That awkward Christmas dinner music business conversation

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That awkward Christmas dinner music business conversation •

So, it’s Christmas. And I thought it would be fun to schedule this post 2 days early, so you have something to read when you flee to the toilet to have just 5 minutes to yourself. (Man, I really sound like I hate Christmas now…)

Come on, you know just as well as I do that I’ve written and scheduled this blog post days ago, because who wants to sit in front of a laptop when you can stuff your face with too much food and hot chocolate while listening Christmas songs? (See, it’s not *all* hate! I do love some parts of it!)

And at the moment of writing, I sure as hell know that I will have that awkward Christmas dinner conversation at least once. Some random family member I haven’t seen in a while asking about me and my music, in such a way that you just know they are expecting interesting stories and big name dropping and newspaper reviews of your latest premiere and pictures of dozens of award ceremonies and shit.

This is not reality. Only for the best 1% or so. The guys who dedicate their life to music and work more than 12 hours a day. Me not so. I prefer to have some kind of social life. Eating Christmas dinner at a dinner table instead of a mixing table. And I have a very lovely boyfriend who likes the fact that I sleep at home every night and not on the couch in the studio because I worked way too late.

It all started when I went to the conservatorium to study. Everyone and their mums and nanas wants to know how that works and what you’re doing. So the classic conversation went a bit like the following:

“So what do you study?”

Me: “I study MediaMusic at the conservatorium in Enschede. Composition, music production, songwriting and sound effects.”

“Oohhh conservatorium!” [I know that word! But I didn’t listen to everything else you said.] “That’s music, right? You must be very gifted! So what instrument do you play?”

Me: “I don’t do any instrument, I study composition: I write and record music.”

“So with real notes! Do you write it all by yourself? That must be very difficult!”

Me: [Kind of fed up with the whole conversation already] “No, I copy Beethoven and then I sign with my own name.”

*awkward silence*

Every Christmas, every birthday party, every family gathering or party that was sort of “sitting in a circle, eating snacks and cake and talking to the people next to you” was like this. And the music business conversation hasn’t much changed since I graduated:

“So how’s music lately? Do you have a job already?”

Me: “I’m self-employed. An entrepreneur. There’s not really 9 to 5 jobs for a composer. I produce music and sell that on a stock music website called AudioJungle where people can buy it to use for their film or game project. I also have some income from advertisements on my blog and occasionally a commissioned piece of music. But business is slow: people have to get to know you exist. But that’s the startup phase, you can’t expect to earn a full-time salary in only a short time when you’re working in such a niche. It’s gradually improving though.”

“So what do you do all day?”

Me: “Well, basically everything I do is computer work, not really interesting. And then once in a while I try some chords on the piano. Or someone comes over to record a part. And of course some paperwork because that comes with every job.”

*disappointed face*

I guess people don’t really get how much the idea of work and income has changed since the digital era. Even I would never have thought I’d make my money on the internet by selling stock music and writing some blogs and selling ad space, this kind of thing just didn’t exist a decade ago! And you can’t expect people suddenly to know everything about these new jobs gradually appearing with improving technology and communications.

But what I DO find annoying, is that most people still have VERY old-fashioned ideas of working in the music (or any creative) industry. They all think it’s sitting at an ancient grand piano being a virtuoso writing symphonies with a quill on parchment. Going door to door from orchestra to orchestra to sell your new quirky and modern piece of music that nobody actually want to listen to (only the reviewers). Like all composers are stuck in the 1800s.

It’s kind of tiresome. But not all bad. It at least inspired me to write this blog post 😉


Do you have this kind of conversations with relatives or family friends you don’t see that often? Share them in the comment section, I love a good laugh! 😀

Disclaimer: The official term for the figure of speech used above is “rant”. It is meant as a satyrical and slightly sarcastic way of putting some thoughts and emotions in perspective, hopefully to the mere enjoyment of the reader.


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My favourite books on music creation

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My favourite books on music creation •

As with every craftsman, I keep some professional literature on my bookshelf. Well… Some? A whole boat load actually! Books from basic music theory to songwriting to music in films and games – I have a whole shelf full of useful, impressive, (sometimes boring) and very interesting resources about writing and arranging music.

But which books on music creation are my favourites? Which ones are the most inspiring? Which are the must-have titles for you to buy?

1 – The Sound Effects Bible

By Ric Viers

This book is your complete guide when it comes to recording and creating sound effects. What kind of sounds effects are there, what are they used for, how do you synthesize them? How can you build your own foley stage, what do you need for field recording, and how do you pick the best place and time? All these questions will be answered very elaborately. Creating is sound effects is way more than just holding a microphone to a creaking door!

2 – The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films

By Doug Adams

When you buy this book, I feel you have to get the Complete Recordings too. This book is full of analyzed fragments of the score, cue by cue, riddled with sketch scores written by Shore himself.

When you listen to the LOTR soundtrack, it is unavoidable that you will recognize themes and link them to certain places or characters. The way Shore braided all these themes together is very impressive, to say at the least.

This book tells you all about how the themes are related, what sub-themes are derived from other themes, how every theme develops with the story and at last a chapter about recording the bunch. A great way to dive into the creation of my favourite soundtrack of all times. I get inspired every time I open this book.

Can’t wait until The Music of the Hobbit Films will hit the stores!

3 – On the Track

By Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright

A very heavy and expensive book, but totally worth it. This is your complete guide to the world of film music. Who are in the production team, what function to these people have, what do you need to take into account when crating a film score, in which ways can you use melody and harmony, how to recordings and post-production work – literally EVERYTHING is written down in this book.

Cool bonus feature is that the book is riddled with interviews from the big guys such as Hans Zimmer and John Williams, and of course a lot of score fragments, so you can literally learn from the best!

Buy the books

Want these books on music creation for yourself? Get them through the links below!

The Sound Effects Bible - Ric Viers

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films - Doug Adams

On the Track - Fred Karlin & Rayburn Wright

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How I created my December Song cover

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How I created my December Song cover •

Have you already seen it? On Youtube?

A few days ago, I uploaded my version of Peter Hollens’ December Song for his cover contest. Check it out!


Give it a thumbs up if you like it 🙂 This is the original song by the way:


But how did I create this cover? I’ll tell you a bit about it!

1 – Print & analyze

Peter made a lot of MIDI files and sheet music available for this contest: from easy choral arrangements and piano arrangements to his own 8-part difficult a capella version.

I printed that version, an easy choral version and the original piano accompaniment. The easy choral version I used to analyze the music: which chords progressions were used?

2 – Practice & transpose

When I had figured out the chords, I could very easily practice the song. What key was comfortable to sing in? Even half a tone could make all the difference (I guess that’s why Peter’s original is in the key of freaking G flat with the annoying amount of 6(!) accidentals).

3 – Orchestration

I knew beforehand I wanted to make a sweet orchestral arrangement for my December Song cover, maybe with some electronics subtly mixed in. This takes quite some time, as there’s a lot of detail to it. For some parts I created my own melodic lines derived from the chord analysis. For other parts, I referenced or copied the printed sheet music.

   Learn how I create my orchestrations!

4 – Vocals

During orchestration, I also add in the vocal parts using some ugly synth sound. At the end, I replace them with some nice recordings. This was the first time I would actually do the majority using my chest voice and only the high notes in head, so that was quite scary! But I think it turned out quite well!

I listened to a lot of the entries, and there was some serious competition: really good singers, a few piano entries, a cello entry, someone doing sign language and even an electronic dance version. Fingers crossed and hoping Peter notices my entry and listens to the end!

Usually, I record my voice 3 or 5 times per part and make everything into a sweet Enya-like choir, but this time I only used 1 track per part and added some subtle stabilizing plugins, such as a bit of fattening, compression and pitch correction. I believe every singer should use a little pitch correction, even if you’re the best singer in the world. It makes your vocal lines a little tighter and that helps to blend them into the rest of the music.

5 – Mixing

Well, this one is kind of self-explanatory. Even if you only use 1 instrument and a voice, you need to find the right ratio.

If you’re working on something bigger, it’s important to take breaks: even if you can work on a mix for 10 hours straight while only pausing to refill your teacup, you get so immersed in your mix that you can’t hear it right anymore. Take a break for a few days and then revisit the project. You can make some tweaks with a fresh hearing.

6 – Video

Ah man, that dreaded video. I’m really not the video type of person. I’m not scared of people hearing me sing, but looking dorky on some video is a whole other kind of story! First I recorded my face playbacking to my own recordings. It was awful. I don’t have a good quality camera and I certainly have no talent for playbacking! Though I did wear a nice blouse. I basically looked like a Christmas present with shiny fabric and ribbons and stuff 🙂

Anyway, that playback recording was horrible, and totally not suitable for a good entry for this December Song cover contest. So I decided to do something else! A lyric video. Thank you iMovie for your beautiful backgrounds and endless possibilities. And not to forget the user-friendliness. I love that. So now I had a lyric video. It may not show me as a person, but at least it looks ten times better!


Have you ever participated in a Youtube cover contest?

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Style copying: 5 steps to using someone’s musical style without losing your own

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Style copying: 5 steps to using someone's musical style without losing your own •

As a composer, there comes a point in your career when someone asks you to write a piece that sounds like “composer X”. For example a film producer who want a score that sounds like Mozart for a historic drama, or a score with the sound of some other movie’s score. For example they want a scene that sounds like the Breaking Bad intro.

It’s not weird or uncommon that people ask for this, or when they send a mockup of the film with some tracks added to make clear what they want.

Howver, there is a little bump in the road: you can’t just copy some other music. That’s plagiarism. But how can you write music, using some other composer’s style, without losing your own sound? Without braking any copyrights? Charlie to the rescue with 5 steps to style copying!

5 steps to musical style copying •

1 – Listen to inspirational music

Don’t only listen to the example track someone sent you, but check out the entire album. Look for other music by that composer. Find music that originates from the same period and genre. Spotify is your best friend! Mark your favourites, create a little inspo playlist or write down what parts really inspire you.

2 – Analyze what you hear

Analyze the music. Try using your ears and a piano, or get hold of an orchestral score. Look at used rhythms, chords, melodic characteristics and what instruments are used in particular functions, for example melody, countermelody, pads, arpeggios.

Take notice if a composer uses particular instrument doubles for a part. For example I use harp doubled with celesta quite frequently. You could say that’s a characteristic for me as a composer.

I know lots of musician really hate this part (guilty too!) but trust me: it’s totally worth it to actually know what the hell you’re doing.

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3 – Compare to… you!

You probably noticed lots of things while analyzing your inspirational music that you like. Things you like to do yourself. Little things like a certain chord progression, or a particular instrument double, or a little motif that caught your eye (or ear)…

Make a list of all those things, but only – and I mean ONLY – when you really like said chord, motif or thingy.

Long long ago, when I was a young student in Groningen (that really is long ago!) we had to write a piece using the style of Ennio Morricone. Our teacher showed us the movie Cinema Paradiso (check it out, it’s very beautiful. I even cried) and we had to choose one of the musical themes to work with. I chose the title theme and these things really captured me:

  • Very long melodic phrases
  • Phrases often start with an anacrusis
  • Countermelody does a lot of 3rd / 6th parallelling
  • Pedal point
  • All filled in with arpeggiated chords

4 – Choose your characteristics

Now it’s come down to picking the characteristics you want to work with. Do you need to write something that sounds like it could’ve been written by said inspirational composer? Choose more characteristics. Do you have a lot of creative freedom, make it more your own thing by choosing less features!

Two questions that can help you:

  • Which characteristics are most typical for this composer?
  • Which characteristics suit my own style really well?

5 – Style copying – write that stuff!

Time to make it all your own! Write your own thematic material and crate something beautiful from it by using some of the other composer’s features.

Don’t stress out if you don’t use everything you wanted to use,and don’t be afraid to try something you initially didn’t choose. Remember this is a trick, a formula, not an absolute rule. It’s important to have fun!


Want to hear an example? Check out my “Morriconic” music.

   “Cinema Paradiso” by Ennio Morricone on Spotify    “Child theme” by yours truly on Soundcloud

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Voice care: 8 ways to take care of your throat when you’re a singer

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Voice care: 8 ways to take care of your voice when you're a singer •

Man, it’s flu time again! I sort of half escaped it this year (just got a sore throat and a runny nose for 3 days), but my S.O. really had a bad time quite recently!

If there’s one thing you absolutely don’t want as a singer than it’s illnesses related to your throat and lungs. Voice care is very important. You may only feel bad for a few days, but it can have effect on your voice for a very long time.

I know some people who can sing “through” it: my vocal teacher has this great story about her final exams, and I once did a major audition whil suffering from a nasty case of pneumonia. But best to avoid such things altogether!

Today, I give you 9 ways to care for your voice.

1 – Tea with honey

Even if you’re not a singer, drinking is important anyway. It is the best way to help your body clean itself on the inside. Also, you don’t want to get dehydrated (duh). Drinking tea is my favourite way to stay hydrated: there’s tons of options! I prefer grean tea and rooibos with a sponnful of honey.

Honey is the best stuff ever! All honey is said to be anti-microbial, but there are some studies that actually prove it for Manuka honey (= tea tree). And because I’m a total tea and honey snob, of course I have to buy the Manuka honey nowadays in stead of the cheapest brand available 😉

2 – Ginger-honey-lemon-drink

The holy trinity of sore throat remedies: ginger, lemon and honey. I usually put 2-3 slices of lemon, twice as much ginger and a generous blob of honey in a tea pot and pour hot water on it. Enough for 3-4 cups.

3 – Liquorice

In the Netherlands liquorice is kind of a thing. You can’t walt past the sweets department in a Dutch supermarket without noticing the shelves and shelves full of different brands and varieties of liquorice. I totally love that stuff. Just sucking on a piece and letting it melt slowly in your mouth will create a protective layer of sugar and saliva in your throat.

Be aware to grab the sweet liquorice variety and not the salty! There’s even special honey liquorice. Win win.

4 – Stepsils / Strepfen

My favourite throat medicine. Strepsils are a well-known brand here in the Netherlands for fighting sore throats. They also have a more heavy-duty pastille: Strepfen. This is basically Strepsils combined with ibuprofen painkillers. Best invention ever. Make sure you don’t overdose though.

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5 – Fisherman’s Friends

Not just Fisheerman’s Friends, they’re also singer’s friends! Very minty menthol sweets. These are my favourites when my nose and sinuses are all clogged up. The freshness opens it up and makes it possible to breathe at least properly.

6 – Fireman / brandy

This on is a little tricky, especially when talking voice care. Alcohol is not really healthy, especially when you’re ill. It lowers your immune system a little extra. Not the best idea. However, when you feel a sore throat coming up, a shot of Fireman or brandy can really make you feel better.

Fireman is basically Fisherman’s Friends in fluid form. It helps to open up your sinuses. And alcohol kills bacteria (hand sanitizer, hospital soap, you get the idea). Just remember to keep it to a minimum.

7 – Steaming

Pour some hot water in a bowl, add some chamomile tea and breathe in the steam. It helps to unclog your sinuses and also feels great when your throat feels raw from coughing.

8 – A hot eucalyptus shower

Basically steaming, too, but a bit easier. When using eucalyptus shower gel, it’s a lot easier to breathe and you feel very refreshed afterwards.

What is your favourite way to care for your voice when sick? Share your experience in the comment section below!

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