Koichi Sanchez is conquering music one second at a time
Irvine’s Koichi Sanchez began his musical career as a “macro composer,” crafting intricate symphonic pieces fit to soundtrack a cast of thousands. More recently, he’s found himself working in the micro mode. If you haven’t heard mere seconds of his synthesized sounds coming from a Yamaha keyboard—they’re pre-installed!—you’ll be clicking through them on a flashy website sometime very soon. He speaks now just after leaving the Ubiquity Records warehouse.
What were you leaving Ubiquity with just now?
Somebody decided to take my copy of Greyboy’s new album! So I went straight to the source. And I’d just finished listening to the Shawn Lee-Clutchy Hopkins album Clutch of the Tiger, which is fantastic, and they’d printed 15 prints of the cover, like proper screens. I was blown away—“Are these for sale?” So I got the vinyl and the prints, and I’m gonna make it all a pretty wall.
After you performed your original composition 10 years ago at the Japanese American museum, where did you think your career would be headed?
[You] Googled me! I went to school at USC for a music-industry degree. Everybody expected I’d go into performance—I’m half-Japanese and half-Peruvian, and I did piano and music lessons and all that. That was my life, not so much sports! So when college came around, I wanted to get away. I grew up in Irvine, and it was night and day with the hood of USC. Now I do sound design and music production as my main thing. A slightly modified, real-world version of what I was doing. After leaving that whole regimen of practicing and composing and all that—it’s full circle.
What was the last thing you made that you’d call an original piece?
The last thing where I thought, “That’s pretty bitchen?” A dance project. Dance is big now with all this stuff on MTV and Dancing With the Stars. I worked with a dance company called Breed—an offshoot of boogiezone.com—and they put together a big show, the EVE show. I was the music director. I didn’t compose all the music, but a good chunk was original production. I got to do it a little more left-field. Sometimes when I’ve done production, they’ll say, “We want something that sounds like it’s on the radio.” This was nice—I got to go out of the box a little bit. It was the first time I felt like I was composing akin to the way I was when I was growing up.
Is there any mathematical basis for writing a guaranteed hit?
There’s nothing you learn coming up in piano! But if you sit and listen to enough Top 10s from Power 106 and KIIS-FM, you could start to find patterns. I won’t break it down, but not because it’s an industry secret. It’d just be ridiculous to write out. It’s a simple thing—like Lego. Stack them like this, and it’s gonna be sturdy and strong. Having said that, to actually do it is a whole other thing! I can wholeheartedly understand why there’s an industry of professional songwriters and beatmakers. Anybody can copy something—let’s see you do it yourself!
Does it help to say the song title in the chorus a million times?
Maybe it doesn’t hurt!
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
What kind of day-to-day assignments do you get as a sound designer?
I’m still a newbie. My first experience came courtesy of Yamaha—sound design for keyboards. If you go to Guitar Center and see a big synth, it’ll have my sounds. Initially, they wanted demo songs: “We want something hip and relevant and not some 40-year-old guy making a ballad.” And then they asked me to make some patches—my first foray into real sound design. It’s cool—a little piece I did is all over the world. Usually I do bumpers for websites—they have a three- or five-second graphic or animatic, like, “This is our company and we’re trying to hammer the identity home—give us five seconds of music!” So it’s my job to create an audio identity for my client. I like it. I like working in really limited small situations.
What musician would you most like to sit next to on an airline trip?
Just one? How about aisle-center-window? Oscar Peterson, who is unfortunately not with us anymore. And to my other side, I’d love to sit down and talk to Quincy Jones. He exemplifies what I wanna do with my life—start out artistic and cross to business—and he kept it all going and hasn’t crumbled anywhere in the process. And he’s done a lot of giving back and teaching. That’s my dream—to go back to USC and teach what I learned.