- Ivan Rodriguez, music supervisor for Neon, worked to bring an authentic sound to the show that is connected to the world of reggaeton and Latin culture.
- Rodriguez and his team curated music for the show by having conversations with the actors and creators to capture the character’s emotions and energy in each scene.
- The music in Neon advances the storytelling by using lyrics and sounds that are inspired by the show’s scenes and characters, which highlight the journey and dreams of the Latin youth culture.
Santi dreams of being a famous reggaeton artist, and in Neon, he and his two best friends, Vanessa and Felix, chase that dream. In an attempt to accomplish this dream, they make the move to Miami so Santi can try to get his foot in the door of the music industry. In their pursuit, Santi will face near-impossible odds as they learn more about the world of reggaeton.
Tyler Dean Flores, Emma Ferreira, Jordan Mendoza, Courtney Taylor, Genesis Rodriguez, Jhayco, Santiago Cabrera, Alycia Pascual-Peña, and Jordana Brewster star in Neon. The series also features appearances by major players in the music industry, including Jota Rosa, Daddy Yankee, Scooter Braun, Ken-Y, and Jon Z. Shea Serrano and Max Searle created Neon and serve as executive producers along with Daddy Yankee and Braun.
Screen Rant exclusively interviewed music supervisor Ivan Rodriguez about his work on the Netflix series Neon. He explains how they crafted Santi’s sound and worked with Flores. Rodriguez also discusses how the music advances the story in Neon and using the music to elevate the emotional beats throughout.
Music Supervisor Ivan Rodriguez On Neon
Scree Rant: Neon is fantastic, man. I binge-watched this show like no other. I watched it all the way through in one sitting. The show was fantastic. How did you get involved with Neon, and what were some of the goals in taking on the role of executive music producer for the Netflix series?
Ivan Rodriguez: I love it. I love that you’ve binge-watched it. Working on it, obviously, that makes me really happy. But we got brought on, obviously, because the team really wanted to bring an authentic sound to the music, not only the original songs, but also all the music behind all the scenes, and make sure they are really connected to the world that the characters are living in, but also Latin culture, whether it is worldwide or in the US. They really wanted to bring a team of creatives that could really bring that to life, and really tell that story. Because as we all know, representation is so important, so they reached out to us.
The beautiful thing about it is that we really do this on our end. We really work with some of the biggest artists on the planet, and we really are the ones, whether it is tiny, really shifting the sound of music, where artists like Bad Bunny, J Balvin, or me and Lex, also bring in all these different collaborations to the world, that we’re curating year over year, in the last few years, as it relates to Latin music as a whole.
It was just another way for us to express our creativity and our music, and make sure that when we would watch this show, whether you knew about Latin music, whether you’re Latino, or you are not, you could really connect to the music, the sounds of reggaeton, and the sounds of Latin music as a whole, and also the storytelling behind the show itself.
Ivan, I’m actually so happy you just said that, because, to tell you the truth, I knew about reggaeton music. I know Bad Bunny, J Balvin, and some of the top hits, but man, I fell in love with reggaeton music after watching this show. There’s so many complex sounds that we hear in the show, and it’s so much infused by the culture. Can you talk to me about bringing Santi’s sound to life?
Ivan Rodriguez: Yes. Bringing Santi to life, as an artist, was really interesting. In many ways, it’s no different than when we sit down with an artist, and we’re really curating their next project, or their next song. We’re really sitting down with them having a conversation, “Where are you in your life? Where are you in your career?” I don’t know. We talk about a million things, and in that way, the artist informs what we take, the music, the influences. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of this type of sound, or I want to make a song that really people dance to.
All these conversations that we’re having in the studio is really what we create the music from, as far as all the artists that we work with. In bringing something to life, we really did almost mirror that same process. It was very sitting down with Tyler, who is the actor playing Santi, and really saying, “Hey, how does the character feel in these scenes? Can you break down to me how you’re bringing them to life from your point of view?”
Having conversations with Max, and with James, and with Kyle, and Kyle of the team, and really getting into the storytelling. “How does it feel? What do you want the energy to feel like on scene?” Having all those different conversations, and bringing them back to the studio, and assembling a small team of creatives, and just saying, “Hey, this is where we’re at with it. This is how we feel in these scenes. This is how we feel in this particular song,” and letting their talent, their imagination run wild, and curate all this music that we did for the show.
That’s incredible, man. You know what? It almost mimics that one scene, where Santi is talking to Holta Rosa about creating that song, and listening to the different songs that Santi already has. It mirrors that scene that’s in the show. Now, Tyler Dean Flores is great as Santi, but like his character, he’s pretty relatively new to music and reggaeton on a professional level. Can you discuss working with him to get Santi’s flow right, and the sound just right for each scene and performance that he’s in?
Ivan Rodriguez: Yeah. Look, I love Tyler. I think he was great in this. Not only in the storytelling and the acting portion, but he was really helpful in the studio, because it was great to sit down with a creator that he is also music leaning. He is also has Puerto Rican heritage. He brought a lot of information to the character as far as he told us. We were talking in the studio, and he’s like, “I love what you guys do with Rao. I wish we could do something like what you guys do with Alejandro.”
I was like, “Okay, well that’s good information, and if you like that, then we could go on that route with the first song for the project that we did, that was called Exagerao,” and in that way we were really able to dig into real influences, really bring it to the authenticity. Credits to him, too, that he’s a big reggaeton fan. In that way, he knew. He’s a student of the game, so he brought a lot of these melodies, and a lot of these deliveries to life really well, because he does love Latin music and reggaeton. I think in that way, it was really easy, and he got into artist mode for those weeks, and really became an artist in that moment.
Absolutely. Speaking of Tyler, he plays the character of Santi so great, but not only does he play the character well, he has to perform as Santi, whose charisma’s off the chart. What stood out to you in his performance that made him so believable and likable in the role of Santi?
Ivan Rodriguez: I don’t know. There’s something there, as far as the fact that he comes from a Puerto Rican heritage. Again, I think part of the acting was getting into character, and another part of his character was just him being himself, you know? And really leaning into his heritage. He really loves going to Puerto Rico, and spending time there, and connecting with everybody. In that way, he was able to really bring that character to life, because there is such an emotional connection to his heritage and to the music. He’s not acting as somebody else completely. He’s acting and embodying the spirit of the Latin youth culture.
Absolutely. Look, another reason I love this show is I feel that everybody has their own hustle, and that’s so relatable. I feel that that’s the great part about this show, is everybody has this, “We started at the bottom energy, but we’re here now.” Music is such a big part of this show. Can you tell me how the music in Neon is used to advance the storytelling?
Ivan Rodriguez: Yeah. I think that the music is really tied in. We were able to just sit down, and not write songs from a vacuum, but sit down and really write on… A lot of the lyrics are really things that are on the show, you know? When we did Corillo, and Corillo is really about him and his squad, and the people that he really started with. Those ideas really came to life from the storytelling, but we really made it into a song. That actually was, to me, one of the most rewarding parts about doing this show, because, yes, we wanted to represent Latinos as Latino creatives.
Yes, we wanted to represent reggaeton, because that’s really what we do, and what we really spend all our days about, really shifting the sound of music and moving it forward. But most importantly, we really are, me and Lex from One Six really know each other 15 years back, and really have worked every single day of our life together. We’ve been working with Honey for six, seven years now, on all his dreams. We could really relate to the human story behind this show, where it’s like you’re somebody trying to make it in music. You’re somebody trying to make your dreams happen. You look around, your friends, you have certain skills. You do too as well.
Now she becomes your manager, and your other friend becomes your creative director, and you guys go on that journey, and you try to make it happen. From somebody that’s gone on that journey, this show really brings that to life and it’s beautiful, and I think it really connects to every human, whether you’re in creative spaces or not. Just really believing in yourself and going after what you want.
I couldn’t agree with you more. I feel that every character has a moment of inspiration, or at least a moment that can inspire you. I think you took my next question right out of my mouth, where I was going to ask you about how this show relates to you and your journey, which you pretty much answered. Can you talk to me about how you approach blending contemporary reggaeton sounds with the unique element to create a distinct music identity for Neon?
Ivan Rodriguez: Yes, that’s actually a great question, because that’s something that we paid a lot of attention to. I think we were able to do… Reggaeton is a big word. It’s a loaded word at this point. I think in order to not misrepresent whatever that word means, and very much like hiphop, it really means a lot of things to a lot of people. When we created the reggaeton versions that you hear here in the show, it’s not just reggaeton, but it’s reggaeton borrowing from also other genres. Really just global music, just a lot of tapping into how. Also, there was moments where we were bringing to life, that had certain information that were like, “Okay, great.”
For example, when he goes into the supermarket, and he gets tasked with the idea of, “Let me remix the jingle,” that wasn’t a moment that, going into the show, we knew what we were going to encounter, but as the show is being written, and we’re listening to the script, we’re like, “Well, that’s fun. Let’s do it in a very playful way. Let’s actually borrow a little bit of Dominican dembow,” and bring that into that production, because that was going to bring a certain energy of the people that we really could bring to the scene. It was really just making creative decisions that really lean into the authenticity of the moments, and the authenticity of Latin music where it’s at right now.
Oh, absolutely. Actually, I wanted to ask you about the Eduardo’s Supermarket sound. Can you talk to me about the challenges of doing that episode? Because I feel like that’s not an easy challenge, trying to create a music jingle, and then turn it into a full on song.
Ivan Rodriguez: No, it’s not an easy challenge at all. It was, maybe, perhaps the most challenging, but I’m gifted to work with a lot of amazing creators around me. Obviously, Tainy, Lex, Rmand, that really wrote a lot of the lyrics on these songs, and really became the artist behind the artist. In that song, we actually collaborated with our new producer, Retro & Kash. They’re really just super open-minded. They come from this internet era, where everything’s a sample, where you could take a meme and make it a song.
In that way, it was a challenging process, but it was like, “Let’s just have fun.” It really reminded me of when we worked on J Balvin’s, song called Agua, that we did for SpongeBob, where we actually sampled the theme song of SpongeBob. It was like that very early on, from that creative, it was like, “How are we going to mix SpongeBob, and reggaeton, and J Balvin? But to this day, that’s a huge record that people love. It’s just really about… Speaks to the power of just people sitting down in a room, and really being creative, and being open-minded.
In that way, we were just like, “Hey, how about we sample the jingle? How do we make this playful? How do we take these lyrics, and really connect to Santi’s whole bravado, and the way that he has this swagger to him?” After, I feel like that scene, to me, is one of my favorites, and how that came together, really, because it’s not just a song. It’s a song that really speaks to that moment, and to that scene, and in that way, I really feel proud of that song.
Oh, absolutely. I feel like this whole show’s organic in that way, and that’s why I loved watching it. Now, Neon is likely to introduce reggaeton to a broader audience. What messages or emotions are you aiming to convey through the music that accompanies the show?
Ivan Rodriguez: That’s a great question. I think when great storytelling allows for connection of the humankind, like I was saying, as far as just people really connecting to the human emotion of, “Man, this guy’s just trying to make it.” He’s doing whatever it takes to make it. He’s with his friends, from the bottom. You’re really rooting from him. I think that’s a beautiful place to come from, as far as storytelling. As far as the music, we really wanted to just bring those moments to life in the music.
As far as it relates to Latin music, and reggaeton, and the way that we want to be represented, I think is just very important that people take away, and hopefully people feel whether they understand the lyrics, or they’re just being driven by the music, and how it feels, is that reggaeton is really an expression of Latinos. It’s really just our favorite sound to lean into, to tell our stories, to tell people where we’re from, to show people how to dance, to show people how we fall in love. That’s what reggaeton and the sound is really about, so hopefully you’ll take that away from it.
An aspiring reggaeton star and his best friends move to Miami on a mission, weathering roadblocks and reality checks together in their quest for success.
Check out our other Neon interview with Oz Rodriguez.
Neon is available on Netflix now.