From his first Christian Youth Theater (CYT) musical theater production as a kid to his movie score in Saving Christmas Spirit, music has been the beat setting the rhythm of Erick Schroder’s (07) life.
For Schroder, watching musicals with his parents as a kid was never about the actors or the flashing lights, it was always about the music. While others were focused on the acting performances, he was enamored with the musicians and often the conductor.
“It just kind of felt like I was destined to do it. As I grew up, it felt like something I wanted to pursue,” Schroder said.
As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, Schroder has created music for over 85 projects in the last decade including Hulu’s The Ultimate Playlist of Noise directed by the award-winning Bennett Lasseter, the sports drama Under the Stadium Lights starring Laurence Fishburne and Saving Christmas Spirit.
Growing up in Vista, CA, Schroder got his start in music participating in CYT productions. He was also an avid Disney movies fan, particularly because of their musical scores. And the shift from musical theater to cinematic composing took off during his undergraduate years as he studied compositional music. After transfering into PLNU, he said that support from professors like Bill Clemmons, Ph.D., and Victor Labenske, D.B.A., made a profound impact on his experiences in undergrad.
“Where I was at in my life at that time, it was exactly what I needed,” Schroder said. “What was so fun and great about being at [PLNU] was the tight knit program.”
One moment in particular during PLNU’s New Student Orientation week made him feel at home.
“I remember when it was the first weekend that everyone checked into their dorms, Dr. Clemmons, a orchestration teacher, invited me over to his house to have dinner,” Schroder said. “He didn’t know me, but the fact that he took me in was so cool and unexpected. That was a really cool part of my life and journey while I was at Point Loma.”
Schroder’s decision to pursue cinematic scoring was reaffirmed with the guidance of Labenske and Clemmons, despite PLNU not having a media program at the time.
“It just kind of felt like I was destined to do it. As I grew up, it felt like something I wanted to pursue.”
“I always had a fascination with writing music for film, but at that time when I was there, they didn’t have a media program like they do now,” Schroder said. “But something that was so cool about the two main teachers I had, Dr. Labenske and Clemmons, [was that] they took my interests and, even though I was a compositional student, they found a way to tailor it for me. It was a very supportive place for me to be.”
The learning opportunities Schroder received extended beyond the classroom and campus because of the network he’d created at PLNU, including an unexpected yet career-starting opportunity came to him.
“Life is so interesting,” Schroder said. “Everything is a full circle; it all came back to CYT. When I started accompanying theater productions, the founder of CYT’s son had made a documentary and I was talking to them. He said, ‘You should meet my composer.’ I spent a summer interning for the composer while I was at PLNU.”
When Schroder graduated from PLNU in 2007, the struggles of breaking through the barriers of the competitive industry hit him hard. He pivoted for a few years working at Starbucks, teaching music lessons, and accompanying in theater productions.
“It was the reality of, ‘Woah, now what do I do?’ It’s not like I’m just going to jumpstart in my career. It’s definitely a career of connections and who you know,” Schroder said. “What really helped to keep the drive alive was my wife. She’s been very supportive on this journey. While she went back up to northern California to finish her grad work, she continued to encourage me to look for opportunities in film or video games, or whatever it was that I was going to pursue.”
In his search, Schroder landed on the next big step for his career: the University of Southern California scoring program. With the support of his wife, he took the leap of faith and applied.
“When my wife graduated and got her first job in the Bay Area, we were talking and it was one of those things where she was kind of getting settled in her career field, and if I really want to give this a go, I should apply. If I get in, great. If not, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a career,” Schroder said.
The moments leading up to submitting his application were equally exciting and nerve-wracking.
“I was giddy. You only got two chances to apply,” Schroder said. “It’s super competitive. They only take 20 people. With the two chances, I was like ‘Ok, if I miss the first one then I’ll get one more (But I don’t want to do that, I want to get in the first time).’”
He got in.
In the two-year program, Schroder got to work with renowned composers, gain experience working in studios and with orchestras, and compose his own work. One of the biggest takeaways from the experience was the mentorship and lessons in music and life.
“On some of our assignments, we got to go into recording studios,” Schroder said. “Someone I got to know well was a guy named John Debney. What really helped me to click with him was that he had a family, and faith was important to him. At that point, we didn’t have kids yet, but we wanted kids. That was something that always racked my mind. This career is so up and down [with] crazy hours, how do you manage having a family and being a good dad, husband, and composer? What does that look like?”
After USC, Schroder’s career began to take off, as did his family. He was invited to the distinguished American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) workshop in 2014 where he exercised his composing chops and conducted an orchestra with his original music. And it was the right timing.
“I applied to the ASCAP program two or three times before I applied to USC, and I never got in. The reality is I would’ve crashed and burned so hard because I was not ready to write for a full orchestra yet.”
Alongside this achievement, he and his wife have four kids whom he’s now showing some of his favorite Disney musicals that inspired him as a kid.
However, having a family and balancing this career have been a constant uphill battle.
“It ultimately comes down to boundaries, priorities, and making sure you’re giving proper time,” Schroder said. “It is a crazy career where sometimes you’re up all night because revisions have to be done, dates get moved around. It can be very challenging balancing a career with family, but family is priority.”
The music industry continues to be a difficult industry to crack. But, gradually, Schroder’s networking opportunities have created more and more opportunities. What he says has led to his success is learning to be an open-minded collaborator.
“I think it’s so easy as an artist to want to put your blinders on and think ‘This is the right way. This is the way it should be,’” he said. “But when you’re on a film, you’re working with the directors, producers, and editor. It’s such a collaborative environment. I think that was something that I was reminded of by a lot of the composers I was with: Embrace the collaboration. Make sure you’re truly really open to it. It’s not a solo career.”
Schroder embodies what it means to create and collaborate, leading to a successful and holistic career and life. And some of the producers, directors, and creatives he’s worked with have often turned into lifelong friends.
“Some of the best people I’ve worked with I’ve become friends with now. I’m on my eighth or ninth film with them now,” Schroder said.
And the opportunities continue to roll in for Schroder. This year he’ll be working on a couple more Christmas films. He also has a young adult thriller and a thriller/horror project on the horizon.
“I felt like as I was starting this journey it was so slow. I was only doing dramas. But then as I’ve gotten busier, everything is just so different. Between sports movies, young adult drama, comedy, Christmas, a fantasy series, it’s just fun that I get to try new stuff and not get locked in a box! I don’t ever feel pigeonholed. Every day it’s a new thing, diving into a new sonic world/landscape. It helps me to be a better writer because I’m not stuck in a rut having to write the same stuff over and over. It lets me explore, which is really really fun.”
To learn more about Erick or listen to some of his work, visit https://erickschroder.com/