Have I ever told you that there is no such coincidence here in my blog? Last July I was looking for the story of the Gospel acclamation dance chant by the Fijians who performed in front of the Holy Father during the WYD in Sydney and it so happened that one of the dancers were googling about their performance. Luckily my post showed on google and he stumbled on my blog, hence my interview with him materialized and gave the whole WYD community a glimpse behind the scenes of the now famous dance chant of the Fijians through the Generosity of Brother Inia. And last week, As I launched my blog coverage for the reality show, Survivor Philippines, an unexpected visitor dropped by. I never really check the people who come to my blog through their avatars on mybloglog widget, but at that time I had this gut feeling that a VIP graced my humble blog. And yes, it was the composer of the of the Survivor Philippines theme song.
There are already Millions of fans of the show just after a week of its airing, and I think I don’t want to miss this rare opportunity to give other survivor fans the chance to know about the man and the story behind the theme song of the Philippine Franchise.
Meet Mr. Diwa De Leon, the formidable music man who single-handedly composed, arranged and performed the Theme song of Survivor Philippines. He is a freelance composer, arranger, musician, and recording artist who mix Pinoy Music with the innovations of technology. Our 20 something composer is also the founding member of the Pinoy world music band called Makiling, a father to his 5-year-old daughter named Kaya and finished Bachelor of Music, Major in Composition at UP Diliman. Master Diwa, as he is called in the cyberspace loves all kinds of Pizza with Mozzarela and surprisingly, cannot live without any soft drinks by his side. This budding composer in the music scene has an artist’s blood running through his veins for he is the grandson of one of the country’s finest, prolific and greatest National Artist, Maestro Felipe Padilla de Leon.
OTWOMD was given the chance to interview him and he never hesitated to say yes. I know some of the survivor fans out there would really want to have bits and pieces of the behind the scenes of the show, well this is what I can offer, a whole package of the story of the music behind the show. I am grateful that Master Diwa agreed to be featured here on our “Dreamers” series, for he has been great in the interview. Below is my entire lengthy interview with the master composer himself:
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As a tradition, I always ask this question to I interviewed on OTWOMD in the past: how the heck did you find my blog?
I googled “Survivor Philippines” and your site was one of the entries at the first page.
Is this your first online interview?
I’ve had quite a collection of online interviews already. But still, getting interviewed is something I enjoy, because most of the time, I’m the one doing interviews in my blog.
Now about your work, how did GMA 7 tapped you for the work of the theme song?
It was actually a series of referrals, connect-the-dots if you will, and the last stop was on me. I never let go of the chance once I got it though.
What was your feeling when you were chosen to compose the theme song?
I didn’t it was choice that lead me to work with GMA, but rather chance and circumstance. They were immediately in need of a composer for the theme and I was the most accessible one at the moment.
Did GMA 7 brief you or gave you orientation on how the song should sound like?
Yes, they even gave me sample studies of existing music from other Survivor franchises as basis.
Have you ever met the host, toured the set in Thailand or met the castaways themselves?
Nah, I mostly work behind the scenes (read: at the comfort of my home). Then I just email the song to the executive producer. There was only one meeting at GMA office which I attended and that was to discuss major revisions to the song.
Is it cool/smooth to work with GMA 7?
It’s pretty cool. I didn’t experience any real hassles so far.
What was your inspiration when you were composing the song?
Inspiration… hmmm. Actually I based the theme on the original composition made by British composer Russ Landau on the original survivor theme, but mine was an original composition and arrangement. I haven’t used this element in composition a long time ago. I just need to make a short melodic line or short harmonic passage (chords), and I’m good to go. Inspiration may help a bit, but I don’t see myself needing it anytime soon.
How long did it take you to compose the song?
A day. But because of the revisions GMA asked me to do (both major and minor) it took at least 2 weeks to get to the final version.
When did you start/finish recording it?
Around 4 months before the show started. So that’s somewhere around late May or early June 2008.
You mentioned on your blog that there was a female vocalist and a band involved on the theme song, can you tell me more about them?
The female vocalist is a sampled (pre-recorded) existing track provided by GMA. Until now, I still don’t know her name. Also, there is no band involved here, not even my own band, Makiling. However, my bandmate, Evan Britanico is very much involved and he is the one providing the male voice chants you hear on the theme music.
Is it hard to arrange, record or come up with the final product of the theme song? Or in relation to survivor challenges, have you also experienced challenges or difficulties in composing the theme song?
When making the music per se, it is not hard for me since music is my life. However, challenges did come when executing the revisions asked by GMA, it is quite hard to discuss musical revisions being asked by non-musicians. For example, they will only say “add more grandness to the music”, there are so many ways to interpret that in music. So I really had to figure out for myself what type “grandness” they were looking for. Eventually, it all worked out in the end and everyone was happy.
Now that we have seen the premiere of the show, and that people are now hooked on it, hearing your composition everyday, what is your feeling/realization?
It is as I expected. A sense of mainstream achievement and self-fulfillment.
Are you a survivor fan (US series)?
Ironically, I’m not really a fan of the series, but I don’t dislike it either.
What do you think about the show?
Based on the 1st 3 episodes that I saw, I believe it’s quite good, but perhaps there can be more edge and more suspense. Perhaps in the future episodes.
Will Survivor philippines be leveled amongst the survivor series of the US or equate with them in terms of the production and presentation as we have seen on the premiere?
It will be great if it did, but there is a dead-end route in Philippine showbiz in my opinion. Most of the local TV hits in the Philippines have no chance of competing with the international scene. That is why Philippine showbiz mostly remains in the Philippines. Budget is a big thing, and were still a third world country. Do you think a local hit show such as “Darna” can compete with the likes of “Smallville”. Exactly! Not in the near future.
If given the chance will you also join the survivor philippines?
No. I’m really more of a homebuddy. I dislike extreme activities, and I’m not a sporty person.
If ever, who will be master diwa on the show? (will he be Master Diwa the composer or Master Diwa the gamer)
Hypothetically, it would be Master Diwa, the composer.
Are you also a survivor in real life?
Yes. Being a full-time musician is a challenge in itself. Musicians in the Philippines rarely get constant jobs to really sustain their everyday life. And until today, it is still a struggle. So you had a good gig yesterday, what about the next day? What about the next week? That’s what exciting about this life also, is it never gets boring.
How did you start in this business/career as a composer?
It started when I was first year college. I got projects from close contacts, I was referred via word of mouth. During that time too, my band was formed. My network of contacts is still growing and I don’t see any reason for stopping it’s growth.
Is it hard at first?
Nothing’s easy at first. But my supportive friends and family certainly made it easier to begin with.
Aside from the survivor theme song, what are the other songs you have already composed that we have heard so far but didn’t know that you were the composer?
Probably none. My projects were mostly for private corporations, companies, and indie films. I doubt that those material got mainstream.
What is your favorite composition so far?
I believe it is the soundtrack of the latest indie film I made, “KOLORETE” directed by Ruelo Lozendo and produced by Cinema One Originals. It will show on November 19, at the Cinema One Film Fest at Robinson’s Galleria.
In your blog you mentioned that you were on a billboard somewhere in UST area, what was that about?
Ah yes. You see, a chunk of my youth, (2001-2006) I was a guildmaster for one of the top guilds of Philippine Ragnarok Online, Grand Lethal. We had close to 400 members and we dominated the guild wars scene during our peak. The members decided to retire the guild late 2006 as most of us now had to focus on real life matters. Aside from being a guildmaster of a top guild, I also wrote several specialized Ragnarok Tips and Guides for the whole community to use as reference. These guides are not only used by local gamers, but by international Ragnarok gamers as well. And because of that, I was honored by Level Up Games (the company that published Philippine Ragnarok Online), as one of their Game Heroes. Now we have a billboard ad, along Espana cor. Morayta to promote the Game Heroes.
Wow, aside from being a composer, you are also one of the country’s top level up players, is it hard to combine the two, with your hectic schedule?
I’m not really the #1 player. Just one of the players who’ve made a name by helping out the gamer community en masse. It’s not really hard to schedule nowadays since I no longer play Ragnarok Online or any online RPG. I focus now only on music. It’s music everyday, 24/7.
What is Master Diwa like when he is not composing songs or playing games?
I’m playing with my daughter Kaya, or surfing the net, or playing my Sony PSP or Nintendo DS.
With your very hectic sched, do you still find time for yourself?
Yes, I find solace in my room. Watching downloaded TV series and movies in my PC.
Hypothetically, if I would hire you to record or compose a theme song for my blog, how much would you bill me haha would it cost as much as the cost of a brand new laptop?
Haha, nice question. But actually, it always depends. Pricing is always a case to case basis. I’d have to consider the length, the number of instruments. Will it have vocals? Will it have lyrics? I don’t do lyrics so I’d have to get a lyricist. But If we put it in standard song specs which is 3mins, guitars and voice, I’d it would cost near to the price of a cheap laptop.
With all of the achievements that you have already achieved in your lifetime, do you still have other dreams left that you want to fulfill? what are they?
I consider myself to be only starting out, this is the year that I consider to be the beginning of my career. My dream, to live and breath music while never having to worry about daily expenses.
Any message or advice for those budding composers out there?
Don’t stop doing what you do if you know you are good. But if you think you’re bad, and your mother thinks so too, do us a favor and do something else. The last thing we composers need is non-deserving competition.
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Master Diwa is also a blogger and blogs about his music and games. you can visit his blog at Masterdiwa.com. Special thanks also to Mr. De Leon for giving me an original copy of the said composition. It’s a different experience listening to it on a high-volume surround stereo amps. We will be hearing more of him and his music in the near future.
Survivor Philippines Theme
Composed, arranged, and performed by Diwa de Leon
Male chants performed by Evan Britanico
Produced by GMA 7