Ask me a Question

Welcome to this little section of my page. Here you can ask me anonymously any music career etc. related question you might have.

If you provide an Email you will receive a message, once your Question is Answered.

Hello Robin! First, congratulations on all of your work. I’m a big fan. I’m starting out as a film/game composer, I’ve worked on some short films and orchestral arrangements for songs, but I can not go from minor works to better jobs financially. Would you have any tips on what to do, to get to the “next level”? Thank you! – Leo 2. April 2018

Tough question. I don’t think there really is a “standard procedure” to do that. It has helped me to decline jobs that are not paid well and also to risk losing jobs by asking for more money. It is a very challenging strategy though and has caused some massive financial problems at first for me but it kinda got me to a point where my clients started to value my work also financially. When negotiating payments it also helps to refer to “industry standards” to kinda educate clients about what normal fees are for such work. But you will definitely lose clients on the way who either simply don’t have the money to pay more or are not willing to pay more. But in the end, one thing I’ve learned is that saying no to projects helps getting better projects, as absurd as it sounds…

Thanks. As well as working as a composer’s assistant, what else do you recommend I do in terms of learning. Obviously I need to learn about orchestras. What is the best way to learn about orchestras? Teach myself through books and online tutorials or is it better to go on a course in classical training or some orchestra course? And are there any other courses that would be useful apart from orchestra and classical? 7. November 2017

Study score sheets, transcribe music by ear and read books on orchestration. This will probably be the next best thing after trying out things with real musicians. You can get a lot of classical score sheets on for free which will give you a lot of learning material.

Hi Robin, I am interested in doing some work as a film score composers assistant but I don’t know how to find contacts for these composers. Can you recommend places to look for these contacts? 24. October 2017

Yes, several possibilities: – lot’s of composers working in the industry in this forum, offer your services there – depending on your location, request to join the closest group, lot’s of composers there as well

Or the good old fashioned way: google for homepages of composers and write them a message.

Good luck!


Do you find it relatively easy or hard to write your main melodies? from Eli 20. October 2017

It’s always one of the trickiest parts to find the right thematic material. I personally find it much easier to just work through a piece once the thematic material and concept is clear.

Robin, when will we have more articles showing the making of your songs? It’s fantastic when we learn from it. 25. May 2017

As you can imagine, writing these takes a lot of time, so currently there are no new ones planned, but maybe in the future.

Hi. I’m wondering what the actual role of an orchestrator in film scoring is today. By that, I mean is the orchestrator mainly just working from short scores which already have most if not all the orchestration already written in, and then they just have to decide “how many flutes, etc.” or worse, are basically just creating the parts for the composer. In other words, how often do orchestrator get to do actual orchestration for themselves instead of just following what the composer has already indicated? 23. May 2017

Neither of your presumptions are correct in current times. Most of the time, the job of an orchestrator nowadays is to transform what the composer has produced in his/her DAW into something a real orchestra can play. So as an orchestrator you’re left with session files/midi files, audio mockups and stems and need to find a way to get close to the sound of the sample production with the real ensemble. It depends of course a lot on the composer how much freedom you get there but due to the fact that the mockups are used to sell the music to the client/director, most composers want to get as close as possible to the overall impression of the sample version.

The more traditional way would have been the one you mentioned: to work from short scores. That is what orchestrators did/do for John Williams for instance, but hardly any composer in the media world now writes scores (in whatever form) as the first step.

Doing  “actual orchestrations” as you described it is probably not happening and I guess what you’re referring to would rather be called arrangement, but when you are in the role of an orchestrator, it actually is your job to do what the composer has indicated. You might be lucky to be trusted enough by the composer to have *some* creative freedom, but in the end, the composer is your boss. If you have an ego problem with that, orchestration is probably not the right field for you…


Hi Robin, I’m wondering if I’m permitted to be cheeky enough to actually ask for your advice/opinion regarding orchestration. I’ve spent the past three years working (no, not 24/7 !) on a symphony, in which I’ve given all I possibly can to it. Naturally, I’ve been trained in orchestration, but as I’ve not as of yet heard a note of my own orchestral music, I have a somewhat “doubt” if the music will truly sound the way I “hear” it in my mind’s imagination. I’ve completed almost all the scoring, with the exception of a very important/prominent passage in one of the movements. The passage in question is a tutti which involves 2 trumpets and a tenor trombone in unison, with a 2nd tenor trombone, bass trombone, and tuba an octave below. They’re playing a D minor theme in Allegro Moderato, marked “ff sonore”. The “accompaniment” to this main theme is the timpani playing the tonic and dominant in a 4/4 bar (“de, dah, de, dah”), marked “ff marc.” Supporting the timpani is the bass drum, marked “f marc.”; arco cellos and basses doubled with low woodwind and the piano, marked “fff marc.”; the 1st and 2nd violins and violas in unison with 4 stopped horns are also playing the tonic and dominant an octave above the timpani, low strings, low woodwind. The snare drum is also playing this four beat tonic-dominant march-like rhythm. In this accompaniment, naturally the timpani and bass drum would be the main voice, with the low woodwind, strings, and piano adding more depth to the timpani’s and bass drum’s resonance, and the snare drum adding a crispness to the texture. (For the “record”: there are high woodwind trills above all of this, adding momentum in the background). Obviously the trumpets and low brass are the main voice. Therefore, based on your experience and knowledge, would you assume the “accompaniment” I’ve stated is sufficient enough to “compete” (so to speak) against the main line in the trumpets and low brass? In my head, I can “hear” it sounding as I’ve envisioned it, but as stated, I’ve not yet heard my own orchestration, so have some self doubts. I’ve had no major concerns about much else, but this passage is literally keeping me up nights! I’d be most grateful for any help/advice you could offer. Best wishes, Owen. from Owen 26. April 2017

Now that’s what I call a specific question :) Unfortunately, in spite of your detailed description it is impossible to give a qualified statement on that when not knowing exactly where in their range the individual instruments are playing as this has a tremendous influence on how things balance. Maybe you want to email me (see “contact”) the score sheet in question and I can try to give a more qualified advice.

Hi Robin, I am currently writing about animation film music, and talking a little about film music in general, and wanted to know why you think music is important in films? Thank you in advance:) 28. March 2017

You might want to check out an article I wrote a while ago about the function of film music. It will pretty much sum up why movies need music:

12. What is the function of film music?

Hi Robin, I don’t have a question for now, but I do want to say thank you for the daily tips. Your posts are the first thing I see each day when I open Facebook and to be able to take advice from someone who is “in the game” is invaluable to me. So thank you very much. from Alun Taylor 16. March 2017

Thanks for these kind words, Alun! I’m really glad that people actually find some use in the stuff that I’m writing here :)

Hello Robin! Could you please tell me what helped you more in your learning of cinematic orchestration – your self-learning and constantly researching of a new material to learn or you learned more on college/with professor? 6. November 2016

“Cinematic Orchestration” as you call it is first of all essentially not different from “normal” orchestration but is merely a specific style to orchestrate. So all the hard rules of orchestration apply anyway and can be learned from books or orchestration courses. When it comes to really learn how orchestration is used in a filmic context, the biggest problem is that it is so rapidly changing what is currently in style that no book or course could really cover it. My personal way was to really learn traditional orchestration in every detail. When I was young I read every book on orchestration that I could get my fingers on, some several times. Later on in music university I had several courses on “classical” orchestration as well. Once you understand what is going on in “traditional” literature it is actually pretty easy to analyze the orchestration of most film scores by ear. Even if you cannot hear every single note, you simply know “it has to be this way”. So I basically learned the stylistics of all my favourite film composer just by listening to their music with my background knowledge of classical orchestration. Later on I got the chance to read through actual score sheets by several film scores I loved seeing most of the things I already heard being confirmed but still also learning a few interesting strategies to orchestrate. So the essence is to not presume that cinematic orchestration is massively different but simply learn to orchestrate. The stylistic feeling will come with that and with listening to a lot of film scores.

Hello Robin! I’m having few questions regarding orchestration and your opinion on some samples libraries. Could you please tell me, when analysing some famous orchestral score, are there any tips on what should we look first or what elements should we bee looking at in order to analyse it properly? And the second one, I saw you were saying that VSL is not that good for usage, could you please tell me is there any specific reason to that (except the completely and absolutely dry sound)? Also, is there any orchestral library (or combination of few) that you would recommend for professional composers (if money is not an issue)? Last one! What do you think of Spitfire audio orchestral stuff? Thank you for your time and your awesome tips in advance! 26. October 2016

If you’re trying to get an understanding of the orchestration of a piece that you admire (which is by the way quite different from analyzing the composition itself) you should start by having a look at the big picture. How many different elements are present, who presents the main musical idea, who is providing harmonic backbone, when going more into detail have a look at instrumental combinations, which instruments are coupled with each other, next step would be looking at the orchestration of chords/voicings – how the tones are distributed in the orchestra, which functions of chords are where, which are doubled etc. It is also quite interesting sometimes to individually have a look at all sorts of orchestral “effects” – weird sounds, special playing techniques etc. That covers the basis, but it is always depending on the actual piece. If you analyse music from the classical/early romantic period, you will pretty much get a general idea of orchestration strategies with just a few different pieces while music from later periods needs more studying and more different pieces to look at as many composers developed individual orchestration styles which sometimes differ heavily.

Regarding your questions on sample libraries: Yes, I don’t like VSL because of the dry and especially close miced recording. It is practially impossible to get a close mic recording to sound like an ambient recording, no matter how much reverb you pour on it as instruments sound different when miced close than when miced at a distance. For instance with close mics you have the bow noise on string instruments very present – a sound that gets lost just a few feet away. Also the lack of position in the stereo field of the VSL samples makes it very different because panning them very often means to crop their stereo width which very quickly makes the sound of the orchestra very narrow. I do see certain use for VSL samples, it’s just not the sound esthetics I like.

Regarding which sample libraries to recommend – it really depends on your personal taste. I like the Berlin Series by Orchestral Tools but also the Hollywood Brass/Strings by Eastwest quite a bit. The Spitfire libraries sound great from what I’ve heard but I don’t own them so I can’t really comment much on it.

Hi Robin! What can you do against artistic block? I’m currently feeling totally uninspired and I cannot come up with new music that I like. Do you know that? What’s your way to deal with that? Thanks! 26. August 2016

Self-doubt is part of a composer’s job description :)

Depends on how long you’re experiencing this situation already. If it’s just an acute situation, it usually helps me to do something completely different. Take off my mind from music and do a long walk, visit somebody or something, just generally try to relax and give it another go later on or maybe after a good night’s sleep. That usually helps me in every of such cases. But everybody has to find his/her own way with this.

If you’re experiencing such a feeling for a longer time, it is probably much trickier to handle and might have several reasons. Putting too much pressure on yourself might be one thing. It is easy to simply feel completely uncreative with the possibility we have nowadays to instantly listen to music from the greatest musical minds ever and this can be intimidating. But maybe acknowledge that none of them were born with their ability but acquired them over years of hard work. I always enjoy listening to John Williams early works because it brings him back on a human level for me and makes me realize that he just simply kept getting better and better by just doing it. Just understand that not everything you write can and will be a masterpiece, and even if you don’t like something that you’re working on that much at the beginning you might be able to see it as a challenge to still make something you like out of it or at least use it as a source to improve your skills and do better next time.

Something else that works for me is, to listen to a lot of really diverse music, just soaking all these things up like a sponge. If I stumble over something that I like and cannot immediately identify, I might even go to the piano and find out how this works. Sometimes you have these eureka moments and find something that you can store in your “musical vocabulary” to maybe use it in something of your own in the future.

You could also try just not doing any music for a week or whatever period until you actually really feel like you want to make music again. Of course this only works if you’re financial income is not depending on your musical output…

Hi Robin, is there some kind of guideline for woodwind doubling of string/brass lines? For example if you have a melody in the violins: how do you decide, whether to double it with a flute or not, and if so, how many of them? Thank you! 22. August 2016

Without any context there is no guideline. The decision to double a line usually has two reasons: 1. to get it louder 2. to give it a different colour.

If your goal is to get it louder it is depending on the context around it. To stay with your example: Sometimes adding a single flute to the violins might be too much and sometimes throwing all woodwinds on the same line might be too little. There is really no hard rule for this.

If you want to colorize it is a little more delicate. Note that it will not make much of a difference in the sound if you double that violin line with one, two or 3 flutes. Usually the violins will dominate that mixture with the flutes adding a little bit of air. Doubling something is a twofold issue. If done right, you get nice interesting sound colours. If done wrong or too excessively it is the acoustic analogy to mixing too many colours resulting in an ugly gray. I think the best way for you would be to get an idea of what works best by studying score sheets and listen to respective recordings. You will eventually get the hang of how good doubling works. Unfortunately you will notice that it is all very depending on context. So there is no rule that always works and is alway appropriate.

Hey Robin – with the current trend being to write and fully produce music “in the box,” do you think we will ever find a way to make orchestral recording accessible for the masses again? It feels like such a distant dream for most of us these days. 21. August 2016

Really tough question. I feel like I’m in the incredibly fortunate position to have practically everything I write being performed by a real orchestra. Once you establish this, it is actually not too tricky to have more of such work coming your way but I have to say, I consciously chose to shape my career this way. At one point a few years ago, I started to only continue taking jobs that allowed me to work with real musicians as I hated doing mock-ups so much and enjoyed working with musicians way more. This brought me close to a point of bankruptcy but after a few years it eventually paid off and I became “the guy to call if you are doing a project with real orchestra”

I’m not saying that this is what you should be doing and if it actually is a particularly clever way to force your career into a specific direction, but maybe you can try to slowly develop your career towards this direction by maybe trying to squeeze in to record one real musician on the next project, maybe a couple on the project after this etc. If you work a lot with returning customers you should try to push them into the direction of investing more money in the production. I had a few successful meetings where I showed differences between “in the box” and real orchestra recordings which eventually lead to raising the production budget.

Although it is rare for your piece to sound like someone else’s, there is a chance it might sound similar even if you made it without any references. For example I made a piece which I thought up in my head then someone managed to find someone else’s piece that sounds kinda like mine. Will this be any legal trouble or something? 21. August 2016

It could be. As you know the jurisdiction in practically every country works the way that even if you do something wrong by accident, it doesn’t protect you from punishment.

I’m no lawyer but theoretically you should only be liable if it is clearly the same melody. But as you might have noticed Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke have been sued last year just because they created a song that had the same vibe as another song. So you’re never really safe. But you also shouldn’t worry too much. As long as there is nobody who sues you nothing will happen. And unless you’re making a fortune with this track even if someone who thinks you stole from him notices it, he/she might simply not see a point in sueing you.

Hi Robin. Is there any good literature on (i would call it) “emotional content” and mood of a scale concerning game/filmmusic? For example: i did the score for a game and i wanted it to sound a bit like Debussy and the WoW Soundtrack ( ). so i tried to analyze it and ended up with something in lydian and often chord progressions with 1 common note. i realize that analyzing other music is totally worth it and needs to be done as a composer, but are there any books concerning this.i want to be able to know instantly what to start with when game designers tell me a certain style that they want. sry for the long question… things short: i want to gain knowledge like you wrote in an earlier anwser: if i want to write an heroic film theme modal interchanges from minor could be the way to go to. or a minor, major second modulations pushes forward in terms of energy. is it just analyzing other songs or are there any good books concerning this ? thanks for your time… i’m still a learning composer :) greetings from Austria from Timo 21. August 2016

Wow, now that is a long question :)

To be honest I don’t know any book that covers such a thing. I personally doubt such a thing exists for the simple reason that every individual reacts differently on music and just because you feel a certain emotion with a certain progression doesn’t mean everybody does.

But I think you’re absolutely on the right track with what you’re saying: You’re building up your own musical vocabulary. And that is the most important thing. Of course it takes years but the more you do this the more you can fall back on things you already know. Just continue absorbing all these things and build your own musical dictionary – because that is and will be what defines your style and voice as a composer. If there was a book that said “do that to create this emotion” what would be the reason for anybody to look for new and interesting ways to say something in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Hi Robin, is there such a thing as chord/mood relationship or scale/mood relationship? i askwd for your views because some say chords, scales or progressions have chracteristic moods they suggest. how true is this in composition? 21. August 2016

I do think so, yes. If you for instance sort the modes of major from bright to dark, lydian is way brighter and uplifting than phrygian. Just as with happy major and sad minor, you get very different shades of brightness with different modes. If you include the commonly used modes of melodic minor and other scales you get a whole set of emotionally very diverse scales and chords that can be used effectively to create certain moods.

I personally feel that even single different chord voicings of the same chord can change the mood of it dramatically…

When writing themes for characters, what do you typically use for inspiration? Is it something in the storyline or perhaps an intrinsic character trait etc.? How many themes is too many? Do you typically just write a theme for the principle characters? from Sean 21. August 2016

These questions cannot be answered in a general way. On some movies one theme might be too much on another 10 might be too few.

The decision of whether a character (or something else) needs a theme is usually depending on how prominent the character is (or maybe NOT is but should be) and also heavily depending on the genre. Usually genres that require a lot of themes often have very stereotypical characters like superheros or villains, so it is pretty easy to find a tone for these themes. On more complex characters I usually look for things in the character that are not that obvious on screen. Just doubling what is obvious already doesn’t really lift the music to a higher level. Well written movies have characters develop during the movie so often a good point to start looking for a theme is to hint earlier in the movie where the journey of the character is going (unless you give away essential plot points with that). The in my opinion important thing with a theme is to try and give the character another level or to highlight a character trait that is important to understand its motivation…

What advice can you offer on creating midi mockups to make them sound realistic. Thank you for your time. 21. August 2016

Very broad question and hard to answer. One of the most important things would probably be to also write music that would be realistic to play on these instruments. Endless sustaining notes on brass/ww will take away any realism.

I think one of the best ways would be to get a score sheet of a piece where you have a recording from and try to reacreate it with midi mockup. The real recording will give you a great benchmark of how the balances between the instruments are as well as how ambient certain instruments sound like. Always do an A-B comparison when working on it to get as close as possible. You will learn alot from such a thing even though it is a lot of work…

Hallo Herr Hoffmann Kurz und knapp: ist es möglich bei ihnen ein Praktikum zu machen? 21. August 2016

Leider nein.

Just wondering whether you know of any suggestions to having Symphonic “Orchestral” music played. I live in Melbourne and there aren’t too many symphonic bands that are willing to play original music. Any suggestions? Thanks, Rowan 21. August 2016

Really tough question as I don’t really know how the music world in Australia works. Here in Germany you might be able to approach youth or university orchestras and try to connect with them. You might not get the most professional result from it but it is a good starting point and by the way a really great way to learn the instruments as less professional players will give you a way clearer idea of where the limits on the instruments are…

When writing a new cue whether for film/tv, games, or for a concert, how do you plan its structure? Do you build off of a very general concept, and then add chords to fit that outline, or are you much more methodical and systematic? 21. August 2016

It’s really depending on the medium. If it’s for film, obviously the structure is dictated by the visuals. I usually do these cues by laying out the tempi and then trying to come up with something that connects all the structural elements/hitpoints musically.

With music that is not connected to a visual, I usually work with rough concepts beforehand. I have an idea of where I want the piece to go but I don’t have a strict plan of when exactly to reach these moments. If during the writing I feel for instance that a certain buildup needs more time to work most effectively, I will extend it without slavishly sticking to what I initially wanted to do. I personally feel that experience helps alot with this. You get more secure with doing decisions that could lead a piece into a slightly different direction than what was planned originally. However the concepts that I use are way more than just basic structures that I fill out with chord progressions etc. It’s more of a sound or general musical feeling that I hear in my head than just a structural element. Hard to descirbe actually…

Hi Robin, sorry that I have been bombarding you with so many questions, I wanted to ask you, I would like to know a way to learn better and more interesting chord progressions, like non-diatonic progression for better and more interesting compositions. Anything you recommend ? 21. August 2016

Study Jazz Harmony – particularly chord extensions and modal harmony. You will get a lot of great possibilities by understanding this. Check out the book: Twentieth- Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti as well, which will also give you a few cool ideas on modern yet tonal chord progressions…

How do you use tensions wisely in orchestration? Using dissonant in your favor 21. August 2016

That is an incredibly complex question that can’t be answered in a few sentences. Writing proper dissonances that sound great is really tricky. I would recommend studying Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRINGS for extremely effective use of dissonances. Particularly pay attention how he very often writes structures that are pretty consonant within individual sections but create strong dissonance with other sections…

Hi Mr. Hoffmann thanks for your website and for sharing your knowledge with all of us, I have a question I would like to take a course on orchestration and I am in between 2 that are kind of same price which one do you recommend ? Option 1 is Berkeley online orchestration and option 2 think space ed 21. August 2016

Can’t comment much on Berkeley. I have tutored a few years for Thinkspace but they just recently changed alot of their structure. Generally both courses should probably give a good basic understanding of orchestration but will probably not replace proper orchestration lessons. You might also want to check out Thomas Goss’ Orchestration Online course.

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