Last week Lee and I interviewed Markus Zierhofer, a young composer from Austria who we think is definitely worth an introduction. After completing his Bachelor degree in Classical Composition as well as Piano and Education at Vienna he’s now studying for his Masters in Film Music at the Film University Babelsberg. Fun fact: I had interviewed Markus on a previous occasion in his studio. However for the first time in our website’s history the audio files were corrupted somehow and we are happy that he agreed on doing it all again via Skype.
Let’s tell you who he really is and show you one of his tracks which he wrote for the official Youtube channel of a German Star Citizen clan and community:
Markus Zierhofer mentioned that he is really glad to be, in a way, part of Star Citizen: a space simulator that has raised over 80 million dollars already – only via crowdfunding. Markus is responsible for themes for the official Youtube channel of the well-known German Star Citizen clan and community C.R.A.S.H CORPS as mentioned at the beginning of the article. Furthermore he has scored a couple of games already and works at the moment on several projects developed by the Games Academy in Berlin.
Additionally he has scored a considerable amount of short films already including REM which has just been nominated at for the Shocking Shorts Award 2015 in Germany. Furthermore he score one short film about the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest (which takes place in Austria this year), called “12 Points” and including some well-known actors from Austria. You can listen to the track “We Build Our Home” from the score here:
That was why we wanted to know what main differences he sees in scoring for movies compared to games:
Mostly in film you have a steady time code and you write the music on the editing. In games because it’s mostly interactive you have to write differently. You have specific layers which are triggered [by specific actions.] You don’t have a real timing and you have to care about transitions when [the player gets into a fight e.g.]. You also have to care about the implementation of the music with FMod for example because it’s really important for the impact in the game.
Furthermore one Austrian feature film lies in front of him. To stay updated about this you should definitely follow him on Social Media and his website. You can find the links at the end of this article.
But Markus is also interested in Trailer Music projects and has done some already for American Television. His first solo album will be published soon as well by the German Production Music publisher Klanglobby for Documentaries. You can listen to a preview below:
Right now Markus is writing music from time to time for an Austrian artist performing as a magician at the Britain’s Got Talent show.
While composing 74 pieces for concerts and 10 pieces for orchestras including two piano concerts over the last few years Markus also has a lot of experience in arranging and flew last year to New Zealand to meet the Symphony Orchestra of St. Peter and Mary’s College he had worked for previously.
Here is a little piece he composed and orchestrated at the beginning of this year for the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg:
How everything started
Of course we were interested in how he grew into becoming a composers:
I grew up in a studio household and always played around with the instruments. I began with the piano when I was four and was always playing around and then figuring out what sounds good. By age ten and eleven I then started composing and notating it. So around this time I started composing small pieces for piano and small ensembles. But at the same time I played around with the computer as well, recorded instruments and produced music with the computer which had sampled orchestras. At 14 the first real ensemble pieces were performed with colleagues in the music school. Then after my graduation, I wrote more than 6 pieces for orchestra, which were also being performed, and had the honor to compose a concerto for piano and orchestra for the yearly orchestra concert of the school. At that time I had also been the first contrabass of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Lower Austria till 2014.
What Schlager and Film Music have in common
Afterwards he told us about how he profited from growing up in a “Schlager” household because his father is a producer of this German and Austrian kind of pop music (click here for an example if you dare). Because you wouldn’t expect a connection between orchestral music and Schlager at the first view, it was really interesting to hear how it helped him nonetheless:
I always denied doing Schlager because that’s what my father did. At that age you just don’t want to do the same things as your father does and [my music]always came out more in the ‘artistic’ and later more cinematic way. On the other hand I wasn’t hindered by the barrier of working with a computer like other colleagues had when they composed for orchestras because I just grew up with it. And it’s interesting that nowadays everyone does it because of the progress in technology.
During the last couple of years the production and mockup side became more present in his life as well. This is where he compared Schlager directly to Film Music:
The world that a ‘classical’ composer came from is the current concert music, like all the now well-known film composers from the 30’s to 90’s; John Williams, Korngold, Max Steiner, Goldenthal etc. Commercial music like Schlager on the other hand is not focused on „composition“ – yes, finding a proper melody and harmony – but mostly production and arrangement is very important. The thinking is different between composing for concerts and for pop music. Putting long story short, nowadays film-scoring is an interesting path in the middle of the extremes of classical modern music and stereotype commercial music.
Also in the last 20 years, especially with more and more upcoming minimalist film music styles, a very big amount of the Film Music is commercial music [like pop music]. The reason for that is not only that the films have changed but also that the popularity of „Music for Media“ and technology has changed. Now working only with Sibelius in context of film music was becoming very rare. So both sides [the concert and the commercial music] are now combined in film music and the skill sets are the same: You have to be good in composing – but lately more in producing good music to sound good, in context of writing ‘classical’ film music.
You really have to have a good understanding of the production side. About how to create sounds that are really in the film aesthetic and also [you have to be able to work] only with sounds and noises. If you know your tools on the production side it can have a really big influence on the film score you’re writing because you have more possibilities especially with electronic music. If you’re getting more experienced with electronic or pop music you can get more interesting soundscapes by using plugins or knowledge about how to make special sounds for the film score, like self-sampled and recorded sounds. Also on the production side you can decide what a film needs. For example, a really close violin: It has a completely different stylistic or meaning for the film if the violin is recorded very close or very far away with alot of reverb. The sound is different and the impact in the film is different. The production side is really important these days – maybe more important than composing in the classical sense [which didn’t include mockups, recordings, electronics etc.].
How samples changed the perception and relevance of live recordings
Then we went a bit deeper into the topic of samples compared to live instruments and how it changed the way listeners react to live recorded music in a surprising way:
[Compared to music production 30 or 40 years ago] Music nowadays doesn’t have to be played by real players anymore. All you need is a computer and to program it right. I recently recorded a piece with orchestra [the Star Citizen clan theme from the beginning of the article] and have done a mockup with samples before and played it to some people and all said they prefer the mockup version – not the orchestra version. Because we are so used to this Hollywood sound. Of course it depends on the style but when it comes to Epic Music for example, this is not music really made to be played by a real orchestra. When you see all the production music [making-of] videos… Do you really think this is great music to play? No, it isn’t because it isn’t in the mindset to be played on real instruments. That is the difference we are facing in the last 20 to 30 years. You have to know the instruments that are playing. And I see that it’s getting better on this regard because you now hire orchestrators in the budget who make the music really playable for an orchestra.
Summing up he recommended to really think about what the movie needs when it comes to live recordings that are not recorded in the biggest Hollywood studios:
The problem is if you record a small orchestra for example and you don’t record at the Air Studios in London [or something alike] it sounds old-fashioned. Because this sound was 30-40 years ago the normal sound of film scores. Now we are used to the perfect sample sound – and of course everything is always evolving around what a movie needs – but that’s the problem I guess. It’s always great to work with live instruments but you have to find out what makes sense in the normal film scoring. Because if it’s only some chords, some staccato strings and then at the bottom just celli and basses it would cost a lot of money if you record it live and won’t sound like it when you do it with samples and send it to the director. Basically you should really work with live instruments, I really like it, but you really have to decide what makes sense and what doesn’t. It depends on the style, it depends on the instrumental, it depends on the film. You can create really nice and human sounding pieces with small ensembles and they are really authentic and not generic. You can even be more creative when you only have one microphone and one really good sounding room and you can produce it and modify it. You have a more interesting sound than with a sample library.
He also had a tip for new composers who grew up with samples when it comes to writing for real instruments without knowing how to play the instrument – they should learn how to play it:
It would be the best thing to play the instrument yourself to get an idea of what it feels like to play it. You don’t always have the possibility to do it often but if you have it or if you have a friend who has a cello for example then just take some lessons and play [to find out] what you have to do to create this sound or to play live, how it really feels like and how the movement is. Music is always about movement. With every instrument you have to do something to create the sound. If you understand how the instruments are played and you understand the technical side of the instrument you will also hear the strong parts and the weak parts of each instrument in sample libraries. The understanding of good orchestration and the understanding of what sounds good is going to get better.
The problem of conducting your own pieces
Markus also has some experience in conducting orchestras but when it comes to conducting his own music he has a clear opinion:
For the picture and for your facebook page or website it’s always good to be conducting. But it depends a bit: Mostly I would recommend not to do it. Sit in the booth because you have a better view of the music. You can concentrate on the music. Because when you’re conducting you hear so many things and can not concentrate on the music itself and how it’s sounding, the whole picture.
It’s better to sit in a booth also because the instruments are mostly split in bigger recording sessions. If you only conduct from time to time or if you don’t have a really good guy in the booth you really trust [and telling you what to do] it’s better to sit in the booth. I think that’s really important to get a good end result.
Conrad Pope and the Austrian Hollywood Music Workshop
Furthermore we talked about the Hollywood Music Workshop he attended from the very beginning in 2009. The Hollywood Music Workshop is an event that takes place in Austria, where renowned people from Hollywood and the Film Music industry in general, share their expertise with aspiring composers that wish to learn directly from those with in-depth knowledge and experience. Markus told us about his time spent at the workshops over the years; “It’s cool that it’s getting bigger and more well known, because in the early days it was just maybe 10 guys who were in a workshop, but now it’s many more, which is great.” We asked him about his experience in the workshops under the teachings of Conrad Pope; one of the most respected and talented Orchestrators in the world; “It was really good. I’ve learnt a lot of things in the last few years with Conrad, and learning with Orchestration and his knowledge was great.” If there are any young composers out there who really want to further their abilities and gain valuable information from people with decades of wisdom to share, then he fully recommends the Hollywood Music Workshop and Conrad Pope’s courses; “You should definitely take the opportunity to do that. In the early days he had more time for everyone of course, because the group was smaller, and if the group is really big, his time is limited, but you should definitely do it.”
What lies ahead: “Everything that is interesting”
Before we ended the interview we came to talk about what he’d be interesting in working on. He summed it up with the words “all that is interesting and has a future, a value to it”. That is already proven by his versatility at the moment.
Ultimately we then somehow got to talk jokingly about the future of Trailer Music and how German/Austrian Schlager could become a new trend. Then yesterday, Markus shared this little track with us which is perfect to end our introduction to Markus Zierhofer, a young and aspiring Austrian composer we are sure you will hear from in the future!