Federico Vaona is an Italian Music Composer, Arranger, and Producer. He has composed and arranged music for more than 2500 TV/Series Episodes. Federico is also a Music Supervisor, Music Programmer, Music Editor as well as a Recording, Mixing and Mastering Engineer. This reputation has led him to work on the most popular TV network channels including Antena 3, Telecinco, TVE, Mediaset Group, and RAI Italy. In 2007, Federico internationally released his album “Mystico”, a project that mixes Gregorian Chants, Piano, Opera Chants and Electronic Rhythms. “Mystico” hit Number 1 on Top Electronic Albums for iTunes Spain. In the summer of 2014, Federico mastered Bob DeSena’s album “After Midnight” which won the 24th Annual Los Angeles Award as “Jazz Album of the Year.” In 1995, Federico and his father Danilo Vaona (who has been recognized as one of the most important composers), founded Aguarecords Productions that specializes in professional music soundtracks for television, films, video games, commercials, radio, internet and all network multimedia formats (www.aguarecords.com).
Federico Vaona recently worked on the feature film “The Mason Brothers”, directed by Keith Sutliff, as well as the short film “Promised Land”, (directed by David Trevino and starring Keith Sutliff and Mike Whelan). Both of these film projects were pivotal career marks for Federico. Federico never stops working. If you think about it, (which many people do not), the musical scores and composition within a tv show, series or film (scene by scene), are crucial. Technically, it’s the glue that holds the production together. Creatively, it’s also the element that really lets a television series or film shine. For the composer and musical supervisor, it’s truly having a gift for listening to what a director wants the vision to be and the characters to represent. In my view, the music assists in telling the entire story, and if done correctly; it’s a beautiful process. Federico Vaona has this gift. I was honored to interview him as he is a perfectionist and takes his work very seriously. He cites his father, Danilo Vaona, as his greatest mentor and feels very grateful to have the knowledge his father imparted upon him. He’s known to work through the night many days at a time. So when was able to take a short break, we had a chance to chat.
Federico, it’s such a pleasure and honor having you chat with us at Occhi! When did you start composing and is it something you always knew you wanted to do?
I started to play piano at the age of 5. My father Danilo Vaona, music composer and producer, was always playing piano at home for his productions. So I think I was involved in the music world from that point and I can say that I was very lucky. My real passion in this industry began when I was 14 years old. Starting from 1982, my father already had a professional studio at home with synthesizers and the first generation of computers. I started playing with him for fun with all that gear for years, until 1987, when I composed my first instrumental theme for a TV show in Italy. That was a defining moment for me because I understood my future.
How would you describe what you understood musically in relation to your future?
I understood that my music would be the interaction between acoustic instruments with electronic synths and computers. I can define my musical preparation and I’m almost self-taught except for the years spent in the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome from classical music training, but the greatest learning experience was gained with a master like my father.
I really enjoy listening to you describe your creative process in previous videos. It seems like a beautiful combination of creative elements and technical components. Is this correct?
Yes, for me making music with technology is an intense and very creative endeavor. It is my greatest passion. I really enjoy working in my studio when I compose themes and soundtracks, and I always try to be updated with the latest technology and software, even though I maintain all our analog vintage gear from 1985. I have never sold anything from that year. In fact, more space is always needed! If I have to describe my creative process, the first step is to talk with the director and/or producer. I always ask them exactly which style they want before. This is key! It is very important to me to understand the mood and the characters of the movie or TV show that they want to express. It is the movie that tells me which music to do. Not the inverse. You can compose a beautiful theme but maybe it is not the style or character representation that the director really wants. So for me, it is essential to understand carefully which concept the director or the producer wants.
Then, when I have that information, I start to make experiments in my studio with all my gear for days. Normally I work 14 hours/day to be continuously involved in that specific mood. Afterwards, when I am sure about the music themes, I create a “suite” about 15/20 minutes with all possible variations of that theme. The intention is trying to make a consistent and unique style for the film. When I’m ready, I take a listen with the director and from that point, we can discuss changes or modifications and he has the complete vision of the music. Overall, the best moment for me is when I receive the final version of the movie and I start to re-arrange and compose the music directly on the movie. In the most cases, and especially with director Keith Sutliff of “The Mason Brothers”, we had a very clear music style and vision from the beginning and 80% of the soundtrack is made right on the picture.
Is it challenging working with directors and television producers?
Every Director and Producer is different; from the way they want to express their ideas to the moment when we work together. I think it has to be a chemistry between them and me. I always try to give them solutions, not explanations. Directors and Producers don’t hire me for technical explanations. They want a consistent result and to see their idea coming to life with music. In one word: EMOTION. That is because it is really important to understand BEFORE which style they want and what kind of emotions they want to express. As a composer, you are at the final step of the “production chain”, and it is a very delicate process to improve that production. In my view, I think the most important component is to be an “eclectic composer”, very flexible to any kind of style they ask. You have to be fast and capable to provide whatever music the tv show, tv series or film needs in the shortest time possible.
How did you meet Keith Sutliff?
In 2015, I went to an important meeting at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Keith was there and in that moment I think we had chemistry immediately while talking about movies and music soundtracks. Keith is a very creative director and he loves music. We were talking a lot about the importance of music in a movie and how important the relationship is between director and composer. I was very lucky to meet him that day and I never imagined we would end up making movies together. Life is always full of great surprises.
What was “The Mason Brothers” experience like. Cast, crew, etc.?
“The Mason Brothers” marks an important career step for me within films. I had the privilege to create the music soundtrack and the sound step-by-step by talking with Keith Sutliff from the first moment. So I can say I mostly dealt with Keith. When he gave me the script for the first time, I was immediately clear which was the style for his movie. So I started to compose the main theme, with “impact”, “epic”, “dark” and a strong personality with simplicity in melody following the emotions that Keith explained to me. My main instrument is always the piano, and in this case, my intention was making an extremely powerful sound with only a little touch of a modified grand piano. When I took a listen with Keith, he told me something like “Don’t touch it! That’s the music I really want!”. So, from that moment I literally made a “sound palette” with my vintage synths and software to amend exactly the sound he wanted for the movie. The intention was to create a sound from the 80’s but with the potential of modern technology and the impact of a big orchestra. I can say I’m very lucky to have also made the entire sound of the movie (in 5.1 Surround and Stereo) because the sound is crucial when finishing a movie with the music soundtrack. The sound is the vehicle where a production is floating. Be it a recording, mixing or mastering engineer, it is always an important job I learned from the beginning while producing music. Then, the entire cast of “The Mason Brothers” was amazing. They were creative, friendly and very passionate about making the movie. A great team is essential on a production like that because you can feel the emotions and the positive energy when you believe in your work. With Keith, I had the privilege to collaborate with the Oscar winning Cinematographer Errol Webber who did an amazing job, as well as budding Director David Trevino. With David Trevino, I had the fantastic opportunity to work with him and Keith on the short film “Promised Land”. Yes, the cast for “The Mason Brothers” was fantastic. You can feel it when you watch the movie. Working with Keith was an innovative and creative way to constantly improve our ideas and strive to make the film as best as we can. There’s a lot of work and responsibility behind a movie, and you have to stay at the best level to make all possibilities happen and improve constantly on such a large production.
The Mason Brothers Film Making of Music Soundtrack Featurette- Federico Vaona’s Score
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a new TV show in Spain, new electronic themes, and a new version of MYSTICO, a musical project that gave me a lot of satisfaction years ago. MYSTICO is a combination of 4 musical elements: Gregorian Chants, Opera Chants, Grand Piano and Electronic Rhythms. It reached the number 1 on iTunes Electronic Music Spain Chart in 2006 and 2007. After 10 years passed, a lot of fans wrote me again to ask me to release a new version of Mystico.
I was not convinced because Mystico was an experiment and a unique project in that moment. However, as many ideas bounced around my brain, I decided to make it again with a totally new project called “MYSTICO WORLD and THE BOOK OF SECRETS”. I hope to release it this year. It is very hard work because I make the entire project including the video clips, graphic arts and interactive web sites. I think it is an interesting style for films too.
Do you prefer composing for movies or tv? Or you cannot compare?
They are two different planets. TV is like a “Rally”. Time is very short and the music has to be effective and always versatile for every kind of situation. I had an incredible experience on making music for a successful TV show called “Dia a Dia” with Maria Teresa Campos, produced by Europroducciones in Spain. We did 8 years of “Every day,” a live magazine tv show. So each day, I was playing and making different kinds of music for every situation. From “corporate style” to a “romantic style”, from “adventure” to “horror”, from “news” to “games” … I composed more than 400 themes for more than 1600 episodes. That was amazing “training” and an incredible experience to make my ‘musical brain thinking’ function very quickly and productively. I had to produce the correct music style for that specific moment. It was the same process with “Guinness World Records Show” in Italy, where the music was continuously changing for every “World Record”, video and exhibition. Without a doubt, TV is very intense, fast and constantly creative. Movies demand a different kind of musical approach. Like I said before, it is the picture that tells you the musical style. You have to be a “dramatist”! When I produce music for films, I change the way to compose into a “following the picture” method that is very different. With “The Mason Brothers”, making a music soundtrack is something very intense and has to be very precise. Every single note counts. Every sound counts. It can be “dark”, “dramatic”, “melancholic”, “romantic”, “strange”, “happy”, “sad”, “fantastic”, “epic” …and so on. It is like “designing” rather than composing music in the traditional sense. Making music for films for me is really crucial in every movement of the image and the action, in order to transmit the emotions that the movie wants to send to the audience.
I’m assuming you travel quite a bit. You are involved with many European television and film productions. How do you balance that?
Yes. I live between Madrid, Rome and Los Angeles. It depends on the production request. Today it can be virtually from everywhere. My biggest studio is in Madrid. I also have the same configuration in Los Angeles and Rome, but for work reasons, I spend more time in Madrid. I can say that technology changed the composer’s life completely. I can now send now the entire work by internet with fast, fiber-optical connection and without moving from my studios. So everything is virtually possible today. I try to maintain the same computer’s configurations, so when I travel from a location to another, I have all the sessions on my servers and hard drives and when I arrive at one of my studios I can quickly load the music/audio sessions and continue the work with no problems. My laptops are very useful because when I travel I can create music on the airplane. This way, I have the same computers, same digital interfaces, same personal sound libraries triplicated in every studio workstation. Before, this was not so easy… Music is a wonderful world, unique and a universal language. I can say it is one of the most important parts of my life. It Is emotion, and I can’t live without emotions.
I cannot thank Federico Vaona enough for a great conversation. He is very knowledgeable and talented and also happens to be one of the nicest people I have interviewed. Federico is a loyal collaborator with intense integrity. Federico enjoys seeing other creatives excel. To connect further with Federico, you can follow him on these sites:
Lizzy Collazos is a LA based writer who covers fashion, style and emerging artists. She is constantly sourcing and inspired by designers, artists and entertainers making their mark in an innovative way. “I see fashion and art as a beautiful form of self-expression and a way to tell a story.” "I love becoming immersed in a project and seeing it through fruition."She knows the LA scene well and currently contributed to The LA Fashion Magazine as well as LA-Story.com. Follow Lizzy Collazos on these social platforms.