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Otakon 2022
Composer Interviewing Composer: Yuki Hayashi vs. Kaoru Wada

by Bamboo Dong,

Fans of anime and music alike got a rare treat this past weekend at Otakon during the panel, “Composer Interviewing Composer - Yuki Hayashi vs Kaoru Wada” featuring legendary composers Yuki Hayashi (My Hero Academia, Haikyu!!, Gundam Build Fighters) and Kaoru Wada (InuYasha, Ninja Scroll, Samurai 7) as they sat down and talked to each other about their careers and their composition process.

The conversation first started with the composers chatting about the different audio recording equipment and software they liked to use, though when Hayashi revealed that he tried not to play favorites with software because of all the computers he needs to use, Wada laughed and said, “I'm from the age of paper and pencils.”

Hayashi: I can't believe you composed with pencil and paper. Actually, in my case, I didn't [write music] for a long time. I started music at the end of college. During college, I was doing this thing called rhythmic gymnastics, so it wasn't until the end of college that I started making music. It wasn't easy for me. Without PCs and programming, I don't think I'd even be here.

On the topic of prolificity and balancing composing with one's personal life:

Wada: Well, I have to say, you have a lot of hit songs.

Hayashi: That's a lot coming from you! So in my case, I work in a team. I usually have six or seven assistants that I work with. We're able to work on a lot of projects at the same time… How do you work in teams?

Wada: The truth is, I do it all by myself. I have a lot of lonely nights. It's such godly work. There's plenty of composers out there who work with teams, but I think in my generation, most composers did all the work by themselves. So when I get deep into a project, I won't see anyone, talk to anyone, or even sleep.

Hayashi: I actually used to work alone too. I hated having people get involved and then start changing things. The drummer would come in and then suddenly the beat would be different; the bassist would come in and then the bass would be a little bit off. Even if it was the smallest thing, it would upset me. So I was making songs alone in my bedroom. But I got busy. I got busy with work, I got married, I had a kid, I got more work. I couldn't really handle it alone, so that's how I started shifting my work. Did you have these problems? How did you get through it?

Wada: I've been doing it by myself since the beginning. When you get busy, it gets tough. For example, 10-20 years ago when I was working on InuYasha, we had to do so many things every year. I worked at a studio so there were days I wouldn't go home. I'm going to talk about something really personal here. I got married and I had three kids. They were born every year for three years. When that happens, it's very hard to work. So if you look at my works, around 2010, I didn't do anything. You had to choose between music and family. I picked family.

Hayashi: In my case, I tried to pick both, so that's why I shifted to teams.

Wada: Now that I look back on it, it's kind of scary, but I didn't work for an entire year.

Hayashi: Yeah, as composers, we're not salaried or paid employees. If we take a year off, or even a month, our clients can say, “Oh, he doesn't do work anymore, so I'm just gonna cut him off.” So it's alarming to hear that!

Wada: Being a freelance artist, there's always the fear of not getting more work. But thankfully we artists have a thing called “royalties.” laughs Thankfully I had just finished InuYasha and a few other projects, so I was able to eat and house my family for that year.

Hayashi: What I really want to tell everyone is that because you love our shows so much, we're able to keep going.

On creating personal projects:

Wada: A lot of my work is of course anime and TV shows, but I always do personal music too. Do you have any personal music that you create?

Hayashi: I recently went independent, but before becoming independent, I always wanted to make my own music. For most of our jobs, we have a client and they have a project they ask us to work on. But there's sort of a calling for music that we have. Right now, I've started doing my own thing.

Wada: We're so recognized by what we worked on, whether it's InuYasha or My Hero Academia. But as a music creator, I wanted to find out for myself, “What is Kaoru Wada music?”

Regarding challenges with past projects:

Hayashi: For InuYasha or any other shows, what's the most difficult thing you had to do?

Wada: I have two different answers—one that's music related and one that's financially related. In terms of music, you know, even if you say you don't like my work, or you say something negative to me, as long as I finish it, I can turn it in and I'm done. Financially speaking, though, a lot of my pieces require an orchestra, but some people pay flat rates to a composer. When you have to have certain pieces for the music, but you have to fit it into a budget, that can be a source of concern and worry during the music production process.

Hayashi: In my case, I once had a nasty eye infection that would've been transmitted to everyone if I had gone into the record studio. So I had to ask my assistance to go into the studio. It was a movie, so we also had to watch all this footage. In the end, it led to her getting experience, so that was good

Wada: I worked on a live action in 1995 called [Crest of Betrayal]… When I sent a bunch of demos, everything got the all-clear… When we were recording the orchestra, [the director] came in and said, “Nah.” He didn't say anything the first three hours of the orchestra recording, but in the end, thought it was too big of a price… So I said, if you don't like my work that much, I quit. The producer quickly stepped between us and said, “Let's work something out.” Laughs We managed the finish the recording and a day later, the director said, “You know what, this is beautiful.”

On relaxation and inspiration:

Wada: Let's go with a light question. What do you do to relax?

Hayashi: The most relaxing thing for me is playing with my kids. In interviews, they always ask, what inspires you? What does inspire you?

Wada: Ideas come to me often in the bathtub or taking a walk. In fact, any place that's not the actual workplace.

Hayashi: Most times, inspiration happens when I'm walking or right before I sleep, or taking a shower. So what's the common thing between these three things? Well, you're doing stuff but you're not really thinking about it… Your brain is in neutral.

Wada: You're saying that when you're relaxing or doing something automatically, your mind will switch into work mode?

Hayashi: When ideas do come to mind, I use the Voice Memo app and I'll sing a tune. My singing is horrible though, so I'll say, this tempo, or this tune, or these lyrics.

Wada: I'm a big fan of cooking. When I cook, especially when I'm sharpening a knife—moments when you're not thinking, it's the best time for ideas to come to you.

On producing personal projects:

Wada: When I'm doing my own brand of music, like not for anime but my own music, I have to produce it myself. Do you have any plans to do that?

Hayashi: We're fortunate because we're working on anime shows, and everyone here watches anime, and when you do that, you listen to our music. I also do live-action dramas. So if more people around the world listen to my music, it's a way for people to find out about my work. I'm very fortunate for that. I hope to use that as a foundation for when I make my own songs for people to listen to.

Wada: I'll use myself as an example. 30 years ago, it was still the days of CDs. Of course, I could probably do an orchestra piece, but chances are, you might never see it. You might never have an actual CD. Back then, if you wanted to buy a Japanese CD in the U.S., it was very difficult. Now with the internet, we can hear music across nations instantly. So now that we don't have the limitations of CDs anymore, streaming music is a big weapon in our arsenal as composers. When we do, please listen to us.

Hayashi: I actually didn't know how many people listened to my music around the world, but on Spotify there's a feature called Spotify for Artists, and you can see how many people around the world are listening to your music, and the music that most people are listening to. I learned that in Japan, 60,000 people have listened to my music. In the U.S., it's 250,000. I'd just like to thank all of you here today for listening to my music. Thank you.

Wada: I'm also on Spotify! A lot more Americans listen to my music there than Japanese people. I think that is where we need to do our music… One thing I've really come to realize, sometimes when things go out of print, you can't even buy the actual CDs anymore. But on streaming platforms, there is no “out of print.” I really wish the music business people would see that and realize these things.

On the composition process:

Hayashi: How I make music is, I started with the backtrack, then add rhythm, then piano, then orchestral, then core and melody… How do you make music?

Wada: If you ask 100 people how to make music, you'll get 100 different answers. In my case, like with InuYasha, I read Rumiko Takahashi's manga. I went into “imagination mode,” where I'm in a meditative state. Instead of thinking, “Is this instrument or melody good,” I imagine the entire orchestra starting to play. So because of that, when music starts happening in my head, it's already orchestrated… Although with InuYasha, I started over three or four times.

Hayashi: Imagination is really important, especially for us Japanese composers. Like with anime, instead of live action, we're maybe given the script, the character descriptions, maybe who the voice actor is. It's like a puzzle piece. We have to use our imaginations and explore. Imagination is really important for us.

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