Junkie XL: 5 things I’ve learned about music production

(Image credit: Dirk Kikstra)

Junkie XL - AKA Tom Holkenborg - has packed an awful lot into his lengthy career. Having made a name for himself with his chart-topping remix of Elvis Presley’s A Little Less Conversation, he’s gone on to become an in-demand film composer.

As well as writing the music for the forthcoming Justice League movie, Tom is currently releasing the second season of his Studio Time video series, which sees him discussing his gear and production techniques. A new episode is being released every Friday.

Tom also has some words of wisdom for MusicRadar users. We asked him to tell us the five things he’s learned about music production, and he responded some creative, technical and musical advice... 

1. In times of extreme work pressure, take it easy and relax for a few hours 

“In times of stress your mind starts to wander off in different directions. Usually at overdrive speed. Anxiety starts kicking in, and anxiety is the worst ‘advisor’ on what to do!

“Take a few hours off to breathe and relax. Drink a few camomile teas. Do something that relaxes you. Walk a few miles, cook some food, play with your kids, lay in the grass in a park. Whatever makes you comfortable. In that time period you you will free up your brain from unnecessary stuff.

“Then go back to your studio, play the track at hand and you will notice what needs to happen. Also, now you have the freshness to attack it more efficiently!” 

2. You need to know the harmonic impact of the melody you’re writing

“When writing a melody, which is usually a first step, it is good to know what the harmonic implications are. This way it is easier to use this melody to create different emotions or vibes using different harmonies. A bit of harmonic knowledge never hurts! And there are some really great books out there that can lead the way.”

3. Cherish the fact you are making music in the first place! 

“It is a beautiful gift to be able to make music. Enjoy it as much as you can. This also makes it easier to deal with more difficult times. A positive attitude towards all you do makes you a happier person in general.” 

4. Listen to all that is NOT being said in a meeting

“Sometimes you have conversations with directors or producers and they all are trying to say something to you. These might all be different opinions or ideas. Usually, they have an underlying thin red line. That line is not being talked about but might be the key problem you should observe to solve the problem. Look at body language when they see a scene with your music. Observe their talking and what they potentially leave out.” 

5. Don’t tell the audience what they haven't seen yet 

 “The biggest ‘don’t’ in film scoring, I would say - do not lead the audience to an emotion or event that hasn’t happened yet on screen. There is only one exception to this rule: a person walks into a dark cellar in a horror movie and we all say to each other ‘don’t do it!’ The person keeps walking and eerie strings enter the scene. They become so tense and so high in pitch over 40 seconds; something is gonna go bad real soon. And then there is… swoosh, squeak...  Our hearts skip a beat and the camera zooms out - ah, it is just the neighbours’ cat! And the scene continues with little or no music.”

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.