German composer Dirk Ehlert has been working in the trailer and production music industry for almost six years. With a background in symphonic metal, he now works with various production music companies including dos brains, Brand X Music, UniPPM, Killer Tracks and Really Slow Motion. Dirk’s credits include trailers for Destiny 2, He Named Me Malala, and The Hunger Games, as well as several film scores.
Over the past year, Dirk Ehlert has been working on “Elements”, his first solo album, which is being released under dos brains. I got to listen to the very powerful and great sounding album in advance and I also sat down with Dirk in Berlin to discuss how it all came about. Elements can be pre-ordered from today and will be will be available digitally (September 8) as well as on CD (October 6). There will also be a special release for the industry, with shorter versions and advanced edit points for trailer houses later this year.
“Elements” features world-class vocal performances by Úyanga Bold (Hans Zimmer’s The Dark Knight Suite with the Masterpiece Experience, Angelique Kidjo, Overwatch, League Of Legends, etc), Celica Soldream (Neal Acree, Ivan Torrent, etc), Laurie Ann Haus (Todesbonden, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, etc) , Gaby Koss (Haggard, Nota Profana, Equilibrium, etc), Merethe Soltvedt (Jeff Broadbent, Two Steps From Hell, Brand X Music, etc) and Julie Elven (Voice Of Horizon: Zero Dawn, World Of Warcraft: Legion, Neal Acree, Ivan Torrent, etc) as well as cello performances by Vesislava Todorova (Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra) and Caro Teruel (Venezuela). The album was mixed and mastered by Mathieu Hallouin.
Please have a listen to “Elements” below and read below what Dirk had to say about its creation:
BehindTheAudio.com: Thanks for taking the time, Dirk, and congrats on the release of “Elements”. What led to the decision of working on your first solo album?
Dirk Ehlert: Thank you! In the field of production music, you often compose music for compilation albums and you never know if your track will end up on the album or if so, if it will ever be used in a promotional campaign. So the first thought was, that the chances of getting a trailer placement with a cue of mine would be higher if all the cues were mine. (laughs) It reduces the risk of having somebody else placed when an editor gets a new album.
But the more important thought behind the album was that I wanted to free myself from the boundaries of working within a certain structure or a certain topic to have the creative freedom to do whatever I want.
It was on October 2016 when I met with Guillermo [co-owner of Dos Brains] in Santa Monica, LA, and told him that I wanted to do a solo album. I had no idea how he was going to react but he was totally open-minded, actually appreciated the idea, and supported me throughout the whole year-long process of creating the album: He gave me the time, so there was no specific deadline – opposed to a custom trailer project that I received yesterday which needs to be finished tomorrow evening [turns out it was the Official Launch Trailer for Destiny 2]. You always need to work fast in the industry and thus I wanted to have the freedom to not worry about any deadline. I wanted to have the time to really put much thought into the album.
BTA: So what was the first step for you to get started?
DE: I didn’t want it to be a concept album per se, it doesn’t follow a specific direction and so I just let creativity flow.
From the start, I knew that I wouldn’t have the budget to work with an orchestra. That was a pity but at the same time, not having an orchestra at hand, let me push the boundaries of my template. Thus, the longest process of the whole album was to actually create the template that I’ve been working with. It took me about six months to figure out which sounds I actually wanted to use – and the damned thing was that over the last year a lot of great new libraries came out. For example, the album’s sound is pretty much based on Musical Sampling now. Also, just two months ago, Jasper Blunk released the Fluid Shorts which is why I reworked all of my tracks because the combination between Musical Sampling strings, Adventure Strings in particular with their shorts, in combination with the Fluid Shorts is an amazing soundscape. Layering these two gets you close to the real deal, in my opinion. Also, woodwinds were tricky in particular and in the end, I ended up using Berlin Woodwinds for the whole album and a bunch of Eduardo Tarilonte’s ethnic sample libraries.
Early on, I also knew that I wanted to work with different singers. Apart from that, I brought in some live musicians and I played the guitar myself on the album. It was important for me to still keep the human element of live musicians even if I had to use a lot of sample libraries.
Have a look behind the scenes of Dirk Ehlert’s template for “Elements” below:
BTA: After all the technical preparations were done, what did your creative process look like?
BA: Once I found the right sound and was done with setting up the template, I started working on the tracks. Since I had developed ideas and themes while working on the template, writing melodies were the fastest thing to work on, as everything clicked into my established framework. It was refreshing to really concentrate on just working and not tweaking sounds or things like that. You do that anyway when the tracks take shape and then you start working on details but overall, it was great to finally have the right workspace to let creativity flow without having to worry about things like loading. It was liberating to not have to think about certain topics that you want to cover like, “dark fantasy” or “heroic epic” or “battle action” or whatever; and just to go with the flow and stick with the creativity that comes to mind.
I write as I go, so I don’t sketch anything out on pencil beforehand. I just start with a blank template and off we go. Sometimes I start with the piano, sometimes I start with a French Horn line because I just love the sound of playing it. Musical Sampling’s Adventure Brass is my go-to sample library for French Horns. They lack legato but I didn’t miss anything at all. There were two, three tracks where I felt they were missing legatos – but then CineSamples came into play, you fire up the twelve horns and you’re good to go with an epic track. (laughs) But overall the playability of the Musical Sampling libraries is out of this world. I haven’t experienced anything like that before with sample libraries. You play it and it’s kind of instant gratification.
BTA: How did your collaboration with the vocalists look like?
DE: For a few songs, I had a vocalist in mind when I was writing them. For me, it was obvious to work with Celica Soldream because I mocked-up all the tracks with Eduardo’s library of Celica. (laughs) When I had the first two themes developed I started implementing Eduardo’s ERA II Vocal Codex, for which he had recorded Celica Soldream for the solo vocal. There is a Celtic and a heroic patch and I used both of these in combination to mock-up what I had in mind for the vocals. At this point, I somehow experienced temp love like directors do. So most of the tracks that feature Celica, feature her because I totally fell in love with her samples on Vocal Codex and I definitely wanted to have her onboard. When I received the recordings and implemented the files in my DAW, I was so used to the sound of her sample vocals that the first moment almost felt strange – but she did so great and expanded on what was initially there. This was exactly the human element that I wanted to have.
Listen to “The Last Haven” feat. Celica Soldream below:
With Úyanga I’d worked before on tracks for dos brains, as well as a movie where she did an outstanding job. I love her voice and I had a rough idea of what she is capable of – but after the recordings, I really know it now. It’s just incredible.
The titular track, Elements, particularly needs to be pointed out as it was one of the last tracks that I’d written as I knew that it needed to be something special. At first, it was about 3:30 minutes long but then I after chatting with Úyanga about the other tracks that she had already done, I told her that I’d rework the entire track and rewrite it specifically with her voice in mind. In the end, it’s now a track that’s 6:45 minutes long and that’s entirely built upon her capabilities as a performer. I would have loved to have been in LA and work directly with her in the studio, but that’s the next step.
I believe that the creative synergy that happens in the moment when you’re working with a performer in a studio is way stronger than when you just have a remote session. Nonetheless, it worked out great and I’m really happy with the results.
Listen to the title track “Elements” feat. Úyanga Bold below:
Ascension feat. Merethe Soldvedt is not directly recorded for the album. It had originally been released on an industry album in 2014. Yet, the track was worth being reworked for the 2017-sound that I have now.
The same with Excelsior feat. Laurie Ann Haus. But this track has a special story behind it because it was pretty much the first “epic” track that I put out in 2012. It was entirely based on samples and got an amazing response. You could even call it a little YouTube hit. It has over two million views in total, has been uploaded numerous times on different channels, was used on TV as well, and I’m still getting requests about when it will finally be released.
It was my first attempt, it’s five years old, and so, when I listen to it now, my hair stands on end (laughs) because, in my opinion, it just doesn’t fit anymore with how a track should sound. But I still like the melody and I think that’s part of the reason why the track was so successful. Now, I reworked the entire track and recorded vocals with Laurie Ann Haus. In addition to the completely re-worked track, you have an only slightly polished version of the original track as a bonus on the album as well.
BTA: Speaking of fans, is there any personal story you wanted to tell or any particular message you wanted to share with your album?
DE: You can’t deny there are certain influences. Since I started out, I’ve been a fan of Audiomachine, Two Steps From Hell – I love Thomas Bergersen’s work. When people tell me now that my tracks’ sound is in a similar realm, I feel honored because when I started out it felt like I was a million miles away from getting that sound. I hope that it doesn’t sound too similar though, and that people will notice the more personal side note on the album.
I wanted to take the listener on a journey. What kind of journey is up to listeners themselves so I won’t give any clues or hints. For me, it all comes down to nailing an emotion that I either feel by writing a specific theme or by having a particular vocalist.
In terms of a particular message to the audience, that would be: “Go buy it!” (laughs) Well, honestly, I really hope that people get something out of it. Either it is some comfort when going to sleep or some motivation when working out. There are a lot of softer moments as well on the album which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I just hope that people will enjoy “Elements”.
BTA: Thank you very much for your time, Dirk!
Elements can be pre-ordered from today (Bandcamp) and will be will be available digitally (September 8) as well as on CD (October 6). There will also be a special release for the industry, with shorter versions and advanced edit points for trailer houses later this year.
01 Wings of Fire – ft. Celica Soldream
02 Elements – ft. Úyanga Bold
03 Awakening – ft. Caro Teruel (Cello)
05 Elevation – ft. Gaby Koss
06 Undefeated – ft. Celica Soldream
07 The Last Haven – ft. Celica Soldream
08 Burning Sky – ft. Úyanga Bold
09 Dragons Den – ft. Úyanga Bold
10 From Within
11 Excelsior – ft. Laurie Ann Haus
12 Higher Hopes
13 Eternal Light – ft. Julie Elven
14 Ascension – ft. Merethe Soldvedt
15 Excelsior – original demo (Bonus track)