Treat yourself. Additionally to staying positive, it is important to treat yourself regularly. I wish someone told me in the past to treat myself for little milestones I’ve achieved and to celebrate them as a success. Again, I do believe life is all about the small things, and the many small milestones in life end up adding up to a large bubble of success, happiness and purpose. Every little step is a step forward, especially when you treat yourself when reaching those milestones. It doesn’t have to be big, just as long as it makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. In my case I usually buy new gear for the studio that I can keep forever and use on many projects to come; that’s my version of treating myself.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Thomas Eggensberger.
Thomas is a German composer, orchestrator and songwriter who composes for film, television and games, as well as concert music and collaborative art. He is co-founder of the composer collective and sample library builders Green Light District, regularly working with his collaborators Marlon Lang and Dylan Love.
Thomas is based in Los Angeles, California and was raised in Munich, Germany and started his musical training at an early age, learning to play the piano, guitar and drums.
He has worked with a wide range of people such as freelance film makers, directors, illustrators, musicians, and artists around the US, UK and Germany, including his work with American music producer Randall Dunn and the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson on the cult film Mandy, and his work for recent Grammy, Emmy and Academy award-winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir on the film Mary Magdalene.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Hi there, my pleasure! Well, I was born in Prien am Chiemsee, Germany, not far from Munich. My parents and I moved quite a lot when they raised me, but we spent a big chunk of time in a city called Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the foot of the German alps. Being surrounded by such beautiful nature was really inspiring to me, and I was brought up with music by composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Chopin and Richard Strauss (whose Eine Alpensinfonie was written about the mountains that were the environment of my upbringing). This really had a big impact on me and I started to become extremely passionate and obsessed about music. When I was around 5 I started to receive piano lessons and learning classical pieces, and I distinctly remember thinking ‘I love playing all these pieces, but I kind of would prefer to write my own’.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Being surrounded by so much music at an early age definitely shaped me as a person and a creative, and I later went on to explore the more technical side of music. Like many others I played in bands in my teens and really loved it, but what interested me almost more than playing on stage was the recording process. I often recorded the bands I was in and played in the ‘fake drums’ because we didn’t have the budget to record real drums in a studio ourselves. This really helped improve my recording, mixing and mastering chops, and I was so interested in this side of music that I then enrolled in a sound engineering course at the Deutsche Pop music academy in Munich. This was when I was still in school, so I had to juggle school and music academy work, but it was totally worth it. I stayed there for two years and loved every bit of it, but then came to a similar conclusion as before: ‘I love recording all of this music, but I kind of would prefer to write my own’.
This then lead me to the path of music for visual media. I didn’t realize that one could make a living with this job and just thought it was the coolest thing, so I wanted to do it. When I was in my late teens I called a bunch of Los Angeles–based composers to ask them questions about the film, TV and game industry, and how to ‘make it’.
I called a lot of composers (including some very famous TV composers, many of whom said ‘no’ right away) and got though to an awesome composer who then invited me to a series of industry events he put on in Los Angeles. I flew to LA with my dad, who had bought me a plane ticket for my 18th birthday just a few days before. Besides meeting lots of cool people, I had the chance to spend a day at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions studio with composers Atli Órvasson and Dave Fleming which was extremely inspiring. They showed me around the studio and demonstrated how cool the job of a film composer really is. The studio environment was so inspiring and it really proved to me that I had taken the right steps. In LA I received a lot of great advice and insight and was advised to go a little bit more in depth with composition and to learn ‘proper’ composing first, before diving into the craziness of film music. I then decided to apply to study classical music with creative music technology in the United Kingdom.
I was very lucky to have been accepted by the prestigious Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, and stayed there for four years completing my undergraduate degree. During my studies I had the privilege to work with various musicians, film makers and artists, and this strengthened my passion for visual media even more.
After graduating, I really wanted to dive even deeper into music and to focus more on film music, so I decided to apply to the Composition for the Screen program at Columbia College Chicago. I was lucky to get in, and during the two year program I indulged myself in film, TV, game and AR/VR music which really prepared me for the crazy world of music for visual media.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’d say there are a few stories I could be talking about, but the one that has influenced and shaped me the most was my opportunity to work with the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson in Berlin in 2017. I had admired his music for a long time and really wanted to meet/work with him one day, so I wrote him an email to ask about that. He agreed and I soon was on a plane to Berlin to start an amazing internship with this legendary composer. There, I had the pleasure of meeting the most amazing music team, including the recent Emmy, Grammy and Academy award-winning composer Hildur Gúdnadottír. Everybody was so welcoming, kind and generous. During the time in Berlin I got to work on one of Jóhann’s last film scores for Mandy (starring Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache), and Jóhann’s and Híldur’s soundtrack for Mary Magdalene (starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor). I really had an incredible time there and it was the most inspiring studio environment, full of creativity, positivity and just amazing music.
It was one of those times where I thought to myself, ‘is this really happening?’ These are my idols, they have the coolest music team and I get to be part of it and such amazing projects. And all of this happened for me because I literally ‘just’ wrote an email — an email that shaped me as a person and my compositional voice and will for years to come.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not sure if this is hilarious, but the funniest mistake I made when first starting was probably when I studied at the Deutsche Pop music academy in Munich. They had awesome fridges with free Red Bull, and there was one time where I definitely thought I would need extra energy but drank a few too many, which resulted in being wide awake for many hours and chatting “too much” with many people.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently working on a cinematic, hybrid-orchestral, sci-fi album that I am hoping to release and submit to multiple music libraries to license the music to film and TV at the end of this year. I also just joined the roster of a Los Angeles–based music library, so I will be writing lots of music for them. Other than that, there are two films lined up in the next couple of months that I will be scoring, a horror feature film and a sci-fi drama short. I am also planning a few sample libraries (software tools composers can play on their keyboard and use to score films) with my two business partners Dylan Love and Marlon Lang, who I have a composer collective/sample library company with called Green Light District. Also coming up, my partner Kirsten Evans and I have set up ‘UGLiCAT’, a coaching business helping new freelance musicians find methods of monetizing their skills in an achievable, profitable, and fulfilling way. We’re currently in the beta stage looking for more free clients to help streamline our social media and multiple passive income stream systems.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is essential. Diversity not only provides the world with wide varieties of demographic and social backgrounds and the amazing positive influence this has; it also allows everybody to be inspired by each other. The film and television industry, at the end of the day, is a collaborative industry, and the more diverse a team can be, the better. Everybody brings their own history, heritage, experiences, failures, successes, hopes and dreams to the table, and it helps the end product to be a more universal, accessible and meaningful experience. We are trying to make art together, it doesn’t matter what someone’s skin color is or their heritage, culture, gender or ability. Diversity and versatility drive this industry (and the world!) and the more we can become unified, the better. Being united is the whole point of this industry. Diversity enriches culture and helps its evolution, and inevitably helps create better products.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Sleep. I know it sounds basic but take care of your body, and especially your mental health. I definitely went through phases in my life in which I slept very little to not at all, and it really affected my body and mental health. It’s not only bad because you feel tired the next day, it’s bad because it affects everything. Physical and mental health, relationships, collaborations, work, and even simple things like cooking and driving. No sleep/little sleep results in things entering a downward spiral that is hard to get out of. Going to sleep before midnight also has a drastically positive impact on health.
- Eat well and plenty. Like with sleep, this is essential for physical and mental health. In order for the body and mind to function we need to give them the nutrition they need. Eating at appropriate times of the day can solve a lot of problems, and doesn’t let you get to the point where you think you don’t ‘need’ to eat because you’re too busy. The number of times that has happened to me when starting out is shocking, eating instant noodles, candy bars or chips for weeks and not allowing my body and mind to get the nutrition it deserves. Sometimes it’s the simple things that I wish someone had told me when I first started.
- Set boundaries. In our industry it is very easy for someone to expect you to work 24/7 and be available at all hours of the day. It doesn’t have to be like that. Like with many things, less is more. I’ve had this experience many times and have learned to set myself personal deadlines of when I stop working, which hours of the days are for work and family, and which days are non-work days. Setting boundaries doesn’t only help your physical and mental health, it actually makes you more desirable and employable to a person, and you gain their respect for keeping your dignity and not allowing yourself to drift off into ’24/7 work land’. By setting boundaries your work becomes more efficient, better, and more rewarding.
- Stay positive. This was particularly hard for me to do when I first started out. It was easy to drift into darkness and negativity when things didn’t work out as I wanted them to. It often happened when I didn’t get as much work done as I wanted, or I just wasn’t happy with the quality of my work. Imposter syndrome was a big problem, thinking I wasn’t as competent as someone else and questioning the whole point of doing music because I thought ‘nobody is going to care anyway’. Well, people do care and there is a point, sometimes it’s hard to grasp, but when you take matters into your own hands and go step by step, day by day, year by year, it gets better and easier and you begin to celebrate even seemingly ‘small’ progress. It’s in the details though, and those are the things that make you stronger and ultimately succeed. Not losing sight of this fact is the most important part of staying positive and I wish someone could have explained this to me when I started out.
- Treat yourself. Additionally to staying positive, it is important to treat yourself regularly. I wish someone told me in the past to treat myself for little milestones I’ve achieved and to celebrate them as a success. Again, I do believe life is all about the small things, and the many small milestones in life end up adding up to a large bubble of success, happiness and purpose. Every little step is a step forward, especially when you treat yourself when reaching those milestones. It doesn’t have to be big, just as long as it makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. In my case I usually buy new gear for the studio that I can keep forever and use on many projects to come; that’s my version of treating myself.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think all of the previously mentioned points are important, but in particular ‘setting boundaries’. Many people just say ‘yes’ to everything when they start out, accepting they will be taken advantage of, working too much and too long all the time. Saying no is not a negative thing, most people are just afraid of saying no because they fear there might be some negative consequence for them. Most of the time that actually doesn’t happen though. Over the last couple of years I have kind of developed my own little slogan that I repeat to myself from time to time: ‘Inform, don’t ask!’ What I mean is, in cases where my mental or physical health are being compromised, there is sometimes a necessity to inform others that compromises are required to be able to fulfill the task. This is not to say that one should make unnecessary demands, but that in times of need one should feel comfortable enough to approach their co-worker, collaborator, or boss to inform them about things that are going to be necessary to complete the task. Always approach this situation with a plethora of solutions/plans ready to suggest.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think it is an increasingly important development to bring in the working mentality of other corporate professions where the ‘successful people’ have multiple streams of income. This thinking helps to support people financially, build their confidence and sense of authority, and form more connections in their network. The main thing is to reinforce the idea that those entering the industry now have more training and knowledge than previous generations because of technological advances, and therefore these people who are going to start in the industry need to feel comfortably confident in their abilities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would like to thank the composer Kubilay Uner for his continued guidance throughout the years. I met Kubi in Los Angeles in 2011, and he has guided me for many years now through the world of film. Kubi and I met in LA and I remember him mentioning that it would be a great experience to study abroad, to experience another culture and indulge myself in the music industry there, and to see if this would actually be the right thing for me. I followed his advice and that is why I ended up living in the United Kingdom for four years, meeting great and talented people, and later studied for my Master’s degree at Columbia College Chicago. The funny coincidence was that Kubi had meanwhile started leading the Columbia College Chicago Composition for the Screen program whilst I was in Wales, and when I applied for the program it was so funny that Kubi had become the program director after meeting him in LA so many years before.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t waste your time on plan B, put all your energy into plan A and it’ll work out!” This is what I’ve done since I decided to go into music, from day one. I said to myself that there is no point in thinking about all the things that could go wrong, but that it would be much more useful to concentrate on making the things go right that you want to go right. This mentality has driven me throughout the years and continues to shape the development of my career.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
That’s a very good question… I think it would have to be Elijah Wood. He starred in one of my all-time-favorite movies (The Lord Of The Rings) and just seems like the coolest guy. He stars in and produces a lot of really cool, unique indie movies that are totally up my street, including Mandy. Would be amazing to have lunch with him, I’m not sure about Elijah, but I’m totally not a morning person…
How can our readers follow you online?
The best way to contact me would probably be though my website
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thanks a lot, it was a pleasure!