Composer Interview – Dirk Ehlert

dirk ehlert composerThis week I caught up with Dirk Ehlert – a German composer writing music for a diverse range of media including film, games and everything in between.

Tell us a bit about yourself – when did you originally get into music?

I have been making music in one way or another for about 20 years now. Starting with the school band, through different band jobs (keys), choir, studying music and trying various projects.

In parallel I started early with music made on PCs , I started out with Cubase Lite in the mid nineties. I guess there wasn’t even a piano roll editor at that time. But I grew up with Cubase and it has always been my DAW of choice. Due to job reasons etc. making music went a bit into the background but it was always present. In May 2011 I finally decided to give it a real shot and become a full time composer.

What does your studio consist of currently?

I’m running on a quite underexposed system right now. This will change soon, but for now the specs are: Intel i5 quad core with 16Gigs of RAM, ~4 TB space on various drives (no SSDs yet), an M-Audio Fast Track Pro Audio Interface. I control my DAW with my M-Audio Axiom Pro which also serves as the main keyboard. In regards to listening I use some plain Alesis Monitor MKII but since I mostly work on headphones my Focusrite VRM Box has become my holy grail in terms of judging a mix. I have some guitars like an Ibanez RGA72TQM, an Epiphone Les Paul and a Crafter Acoustic Guitar.

Whats your favourite piece of software at the moment and why?

Right now my favourite software is Heavyocitys “Damage” it’s an incredibly versatile tool and once you get deeper into it, it offers so much more than just “big bangs”. It’s an awesomely inspiring instrument.

What sites do you visit daily as a composer/musician?

Well, honestly I have FB open the whole day since there is a lot of communication happening, not only friends but clients as well. Apart from that I have a look at VI-Control from time to time as well as some developer specific forums (mostly when I’m in need of sth. or have a problem etc.) I regularly check Mandy.com for possible job opportunities, as well as IMDB. And of course SCOREcastonline.com, read later about that.

Your website shows a lot of your work for library developers. How did you get into writing sample library demos?

Well I just asked. :) When I started out with composing I heavily invested in new VSTis and libraries (naturally, since it was the basis of my future work). At some point I just contacted one developer, whether they’d need a library beta tester, showing some of my tracks to them that I’ve done with their libraries. I got a positive feedback on that and was in. Over time this happened with some other developer houses as well, up till the point that my work seemed to have raised some awareness in the market. There was a moment when developers where actually asking me, whether I want to test / demo their stuff. Felt pretty cool :)

You are the chapter director for SCOREcast: Germany. How did that come about, and what does it entail?

SCOREcast:Germany is a chapter of www.scorecastonline.com. Deane Ogden is the founder of SCO and I got to know him in the course of the last year. In February 2012 we did the score for a feature film together (Hattrick, 2012) and I can honestly say that we became friends – though we are continents apart and have never seen each other in real life (yet). It was in the beginning of May 2012 when he asked me if I could imagine running SC:Germany. I felt very honoured and of course took the opportunity. As a chapter director you basically care about the moderating functions in the FB group as well as organizing so called composiums 4 times a year – real life meetings of composers that are groupmembers. You are also in contact with developers and other music related people to get some “goodies” for your group members like special discounts or giveaways.

You also host the “Creative Hangover” every Monday – tell us a bit about this?

This also has to do with Deane, who originally invented “The Creative Hangout” – a 60 minute video talk between 10 creatives on Google+. Since this hangout thing grew steadily and more and more people wanted to join I thought of expanding the Hangout and created “The Creative Hangover” which takes place directly after the Hangout, Mondays, 12.30pm PST. Sometimes this inspired by the topics that were talked about in the Hangout before or it can be completely independent. Apart from that Deane is currently rethinking the whole thing to a solution that lets more people take part of that “Creative Talks”. More on that soon in the near future :)

Talk us through “Splendid”. How did you write it, how did you mix it etc.

I chose that one since it was the first time for quite a while that I did a vocal track again. Carie, the singer has been the singer of my former band project “AnsoticcA” and it felt really good to work with her again. The writing happened pretty fast, we had a date for a recording session in the afternoon (intentionally for another track) but when I prepared everything the chorus hookline came to my mind, so I very roughly sketched it (basically with just piano, a string patch, a drumtrack and one basic guitartrack).

I also came up with the lyrics at the same time, so when she arrived in the afternoon I had a very rough sketch of that track. We recorded a bunch of the vocal parts then, luckily (due the work on that former album) that went pretty flawless. She’s also an amazing singer with the ability to instantly transfer ideas into great singing :) So when she left I had some recordings of her voice plus that rough sketch. I then arranged everything and the track, as it is now, evolved in that process afterwards.

The orchestral parts are a bunch of different libraries like LASS, Cinebrass, Orchestral Essentials, some 8DIO stuff as well as Soundiron (the piano for example is their “Emotional Piano” a great library.) I recorded a doubled guitar track, drums are Steven Slate Drums in this track. Mostly I end up routing all the different instruments to 6-10 subgroups (Drums, Bass, Guitars, Strings, Brass, Synths, Perc, BackVoc, Voc). Most of the dynamic processing happens on these groups. I like to use Slates VCC for that analogue emulation. For Eqing I often use Waves H-EQ. Also compression is done with either Waves plugs (C1) and IK Multimedias analogue emulations (T-Racks). In that track I used two instances of Valhalla Reverb, one for the orch stuff and one for the vocals.

You sell your music online through some stock music libraries – when did you start this, and can you support yourself from just this?

Tbh I began with stock music libs when I started. I had no connections to filmmakers, gamedevs etc. so it seemed a reasonable way of starting out. I put some efforts into building up a solid portfolio and also put some time into analyzing which tracks sold well and what’s so special about them. What I didn’t expected is that these stock tracks led to custom work as well. It’s not like I could make a living out of only doing stockmusic but it generates a nice constant addition monthly.

In your experience, where do you feel the stock music library industry will be in 5 – 10 years time?

Right now I think (and hope) that there is not so much changing in the next years. The concept of music libs is pretty solid and I guess as long as there are people in need of music, music libs have a
future :)

What is your definition of success?

That’s a tough question. I ask that myself often too. What does successful mean? I work in a field that I actually can’t call “work” cause I do what I love to do most – every day. This isn’t work for me at all. And doing this, gives me a kind of inner satisfaction that makes me feel good and proud of what I do. It enables me to pay the rent, care for my family and also have the freedom to work from home, which means I see my son grow up and experience much more of him I guess than a father with a 9-5 job somewhere outside away from home. So these are all things to consider for what success means to me. If I can keep on the way, that what I do lets me and my family survive and make a living then I’d say this is success for me.

What are the most important influences on your music?

I have always been very open minded to various styles of music but my musical heart lies in symphonic metal. So I’m definitely influenced by bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation and the likes. But I also love film music and apart from the names like John Williams, Hans Zimmer etc. I’m a huge fan of the work of Howard Shore.

What would you consider to be your strengths and your weaknesses?

I think my greatest strength is my greatest weakness at the same time – I’m more of a self educated composer than a taught one (although I also studied music for a while in University) but most of what I learned and developed for myself is autodidactic. The strength side is that this gives me a kind of unconventional view on things – I don’t care about rules or anything like that, what counts for me is “If it sounds good, it is good”. On the other hand I know that there are some basic mechanics and tools that are essential for that work, so sometimes things can take longer for me than for an educated composer.

What types of media have you composed for and which is your favourite?

So far I did custom work, library work, a feature film, games and music for media in the widest sense (websites, corporate stuff etc.) But doing a filmscore is something special to me so if I definitely have to choose one it’ll be scoring films.

Do you operate your studio from home, and if so, how do you seperate your personal life and professional life?

Yeah I have my studio at home and I sometimes have a hard time seperating professional and personal life. But luckily my wife reminds me every now and then when I do not handle these too balanced enough.

Do you market yourself as a composer, and if so how?

I try to use a lot of today’s possibilities to spread my name and my work out there. Starting with today’s social media tools like FB, Twitter, Soundcloud, Youtube etc… I just today joined Pinterest as well, seems to be a legit way of “spreading the word”. Besides that I still regard a personal homepage as mandatory. We are in a situation where there are thousands of composers out there, that have the same aims as I do have, so basically I try to be special in my music itself, as well as using every possible channel to make me heard out there.

How do you deal with writers block?

What is this? :p

If you were stuck on a desert island with only 3 tracks, what would they be?

1. – Dream Theater – A change of seasons

2. – Forest Gump Suite

3. – Pink Floyd – Shine on you crazy Diamond

Check out Dirk’s website at http://www.de-tune.de/

Written by: Emmett Cooke

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

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www.FilmandGameComposers.com offers a wide range of interviews, reviews, guides and tutorials for composers and musicians who are interested in writing music for film, TV and video games.

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