Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?
Hi my name is Dirk Ehlert and I am a full-time composer for TV, film and games. I live in a small suburb near Berlin, with my family around me. Music has always been an important part in my life and luckily since the beginning of 2011 I was able to head over to the full-time thing and make a living out of what I love to do the most – make music.
What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?
It’s always hard to describe yourself, especially when it comes to skills and specialities but I will try :) I have always had a passion for these European symphonic metal and gothic bands, I guess that has had an influence on my speciality – combining pounding guitars & drums with orchestral elements. Thanks to the fact that I have worked on my abilities in both areas the last years I’m today in the lucky situation to deliver a relatively broad range of styles, from acoustic to rock and orchestral tracks and a lot in between. Since I started working for TV sync the palette got even broader when I sometimes got a chance to work outside my musical “comfort zone”, which is definitely tough sometimes but always leaves me with something new that I learned which is pretty cool.
Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?
Well, it’s a relatively clean setup. All stuff happens on a i5 16 GB Win 7 PC. I’m running on Cubase 6.0.5 (didn’t do the update to 6.5 yet…) controlled with an M-Audio Axiom Pro 61. I listen to stuff through an M-Audio FastTrack Pro and on Alesis Monitor One MK II speakers. Since I mostly work at night I often use headphones and I am really thankful for having my Focusrite VRM Box, which is in my opinion a big improvement to the “normal” headphone sound when it comes to mixing (I have AKG K240 studio headphones). Regarding instruments I also own a Epiphone Les Paul Special II, a Crafter TV200CEQ/NV Acoustic Guitar and an Ibanez RGA72TQM Electric Guitar.
What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)
Well the most loaded plugin would be Kontakt 5 I guess :) Since I have a pretty big arsenal of sample libs at hand, that mostly make use of K5, this is definitely my most used VSTi. Other than that I have a bunch of Synths like Sylenth, NI Massive, FM8 and the likes. Regarding plugins I love my Slate Plugs (FG-X Mastering Processor, Virtual Console Collection) I have some Waves stuff and for Reverb I use Liquidsonics Reverberate and EARReckons “EAReverb”. I also find myself using a lot of the internal Cubase Plugs, I like them.
When do you find you are most creative?
As I said above I often work at night. First this is how I always did it, even back in school I started my homework late in the evening. Second it gives me time during the day to have time with my family, see my son grow up and watch him learn new things every day – I feel pretty blessed and I guess I am at a point that I can truly say that I am happy with my life as it is, and I guess that’s an enormous creativity booster. Other than that I’m a great fan of Google+ hangouts, either if its Deane Ogden’s Creative Hangouts or getting together with friends / colleagues to share ideas – always a creativity booster too.
What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?
I don’t have a certain procedure that I follow when writing. I also don’t use any pre-made templates, since I find it rather breaks my creativity than allowing me to work faster. I have some sub-templates, for example Kontakt Multis – when I know that I will incorporate some strings etc I have some multis set up for spiccato strings, or brass section etc. But mostly I get inspired by browsing sound libraries for a special mood I’m aiming at. Other days I can luckily hear the finished score in my head and all that’s left to do is to throw in the instruments and hopefully get close with the final output to what’s already in my mind. I spend a lot of time getting to know the tools I have at hand, browsing sample libraries etc. Mostly this brings up a new cue everytime I do it.
Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?
Not any I’m really aware of. I guess it’s all about how balanced you feel yourself and how well you know what you have under your fingers. I have been working on Cubase for about 15 years now and I think I know the program pretty well. The same applies to sample libraries, as far as my time allows I just listen through them and “get to know them better”. It all comes down to having command of the tools you use and not letting the tools having command of you. I want to care about “what do I do now” not about “How do I do this now” – knowing the tools is essential to me because then I can completely care about the creative part not the technical one. If that can be considered as secret… there you go :)
Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?
As far as I admire people who have the skills to do so I am no sound designer at all. Which means I pretty much got myself into mixing and producing my stuff that I come up with “compatible” output to what others out there do ( and this has been a process of a lot of trial and error) but in the end nothing fancy or special. I don’t tweak sound much, I look for the sound that gets close to what I need and use it. Pretty pragmatic maybe but it works for me :)
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
I think every project leaves something for you to be learned, no matter if in regards to your working skills or personal / social capabilities. You always learn something. But what I remember most is something that did happen not so long when I was delivering music for my very first feature film (I wrote the additional music with Deane Ogden on “Hattrick”) and in that combination working on tight deadlines. It was the first time that I faced a big project knowing about that small time frame and when the call came I nearly peed my pants. But it turned out pretty cool and was hell of a fun, though I needed some sleep after these intensive ten days :)
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Be true to yourself and others, know your tools and capabilities and be willing to work hard. If you want to make a living out of being a composer, there is more to it than being able to create “good” music (whatever that term means) but also be someone who is nice to talk to and be helpful. An arrogant attitude will not help yourself or others. Being open minded and friendly is the easiest way to create opportunities along the path you are on – which by the way doesn’t only apply to being a composer but to life itself but that’s a completely different story :)