Danish composer and songwriter Christoffer Høyer joined the Anara Publishing roster in September 2017. Here he tells us about his songwriting journey, how he gets inspiration even when he’s asleep and gives valuable advice to likeminded creatives looking to get into the industry.
Tell us about how you started making music
I started playing the guitar when I was 7 years old. Every week, I went to see my guitar teacher, Helge, whom I later learned was a legendary jazz guitarist. He played with Leo Mathiesen and Sven Asmussen who were both legendary jazz writers and performers. Helge was also a painter. Often when I arrived, he was in the middle of doing a painting and he would be splashing out the paint directly on to the canvas. He was chain smoking and drinking coffee all the time. Things were quite different back then… Much later on, I realized that he had been a huge inspiration somehow. I guess just by being him and showing me that you could live and work the way he did.
Anyway, to get back to your question, I remember writing my first song when I was 8 years old. I spent so many hours at my room with my cassette tape player recording songs from the radio and me playing along to it on my guitar or adding extra sounds… A great thing about being a kid in the late 70’s and 80’s was that there was so much time to dig deep into things. To play, read, draw etc. and never be disturbed.
I think that it was kind of a secret world for me – a way to express a lot of contrasting and sometimes nonsensical feelings. You could put them all into this “frame” (a song) where it was suddenly cool and not pathetic to talk about your emotions.
I slowly found out that I could express myself much better through songs and music than through normal talking. And so it became kind of a second language for me.
How important do you think music publishing is to emerging artists in today’s industry?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s so important to have a publisher until the point when you really have a bit of a career going. Here in Denmark, for instance, the collecting society, Koda, is taking pretty good care of your royalties. All you have to do is become a member.
However, if you want to expand into writing, producing songs and music for other artists, film/TV and that sort of thing, then it makes sense to get a collaboration going with a publisher. Personally, I think it is optimal not to just have someone who helps administering and collecting for you. If possible, try to find someone that you are also getting along with on a creative level – a publisher who really likes your music and appreciate you. That way, things are much more likely to develop.
I have had many many non-happening “collaborations” where I have committed a lot of my work and nothing ever came out of it. In the end I think it’s important to understand that 90 % of the time you have to do the work yourself. At least until you start making some money. That being said, it is also important to dare to try out different things without too much fear. At some point, you have to trust someone if you want to get to the next level with your music.
What is your typical songwriting process?
These days, most of my songwriting is with other writers/producers. A lot of the artists I produce I also co-write the songs with. But I also write for other artists, film/TV as well as my own projects. Basically, I can sit down and start writing a song anytime anywhere.
Typically, we will meet in one of our studios and just see what happens. The process depends on how they like to work, how I feel that day etc.
Sometimes, we might start out from an unfinished part of a track that has already been recorded and see if we can build something on that. Sometimes I work by just singing out random words and phrases to see if something resonates somehow.
When I set out to write more of a song song – you know, where you sit down with a guitar to write, often we will start out trying to figure out what topic we want to write about. Sometimes a good title or a topic that is close to you at the moment can get you started in a direction. A lot of times, I play guitar or piano
It is very important to be completely open. Even though I have only known a co-writer for 20 minutes I always behave as if we have been good friends for many years. I think the songs get better that way. I actually enjoy cutting quicker through the usual small talk and filters that we normally apply to meeting new people. We can just move straight into talking about thing that really concern us in our lives. I love that!
For my latest album, not yet released, I have written some of the songs alone just because I wanted to. One of them I dreamed about writing. I dreamt that I was co-writing the song with a perfect co-writer who would just throw in the perfect melodic match every time I came up with a melody line. I remember, in my dream, giving him high fives every time he countered my line with a new great line. When I woke up I still remembered the melody and quickly recorded it on my phone and finished it later.
It’s funny because, in many ways, songwriting is a rather introvert thing to be doing. It has a therapeutic aspect to it and usually songwriters have some issues they need to deal with, which is why they write songs all the time.
So it can be quite scary to jump out and co-write with other people.
Most really successful songwriters, though, have either teamed up with a partner who has other strengths than themselves. Maybe a strong lyricist combined with a skilled tunesmith or co-writing with various other writers.
Describe a pivotal music moment for you in your favourite film, television show, brand partnership etc. Has this influenced any of your own compositions?
Oh there are so many! I remember watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman when I was a child. I thought the songs were so ambient and adding such a cool dimension to the story. It probably also made a big impact because my mother had a Simon and Garfunkel record she was playing a lot. So I already knew their voices. It definitely inspired me. Another big influence was the James Bond movies. I saw all the early ones in the cinema with my dad when I was very young (too young, like 7 or so…). I didn’t realize it then, but most of the movies, to me at least, were so much driven by John Barry’s scores. A bit later, I also watched the “Ipcress Files” with Michael Caine and I recognized his style although the instruments were so different. It was very inspiring.
In general, I think that American movies from the 70’s were really great – a kind of a golden age of film making. “Taxi Driver”, what a great score by Bernard Herrman, who also scored a lot of the Hitchcock movies. “Godfather”, that great mandolin theme… “Apocalypse Now”, influenced me especially with the song, “The End” by The Doors. I am a big fan (and even sang in a Doors Tribute band when I was younger).
“Midnight Cowboy” was also a great film, music supervised by John Barry. The great song, “Everybody’s Talking’ by Harry Nilsson” opens the film.
Actually, also a lot of Danish TV for kids in the 70’s and 80’s had some great songs and music. It’s hard to explain. But there was a lot of freedom to experiment back then. A lof of it was a little crazy in a great way.
Today, I am thrilled to have written and produced several scores and title songs for kids’ shows to that very same Danish National TV channel (“DR” – the Danish equivalent to the BBC).
Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriter?
Keep writing. Because it’s only by doing it that you develop and get better. It’s a really hard line of work. Many people don’t regard music as something they need to pay for. So if you are just as interested in doing something else it’s quite probably better to do that. But, if you really do want to do it, get good at as many angles and aspects of it as possible. Learn how to produce, play a lot of instruments, learn how to score, learn to engineer…that way, you optimize your chances of staying in business.
Find out more about Christoffer Høyer and take a listen to his tracks.