UNT | University of North Texas

Search form

Main menu

News

Tell me about your work: Daniel Rojas

What sort of work do you do?

I’m a film composer and music producer, based in Los Angeles.

[Daniel Rojas's website is www.506music.com. His IMDB profile is www.imdb.com/name/nm3908159/. His music can be heard in the movies Downsizing (currently in theaters) and Crash Pad.--JM]

What led to you doing this sort of work?

I always enjoyed writing music, and film music in particular. So I’ve honestly been aiming for this for a long time… I started with short films and commercials, and moved into film and TV over the past 7-8 years.

How did you prepare for it?

When I was young I was a huge fan of film scores, mostly due to the influence of my older brother (who was an even bigger fan). So I think my preparation started with listening to a lot of scores and learning how to play them on the piano and guitar. It’s similar to learning jazz by ear, a lot of it is imitation and learning the language. I would also transcribe many of them by ear cause I didn’t have access to the scores when I was in Costa Rica. Then I went to UNT and did my jazz studies degree, first as a guitar major, but switched to jazz arranging because it was closer to what I wanted to do. One thing that was very useful was that I learned Logic and Pro Tools by myself while I was in school (it wasn’t offered at the time), so when I moved to L.A. I was able to get jobs as an assistant.

What's a typical day like?

I usually do an hour workout in the morning because I know as soon as I get to the studio I might stay there the whole rest of the day. So I try to be at my studio around 10 a.m. and usually start off by taking care of emails and admin stuff. Then I often check my work from the day before because it's always useful to listen again with a fresh ear. I'm more creative in the afternoon and evening, so that’s when I try to write/produce or schedule sessions.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

To me, the feeling of going into a movie theater and listening to something you wrote might never get old. It’s still something relatively new for me but it always gets me very excited. Same with songs, I think songs have a value different to scores because they can stand on their own more easily, and often reach bigger audiences - which I also find very rewarding.

What do you find most challenging about it?

There’s a lot of politics and heavy competition involved in the music and film industry. That’s no surprise to anyone but it's certainly a daily challenge. If you want to work you need to find a balance between what you want to do and what the client or audience expects…because while we are artists, we serve a specific role in the film or record we’re working on, and it’s very important to keep that in mind and not let ego take over.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

Film and pop music rarely reach the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of jazz, but I feel like having a solid background in jazz gives me a lot of tools. I work with colleagues from many different backgrounds, and one thing that I never have to worry about is “what meter is that?” or “why does that chord sound weird?”, because those are things that come very naturally to me after my formative years at UNT.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?

Worry less about lab band auditions! Reading is important, but unless you are pursuing a spot in a professional big band I feel like that's a lot of wasted energy. Instead, I would take more time to learn other instruments (even at a basic level) and further my knowledge of ethnic music. I would also spend more time learning about audio software and studio equipment, and practice a lot of piano.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

I’ve done quite a lot of work as a studio guitarist, mostly because I’m familiar with the language of film and pop music so other composers and producers feel comfortable hiring me for their sessions. I do a lot less now, but over the years I’ve recorded for prominent composers like Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer, Gabriel Yared and Alan Menken; as well as pop records for Demi Lovato, Jason Mraz and Bryan Adams.

Tell me about your work: Cole Dapprich

What sort of work do you do?

I’m a software engineer at Raytheon, a company that specializes in defense systems and radar.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

When I was slightly more than halfway through my jazz degree at UNT, I was struggling with passing the ICE exam [mid-level improvisation exam], so I decided to add a minor in Computer Science as a backup plan. After taking my first class in that department, I discovered I had a knack for programming and I really enjoyed it. Thankfully, I was able to pass the ICE, and after figuring out I could get both degrees in 5 years total, I switched my minor in comp sci to a second major.

How did you prepare for it?

My coursework in computer science was pretty rigorous, especially because I blazed through the entire degree plan in 2 and a half years. Fortunately, the program offered lots of summer classes, which helped me keep my course load to somewhat reasonable levels. Some of the different fields I studied were scripting, systems programming, graphical user interface (GUI) design, computer graphics, and video game programming and design, which I also got a certificate in.

What's a typical day like?

Right now, I’m in the Awaiting Clearance Employee Station, or ACES for short. Because Raytheon is primarily a contractor for the US government, most of the projects require active US security clearances before you can start working on them. On average, this process takes about a year from start to finish.

While employees are awaiting clearance, they can sometimes be assigned to help with non-classified work. Right now, I’m fortunate enough to be helping with a project I’m really excited about. I unfortunately can’t discuss specifics due to security and export/import concerns, but I’m thrilled to be able to work on something that will have a positive effect on defense systems around the world.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

One of the most exciting aspects of this work is the knowledge that it will have a direct impact on people’s lives, especially the lives of our military. My managers have mentioned specific incidents where they have been personally thanked by a service member for keeping them alive. Opportunities like that are invaluable in any industry.

On a more personal note, I’ve always enjoyed puzzles and problem-solving, and to me, coding is just a different kind of puzzle to be solved. The feeling I get when I’m able to solve a problem and a program I created actually does what it’s supposed to do is pretty rewarding in and of itself.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Right now, there’s a pretty steep learning curve, as the project I’m working on requires me to use tools and software I’m unfamiliar with. It’s also taken very seriously because lives are potentially at stake, so there’s a lot of pressure to make sure it’s done right. Luckily, Raytheon has a great infrastructure for peer reviews and collaboration, so I know I have a solid support system if I ever need any help.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

Getting a jazz degree at UNT definitely taught me the value of personal preparation and discipline more than anything else. There’s nowhere to hide in jazz music, so you have to make sure your own material is up to snuff before you can worry about meshing with everyone else in the group. This translates to software development pretty well, especially in a large, contract-based environment like Raytheon.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?

I loved my college experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. That being said, if I had known my career would take me here, I probably would have either started out with both majors as a freshman or been solely a Computer Science major and only taken the music courses that interested me. While I am very thankful and proud that I was able to get a degree from a program as prestigious as UNT Jazz, I feel like I would have had an easier time of it if I had been allowed more freedom in choosing my classes, which would have granted me a lighter workload as well.

What presence does music have in your life now?

On weekends, I teach lessons at Texas Guitar Ranch in Bedford, so that helps me keep my chops in shape. I also play the odd gig every now and then. It’s a lot harder to find time for consistent practice, but that just makes the time I do get to play that much more valuable. It’s easy to get burnt out on the grind of music school, but this job has really made me appreciate the times when I could play my horn for multiple hours each and every day.

What else would you like readers to know about your work?

I’d like to invite readers to check out some of the different things I’ve worked on in both programming and music via my SoundCloud, YouTube accounts, and GitHub.

I’d also like to offer some advice: learn to code! It doesn’t matter what language, but C++ or Java are great places to start. It’s an invaluable skill to have in today’s job market, and it can also be a lot of fun. There’s a multitude of free, online resources and classes – take advantage of them.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

I’ve also worked as a sales associate at Harbor Freight Tools, and as a private teacher for a couple of school districts. I’m very lucky to now have the financial freedom to pursue music as my passion rather than a job.

Would you send a photo of you at work?

Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed at government contract facilities without prior approval, so this senior recital picture will have to suffice for now.

Pages