Frank Herrlinger interview

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Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?
My name is Frank Herrlinger and I’m a music composer living in Vienna, Austria. I graduated from University Cologne, Germany, in 2007. My thesis dealt with “The virtual simulation of orchestral music via modern computer technology”. You see, my educational background is more technical than artistic. But I wanted to get a better balance of those two aspects and so I decided to take private lessons in EIS (equal interval system, http://equalinterval.com).

I started out as a library composer very early. During my time in Cologne I already have developed a fairly large catalogue of songs (around 100). Very soon a German videogame developer licensed a track of mine and asked me to write music for the whole thing. I guess, that was my first paid job in the industry and the start of my career.

Although composing music is my main job I also operate as Proud Music’s A&R-manager since 2008. This way I happen to listen to so many different tracks from various composers around the world – this can be really refreshing sometimes.

Since my work is heavily based on samples, I have developed my own set of custom sample libraries (and still do) to find my individual sound signature. Right now, I’m in the process of making some of these libraries available to other composers using the label name “Audiowiesel” (webiste is under construction, but Facebook is up: https://www.facebook.com/Audiowiesel). Exciting times ahead! :D

What is your niche or speciality, that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?
I believe that people hire you for a reason. And in most cases this reason is your taste. You have to develop your own taste by experimenting, layering, deconstructing and learning. When writing and producing music you have to make choices every time. Every choice affects the final product and you have to commit totally to your idea.
In my teens I used to play lead guitar in various rock and metal bands. In other words I have turned knobs on distortion pedals and have learned how to make an amp sound good. I often try to apply this approach to what I do now, even to orchestral music. You won’t hear it very clearly but I use distortion on almost everything, flutes, strings and brasses. This is a great way to color and even compress your sound without using conventional EQs or compressors.

Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?
I’m using Cubase on a very powerful PC. I used to have some more machines as slaves but those are not necessary anymore. My audio interface is Steinberg’s UR824 in combination with the Mastercontrol from Alesis (love the motorized faders). I have a bunch of Ibanez guitars but my favourite is the “Mark Tremonti Signature” guitar from PRS.

Besides that, I want to be able to work and record outside my own studio and therefore I have built a custom laptop which mirrors my main machine in almost every way (concerning the performance). This allows me to open and edit every Cubase project on my laptop (including all sample libraries, plugins, etc.). This is really great when you have to finish up a project while being on the road.

What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)
That really changes a lot over time. At the moment I’m using many plugins from Universal Audio, like the “Studer A800” or the Precision series. Also, the stuff from ToneBoosters and Sugarbytes works great for me. One plugin I’m using all the time is the Guitar Rig from Native Instruments. I’m using it in small dose on almost everything, like strings, brasses, percussions and so on, mainly for coloring.

Furthermore, I really love the sound quality of Spectrasonics’ products (like “Omnisphere”, “Trilian” and “Stylus”) but also “Zebra2” from U-he. When it comes to orchestral libraries the number of options you can choose from really increased over the last few years (and still does). I tend to layer different libraries on top of each other to find a nice blend, like “LA Scoring Strings” with “Symphobia”, but that really is just a matter of taste. I believe that you can’t go completely wrong with any library recently published.

Another part of my setup is using self-built custom libraries and sounds.

When do you find you are most creative?
In the morning. I tend to do important stuff in the early hours of the day when my mind and my ears are fresh. And it’s important to sleep enough. The more tired I am the more I have to rely on composing techniques instead of creativity. This I can tell from experience.

What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?
I don’t have one particular way to go but definitely a few starting points. If the song is supposed to be based on guitars I grab my guitar and start noodling around. If it’s based on thematic material I write it down in Sibelius first and start the sequencer afterwards. If I’m working on a strong theme I tend to walk around and whistle some random melodies until I’ve found something good to work with.

Obviously, all of these ways lead to different results. And sometimes it is hard to decide which way to try. And even more often I switch ways during the process.

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?
As said before, getting enough sleep is important to me. And you should never work without any limitations. Being limited to a few notes, some compositional techniques, a few plugins or a deadline is the reason why you have to become creative after all. So, it’s a good thing to increase your creativity.

Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?
Absolutely. Some time ago I have recorded the plopping sound of a Kinder egg. My personal limitation was to take that sound and create a complete new song out of it. So, this was mostly about pitching and stretching audio. Another great technique which I often use is the principal of re-amping. Although this originated in the guitar world, you can apply it to any other audio material as well. Basically, this is a simple re-recording of a clean audio signal through an effect chain (or even in a different room to capture the specific room acoustics). This way you can create different layers of one audio track which can be mixed together or automated afterwards. This is really great and gives you unique results – but always keep an eye on the phase.

Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
Yes, two simple things.

1.) Know your client!
Listen to what your clients say and make sure that you really understand their language. I don’t mean the words but the meaning of them. Game developers talk a different language than directors and so do producers. You want to make sure that you can communicate with them because otherwise you are out of the game.

2.) It’s never about music, it’s always about the project!
If you are working in the music business (videogames, TV shows, films, etc.) the music is always just one part of the whole product. Do your best to make the product outstanding – even if that means less music or sometimes no music at all.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Everybody knows about that typical overused phrases like “work harder than everybody else” or “improve your craft and work on your skills” and so on. So I’ll skip that! But I believe there is another important aspect to success. Collaborations with other people should be fun. Make yourself into a person who is fun to work with and you’ll be fine!