Music man Peter van der Fluit on making soundtracks for ads, producing West End musicals and being an example of nominative determinism

  • Advertising
  • January 19, 2016
  • Erin McKenzie
Music man Peter van der Fluit on making soundtracks for ads, producing West End musicals and being an example of nominative determinism

Look at the credit lists of many of the nation's major ad campaigns and you're likely to spot the name Peter van der Fluit underneath those of the creative directors, account managers and directors that also contributed to the creation of the spot.

And while he's generally the man behind advertising soundtracks these days, van der Fluit's musical touch has extended well beyond the ad industry during his career.  

He began composing music back in high school as a bass and keyboard player in Screaming Meemees, a post-punk new-wave band that featured in the New Zealand top 40 a number of times and topped the chart with their single See Me Go.

When the band dismantled, van der Fluit completed a master's degree in composition before traveling to London, where he worked on various projects with a number of bands.

It was upon his return to New Zealand in late 1999 that van der Fluit and former bandmate Michael O’Neill founded Liquid Studios and started composing original music for advertising, film and television industries. O’Neill had already established himself working with graphics in the advertising industry, which meant the pair already had a few contacts from the beginning. 

“We started talking about setting up a music studio or music composition studio on the back of his contacts and knowledge about the advertising industry,” van der Fluit says.

“Initially it was doing audio post, doing sound engineering, but we had an interest in composition so we went down that line and really pushed it and got more of a name for ourselves and continued down that road.”

Since starting Liquid Studios, van der Fluit has seen a number of changes in the industry, one of the largest being the move from analogue to digital studios.

As digital methods of production rolled in, analogue studios rolled out with a number closing down rather than making the transition. For Liquid Studios, however, the change could not have come at a better time.

“I suppose we were lucky in that sense because it was round 2000 and the equipment we invested in had some longevity because we invested in things like Pro Tools and Logic, which is now an Apple product. That technology has since become incredibly powerful but we were at the beginning of that change.”

Not only has the technology become powerful, it has also become incredibly accessible. What he was paying tens of thousands for in 2000 you can now get free on your Mac, says van der Fluit.

But that’s not so say we can all now be music composers. Van der Fluit doesn’t seem threatened by the increasing ability to produce music, saying to be in the industry you have to be a) good at it and b) have solid relationships and contacts like those Liquid Studios has built over the years.

“Because the technology is accessible, you get a lot of people playing around with it but not many mastering it. It becomes sort of a toy, not a tool. I was composing when there were no computers. Composing comes first, the computer is just the tool.” 

When it comes to composing, van der Fluit's creative freedom varies according to the clients and their briefs. He says it's difficult to discuss music technically because it's an "abstract thing and hugely subjective".

Instead, van der Fluit says they will use the brief to gain an understanding of the ad's mood and pace. This is then confirmed by putting existing music up against the film to see how that affects the picture. The temporary music is then used to guide the composer as to what is required. And, as the video below shows, a bit of dramatic music can completely alter the impact of a scene.  

 

When asked which ads have been his favourite to work on, van der Fluit says he enjoyed the cinematic style of the Southern Cross and the New Zealand Defence ads. On the other side he also enjoyed the songwriting involved in BP's 'Peter and the rabbit' spot.

 

Being able to work on different things is what van der Fluit loves about his job. He says almost every day he is working on something new, which is even better than his days in a band playing the same music every night.

“I enjoy jumping around different styles and taking on board musical challenges, going places I wouldn’t normally go musically. One minute you are doing a big band jazz track then the next you are doing a simple quirky little pop song.”

Outside of Liquid Studios, van der Fluit has worked on a number of projects including composing Romeo and Juliet - The Rock Opera. He and O’Neill worked for six years to turn Shakespeare’s text, largely in its original form, into song before shaping it into a theatre piece.

The production premiered in London in 2010, after a teacher at Arts ED (Arts Educational Schools), a West End feeder led by Andrew Lloyd Webber, heard the music. The students performed it and van der Fluit says Lloyd Webber even showed up to watch.

When van der Fluit and O’Neill returned to New Zealand they approached music video director Tim van Dammen to make promotional videos for the stage performance an idea that snowballed into something bigger.

“He got excited about it and said ‘I can make a film out of this’, so we started making a full feature length film.”

Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song played as part of the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival.

With a name like van der Fluit, Fluit meaning flute in Dutch, it seems he was destined to work in the music world (well, at least if ‘nominative determinism’ is anything to go by). 

However, van der Fluit has done his research, and music isn’t the only pathway his lineage could have taken him.

“In Holland they used to make ships called flute ships because they look like a champagne flute if you look front on at a cross section, and the hull looks like a champagne flute. So it could have been a flute, they could have been boat builders, or maybe they were heavy champagne drinkers.”

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