By Jan Hoeglund
Danny, thank you so much for taking the time and congratulations again on the placement of your music in the new The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies trailer. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What's your educational background?
I bypassed the traditional education route, being pretty much self-taught my whole life (with many talented mentors along the way). I began my music obsession as a kid, playing guitar everyday religiously. My parents bought me a 4 track recorder for my 12th birthday, I then spread my obsession to recording my songs, multi-tracking myself playing drums, bass, piano, and getting really into the engineering as well. I played in some serious bands over the last 15 years, working with some members of Linkin Park and NIN, learning and honing the craft of writing and producing. I also produced albums for a ton of bands in my home town of Sacramento, California. I was devoted to studying the science of engineering, and mixing. I spent a lot of grueling hours editing drums and tuning vocals haha. When I first moved to LA five years ago, I began working for composer, Paul Haslinger. I helped out with some writing on the films he was working on at that time. All the while working on my first trailer album release “From The Blue”.
Now for those out there who don't know what a trailer music composer does, please tell us a little bit about that and how you first got into doing music for advertising?
I first got into writing for trailers when my manager sent some of my early demos to a music supervisor at a big trailer house years ago. The supervisor really liked my sound, so I would get a lot of opportunities to submit cues for specific projects, always with an over night turnaround. I learned how to write really fast, riding the anxiety of having a 12 hours turnaround for a cue. After a couple years of developing my production and building up a nice amount of cues, I released my first album and was suddenly in almost every trailer in the summer of 2011! I’ve been working steady on releases ever since. I've been really fortunate to be in the fold in that world.
You are part of Position Music team, alongside other fantastic trailer composers such as Jo Blankenburg, Jack Trammel, James Dooley and others. Do you guys collaborate a lot or even meet up?
I know all the composers at Position pretty well, they are all great dudes and super talented. Jack Trammel and I actually go way back. We worked on music together in Sacramento for one of my bands he produced. We all get to meet up at events here and there, or for an occasional hike, though every one is pretty busy these days. The only collaboration I’ve done was called “Destroyers In The Sky” with Jim Dooley, featured in the “Jupiter Ascending” trailer. The collaboration was still very remote. Jim basically sent me an orchestral track he was working on and I went in and did my thing to it.
Take us through your thought process when you work on a new track. Do you start with a melody, a percussion line, the sound design?
Each track begins in a unique way it seems. It all depends what kind of cue I’m working on I guess. Usually the melodic emotional cues start on my baby grand piano. I record myself just jamming out ideas for an hour or so until I find something that speaks to me. Sometimes its on the guitar, or sometimes I’ll just start going through my sample libraries and a sound will inspire me, and I’ll start tweaking it and building around some cool sounds. Usually its always the melody or tonal elements that drive the beginnings of a cue and percussion and sound design come in the middle/end of the phase.
Without giving away any of your secrets, what tips can you give other trailer composers? For example, what is more important these days sound effects or melody?
I think my biggest tip for other composers is try to find your own sound. The biggest issue with trailer music these days is so much sounds the same. There’s a lot of knock off cues and sound-a-likes. The sound in demand is always changing every year too. One year everything is really sound designy, then the traditional orchestral is the trend the next year. Its always changing and its almost impossible to try and chase the sound. You just have to do what inspires you and hope it resonates!
What things should a trailer composer stay away from (Pianos, Choirs, etc.)? And how many sections do you usually set out to create in each track?
I can’t say there’s any one thing to stay away from. The trends change so much, sometimes the clients all say NO choir, then later they’re all asking for choir. There’s a niche need for every style too. Some trailers have totally piano based cues, some sound design, some all hybrid action. It all just depends on what the movie is, and what the studios and clients are envisioning. Its too much to try and worry about, so you just have to not think too hard about it all, and just focus on writing great music. That's my philosophy anyways!
My cues usually are structured with 3 acts, but most often they extend out to 5-6 acts with some extra little goodies in between. Typically, everyone asks, “can it go BIGGER at the end??” So when I think I’ve reached the end, I end up adding an even more frantic and huge back end to really bring it home.
What are you currently working on and what kind of trailer/game/movie would be your dream thing to work on?
I’m currently working on my next full length album the rest of the year which will also be my first live orchestral recording. I’m really excited about it and taking my sweet time on it to make it stand out. I have a couple feature films in the works that should be starting for me early next year too. I’m really super excited about them as its been almost 3 years in the making.
My dream film is actually the film I’ll be scoring next year called “The Prototype”. I cannot wait for it, the sound is a nice combination of subtle and ambient, to really gritty industrial. I’m looking forward to some day working on either an awesome sci-fi video game or even fantasy. I’m a huge fan of both genres.
What does your workstation look like?
My workstation currently is fairly simple. I have the new 6 core mac linked up to my old 8 core for a lot of my orchestral stuff in Vienna Ensemble Pro. I’m pretty much all in the box, but I run my live piano and guitar through my api 512 and every now and then I re-amp synths through my UA LA-610 to get a nice squashed tube sound. I have the iPad to do some automation or play with some cool synth apps. Lots of guitar pedals and guitars always in reach. I’m using the Focal Solo 6-Be’s as monitors too which I love (for now haha).
Listening through your tracks I do hear a lot of synthesizers and samples. What are your favorite Soundiron instruments? Do you use live instruments/vocalists a lot?
I have a ton of plug-ins, sometimes some independent companies I try out, and also a lot that I use a few times and forget that I have them haha. The only live elements I use usually are my guitar and my baby grand piano. I love to create a lot of weird ambient or unusual sounds with my guitar. I spend a good amount of time doing my own sound design as well. I make custom patches out of everything as well.
My favorite Soundiron release is actually the Tuned Artillery! Its one of the sickest and most unique sample library of any I have. I’m always looking for unusual small perc or tonal keys with tons of character. Either for piano type parts or for making “Ticky” high percussion lines. Seems like that's a totally overlooked thing with a lot of sample libraries. I could surely use way more of that stuff. I love the Sick series, and I’ve been using Requiem Light, Emotional Piano, Antidrum, Dhol Drums, Riq Drums, and Ambius for years as well. All the Soundiron samples are useful, high quality, and inspiring.