Hello Composers, Mike here. Do you want to Compose Epic Music? =)
Are you a fan of that huge, powerful and bold sound that simply fills you with energy?
You might ask: How do you compose great sounding epic music?
How do you find the right sounds, playing styles, vibe and emotional character?
Let me share some simple guidelines and tips that can help you either get started, or improve your epic music compositions.
1But first, let’s listen to some live examples of epic music compositions in various styles and character:
Mikael Baggström – Castle of Glory
I envisioned a noble castle with a heroic king ruling the lands with his majestic and legendary powers. I went for a very uplifting and majestic tone, with that epic heroic vibe. A full brass section drives the main theme, and it supported by a very focused rhythm on several short articulation strings tracks as well as brass stabs. The chord progressions includes many twists, and made the production quite intensive in time.
Main libraries used: Forzo Modern Brass, Cinematic Strings 2, Afflatus Strings, SWAM woodwinds, Action Strikes, Damage.
Brian Freeland – Berserker
This composition by Brian is so intense. It starts so creepy and full of tension. Then builds up with plucked strings in that remind me of The Gladiator Soundtrack. As well as a solo female vocal. Then after a huge tension riser it goes into the main theme, which is a kind of oriental melody that is supported heavy hits.
Brian also spiced up the rhythm and groove with syncopation and triplets without sounding too cliché, like most trailer tracks with the standard triplet transitions.
Brian’s description: I wrote this track in a few hours overnight after finishing client work and needing to focus on being creative. That’s one of the reasons I love these challenges. This track was inspired by quite a few different concepts, and was named after the recent album by metal band Amon Amarth.
For the intro wanted to create something unique and organic, inspired by the Netflix show The Last Kingdom. I used Sonuscore Origins, Sonuscore Vocal Phrases, and my usual round of Spitfire Symphonic orchestra, 8dio Century and Legion Series, and Strezov Afflatus.
The risers and pads are from Heavyocity Gravity and Rise and Hit, as well as string textures from Auddict Angel Strings, and war horns and brass from Keepforest Vikings.
The intense hybrid section was made with Novo and Forzo, Keepforest Aizerx, and the softsynth Spire, and the ethnic flavor comes from Red Room Audio Celtic fiddle, as well as Spitfire solo strings layered with Joshua Bell violin.
David Olofson – Galactic Empire
A composition with high mood contrast between the sections. I especially love when the track opens up just after 30s, and the runs in the transition. The interplay between the fanfare-brass and choir in the chorus sections is so intense. The intro and the sweet breakdown section, truly adds a lot of tonal and mood contrast compared to the chorus sections.
David’s description: A gigantic vista of planets, space stations, space ships… Too much cello research lately (have found a really nice one, though!), and I had a hard time even coming up with a vision and scenery for this track, let alone a story.
That makes writing a lot harder, as it basically boils down to improvising until something interesting comes up, and then build on that.
Mathieu Duguay – Gladius Victoris
This composition has avery nice build-up and by using intentionally sparse beats the track gets a very high contrast and focused rhythm. The final climax is so intense too!
Mathieu’s description: The story of a high valued warrior who fought thousands of battles. Victorious he stand among his fallen friends and enemies on the ground. He’s aiming his sword toward the burning sky to receive Odin’s blessing.
Production: Percs are layered from Apocalypse Drums and Audio Imperia hits & whooshes. Brass and Strings are NI Symphony Collection and Choirs are Oceania.
David Michael Tardy – Limitless
The simplicity of this composition adds so much focus. This track also use modern vocal effects, which helped so much with the transition to the climax, and the final chorus gets a very unique character from them too.
David’s description: My composition is titled “LIMITLESS”, which I composed this afternoon. I was going for an Epic Electro Cinematic feel, something different than “traditional” epic these days, with the addition of the vocals. I thought of a bad-ass La Femme Nikita type character who is both efficient in fighting with her hands as well as with weaponry.
The libraries I used for this piece: Afflatus Chapter One Strings, Metropolis Ark 1, Cinematic Studio Strings, Cinematic Studio Brass, PulseSetter Sounds Detonator, Keep Forest Atlantica, Spitfire Audio Albion One, Zero G Ether Evi 2.0, Output’s Exhale and Heavyocity Gravity. Hope you enjoy!
Siegfried Schüßler – Warmaster
This composition features very dark moody strings with mean low brass. This is epic in the sense of proud and powerful warriors.
Siegfried’s description: I had the image of a king who is riding into final battle. It is starting slow, like having thoughts the night before, then going with full plate into battle after speaking to the soldiers. A little bit like Theoden’s speech or so. The Music was mainly created with Metropolis Ark and sounds out of the box with a little reverb.
I love the monumental sound of this library. There are just one Omnisphere-percussion and EW Choirs for the shouts in addition. This piece was created by starting with the percussion part, which drew me very fast forward in the composition-process.
Epic Music Composition Guidelines
1. Bold Sounds
Epic music is mainly about power and authority. A good way to start your epic music template is to add sounds and instruments into your DAW project that are massive and powerful on their own.
Like big bold brass, a massive string section, over the top percussion, and a deep low-end boosted by sub-bass.
Epic music is not usually focusing on intimate and light sounds, other than for contrast to powerful sounds. Epic music is about big and bold sounds that stand out with their raw power.
2. Heavy Accents
Rhythm and drive is always important for energy and action in music. But for epic music compositions you should focus less on busy and complex rhythms, and more on heavy accents, and a very bold and powerful main groove.
Augment your accents by layering them with lots of instruments and sounds in your composition. For example, let’s say you have a big taiko drum to play the main percussion groove. Make sure the main accents use the loudest dynamics, and are layered with more percussion instruments.
Then you can further boost those accents on the chords and harmonies, the driving instruments and even the main melodic instruments. Simply by layering the accents on all instruments to sync up on this strongest accents in your overall rhythmic groove. Basically, heavy accents is a big part of epic music, so make sure they stand out really loud and clear.
3. Hybrid Workflow
Epic music often relies on a hybrid workflow and final sound. Combining the depth and power of orchestral and acoustic instruments with the clarity, sharpness and focus of synthesizers. As well as heavily processed sound design and effects.
For example, layering orchestral drums with processed sound design hits and impacts. Adding extra deep low-end with synthesizers layered with your orchestral bass sounds. Augmenting the ostinato strings with a pulse synth or sound design rhythms. And using a lot of effects like braams, booms, risers, downers, stingers and massive hits that are not part of a standard orchestra.
Basically, when you compose epic music, you should take advantage of the full range of sounds and effects to make it as big, rich and deep as possible.
4. Build the Energy
Most epic music compositions build the energy over time, throughout the track. Taking the listener on a ride that goes higher and higher, and even higher.
Of course you should still have arcs and curves of dynamics, density and loudness in your music. But the main point is that the average energy and power should increase as the track progresses. And most importantly, the final chorus section should have more power and energy than any other section in your arrangement.
You can do this by adding more instrument parts and layers. But you can also build energy from composition techniques like increasing the dynamics and overall loudness level. And even by going in an upwards direction with your chords and harmonies, basically adding more high end voices the further your epic music track progresses.
Finally, you can take advantage of a classic key change, that goes upwards to boost the energy. Basically transposing everything up 1 or a couple of semitones. It always has a great effect on the overall intensity, which is perfect for the last big section if you want a final powerful boost.
5. Huge Contrasts
This is an interesting point, but very important. And that is that contrast creates a sense of power in music.
For example: By using a soft delicate piano part at the same time as big massive sound design percussion and bold brass.
Big and massive sounds, will appear even more powerful, when played at the same time or directly after a softer and lighter sound. Huge contrast like this is a key characteristic of epic music compositions.
The most natural way to increase the contrasts in music is with loudness, which is controlled by dynamics and overall level of each instrument part in your track.
But you can also introduce high contrast in many other ways. Such as contrasting a lighter, thinner sound, with a big and bold sound. Or contrasting a high range part, with a low end powerful part. Even creating high contrast in the very playing style and performance of your parts. Such as a fast straight ostinato pattern, contrasted by long notes on let’s say a powerful brass and string section.
So to sum up: always think of ways to add high contrast in various ways. Because huge contrasts will boost the sense of power and intensity of your epic music.
6. Energetic Transitions
Epic music is all about epic energy. Which is why you will use a lot of transition effects that adds energy, tension and anticipation to your music. Massive sub bass drops, tension building risers, reverses and whooshes before big hit points and so on. You can also use compositional transition techniques to add energy and tension, such as runs, stutters, rolls and so on. Or using dissonant harmonies and sounds that resolve at the transition point.
And you don’t have to stick to only using energy boosting transitions between the major sections of your compositions. You can also add energy boosting transitions within the sections themselves. For example, if you have a 16 bar verse, you can add transitions sounds and effects at the 8 bar turn, or even every 4 bar to a smaller degree if you wish. Basically like transition fills within your parts.
7. Pulse for Drive
Practically all epic music has some kind of underlying pulse that add energy and drive to the music. Either as a background rhythm to support the harmonies and themes, or in some cases as a major part and focal point of the music, almost like a riff.
Ostinato string patterns using a mix of spiccato, staccato, marcato and other short note articulations are incredibly useful for adding energetic rhythms in epic music. But also pulses on synthesizers, or hybrid rhythmic effects work very well.
You can even have percussive pulses, that are not really part of the main percussion instruments. Such as various short sounds like ticks, tocks and clicks. Or any type of more percussive focused pulse, loop or rhythmic effect.
8. Layering for Power
Layering instrument parts and sounds will always add more power to your music, which is why it is particularly effective in epic music.
Your entire percussion mix can be much bigger in terms of sounds, compared to what is usual in a real orchestral composition. For example: you can use 2 or more percussion instruments layered to make up your low bass drum parts. Or layer the snare with a punch type sound effect for bigger impact.
For the melodic rhythms you can layer several string ostinato tracks using different instruments and sample libraries, and even synth pulses, to make the entire melodic drive section more powerful and rich.
Overall it is especially important to layer in the low end range, regardless of what sound family or section you work on. So in epic music: the low percussion, the low end rhythmic drive, the bass parts, the low brass, low strings etc. can all benefit extra much from layering.
Other than the low end parts, your main theme is the single most important part to layer for a a big, powerful and focused final sound. You can have many instruments play the theme together in unison, and octaves. Or even have a layer playing a harmony of the main theme, but with equal timing of the notes, which will make it stand out even more.
9. Length for Emphasis
What many composers seem to forget, is that note length is equally as powerful to use as accents in music, as high dynamics and loudness is. If you hear any rhythmic pattern, the long notes will always stand out the most. Just think of an electric guitar chugging a rhythm. Every time you release the palm mute to let the chord ring, that will be an accent made from length alone.
In epic music you can use this to your advantage. For example, your main theme and melody will most probably use long sustained notes for that sense of authority and power. And your chords can be held out with added dynamic expression curves, for the same type of result. Length is emphasis and authority in music.
There are also many signature sound effects used in epic music, that use this authority sustains for a bold powerful effect. For example: Braams, bells, pings, sustained power chords on guitar, and basically any long resonant sound.
10. Silence for Effect
Every great speaker and poet knows the powerful effect silence can have. And they use it to their advantage, because every time you intentionally insert silence as an effect, whatever comes next will feel more impactful and important.
In epic music you can add dramatic silence in the form of complete drops, section break-downs, or simply a sudden interruption of silence in one or more parts playing. This can be percussion parts, driving rhythms, bass, chords and harmonies, or even your leading melody.
Basically, you should always think about this amazing trick for adding contrast, power and impact to your music. Using silence, in various ways, for dramatic effect in your epic music composition.
Epic Music in Action
I strongly recommend that you go to Spotify or your favorite music streaming service and start listening to composers that make epic music, whether it is orchestral, hybrid or mainly focused on sound design.
Here are a couple of my favorite composers that have created lots of epic music compositions:
- Two Steps from Hell
- Thomas Bergersen
- Nick Phoenix
When you listen to these composer’s music, or any other epic music composer, make sure you listen with the purpose of learning at the same time as you enjoy the music.
The main point is to become as familiar as you can with the instrumentations, arrangements, sound design, layering, mixing etc.
Good luck with your epic music! =)