Meet Your Creator: Brandon Lau
If we plot the story arc of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the entertainment industry, it would be easy to say that the last five years have been its climax. The mainstream T.V. show Fresh Off the Boat cast its sails wide and traveled deep into viewers’ hearts, while music stars like H.E.R., Japanese Breakfast, and Mitski landed on the charts and grabbed pop culture by the horns. And just this year, the film Everything Everywhere All at Once made history and dominated the Academy Awards. So, is this truly the peak of the mountain? For up-and-coming film composers like Brandon Lau, however, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Born and raised in Connecticut, moved to Shanghai, China, in 2008 and now based in Los Angeles; the Berklee College of Music graduate has been composing and producing exceptional music. His sounds are fresh, rich, dark, deep, and mysterious aimed specifically for films, video games, and trailers.
Brandon credits his family’s move to Shanghai as the catalyst for his blossoming music career.
“Honestly, if my family didn’t move to Asia, I don’t think I would be a composer today,” Brandon said. “My world view expanded and made me realize the possibilities of what I could become.”
Unlike most Asian Americans, however, Brandon’s path to a challenging creative life was encouraged by his parents, who are progressive and encouraged him to pursue his interests. He took piano lessons at an early age and, in high school, played around with Apple’s Garageband app to create beats and tracks emulating his favorite music from David Guetta and other E.D.M. artists. His parents never forced him to take the traditional, stereotypical paths of joining the family business or pursuing white collar, professional careers like finance, medicine, the law, and so on.
“I applied to my dream school, originally Johns Hopkins, which is a school for science because I was supposed to do chemistry, and that’s not because of my parents. I really wanted to be a scientist,” Brandon said. “But after I got rejected by the school, it was my mom who said that I should pursue music.”
At Berklee, Brandon, despite his love for Pop and E.D.M., chose to major in film scoring because of his admiration of New Zealand-born composer Mark Petrie, who composed trailer music for major films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, as well top video game titles like Overwatch and the Madden N.F.L. series from E.A. Sports.
“I remember when I was still in high school, you know those one-hour-long epic music mix YouTube videos? A lot of Mark Petrie’s stuff will be featured there,” Brandon said. “I would put that on while I was studying and just absorbing it.”
He loved Petrie’s music so much that when he started working as a professional composer, he cold messaged the New Zealander and introduced himself.
“He was so kind and receptive,” Brandon said. “After that, we ended up working together!”
Brandon produces his music in Abelton using his two main soft synths, the wavetable synthesizer Serum and the modular synth Zebra. He has one hardware synth, Sequential’s Pro 3 analog synth, but growing up doing everything in the digital, he is yet to fully incorporate the Pro 3 in his workflow.
“I pretty much mix everything myself in the box because with sound design, hybrid tracks, the mix is just the part that is as creative as the composition,” Brandon said. “I like having control over that.”
Now, as A.I. continues to dominate the conversation around productivity, there is a palpable fear that hangs over the head of electronic music composers and sound designers simply because these are the genres that are most likely going to get taken over by the rise of this technology.
“I try to be positive and see a good use for A.I. in the industry that doesn’t necessarily replace people or take over jobs,” Brandon said. “And as an experienced sound designer, if I could sift through all these A.I. sounds and use them in my compositions effectively, I could create something more unique.”
If the ascendance of A.I. is indeed inevitable, Brandon’s openness to embrace this technology is a breath of fresh air.
Asked if he has any advice for young composers, who are trying to be the next generation of film scorers and sound designers, Brandon responded with probably the most inspiring three words in our vernacular: “Just do it.”
The frigid water is receding, and the iceberg is slowly revealing itself not as breakable ice but as a giant, immovable rock– a mountain of AAPI talent.
You can hear Brandon Lau’s music in Liquid Cinema’s Darklight trailer music album. Check it out.
Follow Brandon on Instagram.
By Ted Reyes