HWS under the hood: Tim van de Laar

Written by Gerrit Elbrink on Thursday the 29th of July, 2010

Tim's studio
This is the first in a series of interviews with HWS crew members and artists. By asking the workshoppers a range of questions, we hope to shed some light on what's going on under the hood at Humanworkshop headquarters. First up is keyboardist and composer Tim van de Laar.

Tim got his bachelor degree at the High School of Arts in the fields music production and composition with honors. At the moment he works full time as a freelance composer/keyboardist, writing songs for commercials, documentaries, TV leaders and artists as well as playing keys in bands.

In this interview Tim sheds some light on how he build up his carrier and the difficulties he faced to become a professional composer.

What kind of music do you like listen to on a personal level, and on the other side, which music do you prefer to compose?

Well, I used to listen to almost all kinds of music, from classical orchestral music to extreme hard house/metal. The music I clearly prefer, listening wise, seems to be a certain blend of funk and pop music, especially older pop songs, from letís say Sting, Kate Bush, Steely Dan. Overall I donít really like modern pop music. Many tracks lack inspiration in my opinion. Lyrics are also very important to me in order for me to get attached to a particular song.

As a composer I focus on as many styles possible. I find it very interesting to dig deep into a style and then make my own compositions within its boundaries. For every kind of mood I am in, a song will be composed reflecting that mood.

Now, to answer your question: I prefer composing short leader-like music and funky tracks. Usually the most satisfaction I get from composing is when I successfully create a song in a style I never tried before.

Did your education at the High School of Arts make you a better composer?

I donít think the school really contributed to it, only time did. It was always working on new songs which taught me the most. A major advantage of being in school is that the size your network increases drastically, and I still make use of that until this day. Off course I learned something in the four years I spent there, but I sometimes wonder if I wouldn't learn just as much without their support.

The school allowed me to concentrate mainly on making music, the thing I always wanted. The scholarship made it possible for me not to have to take on an extra job. The biggest lack I encountered was that they didnít really educate me on how to run my own business properly. In the end I was a better composer, but how to run a business I didnít really didn't have a clue.

How did things go for you after you graduated from the HKU?

To be honest with you, it started really bad for me. My view on how to earn money as a composer was really not very realistic, to say the least. I thought that when I'd have a slick website and put my portfolio online, people would find me and hire me. It couldnít be further from the truth. In the beginning my mind was focused on writing music for commercials, not really knowing that the market for that was really small in the Netherlands. Profitable work like that is done by very few people and I had a really hard time just to find someone who actually listened to my demo`s.

When I finally found someone, my cd went straight into his catalog. Never heard a thing afterward. Lucky for me I played in bands to earn at least a little cash. Above all, the government in the Netherlands has a special rule for artist that just graduated in form of monthly payment. All artists are entitled to this for a period of four years. This provided some room to buildup my business. The government also made available a lot of courses on how to start up a business. This also helped me a lot. As time went by, I met some new people who knew a lot of the music industry and answered many of my questions. But in fact, questions keep on coming, and I wonder if I ever will know everything I need to know.

And where are you now?

It has been 6 years since I graduated. I still struggle sometimes to earn enough money to pay for everything, but things are looking good for me at the moment. I write music for multiple artists, and this finally starts to bare fruit. I provide my financial stability by giving freelance piano and cubase lessons. Also my band's gig rate is steadily increasing as well.

As a media composer things are still in a development stage. From time to time I get work as a game composer or composing stock music and I am working to put my music catalog on as many music library websites as possible. All my free time I put in making more compositions in order to make my catalog larger and becoming a better composer. For you kids out there: Donít think you can earn decent money by submitting a few tracks to a library website. You just have to put more and more on them to finally see some reasonable income. Never the less its always a good thing to keep on writing new material.

You mentioned library websites, can you explain what they do for you?

Basically library websites are places where film/TV producers can get their music from fast. In many occasions itís too expensive to hire a composer for every musical piece in a movie. Having for example a Beatles song in a particular scene playing out of a jukebox is very expensive because itís a MAJOR band. Getting a Beatles sound-a-like song from a library website drastically decrease the amount of money you'd have to pay. There are so many songs on those websites, youíre bound to find what you need or even can get assistance to find what you need. Although the payment is much less then you normally would get when people hire you directly, you donít have to worry about selling your product. You just compose new songs and submit them to the library.

Many composers have a shitload of music that never gets heard. Putting them on library websites gives you a chance to at least get some money out of them. And if people really like youíre music, you have the chance that they will hire you directly as a result of finding your music. The library owners can even ask you to compose a whole cd in a particular style direction.

It's important to realize though that when you submit tracks with only a single instrument, you have to make sure it sounds very good. Donít use a cheap piano sound out of a old synthesizer when you have access to a good Steinway piano library, for example. Take good care on mixing your work. Even the best compositions will not be used when they sound horrible.

What kind of music are you writing for your artists, and can you tell us something about your work flow?

The artists I write for are pop singers. I am working on 2 albums at this moment. One of them will be a 50s/60s feel album with a modern twist to it. Mostly up-tempo tracks that make people want to dance, at least that's the idea :). Our Network also includes some good contacts, who can deliver them to a large record label. The second album will be more sensitive/easy listening kind of music.

Both are excellent singers. For me itís very important that I feel a singer, in order to jump into projects like these. I am not the person who writes for everybody, I have to believe in them. I think when you work with a singer, itís very important to listen to what they have to say, what kind of person he/she is and what style of music really fits their voice. I work very closely with them. Most of the time they sit beside me when I write. Moving together until we both are satisfied with the basic score, so I can further enhance the track when they are gone. If they have no lyrics with them I search for a lick or make a beat to inspire them to write lyrics. Because of the fact that I sing myself, it can always happen that I find a melody myself or even write lyrics for them. A composition has to trigger the singer to get the best out of them.

Do you have any tips for young people who want to become a professional composer?

Like Sting sings in one of his songs: `Be yourself, no matter what they say`. If I would have listened to people around me, I probably had a full time job outside the music industry, maybe compose or play in a band at the weekend. You have to believe in yourself and be prepared to live without much money for as long it takes. Many people want to be a composer, so patience is required. Keep on working very hard, even though you wonít get paid that often. This can only be done if music is your life. Donít expect people to find you, create your own network. Get involved on forums, go to network meetings, be active. Do your own marketing as much as possible and learn from your mistakes. Be grateful for all the help you get along the way. Many times its not the question if you are good or not but if people are willing to give you a chance. They have to like you. Donít think in terms of money but rather the quality of your music. Work together with other artists in order to enhance your music quality. Learn from them the things you lack and donít be afraid to give things in return. But also, learn about the market you want to participate in. You will eventually learn how to get your music sold but, donít expect to hear a `yes` all the time. If you have more music talents then just composing, this could give you a financial foundation much easier. Maybe you are good at educating others, play in a band, etc. etc. Cope with harsh deadlines by discipline, good planning and focus. Donít mess up a project!

Big dreams for the future?

Even when I faced a lot of hardship I kept on dreaming, but as I grow older, I realize what really makes me happy. Itís very important for me that I donít lose myself in some kind of outward thing, I'd rather be true to myself to keep my creativity flowing. Living day by day but keeping my eyes open for opportunities. Creativity is not something that comes when you want it; it comes automatically when I donít worry too much in my head and even then I sometimes have to wait. At least for me, having a peaceful clear mind is very important to let my creativity flow. When you run a business itís very easy to lose yourself in it, dealing with people and handling money can be very stressful if you personalize to much with it. Sometimes itís hard not to. For example: When I was about 14 years old I dreamt to make a new style of music and perform it live with a band. I always known what kind of music that should be and never really left my mind. This dream didnít take fully form yet although I've constantly been working on finding a right form for it, but the thought of it keeps steering me in the right direction!

Thanks Tim for your openheartedness and your time!

Your welcome, good luck to you all! Keep up this wonderful website!

More information about Tim:

- Tim's website
- Tim's YouTube channel

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