Beyond the Booth 016: Eelke Kleijn scores big in the film game
Beyond the Booth is a feature dedicated to the hidden side of artists that exists outside electronic music— a side rarely discussed with those outside their immediate circle. We venture “beyond the booth,” so to speak, and dive into their deepest passions that tie into their unique personalities. After some self-introspection, each participant then returns to the booth, providing an exclusive mix for the Dancing Astronaut audience.
The mark of a true artist is when the vast majority of their time is sucked up by their craft. Eelke Kleijn is one of these driven characters, and continues to increase his personal commitments the longer he stays in the music scene. Over the past fifteen years or so, the Dutch producer has been keeping his head down and silently conquering the melodic side of house and tech. His extensive time in the global club circuit has earned him a cult fan base, with support from iconic colleagues like Guy J, Henry Saiz, Mark Knight, and others. Not to mention, he boasts releases on a broad an eclectic array of labels ranging from Spinnin‘ to Terminal M.
Kleijn’s career began its acceleration into overdrive throughout the better part of the 2010s, culminating in the birth of his very own label — DAYS like NIGHTS — in 2017. Since its foundation, he’s been able to greater express his musical vision through brand showcases and special releases curated entirely by himself. DAYS like NIGHTS will also be the home of the stalwart’s third studio album, which is set to come at the end of 2018. Recently, Kliejn unveiled one of its singles, “Punta Cana,” which transports listeners to the place it’s inspired by with grooving percussion and light synthwork.
His musicianship stretches far beyond the club-friendly variety, however. His ear for good arrangement has birthed another avenue for him: scoring for film. He began his journey a decade or so ago, taking up odd jobs writing music for trailers, commercials, and the occasional short film. Kleijn’s efforts and expertise in the field have since blossomed into compositions for films like The Hunger Games, Transporter, Wrath of the Titans, and more.
We take Kleijn Beyond The Booth to dive deeper into his scoring journey, and the challenges he’s overcome thus far. He offers a backstory of how he got into the craft, his biggest inspirations, which film he’d love to re-score, and more. We also talk a bit about his upcoming projects, like his third album, and close off with a mix that puts his scoring chops and inspirations on display.
How did you get into scoring previews for films/landing songs in scores?
It started about 10 years ago when I got into writing music for short videos. At first it was mostly for commercials and online trailers for events like Sensation. At about the same time my manager moved to LA and he got in touch with people involved in movie trailers there. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was pitching my music to major films.
Do you have any plans to dive deeper into this and score a whole film? Have you tried? What genre of film would you want to score if so?
I wrote the music for a documentary called “Hollywood Banker” a few years back. It was the first movie that I made all the music for. Although documentaries are quite different from full length movies music wise, it was a really good introduction for me to get into this kind of scoring — I’d definitely love to dive deeper into this area of production. Sci-fi and fantasy in general have always been really close to what I love. A movie such as “Interstellar” would be amazing to work on!
Who are your favorite composers/scorers in the game (I’m a big fan of Max Richter and Hans Zimmer – cliche, I know)?
I really enjoy James Newton Howard. He’s got that big Hollywood sound but sounds a little bit more intimate than Hans Zimmer at times, which I really love. His score for “Lady In The Water” was amazing.
On that note, which films have had standout scores to you as of late, and why?
The feedback was quite mixed, but personally I loved the score to the new “Blade Runner” by Hans Zimmer. It stayed true to the original in many ways. And I just love hearing those soaring analog synths fully featured on a Hollywood blockbuster.
If you could pick a film to re-score, which would it be?
Probably “The Big Lebowski.” Not because I think I could do a better job, but just because it’s the best movie ever made and the one movie I’ve watched the most. I’d love to have a go at it!
Can you take us a bit into the process of submitting tracks to be used in film scores? Are you shown the film and you make a track around it, then hope it gets picked? Are you pre-assigned a certain clip that you write your piece around? How about picking which genre to write under?
It basically comes down to two different ways of submitting your music. Either I write a track which I think could work well in a certain kind of trailer or movie — for example something high paced or tension building. And then our trailer contacts will pitch that towards the right movies. I did a track a few years back called “Hell’s Army.” It never got an official release but it was included in a dozen movies and trailers. The other way is getting approached to write something specifically for a movie. This is usually based off a text-only script that gives a very detailed description of the action. Every now and then there is a temp audio track you can work to, but almost never any footage. From there I write something that I feel could work. Genre wise the script is usually pretty specific in what they are searching for, often with references to other tracks which the producers like, so there is not a lot of wiggle room there. I actually really enjoy writing music like this, because you’re writing with a very specific goal in mind.
In that regard, take us through a day writing music for films. You’re classically trained in piano, I believe? What other instruments do you play, if any, and do you bring these into your writing process? Have you ever worked with an orchestra?
A typical day of writing for a trailer will start with a detailed read of the script. I will go through that a couple of times and form an image in my head of what I think they are looking for. Trailer tracks are often made in pretty specific sections; there’s a tension building intro, then an into-the-action middle piece and finally a big climax. I will start by sketching out those sections in the sequencer. After that it’s just a matter of bringing all those sections alive. It’s often layer upon layer upon layer to get the big Hollywood sound injected into the score, so a lot of time is spent on getting all the layers to sound right and fit together. I’ve had classical piano lessons and fortunately I know my way around the piano well enough. I also play guitar and bass, although I only took that up two or three years ago. A funny detail is that I actually started to play guitar because I got tired of having to ‘fake’ guitar in trailer tracks. Guitar is one of the hardest instruments to fake realistically, more so than orchestral sounds which they have nailed pretty well with all the sample libraries. So nowadays the guitars that I use in my tracks are all played by me. I played with an orchestra once a few years back, but this was actually dance related, so I haven’t had the chance to work on anything movie related with an orchestra (yet!).
Though your experience is relatively brief in composing and scoring, can you put into words some of the key differences you face in this kind of music vs. dance music?
In my experience the biggest difference, apart from the fact that it’s another type of music, is that the composer in a movie or trailer production is just a part of many factors that make up the end product. You need to be able to deal with criticism really well, because you are scoring for other people that make decisions. Even if you think it’s the best thing you ever made, if the guy calling the shots doesn’t like it, it’s not getting used. If I make a dance track, I am the only one that has to be satisfied with it. Of course I will play my dance music to my wife, and my manager and a few other people, but in the end it’s my call and I can say “I believe in this track so this is how it has to be.” That’s not how it works in scoring for film and commercials. That can be a very frustrating thing, but I also believe over the years it has really taught me to deal with criticism a lot better than before.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve come across in your scoring career thus far, and how did you overcome them? How has scoring influenced or enhanced your dance music production, if it has?
I think just getting your music to compete with ‘the big boys’ is always the biggest challenge. If you think about it it’s insane, because I am one guy with a couple of computers and synths in one room, trying to compete with music made by an entire orchestra in LA studios. But you do need to get your sound up to that level to realistically have a shot in trailers. I’m still learning in that respect, and through the years I am also learning what my own strong points and weaknesses are. I now know I am much better in combining the symphonic with the electronica, than I am at purely writing orchestral based music. I don’t think my dance music is very much influenced by the scoring, more the other way around I’d say. Having a foundation in dance music definitely helps me now that EDM has taken off in the USA and we see much more influences of trap and dubstep in media and film.
You just released “Punta Cana” — what was the inspiration behind this track? Did you pull any nifty production tricks in its creation that we should know about?
I wrote the melody for this track on the beach in Punta Cana, hence the name. It sounded very different at the time, and the track has gone through a couple of distinct versions before this one finally made the cut. One trick that I really enjoyed in this track is the introduction of a pretty intense flanger on the main lead every now and then. You can hear it fade in and out just before transitions and at the end of 32 beat patterns.
You’ve been an absolute juggernaut in terms of output, and you’re still finding time to squeeze in scoring on the side, touring, and a regular life. How do you find balance and remain sane through it all?
Haha that is a good question. Nowadays I try to eat and live healthy. I don’t drink that much alcohol any more — less during gigs, but almost none at all during the week. I also work out three times a week, even while on tour and I sleep a pretty regular schedule — waking up at 8am and going to bed around 11pm or 12am in the evening. It’s not easy to balance it all at all times, but I feel just trying to live a balanced life helps me a lot.
Finally, what’s in the Eelke Kleijn pipeline?
After the release of “Moments of Clarity”, which is the third single of my upcoming artist album, there are two more singles ready for release in September and October. Then the album also titled “Moments of Clarity” comes out in November. We have a variety of remixes coming up next year as well, so music wise the next six months should be really good!