In The Studio_Martin

Hey fellow creators! 

This week we had the pleasure of hanging out with Martin Krause to ask him a few questions. For those that don’t know, Martin is a trailer composer, sound designer and audio engineer from Cologne, Germany. Under his creative brand Lucky Punch Music, he creates music and sound for motion picture advertising, TV, video games and international corporate shows.

Martin is also the founder and author of the cinematic music production blog called Epicomposer, where he regularly shares tips on trailer music production, interviews withs industry pros as well as product reviews.

Under his moniker Epicomposer, Martin releases sample libraries and project templates to help other composers and video producers achieve a professional sound in every production. Martin’s self-produced promo trailer to his debut cinematic SFX library MONUMENT has reached over 2,1 million views on Youtube.

Check out some of Martin's Work!

When did you start composing and what or who were your early passions and influences in regards to trailer music?

I started making music (or noise rather!) at a very young age already when I got my first toy keyboard as a birthday present. I guess at some point my parents just couldn’t stand my random tinkling anymore and sent me to music school. After learning the basics of playing piano and electric guitar, the first time I composed a proper song was probably in my early teen years when I formed a little band with some friends from middle school. 

Growing up in a musical household, I was thankfully introduced to the historic icons of rock music like The Stones, The Doors, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin by my father but also got to listen to a lot of contemporary 90s pop, punk and electronic music through my older sisters. I’d also watch my favourite movies over and over, just to listen to the soundtracks. 

This mixture of styles and musical eras is definitely what defined my humble beginnings in songwriting and I quickly recognized that for me, neither the genre or technicality of the music was important but much more the impact it had on me on an emotional level.

Fast forward 15 years and several bands later, I graduated as an audio engineer, worked for several recording studios and music labels and started writing and recording songs for other artists. This must be the time at which I was first introduced to the world of cinematic / trailer music. I was super excited by the larger-than-life sound and emotional power this kind of music conveyed. So I practically absorbed everything I could find about the topic. I started composing my own cinematic music using only the few sample libraries I had access to at the time.

After I while, I was confident enough to send those first iterations out to various trailer music labels and – to my surprise – received quite positive feedback and opportunities to write music for some established international publishers.

That’s how it all started basically. After a few amazing placements I was luckily approached by some of the few labels I wanted to work for and have been doing so ever since.

In terms of influences, I have to of course mention the defining works of Hans Zimmer and the sound design-focused scores of Junkie XL and Mick Gordon, but also quite a few influences outside the cinematic music realm I draw inspiration from. The spectrum ranges from classical composers like Wagner, Stravinsky and Dvorak to heavy rock music, electronic artists, disco funk and hip hop. Anything that moves me, really.

What was one of your biggest hurdles in your career and what helped you get over it?

There are really two hurdles that I feel I had to overcome in the past and still have to overcome today from time to time. 

The first one is knowing when to let go of your work. As a perfectionist, I was holding on to my music for a long time, tweaking and changing minuscule things for hours and days. This kept me from getting my music out there and also kind of blocked my creative flow. I was always wondering how other artists would be able to put out so much good stuff in such a short amount of time. When I started setting myself some time goals for my tracks and when tight deadlines from clients came into play later, I recognized that not only were I able to get done more in less time, but also the quality of my work was on an equal level as before, sometimes even much better.

The other hurdle I had to overcome as a young artist and business owner was dreaming of goals I wanted to achieve but not actually doing the things that steered me in the direction of said goal. On a subconscious level, I was kind of hoping that some day someone would come along my way and push me in the right direction by giving me the opportunity to work on my dream projects. I had to realize that this obviously is not how it works and that I had to speak up for myself, make myself being heard artistically and just work towards a set goal. 

Where do you usually start when writing a cue and why?

This changes all the time and is totally dependent on the style and genre I’m writing in. However, I usually try to force myself to to come up with a good chord progression or melody on the piano first and to not reach for other fun instruments until I have established a solid piano sketch of the whole track. 

When I’m writing trailer music, I usually start with the final climax part and work backwards from there. Starting with the loudest and most complex part of the track helps me to not to overcrowd the parts before it and set a tonal goal to work towards.

Sometimes, when doing more sound design-centered stuff, I don’t actually start with a melody or chord progression but get inspired by a certain signature sound, sample or by messing around with a synthesizer.

Check out some of Martin's TV Spots!

On average how long does it take you to write a trailer cue and can you break down those days tasks?

Nowadays I can usually finish a track in day or two, from sketch to mastering. Since deadlines are unfortunately quite short in the trailer world, especially if you’re mostly doing custom work, I had to learn how to compose, edit and mix at the same time. Having a well-organized template with everything at its place is absolutely vital for this, though. When I have some more time to work on a project, I usually like to compose and mix in one go, work on something else the next day and then master the first track on yet another day, just to come back with a fresh pair of ears.

Were you classically trained at a music school and would you recommend that path for someone starting out today?

I attended music school from when I was 10 years old until I was 18 or so and learned to play piano and guitar. I later taught myself how to play bass guitar and a bit of drums but I wouldn’t consider myself a bass player or drummer by any means. 

I think with today’s technology and all those online courses available, you don’t necessarily need to attend music school in order to being able to produce good music. For me personally though, it really helped me to learn about music theory, being able to read and interpret music notation, how and why different things work together or why they don’t, etc. I think it made me more versatile as a composer and songwriter. Needless to say, I mostly played and still play by ear much of the time (much to the dislike of my music teacher!), but having a bit of theoretical background knowledge definitely helps to make at least some sense of the mess I record day to day.

What’s a broad overview of your go-to orchestral libraries and mixing tools you’d typically use in a trailer cue?

Although I have some tools I use frequently, the selection of libraries I use changes all the time and my template is always in a state of flux. I tend to switch stuff around when I really like something new, throwing out libraries I haven’t touched in a year. So the overview of libraries below is more or less only a snapshot of my current sample library situation.

Percussion: Damage 1 & 2, Strikeforce, HZ Percussion, 8Dio’s Epic Ensembles, Tom Holkenborg’s/Junkie XL Percussion, anything by Keepforest.

Strings: Berlin Strings, EW Hollywood Strings, Jaeger, Metropolis Ark, Fluid Strings, Appassionata Strings

Brass: Tom Holkenborg’s/Junkie XL Brass, Metropolis Ark, Caspian, Angry Brass Pro

Winds: Berlin Woodwinds, EW Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds

Mixing processors: All kinds of Cubase’s stock plugins, Slate Digital Bundle, a lot of Brainworx/Plugin Alliance stuff, a few pieces of analog outboard gear

Reverb: Valhalla DSP reverbs, LiquidSonics reverbs

There’s a specific formula for writing trailer music so what advice would you give to balance ‘nailing the structure’ with ‘sounding unique’?

When you’re constantly putting out trailer music and hopefully get some of your tracks placed in campaigns even, I think you start to develop a certain gut instinct for how far you can bend the rules. As an artist, I’m absolutely convinced that there are not and should not be any rules in music, but in order to get your music placed in trailer campaigns, you have to adhere to certain structures. That’s so the editor can work with your material and make it suit the pictures. Composing music for trailers like walking the tight rope between being an artist and a service provider, although it is highly creative at times, you can’t forget that you are still working on advertising a product.

In my experience, when you are lucky enough to work with a dedicated and encouraging label, you have a little more freedom to be creative and “unique”. An experienced creative director or music supervisor will let you know when you jumped the shark so you have the chance to dial it back a bit and make your music more „placeable“. Depending on how much they like the uniqueness of music they, might even offer you to produce your own trailer music album so they can publish it separately from the compilation albums.

There’s more and more publishers popping up each year so do you have any advice for composers on what to look for when choosing a publisher? Maybe some negatives and positives that you’ve experienced.

This is a pretty personal experience and may be different for everybody I guess, but I think there are some things you can do as an aspiring artist to find the right publisher for yourself. First, I’d do a bit of research and check what campaigns the particular label has placed their music in recently. Are they mostly doing cinematic trailers, TV spots, game trailers, etc.? Then think about what you have to offer, how you could fill a creative gap they might have in their portfolio. Get in touch and see if you can send them some of your best demos. 

I think there’s no problem with trying out different labels, doing a track here and there, and moving on if you’re not 100% happy. I did so myself and it gave me a lot of insight into how these publishers work and what I am really looking for. Of course, you have to give it all some time since it can sometimes take years until a track of yours gets placed (if ever). But in my experience, you quickly find out if a publisher is just sending out automated newsletters to their clients or if they actively try to get your music placed. Another important thing is feedback. Do they just accept anything you send their way or do they take the time to give every composer helpful feedback and critique on their track? Do you have the impression of being taken seriously or do you feel like nothing more than a cog in the wheel? Go by your gut instinct and you should eventually find the right publisher for you.

What’s the coolest project you’ve ever had a chance to be a part of? Or what was the trailer you are most proud of landing? Could you explain the process a bit?

In all honesty, I have to say that I enjoy almost every project I work on. Just knowing I’m able to do the thing I did as a hobby in teenage years and now I’m getting paid to do it full-time makes me grateful and keeps me from ever complaining about work. 

Sure, there are projects that are more exposed to the public eye than others, like the music I did for trailers for The Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, or the SAW franchise. It’s definitely cool to go to the cinema and listen to your own music in an exciting trailer for an upcoming movie. But I also enjoy working on smaller, maybe even more challenging projects that aren’t that public. For example, I just finished working on the soundtrack and sound effects for an upcoming indie game for children that deals with the heavy topic of coping with bereavement. Although the topic is without doubt a very difficult one, my client didn’t want the music to reflect that, but rather be encouraging, hopeful and positive. This was a very challenging task for sure, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process.

Another recent project I’m quite proud of is the trailer campaign for an upcoming Prime Video series called ‚The Terminal List’ that I had the pleasure of creating custom music for. The client wanted a trailerized rendition of the song “War Pigs” by the iconic Black Sabbath that would highlight the psychological trauma the main character (played by Chris Pratt) had to endure in war. Creating music and sound for this project and weaving in Ozzy Osbourne’s unmistakable voice into my production was an incredibly joyful experience.

In regards to the trailer for "The Terminal List", how did you approach creating a trailer structured cue while still paying tribute to the original track?

Messing around with such a classic rock song like “War Pigs” was definitely frightening to me at first. Getting tasked to do it all in one day, even more so. But being a fan of the song and early 70’s heavy metal and stoner rock in general, I thought: “well, let’s make this as cool as I possibly can”. I even put up a little sticky note to my screen that said: “Don’t – Embarrass – Ozzy!” haha – just joking!

In the end, I built a track around the song’s iconic lyrics and vocal lines which I heavily processed and vocoded in parts to make them sound even more haunting. I filled the gaps between the vocals with subtle sound design to create an atmosphere of building tension and unease. Then, I took Tommy Iommi’s iconic guitar riff as the designated main signature sound of the track and enhanced it with a whole orchestra of strings, brass, synth sounds and percussion. 

I’m very happy with how the music works together with the pictures in the end and that the editors have decided to feature almost the whole length of my track in the trailer makes me very proud as well. 

What’s next?

Well, a lot actually, haha! I’m currently working on a few trailer projects I’m not yet allowed to talk about unfortunately, but I’m also creating cinematic sound effects for both my own company and a certain British Columbia-based sample library developer 😉 (that’s us for those wondering). I’m just starting to work on the musical concept of two big corporate events in late summer as well and – as if that wouldn’t be enough – will soon move into a brand-new studio space I’m currently renovating and setting up. Easy! *insert desperate Joker laugh here*

If you want to learn more about Martin or support him then you can do so in the below links.

Epicomposer (Composer Resources)

Personal Website

Thanks for hanging out! 

– Shawn from Cinematic Tools