In this session of the Trailer Music Composer’s Podcast, Rich welcomes his friend and business partner, the founder of Elephant Music & Mammoth Audio and co-founder of Split Music and Protege: Vikram Gudi.
Vik & Rich talk about:
- Vik’s background and his path to success
- Vik’s businesses and how each is different
- Why Mammoth Audio produced the instrument “Density”
- What clients are looking for in music
- Unleashing creativity through freedom in the production process
- Advice on becoming a successful composer
Hey guys, welcome to another session of the trailer music composers podcast. In this session today I have a fantastic interview with the man, the legend Vikram Gudi, the founder of Elephant Music, of Mammoth Audio, co-founder of Split Music and currently the co-founder of Protege with me. Now the reason I wanted to get Vik on is because I wanted to get someone whose first role isn’t necessarily, or primary role, isn’t necessarily a composer. Vik is a composer, but I wanted to bring him on with the kind of like overview of him seeing the projects, the tracks from initial sketches to placement. And so he can see the story arc of your music and what makes a successful track, what makes a not successful track, what makes a successful composer, which is obviously what we are interested in today.
I love hearing Vik’s story, it’s always nice for, because obviously I talk about Vik a lot because I work with him on all of the companies, and I was mentioning him, so it was nice for you guys to get to know him a little bit more and hear his story and his take on what it takes to be a successful trailer music composer. Let’s dive in.
Rich: Welcome to the trailer music composers podcast Vik, how are you?
Vik: I’m very good. I’m sitting in my house just having a nice little beer.
Rich: I’m very happy to have you on.
Vik: Thank you.
Rich: Right so I like to start with a bit of silliness obviously. So my normal thing when I meet strangers, not in the middle of the street, at weddings or something like that is to ask them if you were a vegetable what vegetable would you be, but for this purpose I want to know if you were a musical instrument what musical instrument would you be and why?
Vik: I’d probably be a cello because it’s the instrument that I’m associated with and its brown and super dark.
Rich: Yeah, I’ll say again and tightly wound. Ok, awesome I actually love that question because it’s one of those ones where you go oh I never thought about that and ten you have to take into account all these weird things about yourself and about the instrument. And then you panic you’ve said the wrong thing, and I guarantee when we end this conversation you’ll go oh no I should have said that instead. So anyway thank you for that, now tell everyone about yourself, what’s your story, where are you now and how did you get there?
Vik: Ok, where should I start, tell me where I should start?
Rich: I liked it when you start at the beginning. It was good.
Vik: Ok. So my mum met my dad in Mumbai in the, I think in the 1960s. They had two two kids, one kid was born in India, my sister, and then they moved to England in the 80s and I was born in Birmingham in 1983. I had a nice childhood, growing up in a quite boring city. I was told from the age of zero that I was going to be a doctor, which I rebelled against, to this day actually I still have to explain to them I’m not changing my profession.
But it was in school where I started listening to music, you know not the crap music that you get on the radio, but I started to really get into the really interesting weird music. And it’s about the time of like 13, 14 when I realised I wanted to potentially be in a band, and then I got my first guitar and then I knew I wanted to be in a band. Started writing a few songs, they were ok, joined a few bands, decided to move to London, go to uni and studied chemical engineering of all things, to keep my dad happy. But little did I know that it would come in handy many years later. We’ll get to that later.
Went to uni at UCL, continued making music, I was you know hosting radio shows, DJing, basically anything I could get my hands on. And continued to try and surround myself with music until I got my first job in music which was at Boosey and Hawkes, which is probably I think how old am I, quite old, probably about 14 or 15 years ago I think I got my first job, I can’t remember to be honest, a while ago.
Vik: 2007, wow so 13, 14 years ago. And yeah from that point on I got into music sync, licensing, publishing, pretty much anything I could get my hands on, I’ve sort of tried to diversify as much as possible, you know, tried to stay creative too, produce a lot, write a lot, DJ a lot. And then this is actually while I was at Boosey and Hawkes, you know I still had dreams of being in a band, you know play Glastonbury and got pretty far actually as a band. But at some point reality hit me and I knew that being in a band wasn’t going to sustain my whole midlife crisis that I was about to have. So I decided to pursue this music industry thing, and it went quite well. Started Elephant Music, started Split Music, started Mammoth Audio and then of course Protege with you.
Rich: How exciting. Now I do love how you’ve completely skimmed over the really, really juicy bits which has obviously left it wide open for me to ask questions. So obviously you met an incredibly talented and handsome composer at Boosey and Hawkes in 2007, you know, who shall remain nameless. Me. But we worked together with Boosey and Hawkes, but tell everyone about Elephant Music, you started Elephant Music, how did that come about? Because Elephant Music, everybody knows Elephant Music, they are massive and they produce some world class placements and music. So tell us more.
Vik: Well, I don’t know actually, I don’t know the actual core reason, I don’t know the day or it wasn’t like this sort of you know those moments you see in the movies where they’re staring out the window, ah ha. It was just this accumulation of frustration with how I saw a big company work. I think that was the big one, because I was doing some really interesting things at Boosey and Hawkes. I still look back on those days, you know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. But the bureaucracy of a big company means there’s certain things you can’t do, there’s certain levels you have to hit which didn’t make any sense to me. So I instantly knew I wanted to start my open company and honestly when I started I had no idea what it was going to be. I just started, I just quit my job and started it.
I knew you were going to be involved at some point, but that wasn’t how it started, it started out with bands. And I had about six or seven bands and the plan was I was going to start this new amazon company and make millions of dollars from sync by getting bands on ads. It nearly happened actually, but it wasn’t quite the right business model, I realised that I needed to make my own music because a, that’s the only way I could truly express myself, and the nature of the company, but b, it was really trailers, you know when I moved to LA and got that experience with Immediate, it was the world of trailers that was really the start of Elephant.
And then obviously an extremely handsome composer guy, who was also quite bored, let’s be honest, and wanted something to do. But I think we both wanted a change you know, so I think what we were doing before didn’t really have any direction, it was just ad hoc jobs you know. I think the Piano Works is really when everything started for me definitely. Because that’s the first time I ever owned any catalogue and I started to see the possibilities of what you can do with a catalogue. And if you have a little bit of imagination and drive, those possibilities are needless, I mean I’m still finding new things I can do with my catalogue now. But its intellectual property, its IP that’s the real aim of the game to be honest. So when we first made our first five albums I was quite happy running with those, but what probably about two years.
Rich: Yeah, it was quite wild wasn’t it?
Vik: It was, I mean like people don’t realise you’ve got 50 tracks, I mean you know what you’re doing with this, that’s a lot. You can literally have a 50 track catalogue, I mean there are some labels that have less than 50 tracks and do well, so yeah, I think it was making those albums with you that really started it off. I mean how did you feel about that?
Rich: What about the whole five album thing?
Vik: Yeah, do you remember making those?
Rich: Yes. I remember the conversation on the phone when you were like look Rich I need something that, I need some piano music because it was around the time Catfish was launching.
Rich: And they had asked you for like background music and you were like ok Rich, let’s do some background piano music. You were, and you kind of mentioned you know think about it like tension builds, and stuff like that and Inowdie and all this, and I was like great, and then set to work. And it was only like three weeks later I was like I’ve got five albums.
Vik: I was like what are you serious about? No I remember that, and to be honest that’s the hilarious thing. You know Elephant Music was started with a task and the task was to put music in these different emotional categories basically. And it was relatively easy, you know it was starting to understand that it’s not bands that you need and it’s not songs that you need, it’s actually music that generates a story or even better within that story emotion. And then when I understood that, you know, after a few years, because those albums, I mean they’re still getting placements somehow, that’s pretty amazing, but I started to realise there are other emotions rather than sort of piano moods.
Rich: Uplifting, nostalgic.
Vik: Uplifting nostalgic that’s a few sombre in there, but we never really got many of the sombre ones did we?
Rich: No, that just got used in Catfish.
Vik: Exactly, it’s funny nearly all of them have been used at some point or another, that’s pretty amazing, we should do some more actually.
Rich: Big time, love that stuff.
Vik: But yeah, no the real break came when I was, when I really decided to do my first trailer album. And that was 22000 AD, it wasn’t even that long ago. You know I think that’s 2015 or 16. That was when I sort of consciously started to look at the trailer market as something that I wanted to get involved in. You know and I didn’t know any trailer people. That’s the thing, I didn’t even really know that there was a market, I just knew that there was Immediate Music basically, that’s just the only company I knew of. And it wasn’t the kind of person, and I still never have been, I’m not the kind of person to listen to other trailer music. I like watching trailers, but I’ve never listened to an album by another library, I’m just into it.
So I wanted to sort of create something you know from my world of music which has always been experimental with a noisy drone, to be honest kind of scary music. And see if I could translate that into the trailer template.
Rich: Yeah, like the sonic youth of trailer music.
Vik: Oh I like that.
Rich: Yeah me too. Amazing, so it 2014 was when we released 22000 AD.
Vik: Oh was it 2014?
Rich: 2014 yeah, I just checked on my files. So for me that was a huge standing point, it was like oh actually trailer music is a lot of fun because you can just be crazy and weird and people love it. So how did you take it from that point, before that it was the Five Piano Works, and 22000 AD that was officially when Elephant Music was like trailers. So how did you take that to the next level?
Vik: Well firstly I have to mention at that point I, well 2014, 2015 was also when I started Split Music. So that was a kind of tactical decision for me because I knew that for Elephant Music to be trailer music only I couldn’t do anything else, and I needed something to scratch my itch of my day to day passion which is experimental weird, odd music. So starting Split Music was a really good, weirdly I thought very good for my brain because I could separate the two. The commercial music that I was into and signing and you know dealers and bands and whatever, I could push towards Split, where there was a sort of supportive team, and you know Pete who is amazing and Shaun and everyone. And when I was looking at trailers that was kind of just me. And I think that’s the only way Elephant Music could have worked. And I would do it in my own time and I would only put things out when I thought they were ready and I would use my pool of composers. I think it was all about not rushing it at the beginning to be honest. I think we spent a lot of time on 22000 AD. And a lot of time on the follow up which I can;t actually remember what that was, Omega Red was it?
Rich: Piano Works Six, Piano works Seven, Omega Red, yeah.
Vik: Piano Works Six of course. A lot of time on that. Yeah I think those early albums were, I still think those were some of the best. And they still get licensed, we just licensed Piano Works Seven for Mothers Brooklyn, and that’s like a main trailer. Because a lot of time and effort went in and it was my passion project at the same time, that was what I sort of you know , I did a full day at Split. And then go home and work on Elephant. That’s kind of how my days worked weirdly. But yeah, I think the turning point was deciding that my outlet for commercial music and working with bands was going to be with these people, and my outlet for the trailer music industry was going to be with you and Ciaran and Greg and all the people that first started with.
Rich: Awesome. So just a little side track, explain to the listeners, essentially what is the difference in the roles that Elephant Music and Split Music have, because they function differently. You’ve obviously explained that Elephant is focused on trailer and Split is focused on commercials, but I mean can you explain that a little bit more?
Vik: Yeah, sure. Well Elephant Music is a production music library. You know consider a premium or a specialist whatever you want to call it, but in the music industry we’re a production music library so we make music albums specifically for a certain purpose. In our case its trailers, but to be honest we’ve also had quite a lot of adverts, and we’ve placed out music on films and TV. But it’s made for the specific purpose of synchronization.
Split Music is a commercial music publisher. So we would take artists who have already made music under their own band name or name and we would publish that music. So we would take care of the rights of that music. Part of that job would be too, the main part of the job is actually just to get them paid, a publisher traditionally collects royalties and does licensing for artists. So part of that job was also to get them syncs and trailers and film and TV placements. But the key difference is their music they make and then we sign, whereas Elephant Music you know I decide what we make together.
Rich: Nice, thanks for that clarification. I finally understand.
Vik: I was going to say that’s actually just for you isn’t it.
Rich: Big time yeah. Give me a business lesson Vic. Amazing thanks dude. Ok, so you’ve got Elephant Music, doing the trailer music albums, you’ve got Split Music representing artists for their commercial releases and then something else happens. You decide to launch another company. Now the company is called Mammoth Audio, and you guys have just released, I say just, was it this year, it was this year wasn’t it, just released your first sampled instrument focused at trailer composers. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Vik: Yes again, it was one of those things where I think not totally sure where the idea came from, but both of those companies that I mentioned, Elephant Music and Split Music are both very client facing. And although I do like client facing and I do like the whole world seeing our work, there was no access for me to get a product to everyone. And I started thinking a year ago I kind of want to help composers, that was the sort of start of it all. Mainly because I actually get so many emails from composers, you know like hundreds, and a lot of the times I listen to was the tracks and the samples being used were really poor. And it was a shame because the arrangement and the composition was good. And it wasn’t because they were using bad sample libraries actually, some of them were good sample libraries, it was just it didn’t feel right. It’s the only way I can describe it.
So I wanted to create a virtual instrument that was easy to use, number one, but stood out. So the whole concept behind density is that what first is completely raw organic sounds you know we tried not to process, well nothing was made on a computer, might have been processed on one. But everything is a bit wonky, we don’t have the big gorgeous Abbey Road or Air, we don’t have the £10,000 mikes, it’s the opposite. We tried to make sort of wonky, weird, distorted sounds, we wanted to use a small room, we wanted to use the wrong mike. I wanted these samples to pop out the mix. And I think I’m really happy with how it’s done, I actually use it all the time. Obviously I’m a bit biased. But some of the demos I’ve heard they just have this dirt and grit, and I think it’s just an instrument that I really wanted to make for myself to be honest. And I think I’m not an expert composer, so I like things to be really simple and I like to use both my hands as well, which is why we introduced playable instruments, you know one in each hand. To be honest I think I’ve kind of used it to make other composers take a few more risks with their sounds. But kind of mainly just so I could have a play with it.
Rich: Isn’t that why we make all the stuff, for us, it’s essentially we’re doing all these things for ourselves first, and then…
Vik: It’s kind of just for our own amusement I think.
Rich: Yeah. Nice. Right so you have, well to date you have four businesses running. So you have your Elephant Music, trailer music stuff going on, you have Split Music doing the commercial licensing and publishing, you now have Mammoth Audio creating a unique organic sample library. Now before we dive into the most recent project, I want to ask you if you are touching base with composers now throughout the whole creative process. You are supplying them with sounds, they then write music for you which you then produce. You then take that music from sketch to finished mastered track, which you then distribute and represent globally. So you must see all of the creative barriers. Not just through other composers but through yourself, all the creative barriers that creative people in the music industry face. So what do you think are the biggest creative barriers that we face, from the initial idea stage when we’ve got our samples, we’ve got our recordings all the way through to getting our tracks placed?
Vik: That’s a good question. The main thing is composers trying to be something they’re not. I think the biggest creative barrier is yourself. But I find it takes a while with a composer from starting to work together to having a really successful relationship. Mainly because I’m trying to convince them that they need to be themselves to be honest. You work the best when you know what is in your head, and when you can translate what’s in your head onto Logic or Ableton whatever it is. The problem is when people take the references too seriously, or people listen to other trailer music too much, or kind of become obsessed with their friends’ track. And that just confuses the creative process in general.
The creative process is a stream, you know, all the music is out there and all the tracks that you’ve been exposed to as a baby or when you first heard Nirvana or when you first went to a club, all that stuff is kind of channeling through you really. And my job is to kind of cleanse a composer of their donuts and fears and make them believe in themselves. And once that barrier is down my job is incredibly easy. All I have to do is just get it to the right people. But I can send them 1000 tracks and they will pick the best one. And that one is normally from a composer who is writing purely from the heart. So the biggest barrier is the composer himself.
Rich: Obviously I can completely second that because one of the most wonderful things that’s come from our relationship, our professional relationship specifically is the tremendous freedom you offered me through your, initially quite open briefs. Not pants, open ended briefs, like Piano works, it’s just like Piano Works covered in this world. And I sent them over and rather than not picking every single element within each track you just listened to the album and were like great. And that gave me a huge confidence boost and that’s the kind of process that we’ve had going forward. You know it’s kind of like Rich does what you do best, go. And I go ok, and I send you something and you do what you do best, and you make it better and you send it off and sell it. So I can completely agree that actually like getting the composers’ limiting beliefs about themselves out of the way would be the hardest job for you. And it’s also the hardest job for the composer as well.
Vik: Yeah, I think there’s a part to being a producer and company owner whatever you want to call me, less is more, you know, my vision for the company and my vision for the album is just that, it doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly how I thought it would be at the beginning, I enjoy it when someone comes to me with a strange idea or weird track. I like when an album starts with one thing and I bounce ideas off composers and it and it ends up something completely different. I need the people I work with to believe in their own ideas and themselves as much as I do. And the only way I can do that is by empowering them, and that means a few times I will just have to say you know what you nailed it, even though I kind of really desperately want to nitpick the intro. And I really don’t like the synth in the middle but sometimes you have to say you know what you nailed it, you got it, we’re on the same page. And that can be tough for me, but for our relationship and for the album and moving forward it’s been so good. Because I don’t work with a lot of composers to be honest like some of the big libraries. I can probably count the ones we work with the most on two hands. Maybe two and a half hands. So I don’t find it that easy to sort of totally trust. It’s not like I’ll find a composer off the street, be like hey yeah, that track go for it, done. It’s more like I have to work to get to that level, and it’s a bit of give on composers, from the composer’s perspective and a bit of give from my perspective. You both have to trust each other. I think that’s what it comes down to.
Rich: Big time. So not many people know this about you but you are actually, obviously you’ve implied it by being in bands and stuff, but you’re obviously a very talented musician. And you are a composer yourself. So I would like to ask you what your writing process is?
Vik: It varies. It used to be everything started on the guitar, actually specifically on my acoustic guitar, specifically sitting on my sofa doing nothing. And that used to evolve into me trying and failing quite miserably to convert that to midi, on the keyboard, and then literally I am a complete randomist, so I would make a few midi rhythms and I would put every instrument on there at complete random and see what happens. I think that’s my experimental music side coming out quite a bit there. So I mean I would take the piano and I would stick drums on it. And then that would be my drum beat and I would stick with it. I’m sort of really obsessed with the early music of Noy Nowton and 80s experimentalists that just deconstructed everything.
So that’s how I used to make music, however recently I’ve been dabbling a little bit in my own music, my own trailer music and well scoring. And it’s changed dramatically, I now have a template. Yes thanks to Rich I have a template. That template is not used as much as I’d like to but I weirdly start with a cello. I don’t know why I just like cello. And I usually start with rhythm, I like to just, I love a good cello obviously it’s a density cello because the density cello is, but I play in loops, so I will start with a cello loop, I’ll probably just stretch that our for four bars and then I will probably go for some strings and then I will probably go for some piano, weirdly third. Not many people do that. And then I will play with loops and chord structures. So I will [probably have three or four bar chord structures with three or four instruments as a loop and then I will do it again with another chord structure and then again with another chord structure. Weirdly. And then I will find my favourite chord structure and then I will work with that chord structure, delete everything else, start again, maybe move a few instruments around.
Basically I’m really just not precious. For me like the melody, the rhythm, the chord structure I don’t get attached to any of it. I like to move it around, chop it up, double it up, change the whole key. My method is completely sporadic and random. And it’s probably going to terrify a lot of composers that are listening right now, probably giving someone a heart attack us saying that.
Rich: I’m taking notes. The thing I love about all these interviews and I always loved this, but listening to interviews is hearing other peoples firstly their stories, but secondly their approach to creating. And I think it often reflects the person, the way they create and I really like the fact that you have this very free seemingly random approach but it’s kind of you basically throwing stuff on the wall and seeing what sticks. And that is actually a really, really useful way to get past writer’s block. Because so many people just open their Daw project or even have an idea and don’t know what you do with it next. And they get previous like you say and they stop. But if you do that thing you were saying, actually just chuck in a couple more chord sequences, l drag the instruments around, see what happens, put the piano, even go back to your old stuff, even go back to the drums, see what happens, something might spark and then you are flying again.
Vik: It’s because I have no expectation. So it can end up however I want it to end up, I think expectation destroys the ears because everything you’re doing is going to be wrong because you can never really truly get the sound in your head.
Vik: Do you find that?
Rich: It depends, with stuff like sound design it’s often like a twisted sister version of, not the band, a twisted sister version of what’s in my head. But if it’s something more traditional sounding like a piano part or a string line, it’s more obvious to translate, it’s easy to translate what’s in my head. Whereas in my head if it’s this strange texture there is all these ways to create that strange texture, so it might just be like a subtle variation of what’s in my head. But the gists are the same.
Vik: Yeah, I think what you said, you nailed it there, there’s all these ways of creating it, and that’s what I try and eliminate. Obviously I have every sample library under the sun, and I hate that, I don’t like having every sample library under the sun. I think that limiting yourself and having a template is good for limiting yourself. Because you’ve already got so much going on, but you don’t want to add anything more. That’s why I actually like it because I’m going to make this track, but I’m going to make it within this. So I’m not distracted by loading another track, and then another orchestral instrument, another synth, another drum patch, like I have to sit down and create. I think people use adding more things and tweaking as an excuse because they don’t really know what else to do, so in their head they’re psychologically thinking this is, this doesn’t sound right, but it’s actually just because you haven’t actually made the track yet. You need to make the track first, then tweak it.
And that’s how I’ve always worked with composers actually on demos. I’m quite weird like that, I always ask for the first, V1, I’m like send me V1. I don’t mix it, send me 30 seconds, that’s all I need, I need to know if the tracks right, I can tell you straight away. Don’t mix and finish it and give me a four-minute version because that’s waiting your time. When we worked on track four i remember it was just like 30 second demos I think. I was like yeah, that’s good make a track. Or I’m not sure on that one, maybe if you change this or that. Don’t you think if you know a track works very early?
Rich: Incredibly, it’s kind of like the same feeling you get from a person when you first meet them, you get a feeling. And the same with a track. And I try and talk to my students about this, creating a sense of place, a sense of mood, a sense of atmosphere, a sense of character in your music, in the first few lines that you write.
Vik: Well that’s not only important from a feeling perspective. That’s actually important from a commercial licensing perspective, because clients just listen to the first eight seconds. How many times do you think they listen to a track and go straight to one minute 20, they don’t care. They want it, it has to be perfect from the beginning, it has to start the story, you know it has to just perfectly paint that picture at the beginning. You know how weird I am about intros, it’s probably the only thing we argue about actually.
Rich: That’s because I believe I’m the best at the intros.
Vik: By the way, for those people listening, our conversation goes like this, make the intro smaller, no, make it smaller, no, make it less weird, no. That’s our conversation, on every track ever.
Rich: And where’s the back end?
Vik: Make the back end bigger, no.
Rich: Yeah, it’s very true. Well everyone listening they should know that act one and act two are my sweet spots.
Vik: And the beauty of that is, nearly all of our trailers have been the first half of the trailer. I would probably say about 60% to 70% have been the trailer starts and it’s us. You know, we had some back end bits but not as many as front end bits.
Rich: No. Definitely. But I think the thing is the way we have developed my writing style has meant that I’ve often gone ok, I’m just going to leave the back end, I’m just going to focus on getting that character in the first 30 seconds, because I know it’s important, you know it’s important and we make sure that gets done. And then often I’m like yeah I’ll just do something on the back end. Even though I know what to do with the back end I know how to make it work, it’s just the way we’ve ended up working is just creating a sense of character within the first 30 to 45 seconds.
Vik: How do you create character, please tell me?
Rich: Mate it depends. So give me an instrument, give me a mood and I’ll tell you.
Vik: Ok. So how do you create character with a piano, tense piano?
Rich: Ok, so the thing you’ve got to think about with tension is it’s often about contrast. So tension is a contrasting of a sense of closeness and a sense of distance. So the easiest way across the board to create a sense of character is…
Vik: Major, minor?
Rich: No. Not even that I’m thinking space, sonic space. To create the sense of closeness. And the way, the best way to do that is to have something that is the polar opposite of something close. So that’s why those big sub booms are such a simple and beautiful tool to make something feel closer, because you’ve already set something else further back. So usually with that type of stuff I would, that’s why drones do a similar thing, they set this tone, they set this base that the other elements set upon. So let’s say I’ve got this tense piano track, usually tense piano has a sense of time ticking, because there’s something about tension, a relationship between tension, and the passing of time, whether that’s tension because you’re waiting, whether that’s tension because you know something is coming, but the idea of a ticking, clicking clock immediately sets this feeling of tension. So usually a tense piano…
Vik: That was really in time, well done.
Rich: Thank you sir, I’ve got a metronome blinking at me. So you know if I was then to write something with tension on the piano, I would usually set something that gives it a sense of distance, and the easiest way at the piano is just to lower the key, so the bottom half of the piano. So sort of C zero, C one, C zero. Bong. And then you’d have something that starts ticking up in the right hand somewhere and then that gives a sense of pace through rhythm, a sense of tension through rhythm.
The next aspect you want to consider with tension is the intervals you choose. It’s not necessarily as simple as major, minor, because usually with intervals, usually with tense pieces of music you’re dealing with intervals over and above chord, building chords. You might stack the intervals, you know so obviously the tensest intervals are the minor second, the diminished fifth, and to an extent the major seventh or the flattened seventh. And then those three, specifically the minor second and the diminished fifth, those two immediately create a sense of tension, not just a sense of it, but they actually are creating tension. The sound waves are clashing.
Rich: So now to say the…
Vik: It’s actually my favourite type of music. It’s weird, discordant noise, and it’s what I’ve always loved. It’s actually what I’ve always loved about your music that it doesn’t give you that sense of security. It constantly asks questions. And I think like anyone walking off the street into your studio would feel uncomfortable listening to certain chords. You’ve done the job straight away.
Rich: Yes, big time. A huge learning curve for me in the sense of tension was back at university I scored one of the master students dance pieces. And it was this beautiful set with huge balls on pendulums, swinging around and they were dancing around these balls. Normally it’s fairly tongue in cheek but this is going straight for the big balls. But anyway I scored it using sine waves so I would sort about export, so this was in Nordacity Cakewalk Pro, I had a tone generator and I would export tones that were only like a few hertz apart so that they would create beats. And then by changing the distance you would change the pace of the beats, and if you allayed more than two of them on top of each other you then got these incredible polyrhythms and these beautiful dancing awkward sounds. And it felt like someone was kind of like trying to stab you with sounds at some points. And it was just a wonderful realisation that actually so much of what we do as composers is that we’re choosing our notes to either give a sense of tension or a sense of release. Yes.
Vik: I think like I totally agree that I think the thing I find, I struggle with as a composer and I always have done, you know even from the early days is chord structures. And like there are some magical chord structures out there, you know the A Minor, F, G, for example, how do you stay original without using those? Why this has turned into me interviewing you hasn’t it.
Rich: Yeah. Stop it.
Vik: Can you just answer that question please.
Rich: Well the first thing I would say to that is you’re not going to be able to produce an original chord progression. So stop trying. What you need to embrace is the string chord progressions. This is the thing. If you can just sit down, know a few chord progressions that work in certain types then you already have half of your work done. You know you listen to 95% of trailer music they will be using in a minor key they will be using the minor first key at chord, then they will drop down to the flattened major seventh, the flattened major sixth and then the dominant fifth. Hundreds of those trailer tracks use that one. And it doesn’t stop people producing amazing and original music, because they’re using the same chord progression. Obviously I came from a rock music background, we’re all using the same riffs, you know. You can have ever so slight variations but my advice about originality and chord progressions is to stop trying to create original chord progressions, just try and embrace a chord progression that captures a kind of the right mood.
Vik: Yeah. It’s funny, because actually as a guitarist like I went through a similar dilemma. I got to a stage where you know I was always trying to, well I was more of a lead guitarist than a rhythm guitarist, a songwriter, and I was always trying to find the original riff. And I always came back to the same blues and E or blues and A or blues and D. And once I started exploring and really listening, all music is just a variation on the theme, but it’s not about your left hand as a guitarist, it’s about your right hand. How do you play the same riff as Jimmy Page but rhythmically different it feels, it sounds completely different with the same three notes. Is that kind of what you’re saying about the same chord structure in trailer music?
Rich: Er, yes, obviously you have a lot more variation, because obviously if we’re just dealing with a guitar riff you’ve got the notes and the rhythms you’re playing on one instrument. But when it comes to trailer music you’ve got your synths, you’ve got your strings, you’ve got your brass, you’ve got your woods, you’ve got your percussion, you’;ve got your guitars, you’ve got a huge bountiful selection of instruments. And then you have the way you process them, which is the same for the guitar. My point is, just choose a sequence and write something with it. Like so many people get so hung up on the chord sequence, yes it’s important, but at the end of the day, you’re probably going to use a chord sequence that is an original.
Vik: Exactly. It’s impossible not to, I mean people have been using chords for about 300 years.
Rich: Yeah. I spent many, many years trying to be original with chord progressions only to realise that what I was doing was diving into modulation. You know,
Vik: Don’t do that, don’t do it.
Rich: I was like oh yeah, so I could do these chords in this key and then I’d just chuck in a major one there until I realised oh so you’re modulating that key. No. I’m doing an original chord sequence. Anyway enough of the questions for me Vik.
Rich: Although I do like it, it’s nice to have some questions to answer.
Vik: We can edit all these out, that was just for me.
Rich: Yeah. You know those of you who are going to sign up to Protege, fire away the questions of course. But anyway, so I want to return back to a question for you, which I think returning back to trailer music, because obviously this is the trailer music composers podcast, and we’re all about trailer music here, and hence having one of the big boys on from the trailer music industry Vik, what advice would you have for people who want to get into trailer music?
Vik: That’s a good question. Um, number one, consistently make music all the time, regardless of whether you got an email back from me or another trailer house, regardless of whether you lost a custom job, regardless of whether your mate said it was crap, regardless of whether someone left a Facebook comment saying that you used the wrong string samples, just keep making music. Because your catalogue is what’s going to be your best friend once you do get a deal, or once you do get asked to do a custom. Your catalogue is also your experience, it’s your learning curve, it’s how you really find out what you want to do. I would also say that’s another good bit of advice, do what you want to do, don’t try and copy anyone, use the music that you like. You know, maybe you grew by listening to trailer music, very unlikely. What are you into, you know what are your favourite bands, is there a way that you could merge the two things together and be authentic and be yourself?
Apart from that I would say please don’t blanket email anyone, ever. Because it’s just so impersonal and all of us just get too many emails every day, so please don’t blanket email, instead write a personalised short honest email about your situation and what you’re doing. And you’re more likely to get a reply.
Finally I would say try not to listen to other peoples trailer music, if you want to be original you should be listening to other music. Otherwise you’re just going to keep perpetuating this cycle of the same music kind of being regurgitated by the same composers in every year. And to make different music and to make a change to the industry we have to start bringing in new influences. And that doesn’t have to be music that can be art and film. I think that’s my advice.
Rich: Dude, that was comprehensive, you’ve even covered the next question which was what’s your number one piece of advice for writing better trailer music and I think you’re broadening your influence. The answer was perfect. I mean if you want to give another answer to that you’re welcome, but I think you absolutely smashed it with that one.
Vik: Yeah, I think just don’t listen to other trailer music is the key because like be inspired by it if you have to be, but if you want to make original music there’s a question you have to ask yourself, do I want to make original music, original trailer music lets say, to do I want to make the best type of this trailer music? Now if you want to make the best type of this specific trailer music, and I’m pointing to something here that you can’t see, which is just nothing, because I just see generic trailer music as exactly that, it’s nothing, it all starts to sound the same. I think if you want to make great music that sounds different from generic music. If you want to make great music you have to change the industry, you have to change the sort of zeitgeist, you have to be into weird things. You have to bring in weird recording techniques or you have to get experimental. You have to start listening to stuff that makes you uncomfortable, if that’s what it takes. Push yourself, push your ears. I think that’s my answer.
Rich: Nice, nice. And actually to make an addition to that, I will make an admission that I very, very rarely, if ever, listen to trailer music.
Vik: Yeah. I just find it quite boring. It’s quite weird because obviously I make trailer music. But I find myself just getting a bit frustrated with it and I think that you get into this composer syndrome which we’ve clearly seen happen with the Spitfire Audio competition, Westworld competition, I’m just getting annoyed with other composers’ music. You naturally feel that you need to judge, you either do or you don’t like and I don’t see music as that, I don’t see music as I do like it, I don’t like it, you could have done that better. You know how often do you listen to a band and go you could have used a better drum kit. It’s not about that, it’s about the experience of listening. And I think when you listen to trailer music you’re instantly a critic, you’re instantly an analyst. You can’t actually, you couldn’t even listen to the track if you wanted to because you’re dissecting it.
So I do think that’s been one of the secrets to our success. Never, ever listening to trailer music. And that’s why I have no bitterness or resentment against any trailer music companies. In fact I support and am friends with all our rival trailer music companies if you want to call them that. I know all the AudioMachine guys and Position Music guys, we hang out, when I’m in LA. I don’t see them as competition because I see us all doing something completely different. I don’t need to listen to their music, it doesn’t affect me, the music I listen to is just what I like. You know it’s just what it’s always been. So yes don’t listen to trailer music.
Rich: Awesome. Mate some beautiful pearls of wisdom. And I think what we’ll do is we’ll finish off with the usual quickfire round, Vik, what is your DAW of choice?
Vik: Oh DAW.
Rich: Logic. Ok, go to piano sound?
Vik: Well Alisha’s Keys.
Rich: Go to string library?
Vik: Well I have to say its BBCSO now.
Rich: Nice, not used it but I’ve heard it’s good.
Vik: It’s pretty good.
Rich: Go to brass library?
Vik: Heavyocity. I can’t remember the name.
Rich: I know the one you mean, I can’t remember either, I’m terrible with names these days.
Vik: Me to.
Rich: Something by Spitfire.
Vik: Well it’s in my template now so I don’t have to lay it.
Rich: Is it Forzo?
Vik: Yeah, Forzo.
Rich: Ok that’s one. Go to percussion?
Rich: Yeah. Go to synth?
Vik: You know what I like Hardware Synths. So it’s my Movo.
Rich: Nice. And top three effects for your guitar?
Vik: Ok, top three effects for my guitar, recently its well I’ve always loved The Boss Space Echo. And absolutely my favourite pedal of all time, you can tap tempo, you can just tweak so much, if you keep the right pedal held down it feeds back on itself until you feedback into infinity. I’ve always been a fan of the Russan, Black Big Muff. there’s something weird about the circuitry on that one. And it just is pure dirt. Every single thing about is dirt.
Rich: Russian Black not the electro harmonics one?
Vik: Yea the electro harmonics one.
Rich: Oh yeah.
Vik: Yeah, there’s a Russian version that you can get.
Rich: Oh wow.
Vik: Yeah. And it’s black and it looks the same but it sounds completely different. And I accidentally picked it up once and I’m so glad I did. Finally I would probably say quite boring but The Boss Compression Sustainer. And I don’t know why but it’s just given my guitar that hum that you just get with anything else. So those are my three.
Rich: Nice, some classics there.
Vik: Classics yeah, I’m quite boring like that.
Rich: Mate, so firstly I want to just say thank you for taking the time to come on the podcast and, I was going to say elucidate but I‘m not sure that’s the right word. To share your story and share your passion with everybody because you’re an incredibly passionate guy and you’ve got really fantastic stories especially now you’ve got these four fantastic businesses that are not only just supporting composers in their career, but also supplying amazing instruments to them too. So yeah, thank you dude for coming on.
Vik: Thank you Richard, none of this would be possible without your compositional skills and that has led to Elephant’s success. So thank you more.
Rich: Shucks. Right and lastly if anyone wants to get in touch with you what’s the best way to touch base?
Vik: That’s a tough question, probably Instagram nowadays. Because I don’t have that much going on there, so I’m more likely to get back to people.
Rich: Nice good response. Amazing.
Vok: Get Instagram guys.
Rich: Yeah that’s it, yeah. Followers bumped up by three, amazing. Yeah, and thanks for those three listeners listening every week. Amazing dude thank you so much.
Vik: Thank you so much and thanks to everyone that’s listening, have a good night.
Rich: Ok, guys, that was awesome. Now the thing is if I didn’t know Vik personally like I do, I would be taking notes about the really important things he’s said. For instance this is a bit of a shift compared to a lot of composers we’ve talked to about not listening to other trailer music. And I think the really interesting thing there is actually he mentioned if you want to be the master of epic hybrid then listen to epic hybrid of course. But if you want to create something original and more expansive that has more of you in it, maybe start taking stuff from all of your inspirations, be that Mozart, be that Drones escapes, be that Kandinsky’s paintings whatever it is that inspires you try and bring that to the table so that you can get your own voice. And I think that’s where a lot of my success comes from. Honestly I don’t really listen to trailer music, I watch trailers so I’m a listening to it, by default. But the function is different, I’m not listening to really like yeah, trailer music I’m listening to as what is this trailer music achieving in this trailer? Or just dang that’s a good trailer.
Now take that away, that is one of the many golden nuggets in this interview, but take that away and think how can I if you do want to be epic hybrid, if you do want to be horror how can I take other things and feed that into my music.
Now of course I want to remind you guys about Protege school is launching in September, so those of you want to take your career and rocket it into the stratosphere then I suggest you go to protege.school where we will be training a very select few and hopefully publishing them into the trailer music and production music world where they can flourish and become professional composers.
Thanks for listening to your absolute legends.