Today we are excited to spotlight Steffen Thum, whose recent projects include creating original music with Max Aruj for Netflix original movie iBOY.
What is your background?
I grew up in Markdorf, a small town in the south of Germany. I always had an interest in music, played the clarinet for about ten years, and guitar and bass for a few years after that, but never imagined making a career out of any of that. By the time I finished high school, I wanted nothing more than being a filmmaker. Due to lack of professional work experience in that business, I wasn’t able to immediately apply to the leading film university in the area, so I started to work at a public TV station in Frankfurt am Main for a year, and another year at a company for visual postproduction. It was during that time I would also learn more about the craft of sound and film music, and at some point, something clicked, and I decided to take a musical route. The University of Music Trossingen had just opened a new major combining classical composition and modern audio production, called music design, and I went for it. After finishing my studies in Germany, I continued to focus on film scoring for at Cal State University Northridge, Los Angeles, where I moved in the summer of 2013. Just one year later, I started as an assistant composer at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions in Santa Monica.
Who are your past influences?
During high school, I loved rock music more than most things. Just the sound of the Red Hot Chili Peppers had the power to save a bad day, and it made me pick up guitar and bass. I had this software called Guitar Pro, which would allow me to read tabs and play along to my favorite songs, but I soon started to notate and program my own song ideas with it. Lyrics never came easy to me, but I had a feeling that music did. I guess that’s how writing instrumental music started for me.
Of course, film music has always been there as well. I’ve been passionate about movies since childhood, and of course, once I saw and heard Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Once Upon A Time In The West for the first time, I wasn’t the same again. But being in awe of a score by Williams, Morricone or Herrmann is just one part of many – just as often, I can’t quite wrap my head around the brilliance of a Brian Wilson song, a Led Zeppelin riff, a Tchaikovsky symphony or a Nelson Riddle arrangement, and they all inspire me to try harder tomorrow.
What do you do to get away from it all? What do you like doing outside of the studio?
If the occasion should arise, I actually simply enjoy going outside. Some green and some silence around you can work wonders and, combining it with a walk, may also inspire some new ideas. I often work late, but an early night off usually goes well together with a good movie or show, good friends, a pint of beer or late night sushi. Possibly all those things combined.
Other than that, I love exploring new and old music and curating my own playlists, ranging from Nils Frahm, SOHN and Moderat or The Isley Brothers, Hugo Montenegro and Django Reinhardt. It’s good to keep your head out of film music while you can.
Best scored movie you’ve ever seen?
One could write books about great moments of film music, but how about this:
No Country for Old Men. There’s barely any music in it, but it was a conscious decision to remain silent, and it works great. The sound is a main character in this film. Knowing when to score a scene and when not to score it is one of the most important things a film composer can learn.