Creative work can pose many different unique challenges, especially for professionals who haven’t been working in entertainment for very long.
Commissioned music doesn’t offer the freedom or the lax timetable of a personal project, and there’s always a chance that the client will need you to make some major changes relatively late in the process.
But to get some advice on how to navigate these tricky projects, we interviewed Joris Hoogsteder, a prominent composer for TV, film, and video games who has also been leading the way into VR music as the format becomes more popular and accessible to the average consumer.
Recently, Hoogsteder has worked with leading video game composer Austin Wintory (who famously composed the score for “Journey,” the first video game to receive a Grammy nomination) on the game “John Wick Hex.”
He has also composed music for the game Arknights and major Esports events in China.
Read on to see how he stays motivated during his projects and sees them through to the end.
We’d like to hear some of your tips for starting a brand new project. To start, how long do you give yourself to plan before you start writing?
Hoogsteder: Thanks! To be honest, brand new projects are usually sparked by an initial idea, melody, or just a jam on my instruments. A spontaneous idea usually brings more to the table than planning everything out before starting.
However, and this might sound contradictory, when I’m composing the music for a video game, I tend to conceptualize first before putting notes down. The reason for this is that music for a video game has a clearly defined frame of reference, and I want to make sure I understand exactly what the game needs.
Does your vision for a project ever change while you’re in the process of working on it?
Hoogsteder: All the time! It’s rarely a full 180-degree swing, but ideas evolve and often you find that the music works better if you stay open-minded about its end result.
Have you ever had a bout of writer’s block when working on something? If so, how do you get around it?
Hoogsteder: Yes, but only on my own music. For video games, TV, and film music, there’s usually such a predefined direction we’re going to take, and I always get very creative working within those limitations.
When working on your own music, there’s no right or wrong direction to go, and sometimes, when you have a lot of ideas, it gets overwhelming and it might create a block. I tend to just go to a different project, and come back to the original when I have a clear head.
Which part of the writing and recording process do you feel you’re the best at?
Hoogsteder: I’d say I’m great at composing and producing music, but I also thrive when working on other people’s music. I have had a great time contributing to some of Austin Wintory’s projects, such as “John Wick Hex” and the VR title “Ubisoft’s A Game of Space,” where I bring interesting music production and synthesizer recordings to the table to supplement the score.
What was the most intense project you’ve worked on so far?
Hoogsteder: A very cool and intense project was working on the Esports live show DotA 2: The International 9, in Shanghai. I was responsible for composing the orchestral music, consisting of famous DotA2 themes, for the final day of the competition.
This was in China, and while I was working on the music, we were constantly in talks with the orchestra in Shanghai to make sure we had the right musicians, soloists, and dancers. There were so many people involved that we had to be very flexible and efficient to make everything work. When I finally arrived in Shanghai and saw the performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra, I knew it was all worth it.
Is there ever a point where you feel like things are going wrong and you need to change direction?
Hoogsteder: Not really, unless a client has a change of heart, which is totally understandable!
Do you have any extra tips for working musicians?
Hoogsteder: Be reliable, and try to have a wide skillset. I get to do what I do because I worked hard to get skilled at orchestral video game composition and production, but also pop music, synthesis, audio editing, and a little bit of game audio programming!