Erwin Steijlen – Music Composer
If there is a great all rounder within the production music sphere, it’s got to be composer Erwin Steijlen. Not only is he a sought after music composer for advertising but also an in demand session guitar player. With a list of clients such as BMW, Microsoft, Mercedes, Audi and Yamaha under his belt, Erwin has established himself as the go-to composer for music for TV commercials. Erwin also supplies music to a number of production music libraries including Muziko from where his track have appeared on countless TV shows. He has worked with some top music artists such as P!nk and Freddie LeGrand to name but a few. But not only that, as he is also a songwriting teacher where he gives lessons at the ArtEZ Academy in his native Netherlands.
All of Erwin’s production music tracks on Muziko can be found here.
Erwin Steijlen – Music Composer Extraordinaire
Erwin’s musical accolades go on and on but we caught up with him to ask him a few questions about his music and how he got started:
You obviously have a great love for making music and being a music composer. How did you get started?
I started playing guitar at age 14 and got into bands right away. Always writing my own songs and trying to be the next guitar hero .-)Always been a big Jeff Beck fan but also Michael Schenker, Neal Schon and Brian May of course! He’s the one why i started playing guitar in the first place.
I mostly did rock and hard rock, later I joined jazz-rock and pop bands. After school i was in professional bands for a while, playing parties, weddings and discotheques.. making money but hated it because it felt like a waste of time. I learned a lot though about how people respond to live music, songs and musicians..I even meet my wife in that period.
Later I started playing on albums of Dutch and German artists and learned how to work in the studio. I also played with more famous Dutch artists and got to know really good musicians who became my friends.
In 2001 I got my first music composer writing job and this one was for Cirque Du Soleil!! Incredible first job for an amateur music composer of course… they liked my tracks and used it for a big show with a 10.000 people audience.
The composer for that gig got sick and somebody at the agency thought that I could replace this guy.
So, I called my dad and asked for a loan. I got myself a PP, Pro Tools, a Rode mic and a pair of headphones and started writing. had no idea what i was doing… took me 3 jobs before i learned what “grid” was so i guess my beats weren’t really tight in the beginning..
That music composer job got me a lot of money, more than I was used too as a guitar player anyway so I could pay my dad back and even better, I got five more of these jobs that same year.
The biggest event company of the Netherlands at that time loved what I did and asked me to write for his clients. These clients were VW and BMW.
They flew me to Berlin, South-Africa and Spain and I was introduced as the “great composer” when all the time I had no idea what I was doing actually!
I bluffed my way in but also worked really hard. A writing job like that took me about three months, something I now can do in 1 week!
I learned how to write something that would fit the brand but at the same time would fit the show or presentation for that product. When for instance the new BMW5 series came out I needed to write for a live orchestra, dancers, laser show, film, flying acrobats, opera-singers etc… They would get a crazy idea of how to put this thing in the market, sell this idea to the heads of BMW and then get a team together that could pull it off.
I got to work with the best choreographs for dance, best directors and singers money could buy but the most important always is the music.
Music is the thing that gives people goosebumps and gives the brand a feeling. So I got and still get all the pressure on my shoulders…. something you never really get used to.
Also right now I’m writing three jobs at the same time knowing film directors, brands, choreographers etc… are waiting for my first version of the music before they can start their work.
never get used to the feeling after submitting my track and waiting for their response.. which can be harsh at times unfortunately
You do a lot of music for TV and advertising – how did you get into this?
I guess I was lucky at first getting in by chance. But to keep getting jobs has nothing to do with luck. That’s just hard work, always delivering at deadline and being able to communicate well. When you do your work well, people will notice and you will get new jobs through them. Your network builds and that is what you need in this business.
A lot of composers starting out will wonder how you get these great gigs such as music for car commercials – any advice for them?
My advice would be to be more pro-active. Make a SHORT showreel and try to get an interview with somebody at a advertising agency, event agency or film/video company.
It’s difficult to do this and I admit I don’t do it enough myself but you need to be more pro-active and it has proven to be effective.
Just sending an email has no use, you need to speak to the important people and show them your face, let them know you want in!
Keep the showreel short. These people have no time to listen to 20 minutes of music. Choose your best stuff and try do make it two minutes max.
If they like what you do they will ask for more!
Also, change the times you work. I start at 6 or 7 o clock in the morning. Reason for this is that I have a long day to work before submitting my music to a client. I need the hours to be productive. These are not audio professionals that can listen through a demo, they need it to sound like the last Queen album or Lady Gaga or whatever to understand my ideas and music.
Also, starting early gives me four hours before the phone starts ringing!
You travel sometimes playing guitar for presentations, etc. – how do you balance your studio work with this?
I do still work as a guitar player and as a musical director for artists, projects, brands etc.. I like the balance between playing live and working in the studio.
I have so much fun playing live with other musicians, it’s what making music is all about.
What can we expect from the Erwin Steijlen, Music Composer, and his projects in the future?
Working on an album right now! Wrote and recorded some awesome tracks which I am really proud of.
All real instruments and real playing. Also in a great pitch right now for the theme song for the Winter Olympics in Sotchi, would be super if i nail that one!
Erwin is obviously a serious composer who has worked hard and knows how to get places with his music. It is sure to see that with his skills and work ethic he will continue to be one of Europe’s finest music composers for advertising and TV.