Derek Kirkup interview

Find Derek @
Official website
Derek @ SoundCloud

After abandoning the recorder at the age of 10, I thought I would never be musical. But on picking up guitar at age 12 I found that what I really wanted to do was write music.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?
I enjoy composing for all forms of media but primarily story-driven formats in film and TV. I also hope to soon write some orchestral works for live performance. I’ve taken a rich and varied route having started as a singer-songwriter in my early teens and progressing through production, electronic music, film music and contemporary-classical. Outside of music I’ve had many interests and pursuits, which for a time distracted me from music but have ultimately left me more passionate and convicted in my musical journey than ever. “You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t”.

What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?
I’m a storyteller who happens to write music. More than just words, it is a lived experience. When I’m working on a film I’m immersed first and foremost in the story. Perhaps more precisely, as I live I am immersed in story. When I talk to film-makers, we talk about stories whether real or fictional. I love music so much and it is perhaps my most public expression, but it is still only a part of me through which my experience of life and story is expressed.

Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?
Linux machine running Musescore for notation, then exporting to logic for mixing and any live recording. My preferred microphones are an MXL V6 or an AKG CK91. Occasional use of a Korg MS2000, otherwise it’s all software.

What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)
Vienna Instruments String Quartet and East West Symphonic Orchestra. I’m finding myself increasingly drawn away from technology lately, so I’m tending to keep it simple in terms of plugins – EQ and Compression only, (favouring PSP Audioware’s Multipressor). There may be a time with future soundtracks where I can spend lots of time experimenting electronically, but at the moment I’m actually interested in collaborating with a Digital Orchestrator on future projects, so that I can focus on the music and let someone else focus on the production.

When do you find you are most creative?
When I am relaxed. Creativity comes from the void. I have to spend some time settling down, clearing my mind. Once I am calm enough it takes very little to set the creativity in motion.

What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?
I will watch the film and extrapolate from that a sense of essence. What is the heart of the story? What are the themes, the recurring emotions, the feel? Once I have a firm impression of the film, I will barely watch the film until I have created my harmonic and melodic themes. I spend lots of time on this stage and don’t go forwards until I’m confident. Depending on the nature of the film I will either sync my notation software to the picture, or simply note key points above the relevant bars. I then notate without sound as much as possible. I find I can create very complete ideas in my head, but as soon as I get feedback from software that idea is getting polluted and distorted. If this has all gone smoothly then once I export in to Logic, it’s mainly a case of mixing and moving the odd thing here and there.

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?
More and more, it’s simply a case of trusting my intuition, (or alternatively, not doubting oneself). I recently picked up my first film project after a long hiatus from film. It has been an incredible experience. On this occasion my intuition has been telling me that I should relax as much as possible and only work when I feel I have let go completely, where as my head has argued I should work all the time I have available. I have found that largely my intuition has been right and the work I am producing is all the better for it.

Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?
I’ve found that not learning how something works and playing with it usually yields interesting results. If you don’t know the rules then you’re not afraid to break them. Sidechaining odd combinations of plugins is a particularly fun approach. I love sound design also and can create really satisfying sounds on the Korg MS2000 or in Logic’s Sculpture. Also, get to know your libraries and their limitations. I’ve found that if you want a library or several libraries to sound good, you have to write for them. Knowing that a library’s strings are amazing for sustained legato lines in a film piece, or alternatively that the the stacattos are great in pop but should never be used in an orchestral piece, can make or break a recording. Far too often I hear recordings where the writing is great, but the piece falls flat because the composer’s expectations of their libraries were off the mark. It’s idealistic to expect non-musical listeners to fully appreciate the writing in spite of the production.

Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
Let go of your work. You are there to serve. When I first started out I was arrogant, insecure, defensive and protective. All this caused was tension, and lack of fulfilment. When one lets go of their work, any direction in which it develops, no matter who else contributes, is fulfilling and amazing. And the humility that comes with letting go makes it a better all round experience for everyone involved.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Be a good student of life. See how far you can open your heart and your emotions. If you want to write more compelling music, then learn to open yourself and be more compelled. Empathize more deeply with others, learn about others’ stories, their struggles. Feel what they felt. It’s not about the notes. Music is just a form to express. You can spend all the time in the world learning the ins and outs of music practice, but without anything to express your music will be empty. Open yourself to life and your voice will come through.