Poster Chanda Dancy
Chanda Dancy started her career working in a sound studio.
Georgia Shu

Composer Chanda Dancy breathes new life into film music

Composer Chanda Dancy has been scoring film music for more than 20 years. Starting her career working on independent films and video games, she now has transitioned to larger studios, including the recent Korean War film Devotion, and works on her multimedia label, CYD Music.

How did you get into and navigate the film industry? 

“My start in the film industry started with the USC film scoring program. I decided in undergrad that I would give this a go. I've always been a classical musician since I was a kid. I started composing in middle school. Playing the violin in orchestra and composing has always been a part of my life.

“I wouldn't necessarily say that doing smaller independent films was my calling. It was just where I found myself. It was the natural progression of things because at USC, I was fortunate to create an incredible community as I found my creative career foundation. I've made friends with many filmmakers from the USC Cinema School, as well as the UCLA program and CalPERS community. In school, we're taught that you need to go out and network and hand out your business card. I never did that. It wasn't necessarily because I didn't think I should. I couldn't because I'm such an introvert.

“I just worked on my communities’ projects. Then the project's editor would ask me to do my first film. Then that person's editor or producer would do the same. All my work for 15 years straight was just like through the community and my neighborhood. Then all of a sudden, the studio people saw my work and now I'm in the studio world. I had a twisting, winding road map to get where I am.”

Do you like working in the studio?

”Yes, I am open to beautiful, meaningful projects. So far in the studio world, that's what I've been getting into. It's been fantastic, but I would still work on an independent film. It's what allows my soul to sing essentially.” 

Chanda Dancy composed the score for the 2022 film 'Devotion,' the true story of Korean War fighter pilot Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in U.S. Navy history.
Paramount Pictures

How did you get involved with the recent film Devotion, and what was it like to create music for it?

“I know the director, J.D. Dillard, was looking for a fresh sound. Now, I couldn't tell you whether that explicitly was a Black American composer or a woman composer or anything different. But I do know he wanted a different kind of sound. That's what brought his attention to me. I got on his radar because my agent is pretty good friends with the producers at Black Label Media. He's had experience with them because he also represented Jóhann Jóhannsson. He said, ‘Hey, I have this composer, Chanda. She's different.’

“Dillard said that he listened to my soundtrack to After We Leave. I guess I had the sound he was looking for because, from what I heard, quite a few composers were up for the job. Some were composers of color, as well. I wasn't the only one. I had such an easy working relationship with him. One big reason why he chose me is that he liked how I let my music sing.” 

How did you come about that sound, and how do you let it sing?

”I just be me. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s not. I was purposefully trying to craft my sound a certain way. I was bringing various components of my own life experience into my music. 

“In my experience, I have a classical music foundation. The orchestra is the foundation of my musical life. But then I worked for a sound design company, so I did a lot of sound processing in my scores. I also played in a rock band. There's a whole part of me that plays my bass guitar and creates awesome crumbling textures and sounds. That’s in addition to me playing the violin, viola and cello.

“So when I create things, I sing them. They feel more connected to me emotionally, and I feel like I can bring that out in the music better when I sing it.” 

What is your project CYD Music?

“It is a side thing. It's not my main focus but allows me to be as creative as possible with sound. The film After We Leave was a perfect project for that. I said I worked for a sound design company right out of USC. Sound editing and design have always been a part of me since. This was an excellent opportunity to create an entire place for soundscape music, sound design, editing and making sound art. … It's an art experience. 

”I've had a few pieces commissioned by Anthony Parker, the conductor of the San Bernardino Symphony. I was playing in the Southeast Symphony as a violinist under his tutelage. He commissioned a piece from me in 2016 for the Southeast Symphony and then another piece in 2021 for the San Bernardino Symphony.”

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