In this session of The Trailer Music Composer’s Podcast, Richard welcomes one of his students, Simon Haglund. Simon’s music has an extremely distinct sound and feel and Rich is keen to learn Simon’s process and techniques.
Simon shares all that, and more!
Simon and Rich talk also about mindset: having fun when writing, the business side of things: patience, and they end with the lightening round of questions about Simon’s favorite tools.
If you get excited about Bwaams, Risers and the rest, this episode is for you!
Hey guys welcome to another session of the trailer music composers podcast. I’ve got a really nice one today. It’s an interview with one of my students, Simon Haglund, his work is just astoundingly aggressive and it’s just so well produced and it’s so interesting to listen to. He’s done some custom work, he’s had some placements, so he’s doing well for himself. And he’s got some really fantastically interesting things to say about the creative process. And I absolutely loved hearing him walk us through his exact process for creating sound design which I think is one of his strengths, he’s creating interesting and organic, so for those of you looking for a keyword, signature sounds. He records a lot of them using his saxophone and clarinet, but he does it with pretty much anything he can find. And the sounds he produces are nothing short of fascinating. They are beautiful and exactly what you want, they have a signature and they have a character. I can hear his music and I say oh that’s Simon, without knowing it’s his track because of the way he produces his music. It’s fantastic. The interview was so much fun, he’s such a nice guy. Now I hope you enjoy this and get a lot out of it because it’s awesome.
I would like to introduce you guys to Simon Haglund, he is an amazing composer and I’m very privileged to have him as one of my students on the trailer music school. Simon welcome to the trailer music composers podcast. So honoured to have you.
Simon: So amazing to be here, I’m so happy that you invited me, I really hyped for this one.
Rich: Ok, so let’s just get things kind of relaxed and easygoing, I will ask you the silly question first, Simon if you were an instrument what would you be and why?
Simon: That’s the toughest question I guess. Well I actually I thought you were to ask me this so I gave it some thought in advance, but it turned out to be even harder than I could imagine. But I think I will go with a saxophone, since well I am a saxophone player, so it’s kind of yeah, I guess it’s the first thing that comes to mind. But it also like an instrument that you need to be really patient and have a set goal to be able to like even remotely have it sounding even tiny, tiny good. You will have like a couple of years when it just screams and scars and yeah, that sounds terrible the first couple of years. And you can’t even play like the most silly melodies on it. And but when you get through that it’s like this instrument that’s like very human instrument, you use your breath to control the flow through the instrument. And then you have like this technical side of it where you need to be really fast and yeah, it’s also an instrument that’s not visual at all, like if you compare to piano, it’s really visual and you can see it and you compare it to the notes and stuff like that. So it’s kind of an intimate instrument, and it’s also when you like get to speak to other people that play the saxophone and you get into the terms and stuff like that, it’s kind of a really nerdy instrument also.
So it all sums up in me I guess like I can be a bit technical, I think I’m kind of good at certain goals for myself and being patient with those goals. And I think I like to be a human for the persons around me, like a good father and a good friend. And stuff like that is really important for me. And I’m kind of nerdy with all the things that we do like in the music business. So I think that sums it up kind of good.
Rich: Simon I can tell you prepared for that, that was possibly one of the most detailed answers and I loved it. My takeaways from that are that it’s going to take a good couple of years before I get anything decent out of you is that what you’re saying?
Simon: Yeah, probably.
Rich: You also talked about something which often isn’t mentioned about instruments, which is like the correlation between what we see and what we hear. You’re absolutely right, the piano is, I mean that’s why the piano is so wonderful for orchestrating and for composing, because you can see exactly what you’re playing. With a monophonic instrument like the saxophone, especially one where you’re playing the same keys but how hard you blow changes the notes that come out. It becomes very abstract.
Simon: Yeah, you’re right.
Rich: It’s about the relationship isn’t it?
Simon: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the things that makes it really, really hard to master. But when you like get past the first barriers it gets even more fun to play and more giving to play also. Because it’s like a relationship with that instrument. So absolutely.
Rich: Awesome. Right, ok, so obviously I know you because through the trailer music school, but the listeners don’t so please tell everyone about yourself, what’s your story, where you are now and how did you get here?
Simon: Yeah, I will try to make it kind of short. I am happy to have grown up in a family where I have one big brother and two little sisters where everyone is playing instruments. And my father played jazz piano for me when we go to sleep he plays jazz piano until we fall asleep and that’s what I’ve grown up with. And my older brother played the drums and my two sisters played a cello and a violin. But there wasn’t that much of, it was like classical music and jazz music at home. My father listened a bit to the Beatles, but yeah, it was mostly classical and jazz.
So when we grew up my brother chose the drums so obviously I couldn’t choose to play the drums and I saw this glamorous thing on the TV one night with my father, and it was the saxophone that I chose. So I started to play this saxophone at the age of seven and played it during the school time, and then I went to high school playing the saxophone. And it was really hard the first couple of years, I tried to stop playing for a couple of times but it, my father was like you should give it one more time, one more try. And then I, during high school I met this professor from the college in Malmoo and he really liked my tone and my vibe, so he invited me to come down to him and I was there for a couple of days. And that was like the spark for me, yeah, this is what I really want to do.
And at the same time I got like a CD from, I’m not sure if it was from my father or who it was from, but it was like a CD by John Coltrane, and I put it in and listened to it at home, and I thought it would be like some Duke Ellington or some ordinary jazz stuff, but when I listened to it, it was like another world. So it really inspired me and that compared with this invitation.
So I just kept working at my saxophone and went to college with it and after a year of college I realized that no one will ever pay me to play jazz. So then I realised that alright either I try to go down this road and continue with it, but if, even if I succeed I will be on the road 360 days each year and I can’t be home. I hadn’t a family at that time, but I knew that a family would be something that were of big importance for me. So i just chose alright. I’ll quit with all the instruments and all the playing. So I just tried to abruptly just quit everything.
So then I became a father at age of 23, so a rather young father, and then it was all with the family, I didn’t have time. But then one day I was painting my living room at home and a friend of mine came by, and just, since I never had time he was yes, if you are painting can’t I come by and we can talk to each other for a couple of hours and he put on some music and it was Skrillex, and it was like when I was younger I listened to John Coltrane for the first time, it really just blew me away. The soundscapes and the fruitiness and the synths and everything. And I have played some, a little bit with like recently, earlier, and I started to do that again when I put the kids to sleep during night, I just went to my computer and started fiddling around.
And one thing led to another and I went back to college one more time to a music production course I took there, and then after that I, it was also one third time where I listened to something that has blown my mind, it was during this college time, I listened to Han Zimmer’s Batman score. And that was once again the soundscape and the depth of production and the darkness and the grittiness. So it, and then I started to dig deeper into that and what are people writing like now, and then I found Daniel Beijbom on YouTube I think and I realised he was a Swedish guy, so I just sent him and email and we started chatting and he yeah, he basically put out a course at the time where he teaches trailer stuff. And it was through that course that I got into the business more or less. So after that I got in touch with a couple of publishers and then I heard about Elephant Music and I started to listen to that music and then I heard of someone called Richard Schrieber, and I dug into that music. And yeah, that led me here I guess.
Rich: Fab. So a few steps back, was the trailer music academy, that was his course want it?
Simon: Yeah, I think that.
Rich: Music Mastery.
Simon: Yes, that’s it.
Rich: That’s the one, yeah. Ok that’s fantastic to hear that you got results from there. So have you had any placements since then or…?
Simon: Yeah, I did custom work for Ubisoft, for their division release. And that was my first and only custom work that I have done and it got placed with them. And after that I had some TV placements here and there but not a big sync for any more trailers since then.
Rich: Ok. So I’m just painting the picture. Obviously you’ve got huge knowledge from studying jazz. I mean it’s just such a wonderful foundation for music right, especially music production. Because a lot of us, going into music production have minimal theoretical knowledge past sort of diatonic scales really, or you know that type of thing. So having that jazz knowledge behind you must have been so wonderful when you sort of sat down at your computer and were starting to write trailer music. Now did you apply that jazz knowledge in your trailer music or was it just something that maybe the orchestration came out or was it the rhythms, was it the cord extensions, what was it that came out, did any jazz stuff come through in your trailer music?
Simon: Yeah, but I don’t think it was in like the arrangement or the orchestration or even harmonics, but energy from it, and that was what I always loved about since like listened to, I didn’t get hooked by jazz, but I listened to Duke Ellington and his amazing arrangements and orchestrations.l I got hooked by John Coltrane and his like high level energy and yes, it just builds and builds and builds and builds and builds and builds. And if we listen to from jazz like Ornette Coleman it’s just like this chaos of sounds and then it’s like molding into like this amazing beautiful melodies and harmonies inside that chaos. So I think that’s the stuff that I take with me to the production and the trailer music. Because when we do like horror stuff, I mean it’s one tone through the whole and track and that’s energy and the build of energy and how you create those rising tensions and stuff like that.
Rich: I love, love how you describe John Coltrane’s music, because that’s almost like word for word how I would describe your music. So Simon’s music everybody is absolutely phenomenally intense, it’s got so much power and punch and weight. It’s just, its, forgive me saying this, it’s incredibly aggressive to listen to, but I love that about it. You know I think I can give Simon like a brief that’s very, you know actually quite like an uplifting brief, but he takes that intensity and puts it on, even if it’s just like a sort of oh this is an uplifting pizzicato thing, he’s just like raaah, just chucks this intensity at it. And I love, love, love that about your music and I really like how you described actually taking that intensity and putting it into your music.
So, the thing that I always am very interested with people’s stories is this is how they go from learning about something to then going to do it. So you say that you approached a couple of publishers, now you know I never had any luck approaching publishers, off the bat, so you know what was your process to kind of take it to the next level, obviously you’d done the trailer music academy or mastery, that course, I’m sorry. You’d done that course, so what was your thinking, how did you go ok well how am I going to take this to the next step because you have taken it to the next step, you’ve got placements you’ve done a custom, you’ve got music out there. And that’s a really big step for a lot of people. So walk us through that in a lot more detail.
Simon: Well, I think one thing that made it a little bit easier for me was that I, when I not was in college or high school or after that time, I worked a couple of years or really many years in sales, in different ways. So it has never been like an obstacle for me to like contact people or try to, yes contact people, and it was like this, I had invested some money in this course, and I wanted to make something of it. So there are lots of great groups on Facebook, so I think for the first time I was to like send an email to a publisher, I actually posted my full mail in the group and just asked the other ones there what do you think about this? Is that ok? And I got some good pointers about that and shared a couple of stuff and I mean this is, I guess that can be a bit scary for a lot of us, and it was scary for me too, I mean I’m not a writer in any way, but its kind of, it could be like an intimate thing what your email is about, but I think it’s a good way to just. I mean the people there have a great knowledge, so I don’t like ask them, and everyone is happy to help, and I am happy to help anyone else that comes to me, so I don’t like why can’t we try to make it better for everyone?
So then I sent a couple of mails to the publisher that I wanted to work with, not the ones that I thought could fit me, it was more like I like what they do, they seem to have a lot of placements I want to work with them. So I showed like a couple of ones. And then it was like this one wait and I didn’t hear anything back and didn’t hear anything back and didn’t hear anything back, and then I sent like a reminder and then I got one hooked and then it starts to like roll from there. And then like I’m trying to network with the composers around me and then all of a sudden some composers asked well I’m working for this production label, and they actually want a new composer, but they just some of us to like reference.
So if you’re up for it, they would like to listen to your music. So I sent a couple of tracks over to them and then they liked it and then I started to work for them. So yeah, just like networking and try to be, I just tried to be helpful and tried, even though I don’t have that much time, I can’t sit in my studio eight hours each day because I have the day job and I have three kids now, and everything goes, there’s a lot going on. But trying to be nice, try to like network with everyone. And then I think one thing that was like this goal for me was like don’t say yes to a publisher just because the publisher asks me to work for them, because if I write a solo album or a couple of tracks for a publisher and they don’t work with my tracks, then I have worked basically for free. Nothing would happen with that.
So, I made research on the labels that I really wanted to work with and then like if I didn’t get a response then I tried to reach them in another way, try to find whose in charge, can i contact that person directly. And yeah, so tried to like find my way around.
Rich: Yeah. I really, really enjoy hearing about that part of the process because actually the learning, the education is the fun stuff that we all kind of go naturally towards, playing, producing sounds, making music, but when it comes to the business side, or actually I like to call it the relationship side, we all shy away from it. And actually the thing I’ve noticed is those people who’ve made a success or made that first step into a publisher you know or gotten to a milestone have done it through relationships. Do you want to pick up, was it Cody’s group, the trailer music composers support group that you posted other email on?
Simon: No, actually, it was the course, the trailer music mastery.
Rich: Oh yeah, they’ve got a Facebook haven’t they.
Simon: They have their own group and yes they have, still, so I posted it there.
Rich: Yeah, ok. That’s the other thing is building relationships with other composers because actually YouTube is still doing that to this day. And I believe you collaborated with Andrew Skipper on his Ascendance instrument, is that right?
Simon: Yeah, yeah. And there’s new stuff coming out pretty soon.
Simon: I mean that is also an opportunity that I had in Sweden and I will not move from Sweden and I basically live in this little house out in the woods through a network through the internet that’s like my only channel. So and that is also one, when one thinks about communication, the text messages like emails and messenger or whatever, it’s so easy to misunderstand each other and so I think it’s a good thinking the best of each other is really good point. And trying to be patient because everyone is really busy everywhere.
Rich: Yeah, they’re valuable life lessons there. Especially with the proliferation of text messages and written communication. That’s why I love Gifs and I love emojis because if you send a text message that could be misconstrued as a negative thing send a smiley face.
Simon: Yeah, absolutely.
Rich: That’s it yeah, I completely agree with that, and also patience is a huge thing, and you’ve already said, yeah go on.
Simon: Yeah, if someone hates your music that only because they haven’t responded to you in 24 hours but that, the other side of that is as you speak about a lot, the inner critic, because you get this thought in your head when you don’t get that response soon enough, and you start to question yourself oh he didn’t answer me immediately, that must mean that he didn’t like that. And oh I should listen to it again and then I should compare it with someone else and then it’s like a snowball of like evil thoughts. So yeah, it’s tough sometimes, absolutely.
Rich: Yeah, it is. Especially as you’ve already said you’re kind of navigating on your own and the only way, i have it took the only way I generally contact anyone is over the internet. So there is a lot of waiting in between things. And actually I was speaking to another student recently about the process of once you’ve got to that point where you’ve ‘made it’ and you’re producing regularly and you’re getting placements there is still that waiting game. You know, you send an album out, you might not get a placement for a year, or you do a custom, you might not hear anything for ages. Even when you’ve got to the point where yeah, I’m a success, so patience and also working with those inner expectations is just a tool that you need to keep using and keep improving on.
But anyway I would like to, this is the thing I’m most excited about is your creative process, you’ve kind of touched on it a little bit my mentioning reason and obviously the fact that your a saxophonist and you’ve got a jazz background. And that you are inpsired by Skrillex. You you’ve got this like these two worlds and I’m so fascinated by how you produce your sounds, so listeners, I’ve heard quite a lot of Simon’s music and Simon’s music it’s the, Simon’s music, I hear that and go how did he make that sound, and I’ll say oh which drums do you use, and he uses the same drums as me, and I’m like but how does he make them sound that big? You know how, so interested in the process, so walk us through the listener, the brief is Simon, you’re going to be doing an action sound design cue. Two minutes 20, what is your creative process for that track?
Simon: That’s a good one. If I have any brief tracks, reference tracks I mean, I will probably go in and have a quick listen to them and just see if like something that really grabs my attention. And usually that’s the sound design in my case. I try to catch the vibe, what the publisher is going for, but I usually try to start with what in my mind would be like the signature of the track. And that could be like yeah, a rhythm, and it could be the strange bwahms sound and so what, like just jamming around and trying to get this first seed of an idea. And after that I do what you do, sketching out a track and that’s, I don’t, usually I just do it like in my DAW like just writing up, like since I have this idea it’s like eight base stuff loop for example. Does this feel like the second act or does this feel like the third act or am I in the first act, because it could be one of those, the first thoughts in my head. And then I structure out the track around that idea just to get the full picture of it. And then usually it is, I try to like build on that idea. And I have like this idea of every part, like track in the full track should evolve and carry its own weight. So if I’ve decided this signature part is in the second act then it needs to be able to get bigger in the third and it needs to be smaller in the first. So can I do that? And then I try to work my way from there.
And that’s if I have like a brief as you say now, if I have, when I do like just doing sound design stuff I use a lot of resampling, I’m not ready, should I go into this now, should I wait?
Rich: Oh yes, you should go into it.
Simon: Alright if I like, I’m doing a brahms sound for example I record a bunch of clarinets and saxophones out whatever I found in my collection in my house. And then when I like have done a lot of samples and then I have to browse through them and there’s one that grabs my attention, do something with me, alt right,. I take you, and then I have to add that to like a track and that’s a first sample, I call it original sample. And then I copy that. And then I start to try to like doing cleaning up of that sample. So like ok, this sounds ok, like a first version and like just cutting it and editing it, it’s kind of nice. And then I do another cut of that and then I usually pitch it down a lot and then I start doing some just experiments with it. And I try to use it like, almost like a clay, like you can bend it and stretch it and turn, you can like time stretch it 24 times, and then bounce it one more time and use like a snippet of it. And what happens then, and because I always have that renal sound on top of that. So if I went too far and it just turned too much then I just delete that and go back through, and then I can continue.
And then I, that creative like experimental phase is over and like this sound is really great, then I make another copy of that and then it’s almost like ok I have made my first sound in the full symphonic orchestra. I have made it violent. And then I need to make like the viola, the cellos and the bass beneath that so I fill it up, so I have the full range of that sound. And when I do that it’s also like I use filters, I use distortion of I need more high end, I pitch it down, I compress the pitch down, part a lot for example. And then I have like four layers of that sound, then I have the strings in the symphonic orchestra. Now I need another layer of that. So I think that full layer and make a resample of that one. And then I have the ‘strings’. So I have one sound there, and then I take that full sound and keep that as an original and make a copy of that, and then I start to pitch that one down, or try to pitch it up, or try to experiment the same way as I did the first time with the3 first original. So I keep this as a new.
And then I continue to do this, and because the sounds get more and more dense and more and more wider and yeah, it gets more of everything. At one time I realised alright I have come too far I need to step a couple of ways back, or I’ve got like sidetracked and I realise everything is, alright I need to like fix the wideness, or its too harsh or whatever.
And then I can always go abc because I keep all the steps because I know it will make resampling of it in the inside the DAW and I can go back and I can…So it’s a big experiment, but I have like a clear process but I have this idea if its one sound that should take like the full spectrum and the full stereo wide spectrum also, then it needs to feel like a full symphonic orchestra in place, with every instrument at the same time. You need the aggression from the drums, you need the fullness of the brass and you need the top from the strings. You need everything in that sound. And I try to imagine that and try to do it that, but with that, only that single sound to begin with.
Rich: So, that sounds so much fun.
Simon: Yeah, it’s incredibly fun, its, I use a lot of like free heavy STs and stuff because they do somethings, you can find a most strange things they do, and you can keep that like I need, I just need like a strange bend stuff here. Yeah, I can use this, I noticed a guy called Norris, he released like 23 VSTs and they make really strange stuff, all of them, yeah, you probably could, but I use like 10% of one of them, and it creates like this character to the sound that I haven’t heard before and it’s trying out that stuff. And alright it didn’t work right, I’ll try something that I really used to know how that works. And it’s just like a big fun experiment.
But I have this set goal of what I’m trying to do and I have this imaginative picture of what it should sound like when I’m done. And then of course that could change during the process. If I found out that alright if I pitch this sound up like one sometime after the first impact, it sounds amazing. Yeah, ok, then it’s the imaginative picture in my head changed to alright this is more of a bend sound more than this aggression, aggressive beham sound for example.
Rich: So it’s just, this is just so cool. Now I’ve got a couple of questions about this because I’ve kind of got a picture of how I would interpret what you’re doing because I think I do a similar thing. But I want to clarify. So what DAW are you in?
Simon: I’m in Ableton.
Rich: Oh mate, it’s perfect that, so you’re in the perfect DAW for that type of mangling?
Simon: Yeah. I do a lot of parallel processing. Since I only want to use like 10% as I mentioned then it’s really easy to work like this. Really, really long chains of effects and stuff in the resampling and stuff in Ableton.
Rich: Ok, so I think you’ve kind of answered my question, but I want to get it just clarified. So you’re loading the original sample, is the original sample on its own channel?
Rich: So every time you do a resampling does that then become a new audio file on a separate channel?
Rich: So by the end of this although you mentioned that you have the five strings sections, you know the violins, violas, cellos, bass, or violin twos, violin ones. Would you have in the leadup to getting those five mock string sounds, surely you’d have like 10, 20 different samples above that on separate audio channels?
Simon: Yeah, one sound of five seconds can be often like 30, 40 or 50 tracks down the line. Then when I’m done that’s the final process sound, that’s 50 channels now usually.
Rich: Dude, so what you’re doing essentially every time you do a brief is you’re creating an entirely sample library?
Rich: In effect.
Simon: Yeah, I might not go this far when I’m doing a track because this is like, this process is just when I’m doing a sound design session for myself, for a publisher when I just do sound. But I keep those sounds, and one more, one interesting stuff, thing about doing those processes is that it’s so small details that can like make it or break it on that sound. And it’s kind of hard to hear those small details when you first pick that first sample, because it could be something in the tail of whatever I, the saxophone that I play. There’s some hiss or something in the tail that is really, really hard to get rid of. And when you have processes that like 30 times already, you’ve compressed it and you’ve limited it and you’ve started it. All the small details they can bring out something really amazing, really beautiful, but it can also like kill the sound.
But in my experience at least is that you get really into the details of everything and you then this is like on what you say like on a micro level and then when you can put, you can use that knowledge when you go to the full rack, because it’s the same thing. I mean if I create a woosh hit, you need the woosh, the act one and you need the big hit, its second Act two for example and then you have the tail of the third act. You have all the parts of this sound, in a full track also. And you can, when you take that knowledge into like mixing you also get really aware of the clash of different frequencies when you start to layer so much stuff on top of each other.
And you do that when you make like a hybrid track you have all the, you have the full symphonic orchestral, the strings and the brass and then you have a lot of like synths and then you have all the drums and then you have all the hits and then you have all the risers and it’s so dense, so you can use the same knowledge when you mix and produce an orchestral, your tracks also. So I, to me it’s really, it’s a good to just practice mixing and production also.
Rich: Big time. I think the nice thing that you talked about it approaching it, you’re essentially approaching it in four part harmony which I like.
Rich: Actually often people say to me you know Rich, I’m a guitarist, I don’t know how to write for an orchestra, and I say yes you do, you’re a guitarist, it’s the, we’re all doing the same things, they are essentially four parts to everything we’re doing, really. Even if you whittle it down to the absolute basics of a guitar, a lot of our guitar playing is first, fifth octave and then I don’t know a third or another note, maybe even a ninth if we’re getting crazy. And it’s the same with drums, drums, if you think about drums in four part harmony when you write rhythms it makes everything fall into place.
Rich: Yeah, I love that you’ve gone in, yeah sound design, four part harmony, love that, it’s great.
Simon: Yeah, but it’s as you say it just makes it easier for me to, because if I, usually if I laid up some sound design contact stuff or anything, I feel like oh I’m missing that, I’m missing the mid part of this ping sound or whatever. And if you then have that knowledge when you have the full track and you wanted to evolve over time and you start with this high like ping sound, it’s the usual trailer ping sound. But then you want that to be a part of the full track. But you can’t have that ping sound in the third act, yeah, then you know how to process it. You can like pitch it down 24 semitones and then you can resample that and you can cut off all the highs and all the lows and then distort it and then compress it, and then you have like a braaams sound. But it’s the same sound as you had in act one, so it feels organic. It feels cohesive through the whole track, but you just use the same sounds because you have the knowledge to do that, and you can do it really, really fast.
And it’s like as you say it’s just, it’s making it easier, there’s something missing in the third act, what’s missing, yeah, I missed that, alright, I can use that to create that. And I don’t have to go search in a library somewhere or try to lay up a new contact instrument or anything I can use what I already have, because that’s what I do all the time when I create sound design.
Rich: See, also you’re just coming up with so many great Simon how did you get that sound and you say oh its my saxophone. Oh, it’s my clarinet. I just love that because we are all suffering from the oh, we don’t have the latest sample library constantly, you know, we all think oh maybe this drum library is going to make me a better writer, maybe this string library is going to make my strings sound better. And yeah they might a little bit, but actually if you could take the things that you have around you, and as you say, ok well I’ve only got a guitar, so maybe if I can try and make my guitar sound like a string orchestra, how do I do that? And then all of a sudden you start to develop your own sound. And I think you have that come from all the varieties of music I’ve heard you write, it’s like I cold blindfold myself and go oh this is Simon. Because I, and your process, you explaining your process makes that so clear which is lovely.
Now we talked a little bit about barriers before, when you know when specifically the inner critic. But as a composer, and a trailer composer, what creative barriers do you think that you have? Do you think there are commonalities between all of us?
Simon: I think the inner critic is a big one. It’s a for sure one for me. And it comes up often when I’m finishing up a cue for example and I’m in the mix phase, or just, I’m just about to send it off. And the inner critic like hits me, like well is this even good anymore, is this like, why should I even bother, have I gone too far, have I? And all these questions and it’s almost like I alright I just need to hit the send button now then I will have to take the feedback or the critic from the publisher. But it’s really a big one for me and also its, we talked about patience earlier, that’s also a tough one I think for a lot of us. Just waiting for the placements. I mean it can take as you said a year, even for an established composer. To get the placement you can have like dry seasons for a year or even longer. And the waiting for answers and waiting. But so those one are tough. And then I’ve done my first two solo albums this year.
Simon: Thanks. Yeah, and it was so much fun to like get the opportunity to make a solo album, and someone believes in me and yeah, bam, this is so awesome. And you make six or seven tracks and then you hit the brick wall. Alright, what the hell should I do now, I have made seven tracks and they have the kind of same character and they feel cohesive, but what can I do now to like, like it needs to like fit the same frame, but I need to come up with something new.
So what I did actually in both those, for both those albums was I had about this choir composer Whittaker.
Rich: Eric Whittaker?
Simon: Yeah, exactly. And he described this process where he didn’t, he imagined the full track. Before he even wrote down a single note. And what was it all about. So he could like paint a drawing or sketch it out, but he didn’t put down one note. And I thought it was absolutely beautiful and I used that technique in both those situations. So I made like alright I have seven tracks here, they have this kind of feeling, ok if I were to like, instead of writing a new track, I will tell a story, what would that story be? Alright it’s this man who, he will just get hanged in a couple of minutes and his thought process from when he leaves the cell until he actually dies. Alright that’s the story I will try to tell. And I can, I wrote down like a couple of sentences that I thought this might be the first act. He might remember something about his kids, or early in the second act it’s like this crowd shouting at him when he approaches the what’s it called, when you get hanged?
Rich: A noose.
Simon: A noose, yeah. And then, when he, the third act is actually when he dies. And then it just became so clear because I had like this palette or sounds from the seven or six tracks before. And I had this story, then it was so easy to just do the tracks. And then for the eight track I did the same thing and it was another story, but it was the same palette of sounds. So I used that again. And then it was all of a sudden it was just done. So that was like, it was really amazing to find that new technique to get past the barrier. And I thought to myself I will do this every time. But a lot of times I just sit down and I just feel creative and I just have this all of these ideas, and I don’t and I realised after I have sketched out the full track oh I should have done the storyline. But it wasn’t needed. So I kind of, I used that when I don’t really know what direction I want to go or if I just hit a brick wall and I don’t know what to do with that. But it’s something, it sounds kind of weird, I guess, but it really works for me, at least. And I think when I hear those tracks now, I don’t remember the stories, but that was that story, that’s the Army of the Dead, that story. So I can hear the story when I listen to the track now. So it’s kind of a cool experience also to try to do that.
Rich: See, I absolutely love that. For many, many reasons. The first one is the contemporary composer Ligeti he used to sit down with a stopwatch, close his eyes, start the stopwatch and imagine the music that he was going to write. Similarly. And then when he’d finish he’d stop it and he’d know how long the piece of music was going to be and then he’d write it.
Simon: Oh so cool.
Rich: Yeah. But the thing is what you’re saying is actually you’re kind of tapping in to an imagined trailer aren’t you?
Rich: Ok. Lets picture what trailer I am writing for and I really, really like that because what you do when you think about the story is you tap into the emotions don’t you, over and above the details, it’s the emotions that are communicating. And I think that’s what comes across in the music. You know the emotion is what people connect to. So when you picture that it’s a beautiful thing. And the third one is what you’re kind of essentially saying is before you start making noise you sit down in silence and let the ideas come in.
Rich: And I think that’s it. Oftentimes I have the same thing. I will sit down to write a piece of music and I’ve got the intention of writing, but there’s so much noise in my head, there’s so much expectation on my shoulders that nothing comes out. So sometimes like you said the best thing is silence and to sit there and just breath. And then it’s like the fog disperses.
Rich: I love that.
Simon: I actually try to do it because this was a horror album, I think you know what album it was. But I try to use situations that I felt kind of scared in. So I remember one night when I was out with, our little daughter had a hard time sleeping, so I took in the baby carrier and just walked out, we have, walked out in the woods here. And it was kind of scary, it was dark, and it was like this kind of hissing in the sound, in the trees, and stuff like that. And I feel like alright is there someone coming here. I realised this is scary, this I have to write down, what am I afraid of. Alright I am afraid of, it would be really scary of a monster came down here, or whatever it was.
And yes use that. And when I got back home into the studio I had this little story about when I felt scared. And I could just sit down and write the track and it was so easy, because that was my own true feelings that I just had been written down. And then I tried to convert them into a track. But it became kind of scary and it was really fitting for that album I think. And it’s something, someone or sometimes doing the dishes or whatever this idea comes and I just try to write it down in the phone and then I have that new track when I sit down it’s just to fill out the blanks in the DAW, it’s not a blank paper that stares at me, it was oh this is so easy, tis just too like…But yeah, I’m not sure if it works for everyone, but it’s something that worked for me at least.
Rich: Yeah, I think the thing is as composers and especially when you, when there are expectations on your shoulders you need to have tools to tap into inspiration, or as you say to break the brick wall. And sometimes the tools are doing the mundane things like washing the dishes. Like sometimes if you sit down and nothing is happening go and hoover the upstairs you know.
Simon: Yeah, absolutely.
Rich: Go sweep the front yard. And all of a sudden you’ll go wait here’s an idea, you know you let it in.
Simon: Yeah, absolutely.
Rich. And it’s just lovely.
Simon: But you really need to listen to when that idea arrives, this is the same with sound design, I realise that I listen to all the sounds, I played with my daughter in the kitchen on the floor last night. And there was so much amazing noise. It was like the thermos when you hit it to be able to tap put coffee. And I have used that thermos for like thousands.
(Rich makes a sound).
Simon: Yeah. And I have used it like thousands of times, I have never thought about the sound. And I think it’s the same thing with the ideas or the, you have some troubles or some stuff in your life that you’re thinking about, alright that might be you’re next track. So I think it’s all around us, but you need to like listen to that voice, that idea, or that sound or whatever it was. And that can be kind of tough sometimes also to notice, being in that moment and listen to oh that’s an amazing sound, that’s a story for a new track or whatever it is.
Rich: Yeah. And in fact funnily enough we were talking about this before it records about those moments when you find an amazing sound and you kind of go well I’m with the family right now, how can I get my Zoom recorder and record this?
Simon: Yeah. yeah, I did that at work one time, and I need to find a time where the post office part of our office was empty so I can go in there and record the big stamp machine that they have that makes this amazing sound. But I couldn’t do it with my colleagues around.
Simon: We’re kind of nerdy I guess.
Rich: Yeah, big time. I think that’s a nice thing. And I think I’m getting so much enjoyment myself, and also the listeners are getting so much enjoyment from this podcast because it’s so niche and the nice thing is we were talking about this earlier, the fact that we can talk about risers and everyone listening is going oh yeah love a rise you know. And everyone can, I’m sure everyone can relate to those moments when something happens at work, at home, wherever you are and you what a noise and you go that was an amazing noise. You know, whether you use that as inspiration, whether you actually record it or not. You know I was talking to Andrew Skipper and obviously he’s you know recording his bushes you know.
Simon: Yeah, yeah.
Rich: Recording snapping twigs you know, and I think this is the nice thing. Actually trailer composers are very interested, especially I think those of us who are interested in the sound design aspects of trailer stuff, are very interested in the sounds that surround us. And you know we are all huge nerds, we just want to record someone flicking through a book or using a stapler and then put it into out, put it into Logic or Ableton and then like you say set this channel of huge effects chain.
Simon: Yeah. But I also think a lot of us share this commonality of like have background in fantasy. I played R&B for a, I loved like Marvel fantasy books when I was younger and stuff. And I have this idea, I don’t think I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I have this idea that you have a bit like trained your imagination over the years, because you read all the stories and you paint all the pictures in your head about dragons or trolls or whatever. Because when I hear a sound I can say that’s an amazing sound, my girlfriend will go. That’s not amazing, it’s a dishwasher, you hear it every day, it’s not an amazing sound. And I was like oh but if you pitch it down, and you like turn up all the highs and you like run it through this gigantic river then you have an amazing sound.
So you have this, you can take it like a couple of steps in your head and you paint this picture of what this could be. And I do this, I notice I do it all the time. I just assumed that everyone does it, but cracking some nuts, oh that’s some ribs being smashed, but it’s not. But in my head I could use that for like that situation for example. So I think that’s a really important part about sound design at least to be able to run, let the imagination run wild, and I have this idea and what can I do with it. And just realised that all these ideas are floating round in your head just to grab them, oh that’s, when you open that door that’s amazing.
I was in the cellar putting down some stuff for the gardening earlier this year, earlier today and shut the door. And I have shut the door a lot of times but I just realized that’s an amazing sound, if I just cut the tail of it because it was kind of, the tail wouldn’t work, but I could use that and it’s a little bit about being in that moment and just listen to what surrounds us. I think. And use the imagination.
Rich: Yeah. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been, me and my family have been in like a car park or a hotel stairway, and somebody slams a door. And obviously you’ve got this like eight second, 10 second reverb.
Simon: Yeah. Amazing.
Rich: And I’m like guys, guys, be quiet, I’ve got to get my iPhone out.
Rich: But the wonderful thing about those situations you’re right is about being in the situation where you’re like engulfed by the actual vibrations of the sound and that’s the exciting thing.
Rich: I mean you say a lot of it is for sound design, but the thing is most of us, most trailer composers are in this for i would say hybrid trailer music. And you have to approach orchestral trailer music with a sound designers mentality, that’s the way I visualise hybrid trailer writing. It’s like, it’s not just synths and orchestra, it’s the combination of sound design and orchestra. And actually you know what if you want to make this sound like a really wicked hybrid track maybe you take that cello part and maybe that is Simon’s original source audio. And maybe that is the thing that you then resample tons and tons of times, because then you can take that and use that to sculpt the whole track. Maybe you start it with the original sample, but the original sample is mangle and layered with the lower end, oh yes, it’s just endlessly exciting.
Simon: Yeah, absolutely.
Rich: Ah we’re such nerds.
Simon: Yeah. But it, maybe you should, we should just embrace that and add that to our benefit for us?
Rich: Yup. Well I think we are. We’re doing it, you know we are doing the thing, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast to embrace my nerdiness.
Simon: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the kind of thing which was also something, we were chatting me and my girlfriend over dinner for a couple of weeks ago, and she was just telling me in my face but you are a nerd Simon. Yeah, maybe I am, but that might not be a bad thing then because I like this part of me I guess.
Rich: Yeah. wear it with a badge of honour you know.
Simon: Yeah, exactly.
Rich: I think the thing is it’s all about enjoyment and if you just get enjoyment out of this stuff, if this is the thing that gets your fires going then do it. It doesn’t matter what everyone else says just do it and that’s the important thing isn’t it. Just do it.
Simon: Yeah, absolutely. And I think also what you say a lot in the course and in the group in the course do what like brings the emotion for you because that will shine through the music that you do. I really, really think that’s true, absolutely 100%.
Rich: Well it’s really nice for me because obviously I’ve spent so many years being the composer, so being on the other side where I’m hearing other composers work so regularly, I really hear it when they have put that emotion in, or it’s like, or they’ve really enjoyed writing it. It’s like you can feel their excitement when you listen to it, it’s just lovely. It’s just lovely. And I try and remember that now when I sit down and write, I’m like ok remember that, I know this already, but sometimes I forget, I need to feel excited by this. You know I know it’s my job, but I need to find, and it’s not necessarily like, sometimes I will get a brief that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me, but as you said you get the brief, you find an aspect of that brief that gets you excited because then that energy will go into your music and then it will go out to the publisher and you know.
Simon: Yeah. And then I think what you mentioned earlier also, like you have heard a couple of different genres from me, but it always sounds like Simon. And then it will, when you get that part of the brief that excites you and you make your own stuff of that, you need to of course keep the brief in mind always of course, but then it’s your voice out there. And I think that’s important because its not, it’s like its a part of that also, because if you get out and an editor finds your music and it’s like oh this is amazing I really like this stuff and I put it in this trailer, and then the next time they will do some work oh right I really liked Richard’s sounds, does he have anything more from that publisher. And he contacts the publisher and yeah, here’s Richards stuff. And when he listened to it, well nothing of that was what I thought it was because it wasn’t the same voice that shone through all those tracks. But if you keep your ‘signature sound’ in your voice in your track or your excitement in your tracks, then the editor will continue to work with you choose your music over others because they like your voice. And I think that’s an important part of it also. And it will be, it’s just easier to work, because we are doing so many tracks, each month, all the time, and if you don’t do what you like to do it will not be sustainable in my opinion. I don’t think you can do something that you don’t really like over time, and especially when you send it off and you don’t get a response and you don’t get a placement, why should I continue to do something that I don’t like, even though it doesn’t give me anything back at all. Then you will just eventually quit I think. So I think from both sides it’s just good to find excitement of it first. I guess.
Rich: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, back in the days when I used to do corporate films you know that was like, they were my paid jobs as a composer so I’d get back from my day job and I’d do corporate jobs. And at first it was exciting because it was like I’m being paid to write music, this is pretty cool. But then obviously with corporate the creative realms to maneuver are very slim, you know, you’re basically just trying to rip off Coldplay constantly. And after a couple of years, not ripping off Coldplay, but after a couple of years of doing corporate stuff I just wasn’t enjoying it. And as a result the work I produced was just the worst quality you know, it wasn’t as good. And then my reputation started to precede me that my work wasn’t as good, I started getting as much work, because I lost the excitement. And it wasn’t really until trailer music came into my life that the excitement was reborn. So yeah, I completely agree. The excitement and enjoyment I mean I always hammer on about this anyway, but hearing someone else say it just is like yeah, I agree.
Simon: Yeah, because we are self employed and we need to look after yourself, like every aspect of it, the business side, the creative side, but also the sustainable and the you need to be able to go to work each day if you’re an employed somewhere and you don’t like it that much, but it’s a good salary and yeah ok I can do it, I can drag it out. You can probably do it over a year, you might not be the happiest guy around, but it might be something that you could do.
And someone else tells you what you will, now you’re supposed to do that, now you’re supposed to do that. And you get a monthly salary, and everything. But when you’re self employed none of that is true anymore and you need to like, yeah, you really need to find like a sustainable way in your career I think.
Rich: Yeah. and I’m hammering on about that, that same point which I would happily do for ages because I think it’s so, so important. I think we’ll move on to the before the quick fire round. This is like, I think you’ve already given so many wonderful pieces of advice here, but I want you to give advice to people who want to get into trailer music. What would be your advice for people getting into trailer music.
Simon: That’s a good one. I think of course, and your courses are amazing, but a course overall, and maybe not I think the best part of the course is the community because you get peers around you that you can talk to, and you can evolve together and you can give feedback to each other and you can also like share the difficult moments when you don’t get any responses and anything. You get like just a feeling that there are a lot of other composers and people around you that share the same experiences that you do, so you’re not alone. Because it’s like a cutting edge business, it’s really, really tough. And you also get, in the course you also get this foundation of what it is, what it’s all about. And then I think when you have a track send it out, just send it out, nothing can happen, it’s scary, as yeah it’s so freaking scary is this good, is this not good. I have this genre I’ve never worked with before, but everyone will be happy that you were the first guy that sent it out. Or if you send it to one person that person would be happy, oh, he sent it to me, and I feel that I can give something back because I feel kind of important because he trusts me with my feedback.
So just send it in a group, send it to a person whatever, just send it out and get it back. Because it’s so easy to get side tracked if this is good. And then the inner critic comes and then you start like going in circles and you over produce it and you don’t sleep. So yeah, send it out, get some feedback, get a break from that track at least
And come back to that a couple of days later or something and continue with it.
And talking about fear, I think that’s the same thing in your DAW when you start to produce stuff and especially when it comes to sound sometimes it’s almost like I feel when I tried to help out my stepfather with some basic computer knowledge and he was so frightened to if I hit this button will the computer be broken, I was like no it’s just the cancel button it’s nothing to be worried about. And that’s the thing in your DAW it’s almost impossible to destroy the sound and if you’ve done that then it’s a good thing because you know the limit of that sound and just go a couple of steps back and see what happened, what happened, did you destroy the sound and what happened during the process. And yes, pushed the boundaries of that I think and you have to be playful with it. And the DAW will not be broken and the sound will not be broken.
So I think it’s a lot, I talk about a lot of fear, but that’s my personal experience, because it’s so much about that inner voice, well this braaam is not good enough, this rack is not good enough, and everything like that. But yes send it out, contact people, talk to people everyone feels the same so yes be brave and send it out and get some feedback back, and just be playful with it and yeah, and take it in.
With a course we also get a basic foundation of like the three act structure and why that is important and then yeah, all the foundation that you need to like that’s creating that foundation for you to build on later on and be even more experimental.
Rich: Awesome advice. Multi tiered advice some might say, yeah that was the whole thing wasn’t it, you’ve given great advice and business advice and mindset advice, which is you know the, what’s that thing Legend of Zelda, the triforce.
Simon: Yeah, exactly.
Rich: Ok, right, let’s move on to the quick fire round., you’ve already answered one of these already, so this one is pretty simple, just answer the, nice and quick, hence the quick fire round I guess. Ok, so Simon what’s your DAW?
Simon: Ableton Live.
Rich: Awesome, what is your go to piano library?
Simon: Noir from Native Instruments, or Sift Piano, but I like Noir a lot.
Rich: Go to string library?
Simon: Cinematic strings.
Rich: Go to brass library?
Simon: Trailer brass.
Rich: Who’s that by?
Simon: Er, I’m so bad at this, some company. Everyone knows it. I am sorry I don’t know.
Rich: That’s ok, I’m sorry I don’t know either. Ok, let’s move on. Go to percussion?
Simon: Strike force. And LA Modern Percussion.
Rich: Nice. Go to synth?
Simon: Operator in Ableton, like stock plug in and Serum from X Records
Rich: And I know this one is going to be a particularly tough one for you to answer.
Rich: You can give me, I was going to say top three but you can give me the top five if you need to. Top three effects plugins?
Simon: Oh is that there’s like creative effects or mixed effects?
Rich: They’re one and the same really aren’t they? Honestly.
Rich: So, you know maybe give me three creative ones and two more tools.
Simon: Alright. I thought with the tools Pro Q 3 Fab Filter EQ awesome and Pro MB they’re Multiband compressor is also, I use those two on everything I think. When it comes to the creative side is it ok if I say Ableton as one of them because I use this.
Simon: Yeah, the DAW I think I use the DAW and the stock plug ins actually the most. I like yes pitching down stuff in the DAW itself, pitching it up afterwards, stretching it and stuff like that, that’s like my bread and butter I think. But when I use like the usual suspects like Sound Toys, I think I use some of them in kind of different ways. Like Face Mistress is not one of those that you hear about much, but you can do some really crazy stuff. If you try to break the plug in, if you pull the input to max, and the output to max and then I use, so Face Mistress I use a lot from sound toys and I really got overboard with this, but ok can I say Sound Toys as one?
Rich: Yeah, go on then.
Rich: So youre saying Ableton and Sound Toys.
Simon: Yeah. Ok, I say Face Mistress is a wonderful plug in and then I’d say Little Alter Boy from Sound Toys. They’re big shifters, I use that a lot also. And what would I say, then I’d say actually this is also an extra plug in, the same that do the same. So I use their LFO Tool a lot, everyone in the world uses LFO to sidechain pumps, but I don’t use that part of it, it has real lovely filter section, the same filter section as you have in Serum, but you have visual representation of what it does. And you have these really strange filter settings in this, and when you have really dense sounds like the saxophone, it has a really complex overtone series for example, like if you compare it to like a flute really easy to work with overtime series. So mixing engineers always hate saxophone because they’re so hard to like to fit in the mix, so if you start to like distort a saxophone it just turns to mush immediately. So its just noise almost, but if you instead of that I use like cone filtering on a dense sound like a saxophone for example and you turn up the drive so you drive the filter really, really hard, and really, really hot you get this kind of screech sounds that I really, really enjoy and I think that’s, I use that a lot so it’s part of my signature sound, so I use, it’s actually like LFO tool a step sequencer stuff this thing, but I use it in another way and it works beautiful for me.
Rich: That’s awesome.
Rich: You’ve given me like a million answers to that question.
Simon: Yeah, I went overboard, I’m so sorry.
Rich: I knew three would be difficult.
Simon: It’s just when you start talking about it and you can do that, and you can do this. Yeah.
Rich: I think the thing is it’s like especially with effects plugins because if I’d said your top three reverbs, three would be fine, because you’ve got all the effects, but I think all of us have at least a handful of effects we use on almost everything.
Simon: Yeah, absolutely.
Rich: Yeah. So thank you. And just to finish off the last quick fire question, what’s your number one piece of advice to write better trailer music?
Simon: Have fun.
Simon: It’s a kind of cliché but I think to sum it up that’s the main part, don’t bother if you don’t have fun, do something that you really enjoy instead, go surf, go do whatever. I mean, I work in sales, I went overboard again, but quick explanation of how fun I think this is, I work in sales, I work as an insurance counsellor and I sit on the phone, I take like 40 phone calls each day and talk to customers and each hour, I start at eight and I finish at half past five, each hour you’re supposed to do 45 minutes of phone calling and then 15 minutes of administration. And that’s the, you can like, what I realsied is you can do the 45 minutes around, you can collect them into a segment and you can save up time during the day, so everyday I carry my laptop to work and I do like three or four sections of 45 minutes in a row, and I do all the administration while I’m talking to customers and then I have like one hour of free time that’s mine, and then during the last call I load up Ableton while I’m talking and as soon as I cancel the conversation with a customer I’m in Ableton and I have one hour during my work to suit and diddle around and try out sketching and stuff and one hour there and then 45 minutes lunch, I eat lunch for 10 or 15 minutes and then I have half an hour there and then I do the same thing in the afternoon. So during my work days I can like get, not always but one or one and half hours of sketching in Ableton on my laptop.
And I’m not forcing myself to do that, it was just I need, I just want to do this, how can i get more time to do this, and when I realised that I did that and it’s kind of crazy when you talk about it, I realised how much fun I think this is. And then it’s the also it’s easy to push yourself when you need to. And then it’s probably not healthy to do that over a long period of time and everything like that, but it’s like a receipt that alright I think this is really, really fun, I will do a lot of things to be able to get some more time, free time to like produce music and create new sounds and stuff like that.
Rich: That’s awesome, you are a machine Simon.
Simon: I’m not sure but it’s just I think just have fun and if you think this is fun just go without, otherwise do something else.
Rich: Yeah, wonderful advice and on that I think we shall come to the end of our wonderful chat. Now if anyone wants to hear your music or get in touch to hear your music or you know how great they liked the interview how can they get in touch with you?
Simon: I’m on Facebook, finding my music is kind of hard because it’s all hidden in some catalogue, but hit me on Facebook or I’m on Instagram also. So I think that’s the easiest way.
Rich: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me I have very much enjoyed it.
Simon: Yeah, it was so much fun I loved it and I am so happy to be on board and be invited for doing this, it’s the nerd hour and I love it.
Rich: I’m going to rename the podcast the nerd hour.
Simon: Yeah. No, I loved it, it was so much fun.
Rich: Thank you so much I really enjoyed it. Wow that was such a wicked episode I just absolutely loved hearing about his creative process. It’s really fascinating for me to not just hear people’s stories but also hear about the way the different ways we all approach the same thing it’s so good and the thing I really enjoyed is Simon’s focus on enjoyment and that’s one of my huge focuses as well and I hope you guys get this message from the podcast from YouTube videos and courses, you must enjoy this, otherwise why are you doing it, so take that way guys, enjoy what you do. See you round.