Q&A with Xueran Chen, Composer and Owner of NEM Studios in Los Angeles

Xueran Chen M.M. '14 has composed the music of over 30 films and TV shows since he graduated from the Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games master's degree program. Photo courtesy of Chen.

“At Berklee's campus in Valencia, students really develop themselves to become what they want to be.”

Xueran Chen M.M. ‘14 turned his life around in just a few months. After completing a master's degree in Berklee Valencia’s Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games, Chen got an internship with Andrew Gross, assisting in the score of the television film The Secret Santa, and shortly after, in 2015, he set up his own music studio in Los Angeles. NEM Studios has so far composed the music for several television shows and films, most of which have been highly successful around the world. Last year, Chen’s company worked on 30 projects, and this year, he says, is “going even better.” Aside from this, he has participated in the music

Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in Berklee’s Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games program at the Valencia campus?

At the time, my life dream was to win a Grammy one day, so in order to achieve that I had to go to the best music school. I was passionate about music production and wanted to learn how to create well-produced music. I think the Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games program was the best program for me to learn all the music theory and technologies.

Your background before enrolling in the program had no relation to music. Why did you decide to change career paths?

Music was always my passion, but because I was not classically trained, the fear of failure blocked me to pursue it as a career. But every time I entered a singing contest I was always the champion, so some of my friends asked me, “Why don’t you go to music school?” And then I got signed by Chyi Chin, the father of Mandopop (Mandarin popular music), as a singer-songwriter for his company. Then I realized music is something I was meant to do.

What opportunities did you have, being in Valencia, that you may not have had otherwise?

The confidence I gained. Berklee is the only place that has the highest level of music education as well as a relaxed, friendly, and artistic environment. The ocean and beach are on your doorstep, and nobody bothers you when you are working. The school allows everyone to shine, and it’s open to all kinds of art and styles. Nobody judged my music despite [the fact that] I didn’t know anything at the time.

What things did you learn at Berklee that positioned you for success when you left and got your job?

The skills, the vision, and again, the confidence. First, the music skill is very important, which is achieved through theories, writing, production, and also music technologies like recording and mixing. And then, the vision of music, or in other words, the good taste for music. And then the most important thing is again the confidence that allowed me to be able to present myself to potential jobs and create more opportunities for myself.

Chen recorded his Culminating Experience project at Air Studios in London as part of the graduate program's curriculum:

Why would you tell other students to come to Berklee’s Valencia campus to study in the Film, Television, and Video Games program?

First, the solid academics: during this program, students can really strengthen their music skills and build a stable base. Instructors like Lucio Godoy, Alfons Conde, and Vanessa Garde are very strong and among the best in their professions. More importantly, they know how to teach. Second, the astonishing facilities. Berklee Valencia has top-level recording and production studios, and labs, which are open for students who are surrounded by talented and passionate musicians from all over the world. Third, the open-mindedness. Students really develop themselves to become what they want to be.

What is your fondest memory of your time at the Valencia campus?

There are a lot of beautiful and unforgettable memories, so it’s hard to pick one. But the lifestyle and the friends I made are the best things ever. I had a routine, which was to wake up in the morning, cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and jog to the campus. Then I’d attend class and stayed up late in the labs with my classmates, who were all amazing musicians. At night, I would cycle back home with my best buddy, Carlos. I ran on the beach every weekend and tried new wines. These are pure, beautiful memories.

How did the International Career Center (ICC) help you develop your professional career?

The ICC was key for me to get into the music industry. I talked to Stine Glismand about my interest of interning in the U.S., and she helped me find an internship position over there and assisted me to get my F1 visa so I could secure an internship at Berklee’s campus in Boston, which was really helpful. And I reached out to Stine when my visa expired, and she gave me the information to obtain an O1 visa in the U.S. The ICC opened many doors for me that I could never imagine before.

Learn how the graduate internship program helped Chen:

After graduating, you worked at A. Gross Music as a composer. What are the key things you learned while working there?

I was very, very lucky to be able to have an internship with Andrew Gross, which then led to a mentorship. The key thing I learned there is the Hollywood film music industry workflow. After a month working as an intern, he brought me on board to work as an additional composer on a television film called The Secret Santa, which aired on TLC Network. We met the director together, and we composed each cue for the film. It was a wonderful experience to work alongside a master like Andrew, and revising with him was like a one-on-one master class on composing. After the internship ended, I kept working with him from time to time, and he became a very good friend.

Why did you decide to set up NEM Studios in 2015 instead of working for someone else?

I believe that establishing yourself independently and building your own team is every composer’s dream. I wake up every morning by my dream, not by my alarm clock. When I go to my studio and sit in my chair, I feel calmed and blessed. Working from my own studio is much more effective than going somewhere else and working from 9 to 5. I can arrange my own time and have a better balance between work and life. Also, it’s much more rewarding to own your business, not only for the money, but also for the achievements.

What type of projects do you work on? Can you name a few?

We work on many top-line TV series and films. For example, I composed and produced the title and theme songs for the most popular TV series in China in 2017 called Princess Agents, which had over 40 billion total views. I also composed the theme and promotional songs for films like Detective Chinatown 2, which earned $531 million U.S. worldwide. Some of the songs we produced charted at No.1 on the Chinese billboards and many other charts. Last year we worked on 30 different projects, and this year is going even better.

What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?

I really enjoy that most of the time I am just writing and creating music, which is pure happiness.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Lucio said something in class that I always remember: “I don’t want to save the world. I will be happy if my music can bring a little more joy to an audience when they're watching a film.” I think it’s very important to achieve a work-life balance. Real happiness only comes from close relationships, not money or credits.

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