Chris Haigh is a successful UK-based composer who has created the music for numerous blockbuster movie trailers as well as many major UK TV shows. His music has been recorded in several famous studios, including Abbey Road, and recently he received an ´Unsung Hero´ accolade from HobGoblin Beer.
We got in touch with him to find out about his career, his studio set-up and what it means to be an Unsung Hero...
Hi Chris, lets start at the early stages of your career, you studied Creative Music Technology Mastering in Film Scoring at university, can you tell us more about that course and what it involved?
Hi, thanks for having me. Well it was a real mixture of things from sound recording, to band performance, music theory, composition, acoustics and even photoshop and other media based programs. I majored in film composing in my final year as I discovered a real passion for writing emotional, cinematic music to picture. Before that I was never really interested in composing, I just wanted to be a drummer in a band. Watching the film Gladiator and hearing Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerard´s score changed all that.
Upon graduating, what happened next?
Well my original plan was to do a masters degree in film scoring at Surrey University but I felt I needed to take a few years out to save up for the tuition fees and living costs. So I pretty much got a job at a Supermarket and continued to work on music in my spare time. I then started posting on student filmmaking forums asking if Anyone wanted music writing for their films etc.
I quickly landed my first film scoring job, working on a 50 minute indie film for a New York Director called Mark Cheng. This was a great experience as we loved all the same movies and styles of film music. Plus I got to go out to New York to visit him. Overtime I got known for writing pretty Epic, Cinematic, Hollywood style music and it kind of snowballed from there.
I was then made aware of trailer music, but nine or ten years ago it wasn´t as readily available as it is now. You could only hear tracks from trailer labels like X-Ray Dog, Immediate Music and Two Steps From Hell if you knew people who knew people, haha. A composer friend sent me some trailer music tracks and I instantly fell in love with the medium. The structure was usually very generic but the emotion and power that was created in the 1:30-2 minute pieces was incredible and it sounded like the Hollywood movie scores I loved, if those scores had taken steroids.
Trailer music is very different now and I miss the epic, melodic, thematic huge orchestral pieces that used to back big Hollywood trailers. Hopefully that sound will come back around again. Anyway I started composing epic trailer style music, I had tracks with Immediate Music and was working very closely with a new company ´Gothic Storm´ created by Dan Graham and the rest is history. I never got to do the masters degree.
You have scored numerous high profile movie trailers as well as placements on major UK TV channels, which ones are you particularly proud to have been associated with and why?
I guess my first two major placements have to be my proudest which I kind of got by basically emailing trailer houses. They were RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and IN TIME starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. The IN TIME one was extra special as this was the first time I had sat in a cinema and heard my orchestral music played over a Hollywood film trailer. Plus I was with my Dad at the time too.
Also another one of my favourite placements was for EDGE OF TOMORROW starring Tom Cruise, my music is pretty much the entire soundtrack to the behind the scenes featurettes on the DVD/Blu-Ray.
Would you say you have your own musical style? Or if not, is there a style of music that you particularly enjoy composing?
I´ve never particularly tried to have my own style of music, I guess I´ve always just composed music that I myself would like to hear. I love writing emotional and uplifting themes/melodies. I´ve had people tell me they can tell my tracks apart from others but I just try and write from the heart.
Do you play any instruments?
Yes but not very well haha. I would say my main instrument, or instrument that I feel the most confident on is the drums. I also play the piano and guitar but I have never really seen myself as a musician.
Tell us about your studio set-up and the hardware that is fundamental to your work.
I have always worked on PC and don´t think I will ever change. My PC spec is Windows 8.1 Pro, Intel Core i7 CPU @ 3.00GHz 2.30GHz, 64 GB Ram, 3 x 1TB SSD drives, 2 x 1TB Spinners. I plan to add another 2 TB SSD at some point soon.
I have an RME Fireface 802 sound card and I use Adam A7 studio monitoring and Beyerdynamic DT 880 headphones. 2 x Asus HD 21" monitors and a 48" flat screen as a third screen. My midi keyboard of choice is the NI Komplete Kontrol S88 and I have a Gibson Les Paul Classic Guitar, Gibson SG Bass Guitar, Westfield Electro Acoustic and a set of Roland TD9 V-Drums. For recording vocals or live solo instruments, I use the SE Z5600 Condenser Microphone.
Do you primarily work ´out of the box´ and if so, which virtual instruments/plug-ins do you find yourself most frequently calling upon and why?
As a lot of my music is orchestral based, my first port of call when starting a track is either strings or Piano. My piano weapon of choice has always been EWQL Piano. I have not yet found a nicer sounding piano sample library and will continue to use it until I do. As for strings, my go to library at the moment is Cinematic Studio Strings. They are extremely playable and sound so lush and dynamic. I do layer my strings quite a bit though with many other libraries.
As for more sound design elements I love the Impacts and Risers from Gothic Instruments, as well as Audio Imperia and Spectrasonics Omnisphere.
Do you master your own tracks and if so what do you use for this?
I try not to master my own tracks if I can help it, as I see mastering as a whole other skill set and art form itself. I prefer to have a mastering engineer do that but I do have to master my own tracks from time to time and I use a lot of Steve Slate plugins.
We heard you use Gothic Instruments´ sound design tools, which of these have you been using and why do you turn to these rather than other similarly themed sound design libraries?
I think Gothic Instruments are creating some amazing and much-needed libraries. I´ve mainly used their Impacts and riser libraries and they sound massive and epic and also save so much time when needing great sounding original Impacts and risers. I´m also planning on getting Dronar too. I´ve been watching the video demos and it sounds like a library that will inspire fresh new music.
You´ve worked closely with Gothic Instruments´ founder Dan Graham over the years, particularly for his music library company Gothic Storm, how did that relationship come about and do you still write music for GS?
Yes, Dan is an amazing person and he really took me under his wing in the early days of my career, offering me lots of work. I came to know about Dan, through another trailer music label that I was writing for at the time and they pointed me in the direction of Dan's music. I believe I then went onto his MySpace page and followed him (I can´t remember if you followed or friend requested on MySpace? It was a while ago) Anyway a few days later Dan contacted me saying he liked my music and asked if I wanted to compose some music for his new label.
After years of working very closely writing for GS and helping Dan with growing the library, I was made a shareholder and creative director of the company. I was in the role of Creative Director for just over two years and although I loved working behind the scenes, dealing with metadata, finding new composers, creating album briefs and approving demos. I wasn´t getting as much time to compose music as I wanted, so I stepped down from that role. I still write lots for GS and other libraries Dan has created and I will always continue to do so.
Have you/do you ever give Dan suggestions for new Gothic Instruments titles when you feel you´re missing something in your own palette/toolbox?!
I haven´t actually but Dan always comes up with amazing concepts for extremely usable sample libraries. I don´t think he needs suggestions from me haha.
You´ve had some of your music recorded by live orchestras, including sessions at Abbey Road Studios earlier this year. This must entail a tremendous amount of work and preparation, can you run us through the process from start to finish, do you tend to create virtual mockups first?
Yes, I´ve been very lucky in my career to have had a lot of my music recorded by amazing orchestral players in amazing studios such as Parr Street in Liverpool and Abbey Road Studios in London as well as Vienna and Prague. There is really no substituting live musicians.
It always starts with a virtual mockup, I try to get my mockups sounding as real and authentic as I can and also when I know it will be performed by live players, I´ve always got in mind what they physically can and can´t do. When composing only using sample libraries you can write parts that are almost impossible to be played live or would take lots of rehearsal time to get perfect e.g extremely fast, high, arpeggio string lines. You have also got to be aware of what pitch range all instruments play in the orchestra. I have been guilty of writing very high soprano choir lines as they sound amazing in demos but can kill your singers haha.
After the virtual mock ups are finished and approved I then go onto the scoring stage, which I do within the score editor of Cubase. In the case of the Abbey Road recordings these were sent onto Cliff Masterson, who scored them for the orchestra. Cliff is amazing and has conducted and orchestrated for Michael Giacchinos score for Dr.Strange and Rupert Gregson-Williams score for Hacksaw Ridge. After the music is orchestrated and scored it is time for the tracks to be recorded.
Having my orchestral tracks recorded at Abbey Road Studios was definitely a career highlight for me. It sounds cliche but there is just something magical about the building. The music that has been recorded their is beyond incredible. Then when I heard the orchestra playing my music in Studio 1, it was breathtaking. I actually did a short Vlog about my day at Abbey Road Studios:
Of course, we can´t interview you without mentioning your accolade as a HobGoblin Unsung Hero - congratulations! What exactly is this and how did it come about?
Basically Hobgoblin beer are now very much involved within the music industry putting on mini festivals, gigs and signing bands to their label. Hobgoblin wanted to run a campaign about people in the music industry that are behind the scenes, but still are very integral to keeping the cogs of the giant machine turning. I was contacted by Mark Latham who I believe came up with the concept and he said he would like me to be one of the Unsung Heroes. He explained his idea about the project and after he told me I´d get free beer, I of course agreed haha. But seriously I loved the concept and was honoured to be a part of it. Plus I got a cool official Hobgoblin video interview created by Mark.
The announcement was made in April, and it´s no doubt increased your profile since - has anything particularly interesting come out of it so far?
To be honest I never really expected anything from it. I was just honoured and thought it was really cool that I had been chosen by Hobgoblin and that my face was going to be printed on 1.8 million bottles of beer. I also loved the cartoon character they made of me for their website.
Do you have any particular ambitions/things you would like to achieve in your career other than to continue making great music?
For the last year or so I have really been concentrating on building my official YouTube channel. A lot of my music is already on YouTube through various epic music channels. Some of my tracks have over a million views, but the people who are listening and enjoying my music don´t seem to know I´ve composed these tracks. This is the main reason I created my official channel. I currently have just over 5,000 subscribers at the moment and I truly value the amazing support I get from them all. I always make sure I set aside time to reply to every comment and message I get on my videos and I´m hoping it will continue to grow. Other than that, it is just to continue being able to get up in the morning go to my studio and write music for a living. As long as I can continue to pay my mortgage and my bills from doing that I´ll be happy.
Speaking of which, what´s on the cards for you work-wise in the coming months?
I´m constantly working on new epic, cinematic music to be released and I´ve also started my first game score. I´m really excited about the project and I´m working with an amazing team called Ocean Sparks Studios who are extremely fresh and talented. I´ve already composed the main theme and I´m looking forward to creating the musical texture of the game. Thank you so much for being interested in my work.
Thanks for your time Chris.
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