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Creativity Squared in association withPeople on LBB
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Creativity Squared: Christian Celaya on Experimenting with All Possibilities
12/10/2023
Group745
Music & Sound
New York, USA
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The Diner Music creative director on constantly thinking of new ideas, thriving on collaboration and how the music industry is evolving at such a high rate
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Christian has been in the music industry for 23 years; 10 as a signed and touring artist and 13 as a composer, producer, and music supervisor for the advertising, film, and TV industry. Of note, Celaya has composed, produced and licensed music for noteworthy brands such as Nike, Adidas, Chevy, Netflix and Hershey’s, TV shows including Shameless, Riverdale, Lucifer, Elementary and Silicon Valley, as well as several trailers. He has also produced and collaborated with artists such as Omar Rodriguez Lopez (At The Drive In, Mars Volta), Deantoni Parks (John Cale, Flying Lotus), and Le Butcherettes, to name a few.

Christian now serves as creative director for well-known US production music company, The Diner, where his leadership and vision provide clients access to a laundry list of well-established and sought-after creative talent, including William Ryan Key of Yellowcard, Benny Trokan of Spoon, and Travis Stever of Coheed & Cambria, to name a few. These artists, along with hundreds of others, help to create authentic music in all genres available to pre-cleared licensing for film, TV, video games and more.



Person

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer in life and in art. Constantly thinking of new ideas and once I land on something, it’s difficult to shake my focus. And while that can be an individual process, I thrive on collaboration; open to experimenting with all possibilities and welcoming of any counterpoints. I’ve learned over the years that it’s helpful for someone in those partnerships to be the organised one and that’s usually me, given my personality. I love making lists, following a routine, and keeping track of the process and progress. 

When it comes to creative stimuli, my taste and interests are diverse, which I feel has positively contributed to the work I do. Taking a “mixtape” approach and extracting elements from different genres, styles and techniques to build something new. This type of creativity is something I’ve learned over the past couple of decades as an artist and creative. While I associate my talent with starting out as an innate ability (the music gene runs deep in my family dating back over a century), I truly believe that can only get you so far and that education and/or training are just as important to developing innate talent.


Product

Creativity is a tricky and interesting thing. It is something that is completely subjective and is entirely evaluated on an individual scale. I consider a few different factors – the innovativeness, the authenticity, and the feeling it inspires. 

I feel the criteria for judging art has shifted with the implementation of AI into music and design now that some artists are relying solely on that approach to create. Without investing the work to mould a creation into something that is unrecognisable from the source media, sheer laziness has begun to sprout up in the industry. It is something to be cognizant of.

When I self-reflect on the work I’ve done over the years, I judge myself on the factors outlined above. One noteworthy project that comes to mind due to the levels of authenticity and collaborative spirit is a longform spot the Diner (and our sister companies, The Music Playground and The Station) executed for the soda brand Starry. This ran during the 2023 NBA Finals and covered the history of the three-point shot. The concept covered different eras of basketball and therefore we needed to find the appropriate music for each time period depicted: the ‘70s, early ‘00s and modern day. Part of The Diner’s new creative initiative is to work with recognisable artists who are experts in their respective genres. This particular job included looping in powerhouse producer Yxsh (Aftermath, Cerebral Music) for the contemporary hip hop direction and Benny Trokan of the band Spoon for the ‘70s retro soul sound, among others. Not only was this opportunity a highlight given the clients and brands involved, but it was the perfect showcase of our initiatives in action.

As far as assessing the current level of output within this industry, I feel the field is over-saturated. Agencies, and edit and post houses have a plethora of options when it comes to sourcing music. The exciting part of that is it pushes us to innovate and elevate our production and creative process to standout in that crowd. The frustrating part of it is running into music companies setting a precedent for licensing below market rates, which devalues the music. This pushes us to emphasise authenticity and quality because in the end, you get what you pay for, and our clients, thankfully, trust us to provide that.


Process

When it comes to kicking off a campaign or creative project, it’s key to have a focused creative brief. Musical references and descriptive keywords really help us “see” the vision and allow us to deliver at a high level without any ambiguity.

In terms of staying tuned in, I’m always listening to radio and streaming charts as well as paying attention to what music is being used in ads, TV and trailers. The music industry is evolving at such a high rate that a specific sound may be fresh at the start of the year and dated by the end of it. It helps me to get a sense of what new music trends are on the horizon so that our team can get ahead of it, production-wise.

One of the things I enjoy about where I am currently is providing guidance to artists and composers who are new to the sync side of the industry. Because I’ve been in this industry for 14 years and have had so many great mentors, it’s important to me to support and encourage the knowledge transfer process. Writing songs for albums uses a different formula to write for ads and TV shows. I enjoy having conversations about these differences to support the next generation of sync artists. To this point, I’m a big proponent of sharing what I’ve learned with students and have lectured at various music schools, including BIMM Institute in Berlin.


Press

As far as my background, I grew up just outside NYC in Nyack, NY. It’s very similar to Woodstock in terms of the concentration of artists and creative spirit, with the convenience of being so close to the city. Growing up playing in bands in the ‘90s, this town had several music venues where kids could cut their teeth on stage. Of course, the goal was to be good enough to “play in the city.” Because NYC is so close, it was easy to commute to see concerts, art openings, observe fashion trends, and more.

When it comes to honing my craft, higher education was the first step. I graduated from SUNY Purchase’s Conservatory of Music, which truly opened my mind to the history of music, versatility as a writer and performer, and forging strong creative partnerships. Both in class and outside of it, we were constantly analysing songwriting and production. Those skills were then used as an artist signed to both major and indie labels and touring the world for the next decade.

Upon transitioning into the advertising, film, and TV industries, I’ve operated in a variety of work environments. The most memorable ones fostered a culture of positivity and encouragement. I think that approach brings unity and empowerment to a team. People are more inclined to invest themselves in that environment. In those instances, the culture started at the top with upper management demonstrating their openness to new ideas and solutions. Even if they didn’t agree with an approach or idea, they were all open to that creative exchange. I think those qualities are key to getting the best out of a team.

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