. “And again, when you see it on TV, and there is a lot of dialog going on all the time. But we’re behind that trying to make sure that people don’t perceive Kaiba as an evil guy because he’s not. So how do you make that balance?”
Teamwork, Inspirations, Future Projects, and More
Elik Álvarez and Freddy Sheinfeld discussed several more topics with Randy Williams, including how they have honed their skills from working together, how they met fellow Yu-Gi-Oh! composer Joel Douek, what types of film music they enjoy, and what some of their future project include. It’s a smart and enlightening interview, so give it a listen! Be sure to listen all the way to the end because they share a few of their full-length pieces from Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions and other works.
Tags: interview, movie, music
Yu-Gi-Oh! composers (left to right) Freddy Sheinfeld, Joel Douek, and Elik Álvarez in a studio. Photo from Film.Music.Media.
Today, longtime Yu-Gi-Oh! composers Elik Álvarez and Freddy Sheinfeld offered some insights into their participation in writing the music for Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions. In a press release coming out of their home base of Los Angeles, California, the duo offered some tidbits about their songwriting process and what they and the directors wanted to impart on the audience.
“The main themes we carried from the TV series were the Yu-Gi-Oh! transformation, the Blue-Eyes White Dragon, and the friendship themes,” said Sheinfeld. “We haven’t used those themes for a while, so it was a lot of fun to use them again, but with a more modern and cinematic approach.”
“We wanted the audience connecting again to those themes and at the same time we needed to adapt them to the tone of the movie and the style of the score,” Álvarez added. “Many times we also found ourselves deconstructing those themes and including them in our cues. Sometimes they were very obvious, sometime[s] they were ‘hidden’ somewhere within the orchestration.”
Álvarez and Sheinfeld have been writing music for the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime since the 2004 film Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie. In scoring Yu-Gi-Oh! DSoD, the duo were joined by fellow L.A.-based composer Matt McGuire and N.Y.-based John Angier, both of whom are also longtime composers for Yu-Gi-Oh!.
For more insights about the music composition process in the Yu-Gi-Oh! series, check out my write-up of a June 2015 live interview that Álvarez participated in, as well as a 2011 Reddit Ask-Me-Anything with Brady.
This week is the final week that Yu-Gi-Oh! DSoD is playing in theaters in the U.S. and Canada. If you haven’t already done so, visit yugiohtickets.com to find your local theater and showtimes. And if you have already seen it, why not see it again?
Tags: interview, music
Elik Álvarez, one of a team of composers who has written music for every Yu-Gi-Oh! anime series and film produced by 4Kids Entertainment and 4K Media, was interviewed live today on the Everything Geek Podcast. Álvarez and host Ruari Williamson spent 40 minutes talking about his decision to pursue music composition as a career, his favorite types of Yu-Gi-Oh! music, and even some juicy tidbits about the upcoming Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V series and 2016 Yu-Gi-Oh! movie. This post contains highlights from the show.
Originally from Venezuela, Elik Álvarez has been surrounded by music his entire life. His grandfather, who emigrated from Ukraine to Venezuela, embraced classical music and shared that love with Álvarez. Álvarez’s father gave him his first record, the Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams, which further fueled his interest in orchestral music.
“Many, many film composers of this era, we are heavily influenced by Williams,” said Álvarez. “He’s the maestro. […] He, in my opinion, has defined the career of many film composers working today. I had the opportunity to meet him probably a couple of times and had just a couple of quick chats. And I have to tell you, he’s just out of this world.”
Growing up, Álvarez studied piano for almost 10 years. And like so many young people with an interest in music often do, he joined a rock band. When he was 15 years old, Álvarez heard the theme song for The Simpsons TV show and thought it would be cool to do an arrangement of the song with his band. After that, he began perceiving film music with a more critical ear.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Álvarez moved to Los Angeles looking for work and was fortunate enough to land a job working on 4Kids’ Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, Ultraman Tiga, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie was developed, Álvarez was invited to work on the project, which opened the door for him to then compose for the Classic Yu-Gi-Oh! TV series and all of its spin-offs.
Writing For Yu-Gi-Oh!
All of the Yu-Gi-Oh! series called for Elik Álvarez and the shows’ other composers to write very melodic pieces.
“[A] melody is going to stick in your mind for the rest of your life if you like [it],” explained Álvarez. “And it’s been fantastic writing for that show for that reason. We get to write big orchestration with big strong melodies.”
Because of the tremendous number of Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes and production time constraints, writing for all the series was a “huge, huge training for me,” said Álvarez of the composition process. “In every sense. In orchestration, melody writing, modulations, writing fast. It’s really tough. It’s not easy to do in such a short period of time.”
“We do original music for 10 to 12 episodes,” Álvarez explained. “Music is scored to picture, and this is just because of budget reasons and also practicality. Writing 20 minutes of music every day will kill you, so what we do is we write the music, and the music editors — great music editors, fantastic music editors — come to life and start re-editing the music. But after that, we also get to write when a new character comes, a new monster, […] we do that music as well.”
Over the years that Álvarez and the team of Yu-Gi-Oh! composers have worked with 4Kids and 4K Media’s producers, they have developed a strong sense of trust with one another. The producers extend a great amount a freedom to Yu-Gi-Oh!’s composers, even more so than many producers of other big-name projects that Álvarez has worked with.
“One particular very good thing about the series is that we never get any temp tracks,” said Álvarez, referring to the temporary filler music that editors, directors, and producers stick in when editing video footage to get a sense of how the scene will turn out. “So, I never hear any of the Japanese versions, and I never hear any other versions tried, like ‘Okay, this is what you should do.’ We just get plain visuals with dialogue and some sound effects and we need to create the music from scratch.
“And that’s fantastic because temp tracks are great for reference, but the problem is when you start copying temp tracks or making something similar, really it stops the originality of your work. So for this series, it’s all plain. ‘Here it is. Write your thing.'”
Álvarez has worked with all types of directors and producers, from those who rely strictly on temp tracks to those who offer him an extensive amount of freedom. He recognizes that ultimately, the strength and quality of the music rest on the shoulders of the composers.
“Your job as a composer, even if you get a temp track and they want to do something similar, still you’ve got to make sure you write something original,” said Álvarez. “So that’s where really the skill comes. Because there are many amazing composers out there. It’s a matter of figuring out if somebody’s trying to put you in a box, how can you make that box great? If it’s a little box, how can you make sure that while you’re writing that little, little, little box, it still is going to be great and it’s going to sound original? That’s probably one of the biggest challenges that you get when being a film composer.”
Favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! Music
Elik Álvarez and the other Yu-Gi-Oh! composers have written such an immense amount of music under such tight deadlines. So when he was asked about his favorite pieces, it was challenging for him to point to specific ones.
“It’s a very tough question. Whatever I answer right now, it could be different maybe in a month or a year,” Álvarez joked.
“I wrote the opening sequence in the Yu-Gi-Oh! movie, the first one. That was very special,” said Álvarez.
“In ZEXAL, any scene that has Astral going on over there, even if it was a comedic one or an action one, I really enjoyed because we got to use choirs and voices,” Álvarez added. “I think there is one episode too which is called ‘Battle of Dragons’ that I really enjoyed doing. That’s a big choir piece.”
Álvarez related his love for his work on Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL to the freedom that he was given while working on it.
“With Yu-Gi-Oh!, I know what [the producers] are expecting, I know what they want. Sometimes I try to push a little bit. ‘Ah, let me do something different.’ I know they may react to that and sometimes they don’t. The inclusion of choirs on ZEXAL and for Astral, they didn’t mention that. That’s something that I wrote. ‘Hey listen, how about we do ZEXAL with a little chant under [Astral]?’ And they loved it. They may as well have said, ‘We don’t like that. Do something different.’ That’s the way it goes.”
Álvarez also expressed his enjoyment doing the rock-based score for Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, which he worked on with his then guitar-playing writing partner Freddy Sheinfeld, as well as the more sophisticated scores of 5D’s.
“We got the chance to do something a little bit different, especially with GX and 5D’s,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s not quite easy to do because this is a franchise and [viewers] are used to listening to certain styles of music, so we get a lot of reactions for those two for that particular reason. Because it’s different. 5D’s we got darker, and GX was mainly rock.”
Looking Forward: Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V and the 2016 Movie
Elik Álvarez last worked on the music for Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V in September 2014. He is ecstatic about the series and knows that fans will be too when it comes out. (And before anyone asks, no, he does not know when it will premiere in the U.S. Only 4K Media’s brass know.)
“That show I really like. Really, really like it. It’s very, very strong,” he said. “I like the story and the plot that’s going on over there. For that one, we were writing so much as well. What can I tell you? There are many great action cues.
“In this particular [series], I really like the action scenes. They are big, they are epic, they are huge, they are strong. There are a few scenes where you see buildings falling down and things like that that did require writing some big, big music.”
This week, Álvarez just finished the trailer for the upcoming 2016 Yu-Gi-Oh! movie. Having only done the music for the trailer, he doesn’t know exact details about the movie. However, Álvarez noted that the trailer will premiere at San Diego Comic Con.
As for the movie itself, “We should start working on music for the movie probably [in] September, October. We don’t know, I can’t say anything,” explained Álvarez. “That project with Yu-Gi-Oh! is coming. I don’t know any details about the movie, if it’s going to be a big release, if it’s going to be a limited release, but I think we’re pretty excited about this one.
“I don’t want to reveal any details for what I saw in the trailer, but I think a lot of fans are going to be happy about it.”
A huge congratulations goes out to Yu-Gi-Oh! voice actor and director Eric Stuart, whose band, the Eric Stuart Band, has just released its first music video! The song is “My Love Can Change That” from ESB’s latest album, Lipstick And Barbed Wire.
The professionally produced and directed video, which was shot last month, was made possible in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign in October 2013 that raised over $8,000 from 119 backers.
Stuart, now living in Nashville, Tennessee, hopes the video will help to promote the band and allow it to secure more bookings and concerts, as well as to share its music with a greater audience.