Tetsuya Koyama on Finding Opportunity in the L.A. Music Scene 

Los Angeles is one of very few American cities that continues to attract large numbers of newcomers year after year. 

It’s hard to deny the immediate benefits of living in such a beautiful climate, and of course, having access to a nearly limitless coastline isn’t too bad, either. 

But for so many of those newcomers, the appeal of L.A. is all about work. Aside from being one of the largest cities in the country, it also remains the entertainment capital not just of the United States but of the entire world. 

It’s a story we’ve seen before in movies or relayed to us in celebrity interviews: the hopeful artist moves to the big city to show what they’ve got and find success. 

Actually finding that success, however, is rare. Many never do. But when it happens, it really is a beautiful thing, and contemporary media adds one more voice to the chorus. 

Tetsuya Koyama took a huge risk when he decided to relocate from his native Japan to Los Angeles, and he remembers what a foreign concept it was to him at the time. 

“Apart from my family, I didn’t know anyone who’d ever even been to Los Angeles. But I was very excited to jump into the entertainment capital. I’m interested in lots of types of entertainment, not just music but film also, so there was a lot of motivation to go.” 

But after making the leap in 2017, Koyama has dug into the L.A. music scene in many different ways and has gone on to establish himself as a skilled performer and composer. 

Koyama has toured with rock band Sayed Sabrina as well as composing musical scores for animated films, including ‘Coffee Crash’ (dir. Cel La Flaca) and ‘Kill Wolfy 2’ (dir. Kalen Whitfield). 

More recently, he has been working with directors who have previously created work for Disney and Netflix, as well as producing, arranging, and recording multiple instruments for Taylor Blackwell’s debut album. 

For any of our readers out there who might be wondering what it’s really like to strike out on your own in L.A. and make a name for yourself in what can sometimes be a cutthroat industry, Koyama is the perfect guide.  

A lattice of connection 

The music industry is competitive. That’s easy enough to see even if you’re not a part of it. There are just so many musicians and composers trying to build their careers. 

But a side of the music industry, and specifically of the Los Angeles music scene, that rarely gets highlighted is the sense of overlap and community, and a lot of it is thanks to just how active the scene is in L.A.

Koyama compared this level of activity to what he was used to back home. 

“The local music scene isn’t really thriving in my country, but Los Angeles has nightly music events, and I soon realized that I could build a community. It’s also not uncommon for top-notch musicians to suddenly join a jam session at a local jazz bar. Watching their performance up close and exchanging contact information later has led to work.”

That sense of connection and closeness can also easily result in collaboration, which has its own set of advantages.

But on that very immediate level, it’s also an opportunity to observe other top-tier musicians in their natural habitat and maybe even a chance to ask for their advice. 

Even a simple jam session can be the perfect place for a talented young musician to showcase their ability. Just about anybody could be in the audience, from high-level film producers to directors to music producers and music supervisors. 

Film and television in particular require a large number of musicians and can sometimes also require multiple composers to work on a single project. 

Becoming part of a talent pool can lead not only to more work but also to more advanced professional opportunities. 

For musicians not living in L.A., it’s still technically possible to make these connections, but living right in the city and making yourself accessible to this lattice of connected musicians is just plain better for advancing a career. 

Crossing boundaries 

Another result of the fierce competition you’ll find in the music industry today is the push for musicians to cover more ground with their work. Sticking to a single genre isn’t all that feasible anymore. 

Koyama’s own experience of crossing national boundaries to find opportunities in the U.S. and showcase his talents has included crossing musical boundaries as well, keeping step with this industry shift toward variety and versatility.  

“During my time at the Musicians Institute, I was really pushed to engage with lots of different genres. Also, playing gospel weekly in church is a wonderful experience that’s hard to find in Japan. Before coming to America, I mostly played Jazz, R&B, and J-Pop, so those first two years in the States made a huge difference in broadening my horizons.”

When you watch a musician who’s able to easily move between genres and play in many different styles, it can look incredibly easy. After all, they don’t seem to hesitate or struggle with the transitions. 

But on the technical side, learning to play and compose in a new genre is kind of like learning a new language. Each one still uses the same basic building blocks, but the specifics are almost completely different. 

Also, like language, it takes time to sound natural when you move to a new genre. After a certain level of understanding, the artist can make intuitive decisions rather than sticking to the rule book. 

Even with these challenges, talented musicians and composers take all of this on because the benefits are enormous. 

Versatility can open new doors, in much the same way that networking with other musicians and performers can create new opportunities.  

Adjusting to the situation

One of the most fascinating parts of our discussion with Koyama was all about working in film music, which he enjoys a great deal. 

Film music, while still being based very solidly in music theory, is its own discipline, and writing to picture is very different from other types of composition, as Koyama noted. 

“Film music has been the most difficult and enjoyable challenge in my career. In a band, you work with music producers and music directors. Working with a film director is very different. You have to avoid musical jargon, and the visuals place unique limits on the timing, instrumentation, and feel of the music, which really pushes you to be a stronger artist.”

Koyama is definitely the type of artist who enjoys facing down challenges and limitations, but there’s a specific component of this film music dynamic that challenges composers in a way that isn’t strictly related to the music itself. 

These other challenges are all about communication. Talking about your craft to someone who isn’t as familiar with it as you are is its own kind of difficult, and yet, keeping those conversations open and accurate is essential to creating quality work. 

Being an effective score composer is also about translating artistic choices to other members of the team, especially leading members of the team. 

That’s not really part of a music education, but rather something that’s learned and developed in the moment to make sure that everyone is on the same page. 

Overall, it’s the perfect example of how being a musician in the entertainment industry is actually about a lot more than just the music. 

Maintaining momentum 

Even for successful musicians and composers like Koyama, there’s never a moment to let a career stand still. Maintaining momentum is extremely important for artists, and thankfully Koyama is constantly motivated to seek out new projects that would benefit from his contributions and his unique musical perspective. 

Koyama’s already lengthy list of credits continues to grow, and he sees each project as a chance to meet even more artists and make something special. 

Specifically, Koyama talked about his excitement in working with directors who have credits with Disney and Netflix, who we also mentioned at the top of the article. 

The opportunity itself is exciting, but Koyama mentioned an especially enjoyable aspect of the work, one that speaks to his affinity for the international music community. 

“We are also planning to collaborate remotely with a Japanese music production company. I think it makes a lot of sense to return the knowledge and experience I’ve gained in the United States to the scene in my home country.”

Though Koyama greatly enjoys living and working in L.A., he still feels a connection to the musical community in Japan and hasn’t thought twice about giving back to that community. 

Instead of keeping tunnel-vision on his own work and his own career, he wants to make his new knowledge accessible. 

In the long-term, that kind of information sharing could even help another young musician in Japan to feel confident when striking out into the unknown to share their work, and their voice, with the world.