IT’S BEEN A HECTIC FIVE YEARS for Will Wells. Since arriving in Los Angeles in 2011 after studying at Berklee College of Music, he’s worked with Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, RZA, John Mayer, and many other artists. He completed a tour as keyboardist for Imagine Dragons and recently scored his first songwriting hit after co-writing “Can’t Sleep Love” for the a cappella group Pentatonix. Meanwhile, he helped make Broadway history as a sound designer for the smash show Hamilton.

“Two days ago, Hamilton went Platinum,” says Wells, speaking by phone en route to a session at the Malibu, California, studio of film composer Richard Gibbs, with whom Wells works as a multi-faceted assistant. “That makes it my first Platinum credit in the United States.”

Will’s swift assent is partly due to the sheer number of hats he wears: keyboardist, sound designer, producer, engineer, songwriter, and production assistant. But Wells attributes his breakthroughs as much to attitude as to talent.

“If somebody’s going to employ you, your job is to add as much value to their operation as possible and make it as easy as possible for them to create art,” he says. “A lot of people approach being hired for a job with a mentality of, ‘What can I get from this?’ But you need to approach it with the mentality of, ‘What can I give to this?’”

Will’s work with Gibbs opened the door to subsequent assignments. “Richard has been very gracious, putting me in the studio with people like Barbra Streisand,” says Wells. “For Barbra, I set up her room and made sure that everything is to her liking. That’s where I started with RZA too. But his engineer had just been let go the week before, and Richard told him I’d be the engineer. All of a sudden I was in a much higher role than I expected to be, but I was happy to fill it.”


WillWells portraitOn Hamilton, Wells collaborated with show orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. “I would listen to sounds that Alex and [Hamilton composer and star] Lin Manuel Miranda put into their demos,” explains Will. “I’d either say, ‘Okay, that’s great,’ or I’d tweak it using my engineering and production knowledge. The pit orchestra was outfitted with Yamaha DTX drum pads, and (almost) any sound that would eventually get played on a pad went through my computer.”

Another recent success brought Wells face to face with one of his idols. “I was musical director for Nikki Yanofsky, a young Canadian prodigy who at the time was under Quincy Jones’ management. I met him at a session at Capitol Records. I was sitting there playing ‘The Nat,’ Nat King Cole’s old piano. Quincy looked over his shoulder and said, ‘This band is smokin’, man!’ There it was—the stamp of approval!”

For the Imagine Dragons gig, Wells relied on an electronic keyboard rig. “The main brain was a Yamaha Motif XF7. Imagine Dragons uses mostly original sounds, not stock ones, though I did use the Yamaha piano sounds, which are great. I resampled all the band’s sounds to the motherboard of the Motif so that I could operate the entire show from the Motif. I didn’t need a computer at all.”

The Motif was an obvious choice for Will. “When I decided who I wanted to make strategic partnerships with for my career, I knew I wanted to work with Yamaha,” he says. “Not only do they make great keyboards and synthesizers, they also make my favorite pianos ever. Nothing against the other keyboard companies, but who would you trust with your piano sounds?”

Wells, the son of a non-denominational pastor, grew up across the water from Philadelphia in Erial, New Jersey. Money was scarce, and he was self-taught out of necessity. “But in a way it was good,” he says. “I was forced to use my ears and chase that creativity myself. My parents had quite the feat, raising six kids and sending them all to four-year institutions despite not having completed college themselves. They weren’t able to send me off with a lot of money, but they always sent me off with love and support.”

One of Wells’s favorite gigs had little to do with Platinum records and Broadway hits: working as a cultural ambassador under the aegis of the U.S. State Department. “The most significant part of this last trip I did in that role was getting to work with refugees in Helsinki,” he says. “The embassy was putting on events to bring members of the Finnish community together with recent immigrants and refugees from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia. It was really special, being able to make an offering of music and maybe provide a smile to people who have been through so much. That’s part of my goal in life: to become a renowned musical pioneer who is respected for his diversity, appetite for excellence, and passion for inspiring and giving to others.”