Name: Richard Veenstra
Occupation: Sound designer, composer
Location: Madrid, Spain
Take us back to the very beginning: How did your interest in music start?
I listened to a lot of my dad’s cassette tapes when I was a kid and when we went to my grandmother I wanted to play the harmonium, these are my earliest memories of being interested in music and sound. I always wanted to create stuff, so when I got my first cassette recorder, I could record things that I made myself. Every Sunday I went to the attic for a couple of hours to play with my Commodore 64 computer. I wasn’t too keen on playing games, but I loved programming my own things in BASIC. I think I was around seven or eight years old when I was able to program a pixelated balloon flying from left to right on my screen. I was the happiest kid.
Tell us a little about how you ended up being so fascinated by sound. Was there always an attraction?
Definitely. I always wanted to get sound out of everything. I remember we had an electronic organ in my parents’ house with those preset drum buttons. I found the sounds and patterns quite boring, so I was constantly on the lookout to get more out of the instrument. For example, I pressed multiple buttons at once to create glitched sounds or changing the timbre by not fully flipping some of the switches. A neighbor had a big antenna in his garden and radio signals would sometimes be picked up by the organ. For me, this was the most interesting part of this instrument.
Your first Toontrack product was the Electronic Edge EZX. For this project, you described your approach like “there’s a drum sound in everything.” Is this something you apply to your composition in general?
Yes, I tend to misuse gear for purposes they are not designed for. I also take this approach when recording foley sounds or instruments. I am not interested in recording the perfect cymbal sound, this has been done so many times before. I try to capture imperfections. For the Electronic Edge EZX I tried to record a piece of scrap metal outside when suddenly a huge insect flew past my mobile recorder. The sound of the insect turned out to be the source of one of the ‘Atmosphere’ sounds in the EZX (‘Insect Buffer’). The piece of metal didn’t make it in.
Since this EZX, you’ve released a few MIDI packs with us as well, all geared towards the electronic scene. On a more personal note, do you enjoy any other genres and do you ever go outside of this niche when composing?
For sure. I listen to a lot of different music genres, from pop music to classical music and from experimental hip-hop to cinematic. I think it’s key to immerse yourself in lots of music when you are a composer or sound designer as there is so much brilliant music out there. I tend to use aspects of every genre in my music and not care too much what kind of genre I end up with. Sometimes I even reverse engineer something from a completely different genre: I’ll read about dembow rhythms and listen to reggaeton a whole day and try to incorporate elements into a trailer track, for example.
You’re a composer, sound designer and electronic artist by trade. Walk us through a regular day in the life of Richard Veenstra, on the job!
It really depends on the project I am working on. I do a lot of different projects in various disciplines. When I am designing sounds for a new synthesizer or drum machine, I can really enjoy being locked up with this one instrument in my studio. On other days I’ll be preparing a live show, doing recordings in my studio or outside, writing an article on sound for a magazine or composing music for my own projects. I tend to split my day into two days: working some hours in the morning, taking a long break and working again some hours in the evening. For this, living in Spain is pretty much ideal for me, since it is very common to have lunch between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day. In the mornings I mostly do editing, administration, emails, meetings, etc. The afternoon from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. is for being creative. I can work very fast and have a lot of creative output during these hours.
What’s the best part of creating sounds and music for a living?
Being able to do what you like to do every day! Of course it’s not always possible to do the things you want to do 100 percent of the week, but I always strive to pick work that is interesting to me personally. Every couple of months I will pick a project that I am less comfortable with because I either haven’t done something like it before or I think it’s going to be difficult to do. This tickles the brain and makes sure I grow as an artist. I also try to keep a balance between work on assignment and my own projects and always make sure there’s a piece of me in a project.
Do you ever experience writer’s block and if so, how do you handle it?
I think every creative person has this on a fairly regular base. The first thing to acknowledge is that every artist has this and it’s perfectly normal to have this once in a while. Whenever I am stuck, I just quit my work and go for a walk. I try to not think about the thing I am stuck with, sometimes I’ll just read a book or go to a cafe to drink a coffee. Most of the times when I come back to the studio I have renewed energy and the problem will just solve itself. If it’s a persistent writer’s block, I’ll just call it a day and try again tomorrow. For me there’s no point in sitting behind my computer and forcing myself to come up with creative ideas, those ideas will almost certainly end up in the dust bin the next day. Even if I think I haven’t done anything useful, I’ll try to spin it around and appreciate the bits and pieces I have been able to do during the day, sometimes these things might end up in a track a year from now. This is why I always save these projects and render bits and pieces to audio and listen to these things again once in a while.
What’s your best tips to anyone looking to start a career in sound design, composing and/or music production?
First of all, make sure you love what you do and think: is this really what I want to be doing for the next, say, five to ten years? And ask yourself if you are willing to spend a lot of time investing in your future – there will be a lot of unpaid or poorly paid jobs coming up before you start earning a normal salary! Try to get in touch with people who are already doing this for a living and learn from them. Slowly expand your network, tell people what you do and see if there’s little jobs you can do for them. Almost all of my work I do today comes from the personal network I have built in the last 20 years. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to conferences, everybody builds their network differently. You can connect with likeminded people online, you can go to local meetups, but the importance of having a network is something that a lot of people underestimate.