From creating mock-ups of Marvel soundtracks to professionally arranging the Marvel Performance song, “Unstoppable,” for Disney+ PH’s star-studded showcase, “A Night of Wonder,” Joaquin Santos chronicles his experience and journey leading up to this particular moment.
To many, music is a compelling combination of tones that bring people together. It expresses some of the world’s most beautiful and indescribable feelings. For Benilde alumnus Joaquin Santos, music is a creation inspired by his curiosity about sounds that may be ordinary at first but evolve into a masterpiece when thoroughly explored.
From starting as a novice recreating movie soundtracks to professionally arranging musical pieces for the entertainment company itself, Santos shares in an interview with The Benildean valuable insights as a composer, arranger, orchestrator, and musician in the industry.
A series of events that led to here and now
Santos disclosed that he wasn’t born much of a musician. It was when he turned 13 that his music teacher asked him to bring an instrument. He borrowed a guitar from his cousin and then was taught how to play “Jingle Bells.” An experience drew him to play guitar.
Santos would've taken an engineering course if it wasn’t for unexpected twists and turns. What eventually led him to pursue music in Benilde was his high school teacher, who suggested the course Music Production in DLS-CSB, where he finally discovered the recording world.
Going with his instinct and gut feeling, he took a leap of faith, sharing how “I can’t imagine myself working in a full-time job in an office doing paperwork. That style of work is not for me.” He then expressed finding something in music that he can’t do in other things. “Meron siyang fulfillment na [nakukuha] ko, especially during the times na first time ko gumawa ng music [...] That’s what pushed me to pursue music,” he added.
Prior to taking up Music Production, Santos’ impression on music was limited to performing, getting in a band, doing gigs, and songwriting. He shared that Benilde exposed him to different aspects of music, especially in the music industry remarking.
“When pumasok ako sa Benilde, nagulat ako marami palang ibang routes na pwedeng pasukin sa music like arranging, composing, songwriting, performing. Pwede ka rin maging engineer—audio engineer, mixing engineer, live sound engineer. Marami siyang departments, hindi lang siya sa performing.”
Reminiscing his days in Benilde, he remembers taking up Music Theory classes, acknowledging not knowing much about it prior to his stay while it later on became his favorite. There, he met Professor JC Magsalin, his orchestration and music theory professor, now mentor.
“Lagi akong merong after class session sa kanya, lagi ako magtanong after class namin, magtanong ako, ico-consult ko ginawa kong composition, bibigay siya ng feedback, tuturuan niya ako paano gawin ito, gawin niyan, very hands on talaga siya,” he expressed. “Up until now, he is still guiding me. So, very very very grateful ako sa professor ko. At naka-work ko rin siya sa mga projects before na orchestration.”
Other than that, Santos looked back on memories with his Applied Music (APPMUS) professor Mr. Junji Lerma and his Film Scoring (FILSCO) professor Mr. Von de Guzman, stating, “They believed in my potential while I was learning under them. Inspiring kasi sila, parang very motivating ‘yung environment para matuto ka.” It was constructive for Santos that his professors were also working professionals in music. Their valuable stories and insights from their experiences gave Santos and his classmates a look into the professional industry.
Being a composer was Santos’ original chosen path; however, it differs much from the other careers in music. When he started schooling in Benilde, he was still unsure which direction to take in music production.
Santos recalled that it was particularly Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack in the movie Inception that he first noticed music resonating with him. After watching, he realized composing for the film was how he wanted to enter the industry. Later, he learned to compose ads, an entirely different approach.
“In my case, speaking in terms of experience sa industry dito, hindi everyday lagi kang music producer, hindi everyday orchestrator ka, hindi everyday composer ka. Minsan na-hire ka as musician, merong mag-hire sa ‘yo for live gigs or live recording,” Santos shared. He emphasizes the importance of his ability to adapt as a skill. “You can explore different things within music, which is very fulfilling and rewarding, not only financially.”
A wellspring of ideas
Interestingly enough, “sound” itself is what motivates Santos to create. He explained when he hears a sound, he gets inspired to make something out of it and find ways to develop it. “Nasa idea ko lang siya, tapos parang hahanapin mo kung paano mo siya ipo-produce, either kung anong instrument, tapos once I produce it, it makes me want to build up on it. Doon na nagkakaroon ng flow,” he stated.
According to Santos, what drives one is the curiosity that is frequently found in their craft—to “always be curious” is what would push people to keep going. He values practice as much as he does talent so that study and practice can unite and enhance something ordinary. Coming off from a very literal view of his craft, he now realizes the magic within what’s already in front of us.
Reaching the Disney dream
Santos shared how his current company, Hit Productions, brought him and his team to work on the Disney+ project. Creating the arrangement for the show “A Night of Wonder,” the team had a challenging time as they weren’t initially aware of who the singer to perform the song would be because in arranging, being mindful of a singer’s style and the range was crucial. Each team member would “toss around ideas and the project was a problem that was enjoyable to solve,”
Santos worked on the Disney+ Marvel performance song “Unstoppable.” And among many of his original works, this seems to be his favorite as it truly captures what he was initially doing back then. As Santos mentioned, there was a lot of experimentation with string instruments to make such a cinematic arrangement fit for Marvel. With creative freedom given to his team, Santos could maximize his skills and ideas to create arrangements that indeed moved viewers and listeners to the performances.
With the success Santos has had with the Disney project, he is full of gratitude for the opportunities given and the people who supported him. The beginning of his career hadn’t taken off yet, and it was lucrative. Santos would look for clients locally until he came across music companies over the years, which led him to Hit Productions even despite the pandemic.
Besides that, the guidance he received from his mentors, whether college professors or superiors, Santos felt that he was always guided to be on the right track. He feels grateful for his colleagues as they keep him inspired and creative amidst the pressure of working in the advertising industry.
As a message to creatives still finding their breakthrough, Santos imparts that his success wasn’t possible without being persistent with his craft. “Have determination and always be curious and creative,” he emphasized.
“You can be what you want to be and be where you want to be if you believe it, especially if you put effort and make it work,” Santos said.
With that final word, you can watch Santos’s original arrangement of the Disney+ Marvel performance song “Unstoppable” on Youtube.