TMCP 017: How Espen Became A Trailer Music Composer

By Richard Pryn •  Updated: 05/05/20 •  26 min read

Rich does something a little different in this episode: an interview with another composer.

Espen Haagensli, a student of the Trailer Music School, joins Rich to talk about his musical path moving from a composing hobbyist to getting his first trailer placement.

Espen’s story reveals some great advice for every aspiring trailer music composer!

Transcription

Hi guys, welcome to session number 17 of the trailer music composers podcast. 

One with one microphone and he still can’t decide whether he prefers white chocolate or dark chocolate.  Welcome to the trailer music composers podcast.

Hi guys, welcome to another episode of the trailer music composers podcast.  Now this one’s a little different because  I am really, really chuffed to have my first guest on, and even better it’s one of my students from the Trailer Music School.  His name is Espen Haagensli and he recently got his first placement with Mammoth Audio as a direct result of his partaking in these courses and briefs that we do.  And he’s a very talented composer, really nice guy, works really hard, really fast and I’m really excited to hear his story and hear how we go about it.  So without further ado, here we go. 

Right guys I have the honour of introducing to you one of my students and co- composers as well, his name is Espen Haagensli, Espen say hello.

Espen:  Hello.

Richard:  Right now what I would like to do is I’d like to start off with a silly question because I think silly questions are always good to get everyone loosened up and a little bit more relaxed, you know interviews can be a bit weird.  So here we go, the question is this, if you were an instrument, what would you be and why?

Espen:  That’s a good question. 

Richard:  Thanks.

Espen:  I want to say a cello.

Richard:  Why?

Espen:  Because I would say I’m a bit dark and slow.

Richard:  Dark and slow, nice, I like it.  Well the thing is I’ve adapted it because normally I ask the question if you were a vegetable what would you be?  And my answer to that is almost always broccoli.  Because…

Espen:  I was going to say broccoli actually.

Richard:  There we go.  Imaginary high five.  Awesome.  Ok do first of all can you tell everyone about yourself?  What’s your story, how did you get to where you are and what are you doing now?

Espen:  Well it’s I guess started kind of similarly to your story whereas when I was young I was listening to a lot of vims course and that kind of stuck with me through my whole life.  And then I got into more like trailer style music or what you call epic music I guess.  And my brothers taught me how to use reason my first Cubase and I just started messing around with it.

Richard:  And how long ago was that, that you started messing around with it?

Espen:  I guess maybe eight years ago, something like that.

Richard:  Nice.

Espen:  I’ve just been doing it as a hobby and then decided to do it more seriously two years ago.

Richard:  So what did you do when you decided to take that step from mucking about with Reason a Cubase, what were the steps you took to then start to take your music stuff more seriously?

Espen:  Well obviously I bought some libraries, some header libraries.

Richard:  Which ones?

Espen:  I bought Jaeger for like all round type of things and I bought Elasie Scoring Strings which are great solo strings and some random sound design libraries.

Richard:  Awesome.  So once you had this sort of arsenal of libraries what was it that you them did you start listening to other tracks, did you start talking to people about what you were doing, did you start reaching out to other composers, did you do any courses, did you do a night school, what was it that you did to take it from just having like a bunch of libraries, and the desire to make trailer music, what was it that you did to take it to the next level?

Espen:  I just started spending more time finishing tracks, thinking I was going to send them to publishers and I did and I got some good feedback, but nothing that led to anything.  And then I got kind of a good opportunity, which I failed at, and got rejected.  Which was a good experience overall.  And then I found the trailer music school.  So that’s where it all started.

Richard:  That’s when you hear the singing choirs right.  Aaaah.

Espen:  It feels like yeah, just watching like the first half of the course was like ah ha.  Kind of this is what I’m missing, the structure.

Richard:  Awesome,  I mean the stuff you sent to me after you did the first trailer music course was just awesome.  I thought this guy knew his beans.

Espen:  It sort of clicked with just learning the structure. 

Richard:  Awesome.  I think for me that was the same thing.  I came from rock songs basically and so you have your set formulas for rock songs and then you listen to trailer music and you go well how do I do this, I can do cool sounds and I can do some level of orchestral writing, but then taking it to the next level was difficult.  What was it, so the key there was learning the structure, so you had your sample libraries then you learned through the course the structure of trailer music, then what was the next steps that you took?

Espen:  Well by then it was like a month before you had me on an Elephant album, since then I’ve been working.

Richard:  Awesome and also I just want to let the audience know that you have recently got a sync through the work that we have done together, well most of the work you have done with Mammoth Audio.  Is that right?

Espen:  Yeah.  My first placement.

Richard:  Yeah, congratulations.

Espen:  I don’t know about that.

Richard:  So it was a month of essentially working with me in the trailer music school before you go onto a released album.  Is that true?

Espen: That is actually true yeah.

Richard:  That’s great.  So I just want to put a little thing here, for those of you that don’t know last year I worked with Elephant Music, Vic at Elephant Music that is, and I said to

Vic looks Vic, I’ve got all these composers who I think have the talent to be professional composers, I think I would like to give them the opportunity because I remember for myself the hardest thing is actually getting your foot in the door. And he said great, let’s do a release, let’s do a competition.  So I set up this competition with the guys in the first formation of my trailer music school.  I said look we’ve got this brief from Elephant Music, you guys submit a track for this and what we will do is choose the best ones and then they will get released.  And they got released on the, the album was called Onyx, Elephant Music Onyx, and the tracks were amazing.  But what happened with Espen, with you, was that you had this amazing track, but I think were you going on holiday?

Espen:  Yeah, I was leaving for a month actually.

Richard:  Yes.  So basically what we had was I, so you said you were going away for a month and I said well we can’t not have this track on the album, so me and Vic decided to put the album on a more immediate release.  So it was put on one of the Elephant Music’s fantasy albums and it’s a fantastic sound.  It’s an amazing signature sound.  So you remember the track it is, what was that signature sound and how was it that you created it?

Espen:  The signature sound.  Man that’s a long time ago.

Richard:  Come on, it was last year, come on let’s go.

Espen:  So much has happened since then, but I think it was, having said that I did a synth called Hive. 

Richard:  Nice.  See that’s the wonderful thing.  This is actually one of those arguments for buying and collecting digital instruments because actually sometimes just having a decent preset is enough to make your track stand out and that was, obviously that was a well-structured, well developed track and it had this sort of, it was almost like a Jurassic Park dinosaur wall wasn’t it.

Espen:  Yeah, that’s true.

Richard:  It was awesome.  So obviously you then got released.  Now the thing I want to kind of highlight to those guys listening is Espen showed me such nice manners, and he was so nice to email.  Now I think this is really important and often overlooked, everyone is always like how do I make my track sound better, how do I do this, how do I mix it like this, how do I get my track to sound louder?  And everyone overlooks the fact that actually often one of the things that’s really important as a composer and actually across any career is to be a nice guy and to be nice to work with.  And you’ve always been nice on the emails, whenever I’ve been in touch with you.  And it’s been a pleasure and that’s why it’s going to be great. Let’s get Espen involved.  And obviously not just that, it helps that you’re incredibly talented and you do produce amazing work, very quickly.  But yeah, I just wanted to doff my hat to you sir because you’ve always been very nice to work with.

Espen:  That’s good to know.

Richard:  Right.  So go back to your story a little bit.  So you got released on this Elephant Music album a month after signing up to my trailer music school.  So what happened then because you’ve done a lot since then?

Espen:  Yeah.  I was pretty lucky that I actually came across the school, maybe just a couple of weeks before this brief that you guys put together.  Which also gave the sense that everything happened very, very quickly. 

Richard:  Yes.  And for a reason.

Espen:  Well after that I went away for a while and then when I came back we had been talking on email and I got on this horror album that you were releasing, which was a lot of fun.  And the cool thing is that pretty much everything I’ve done for you guys has been a first because I was only doing kind of the big stuff before and then every brief has been something different that I;ve never done before. 

Richard:  So that’s awesome,  from my point of view I know nothing about your backstory or even your training or anything.  So when I send you these briefs and then you send me the tracks back it does not at all sound like these are first attempts at horror cue or your first attempts at inspiring piano.  It sounds like you’ve been doing this before.  Now the wonderful thing for me is you kind of reminded me of myself in that you were very keen to impress and whenever I asked you for something you delivered it.  And you didn’t deliver like the goods, you delivered early and you over delivered.  You know I’d say give us a track for this and you would bring three to the table. 

So I thought ok, this was around the time that Vic was starting Mammoth Audio, and I said hey let’s get a track, let’s get some albums together, or I think it was just one album at the time, let’s get an album of piano stuff because Vic wants some stuff for Mammoth, let’s get this album together and bring it to the table for Mammoth.  So Espen delivered, you delivered like 20 tracks in the end was it?

Espen:  Yeah, 20.

Richard:  And also I think you were really ill whilst you were doing it too. 

Espen:  I was actually.

Richard:  Soldiering on, soldiering on.  It was awesome.  And that’s where you got your first placement through Mammoth?

Espen:  Yeah.

Richard:  It’s awesome.  Now I’ve kind of hinted at the fact that you’re a great writer and hinted at the fact that you write very quickly, so I would actually like to dive into a little bit of your writing process, so how is it that you go about writing?

Espen:  I haven’t given it that much thought to be honest.  I sort of just start playing around on the keyboard until I find maybe a chord like a pedagio, just a note maybe and I just build from there.  It’s not a complicated process.  I sort of, at least when you have a brief you know what you’re going for, if I say I’m doing something for myself then it might end up being completely different from what I imagined in the beginning.

Richard:  That’s awesome.  This is the problem that I find creative people have when they talk about their process.  Especially when they’re very much like yourself.  You know they, also this is my writing process, I just found something I like and all of a sudden they have an amazing trailer track.  This Is not that simple Espen, it’s not, it’s just not.  I know that there must be a point where you just go ok, you can’t just pick like, this is my D minor arpeggio, that’s my track.  How do you take it, say you find this D minor arpeggio being played by one of the first chairs from the Scoring Strings, how do you then take that to be the trailer music that you then produce?

Espen:  I suppose I would find a bass line that works and I usually build the tracks quite large and then start to remove things because it gets muddled up and often less is more.  But I just build, you know I start with the intro and then I build and build.  And then also with the structure you know where certain sections are going to lead and then you have to figure out what to do next.

Richard:  What do you mean?

Espen:  You know after the intro because that’s where we’re stuck, I’ll do the intro and then I want to get the tone and the sounds from that and then start building up from the next sections.  I guess.  I don’t know I think it’s hard to put into words exactly, I haven’t thought about it much.

Richard:  It sure is hard to put into words.  But that’s one of the reasons I want to get you talking about it because you write very quickly, you’ve just produced 20 tracks, i asked you to produce 20 tracks for two albums, and I thought you’d done it over a couple of weeks and you just said that you produced 20 tracks over a few days.  There’s not many composers that can do that, how is it that you do that?

Espen:  Well I don’t know if you are listening tp0 the tracks yet, but they are quite similar.

Richard:  Have you listened to the trailer music? It’s all quite similar, that’s kind of the same but that also makes it difficult because there has to be enough variation for it to be interesting.

Espen:  That’s actually kind of more difficult when you have to do the same style 20 times over.  And then how do you make it different from the last track.  And I used a template for these tracks as well so I don’t have to start over.

Richard:  Ok, so what’s in your template, how is it laid out?

Espen:  For these albums it is mostly synths really.  And some like big booms ad mostly synths and some strings, lots of risers. Your string risers by the way, the new one, I think these risers could probably be a commercial for sure.

Richard:  Thanks.  Well that’s nice because actually I did it as a YouTube tutorial. I was like I taught how to make an instrument, and I thought well I will make obviously one that I want to use.

Espen:  It sounds great.

Richard:  Thank you, well that’s the idea with those kinds of instruments they’re kind of like not, obviously they are for you guys but I will be very honest here I’m mostly doing it for myself and then I’m going well I will share it with these guys.  Yes so these instruments are available on the trailer music school and so….

Espen:  Keep doing them and I think they’re in every single track I’ve done now.

Richard:  Awesome.  I have a few of them and I have heard the string risers a lot. But I’m not going to complain because I’m like they’re nice string risers.

Espen:  They are.  I over use them a little bit.

Richard:  You can always take it out.  Now I want to go back to something you just said.  Because obviously I’ve got this podcast going as well which we are on right now.  One of the things I talk about is not editing and composing at the same time. And you just sort of briefly said oh I just chuck in loads of stuff and then I started taking it out.  So that’s how you work?

Espen:  Pretty much. 

Richard:  So you are actually an advert for my way of composing as well which is you just sit down and write, chuck on load of stuff, go onto the next track, chuck on loads of stuff and then you go back to them and start to edit them, is that the same?

Espen:  No I usually finish the track.  Before I move onto the next one.

Ricahrd:  Well you are a rare beast to start and finish a track before moving on to the next one. That’s not common, well I don’t think it’s that common anyway.  I definitely  don’t do that, I will send off sketches to Elephant Music and to my publishers I work with.  Which is why I don’t work with many publishers because they don’t like sketches.  But that’s really interesting to hear, you’re like the quicker version of what I’m saying.

Espen;  But to me it’s when I send the track to you for example it’s basically a finished track but I also kind of view it as a sort of sketch because I know there’s going to be a lot of revisions and stuff.

Richard:  Yes there can be a lot of revisions.  Sometimes it’s not, sometimes it is a ton of revisions, and that’s the thing with revisions, it’s not a reflection of the track’s quality, it’s just a reflection of the track doing the job it needs to do. 

Espen:  Yeah, we just have to see that more.

Richard:  Yes.  I don’t know whether you felt this but when I first started getting revisions I used to get offended.

Espen:  I’m not offended, but oh like this is not good enough.

Richard:  Yeah that’s what I mean, upset.  And I would like to just stop writing music, I’m no good.  But this is not at all like that is it?

Espen:  No and then you realise that the people that are giving you the feedback probably know more about what they ended than you do.

Richard:  But that’s exactly it, you’re essentially supplying a service right. And again that’s the thing, working with you is really nice because obviously you’re email etiquette is very nice, but also when we give you feedback I say we because it’s usually me or Vic or James at Mammoth and Elephant, we give you the feedback and you actually do the things we ask you to do.  So if we say take out the section you take it out.

Espen:  I enjoy actually when I get specific feedback because then it makes it easy to do.

Richard:  Yeah.  well that’s a really positive way of looking at it.  Because sometimes specific feedback can be quite fsutring, but has been designed in a positive way.

Espen:  Yeah, you guys are the pros.  I’ll do what I’m told.

Richard:  Stop, I’m blushing.  I just wanted to ask you a little bit, it doesn’t sound like you suffer from these much Espen, but I was going to ask you what kind of creative barriers do you think us trailer music composers have if any?

Espen:  Creative barriers.  I guess I’ve come back to being so similar but  also having to stand up and be different but within the same structure and everything can be hard sometimes. But also it can be a good thing because you can do pretty much anything you want within the trailer music confinces.

Richard:  Yeah you can.  That makes perfect sense.  And the way is that barrier is the limitation of having to do so many tracks that are so similar that you can always, you know when you’re writing a track and you think well should I have done this or that.  It’s like you can go  well. Maybe I will do that one of the next tracks.

Espen:  Yeah exactly 

Richard:  So you’re essentially writing variations which is a lot of fun.

Espen:  It is fun actually.

Richard:  Well that’s good to hear.  I mean that would be really depressing if you were like I really don’t like writing trailer music, I don’t know what I’m doing.

Espen: I actually got into this because I enjoy listening to it and I enjoy making it.

Richard:  Awesome. Now this is quire  ancie question because well I think it’s going to be a series of questions, but basically what advice would you have for composers who are just starting to get into trailer music, who are just starting to get into trailer music who want to kind of basically start making crazy, weird epic stuff and want to be the music placed on trailers, what advice would you have?

Espen:  I would say listen to trailer music, old and new to see what’s trending now, try to recreate something. And of course sign up for the trailer music school.

Richard:  I did not tell you to say that but thanks way. 

Espen:  But I have no problem saying that because the courses are great and the community is great and you learn so much you can work with other composers, those who are starting out like you or are ahead of you.  And you get real opportunities.  You know it is nice to work for something real except for I am going to send a track to a publisher one day and see what happens.  You have real incentives.

Richard:  Well that’s awesome.  I’m going to cut that out and it’s going to become an advert.  I did not pay or even ask Espen to say any of that, obviously I was hoping he would say it but you know.  So the advice generally is immerse yourself in trailer music, and then obviously sign up to my trailer music school.  Thank you sir.

Espen:  Mostly just do it when you have time just make something, create something or learn something, Youtube has constant videos as well.

Richard:  Yeah it does, YouTube is awesome, love YouTube.  So that’s really nice to hear because obviously you have a job, another job,don’t you, you work, is it a full time job or is it a part time job?

Espen:  I work full time in a bar actually.

Richard:  Nice so crazy long hours and late nights.  I do not envy you sir, bt this is the nice thing to hear, like you said your kind of essentially doing what I did which was your probably working more hours than I ever have done, but your working, and then when you have free time you’re using it to do the thing you enjoy and that is creating trailer music.

Espen:  Yeah for sure.

Richard:  Now I’ve got a few quick fire questions because I know trailer music composers are big on their techs. I’m not going to get too technical because I don’t care how big your hard drive is, but I wonder what door you’re using?

Espen:  Cubase, Windows Cubase.

Richard:  Nice, now what is your go to piano sample library?

Espen:  Go to.  Alicia’s Keys.

Richard:  Go to the string library?

Espen:  It depends a little bit but for like your typical hybrid stuff I use Jaeger which is what I have. So I have the first tier celeste but they’re more solo, they’re really good for horror stuff.

Richard:  Awesome, go to bras slibrary?

Espen:  So Jaeger.

Richard:  Whose Jaeger by?

Espen:  Yo Imperia.

Richard:  Nice.  For a percussion library?

Espen:  Well I bought the LA modern percussion which is what I use mainly now.  And drum Fury.

Eichard:  Drum Fury what’s that, never heard of that?

Espen:  It’s a sample modelling I’m pretty sure, it’s very good, it’s pretty beefy orchestra type percussion and stuff like that.

Richard:  Awesome.  See this is the thing I love about talking about small #, although I’m a professional trailer composer I have hardly heard of any of the other composers’ use.

Espen:  Yeah there’s so many.

Richard:  There’s so many it’s ridiculous.  Ok go to synth?

Espen:  Cue He.

Rich:  Ok and go to effects plugins you can name three for this?

Espen:  Three.  Yon count reverb as an effect.

Richard: Oh yeah.  Big time.

Espen:  I use one called VX Rooms which I really like, I got it from Plug Inner Lines.  Other than that I use a decapitator.

Richard:  By SoundToys?

Espen:  Yeah, Sound Toys and something called which I used a lot on this previous album is called Fedila Audio Stage which is like a special deteering msculator effect.

Richard:  Who’s that by?

Espen:  I’m not entirely sure.

Richard:  Awesome, what you will have to do is send me, I will have to get the list, this is all in the show notes, I’m going to check some of those out, it’s particularly that special detuner, that sounds crazy and awesome. 

Espen:  It’s awesome.

Richard:  That would also explain what you’ve got so many crazy weird low sounds in those 20 tracks you just submitted.

Espen:  Yeah for sure. 

Richard:  And if you were going to, if someone said to you what’s your number one piece of advice to write better trailer music what would it be?

Espen:  Probably mixing.

Richard:  Get better at mixing or practice mixing or…?

Espen:  Practice using so you can make less sound more.

Richard:  Awesome.  So thank you so much for taking your time to talk with me and obviously the guys all listening, guys and girls, some on so yeah thanks for taking the time and thanks for sharing all that information it’s really nice to hear your story.  Is there anywhere that anyone can get in touch with you if they want to?

Espen:  Facebook to my email.

Richard:  Awesome thanks man.  Now I hope you got a lot out of that interview, I certainly did because it’s so nice to hear the way other people write and also the way their writing is.  Espen was obviously simplifying his innate ability to write music quickly and easily, but it sounds amazing you know, generally just throwing a ton of stuff down and then sort of putting it to the structure that he learned through the trailer music school and all his years researching trailer music.  And then sort of adjusting it and then sending it off as a finished track.  It’s slightly different to the way I work which is like I said, chucking it all down and sending it off as a sketch before I even think it’s finished.  Which maybe I shouldn’t do all the time. 

It was just awesome and I hope you enjoyed it and got  a lot out of it. Again I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to this podcast hopefully there will be more interviews in the future because I enjoy doing it fascinating hearing the way other people work and if you want to learn more about trailer music and get into the business and learning about writing trailer music head on over the the trailer music school hopefully see you there.

Thanks again guys you are excellent.

Music.

Richard Pryn

Hey there. I am an award winning composer for movie trailers, including Bladerunner 2049, Diablo II, WandaVision, and loads more. I am the founder of The Trailer Music School where my aim is to teach everything I know about music composition, production, and generally being a functional human being. I podcast, blog, vlog and jog (sometimes). I also love coffee, nachos and self-improvement. I live with my wife, three kids and numerous pets. I am also known by my pseudonym, Richard Schrieber (it’s a long story).