Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from and what do you do?
I am a music composer and arranger based in Montreal, Canada. I have 28 years of experience composing music and creating soundtracks synchronized to visuals. I have created music for television series, TV and radio advertising , films, documentaries and web sites. I also produced a few music albums in different styles.
My website: http://www.sergeessiambre.com/
Your library music is incredibly popular – when did you start writing for music libraries?
I started writing for Premiumbeat.com in 2005. I have tried working with other larger libraries but didn’t have much success.
Do you work with exclusive or non-exclusive libraries now (or a mix of both)?
Only exclusive. I find that music posted on non-exclusive libraries gets lost in space and that the customer has more chance of buying a track that will be heard somewhere else, could even be on the same TV channel! So I think it’s much more interesting to buy exclusive music.
Does composing music library tracks make up the bulk of your weekly work, or do you take on other projects too?
Composing for libraries takes a lot of my time, but I do take other short or long-term music assignments. I definitely make sure to keep some time to continue building my library even if I am working on a longer project. The beautiful thing is that even when I don’t have any contracts on the table, I can still continue being creative and compose for my libraries. I find it takes out a lot of stress and I can focus more on my music.
Have you noticed any trends in the music library industry over the years? For example tracks with ukulele and claps/snaps are popular nowadays.
Sure there are trends in library music. I would say they are probably the same as in TV shows, advertising or music that we hear on the radio. Some music styles can last a long time, and others don’t. But it’s hard to say what is trendy today, because it can be new stuff or old music styles that come back with a new twist. Vintage can become trendy. What goes through time is a good melody and the emotion that you put in your music. These cannot be outdated.
Which three genres are your top sellers for music libraries?
I would say trendy pop, emotional uplifting and corporate feelgood.
With a lot of major networks in the US now no longer accepting music from non-exclusive libraries, what do you think the knock-on effect of this will be people who sell music through non- exclusives? Do you think there will be a big dip in sales, or just a minor change?
I think that with time people will go more and more for exclusive and it might make a huge dip in a few years for non-exclusive. But it all depends on the customers that use library music and the seriousness of their projects. Some are very professional and work on huge and well-known projects, and some are just people creating a video of their last vacation. To the latter, it doesn’t matter if it’s exclusive or not because their stuff is done for personal use and will never go on TV or the web.
Do you think there is a formula for creating a successful music library track? For example a particular structure (eg. ABACBA) or mix of instruments etc.
The structure of a track is very important, there has to be an intro then something like « ABABCBA », and a good finale. A lot of composers nowadays work exclusively with loops and it can become very linear. There has to be also a good variety of instruments or colors in the arrangement. For example, when I come back to the second « A », I make sure that there is a little something more to make a good progression. Sometimes the climax can be in the middle of the track, and sometimes I keep it for the last part.
Also, I find it’s interesting for library music that the progression is not too slow, because the listener will probably click on the next track if he or she gets bored. I make sure that the groove is set within the first 20-30 seconds to keep the listener’s attention, even if it’s not the complete arrangement.
What does your studio currently consist of hardware/software wise?
I probably have the smallest studio in town! I work with a Mac Pro Quad Xeon Nehalem as my main station with two screens. I like working with my speakers Dynaudio BM6, and a pair of TOA small speakers to mix at a low volume. I only have one 88-key keyboard controller. I have two good mic preamps, and a few good mics like the Neumann U87. I use Apple’s Logic Pro with tons of plug-ins and virtual instruments. I sold all my vintage keyboards along the way. I am not a hardware freak, I only keep what I really use. Less is more!
Whats your favorite software right now and what software are you looking forward to most in the future?
I have been wanting to switch to ProTools for a few years as my main composing software, but I really like Logic Pro and know it inside out. I never feel that I am limited with my
music creations, so I will continue that way unless I work on a project that absolutely requires ProTools. But so far I have always been able to deliver quality music with all the requested
technical specifications. So why change?
What was your favorite project to have worked on so far?
I know that might sound weird, but PremiumBeat is my favourite project so far. And I have worked on prestigious projects in Montreal in the past. The main reason is that I am free to compose what I want, when I want it. There is no client asking me for changes to satisfy his own needs. I like giving myself briefings, and go wherever my feelings of the day take me. Also when I work on specific projects with precise (or not!) briefings from the client, it’s not always how I would do it personally. The director has a specific vision, and very often it’s not the same as mine. At the beginning of my career, it didn’t matter to me. But nowadays I like very much to have complete freedom on my creations. That’s why I like PremiumBeat. Probably my best work ever is on there.
Talk us through “Only Human”. What was your writing process, how did you mix it etc.?
For “Only human”, I started with that ukulele motif. Then, I added some bowed and legato violins. Then, I added a double-time marimba sequence. After that, I found this chord change that I really liked. I made sure that there was a good build-up until the B-part. I had fun blending all those sequences together to create a good rhythmic effect. I only used electronic drums to give it a modern twist. I liked making a dip with the celesta @ 1:24. It gave the emotional pause that I was looking for until the finale. I like the overall feeling of this track. I have seen it used in all kinds of projects, and it always worked perfectly to emphasize the emotion.
What does your daily routine consist of?
I get up, I compose, and then go to bed! 😉 Seriously, when I work on my music library, I need to start with a clear direction. I give myself a briefing in a specific style. I choose a video that inspires me and I work with it. I set the tempo, the key and I start composing. I usually start with a chord progression with the piano or acoustic guitar, and then a rhythmic element to get me started with the arrangement. If I am working on other projects, I sometimes switch from one project to another in the same day. That way I don’t get stuck in a track and put too much time on it when the feeling’s not there.
What are your favorite musician/composer websites?
What useful tools do you use daily as a composer?
My acoustic piano or an acoustic guitar to get me started.
What’s your definition of success?
To be able to do what you like, when you like, without too much compromises. And to be able to make a good living out of it!
How do you stay fresh as a composer?
Listening to music and watching good films helps me a lot for inspiration. I use YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter to get a taste of what’s happening. I also like short or long urban getaways to inspire me and give me energy to continue.
Where do you see the music library industry in 5-10 years time?
I think this industry will continue to grow in the next few years. Library music keeps getting better and people have less money for their projects, so it becomes interesting for them. They can listen to tons of tracks and choose exactly what they need.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?
To compose exclusively for a library instead of sending tracks that were made for other projects. At first, I had a lot of tracks piled up on my hard disks from older projects and I decided to send them to PremiumBeat to see what would happen. But the more I was selling, the more I began composing specifically for this library. Usually people call me to compose music for their project. But now I compose the music first, and somebody somewhere likes it and uses it. This music is not limited to one project in one city, it is available to a lot of people in different countries worldwide. It’s a different approach and it can give unexpected results.
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?
My sessions’ hard disk. All the rest can be bought again, but my compositions can’t.
Can you recommend any useful books on composition/mastering/business etc. that you’ve read and enjoyed?
Not really. I am a self-made composer and only took classical piano lessons when I was young. I always learned to compose and arrange music by trial and error, and I preferred relying on my own instinct instead of learning by other people’s experience or tips and tricks. I have never been interested in taking courses in this field.