Looking for new ways to make a living off your music? Explore the intricacies of creating music for stock with London-based composer and hobby photographer Oliver Lyu.
An expert in creating music for stock music libraries, Shutterstock Music and PremiumBeat contributor and composer Oliver Lyu is an artist who continues to inspire us through the tracks he creates. This freelance composer creates stock music for platforms and clients around the world, all from his studio in London, England. On a recent trip to London, we caught Oliver for a tour of his London-based studio, where he writes, records, and creates tracks for projects and music libraries. We got a sneak peek into his extensive collection of musical instruments, technology for sound design, and a surprise—his other love of film photography.
Oliver Lyu outside his studio.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Oliver.
My name is Oliver Lyu, and I’m a freelance media composer based in London. I primarily write for music libraries, advertisements, and short films. I’ve been working in the industry professionally for around 6 years.
That’s quite a while! Has music always been a passion of yours?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve always loved music. I played in bands growing up, which has definitely helped me figure out what I want to do as a career. Starting with playing drums, then I started picking up different instruments such as guitar, bass, and piano. I received my first computer when I was around 12, and that’s when I started to learn how to record and mix.
So young, amazing. So you are now a professional music composer and producer. Tell us about what those two roles mean.
Well, a music composer is someone who writes a piece of music. An example could be writing a piano part or lyrics. It really varies, but it refers to writing music.
Inside Oliver Lyu’s studio.
Whereas a producer tends to cover a wide collection of roles. If you are a producer, you not only produce the music, you also cover the more technical side of things. Things like sound engineering, recording, and mixing. A key aspect of my producing work comes from being able to record, mix, and master the tracks of visiting bands/ artists to London. This has allowed me to become self-sufficient as an artist.
I imagine that there are quite a lot of visiting artists to a place like London. That’s a pretty inspiring environment to work from. How does that shape the music you create?
I’ve lived in London my whole life, so that definitely plays a part in how I create my music. I think for myself, and probably the vast majority of people in creative fields, my inspiration comes from visiting new places. I always feel fresh and more inspired when I go away on a short break. It helps create new ideas and keep me going.
Travel tends to give us that inspiration. Could you describe the music that you tend to create as a composer?
The tracks I make can vary from project to project. Most of the time I’m writing for advertisements or promotional videos for brands, so the music does need to have certain elements to get the message across.
A lot of the tracks that I am writing and creating music for stock libraries like Shutterstock Music and Premium Beat must be more general to appeal to a mass market. This is the main difference, as opposed to writing specifically for films.
Where Oliver mixes and records his tracks.
Very cool! Do you have specific genres of sound that you enjoy composing over others?
When I write for myself, I tend to compose darker, ambient indie/ electronic tracks. The genres of music I enjoy are folk, indie, rock, film music, and cinematic tracks. I mostly enjoy these because they are the ones I can do well!
Sounds like our type of music. Do you mix and master all of your own tracks?
I do mix and master my own tracks. Mainly because it’s quicker, and I can get the songs to exactly how I want them to sound.
Mixing in a way is part of my writing process. It helps me figure out where my music is heading, and it helps me shape my sound as I write it. There are definitely frustrating times though, especially if you’re trying to create a specific sound. It takes a while to achieve what I want the track to eventually be, but it’s always worth it in the end.
How does technology assist in the tracks you create as a composer?
Technology definitely plays a big part in how I write. I tend to use my computer more as an instrument, than just as a tool to record to. If I record something, I’ll use software plug-ins to create an entirely new sound. Without technology, I would never be able to do that.
Oliver inside his studio.
Having technology allows me to integrate all of my analog equipment easily, which is great for creative experimentation.
You definitely see that creativity in your work. And you primarily work freelance. Has that always been your goal?
I’ve always wanted to work for myself. There is definitely a lot of freedom, it’s great! Being freelance is scary at times because I never really know where I’m heading. However, being able to write music for a living is so much fun and I’m very grateful to be able to do it.
We couldn’t agree more. And you have your own studio in London. Tell us about that space.
Yes! I have the amazing opportunity to have my first studio, with the help of my Uncle. We built the space in 2016. I’ve been there ever since. It’s definitely evolved over the last three years, and it’s a great place to record and write in. It houses all my instruments and studio gear I use when I’m creating music for stock and beyond.
Some of Oliver’s instruments.
Your desk is incredible. Did you design it for the space?
Thanks so much! Yes, the desk was designed with the space in mind. I figured out what I wanted it to be, and my father-in-law who is a great carpenter built it. It worked out perfectly.
I wanted to have a central base where everything is connected, allowing me to set anything up in minutes. The desk houses all of my studio equipment, and my master keyboard is built into the desk.
Oliver Lyu behind the studio he built with his uncle, and his custom desk from his father-in-law.
How does having your own studio influence your work?
Having my own studio has opened up so many doors, creatively and professionally. It allows me to do so much more that I couldn’t do when it was in my bedroom. It allows me to keep a better work/life balance, with more room to work. It’s more professional, and a great place to collaborate with friends and other musicians.
Definitely. Well, we love the tracks you create as both a Shutterstock Music and PremiumBeat contributor. How did you find out about PremiumBeat?
Before PremiumBeat, I didn’t really know much about creating music for stock. I mostly worked with agencies, writing music for specific projects. In 2015, I was contacted by a music content producer for PremiumBeat about contributing to the library. She explained how it worked, and I’ve been writing music for them ever since!
What type of tracks can someone find in music libraries on PremiumBeat?
I try to write a variety of tracks, but you can mostly find folk, folk rock, electro-pop, indie pop. Quite a lot of uplifting and emotional type tracks.
What is your process for creating music for stock? How do you decide what to create?
I start by researching what is out there at the time. If I hear something I like, I’ll use it as a reference. I occasionally ask the team for some references to go by, and then that gets me on track for what I need to compose.
Creating music for stock with some of Oliver’s instruments.
I start by coming up with a melody, then I’ll find a certain sound for that melody and built it from there through chord sequences. I figure out how to arrange the track, and then record everything in and mix! After that, I send it to PremiumBeat to see if any revisions are needed.
As a composer on PremiumBeat and Shutterstock Music, your work is listened to by customers around the world. Have you ever found your music in unexpected places?
Once in a while, I try to see if I can find something with my music on it. Recently, I found one on a YouTube advert, which was surprising! I have managed to find quite a few commercials with my music, and some more bizarre use cases… It’s always unexpected and a fun surprise.
Love that. Are you working on any personal projects?
I don’t really have anything at the moment, but once in a while, I write a few songs. I never really get around to releasing them on my own. Music is pretty much what I do, but apart from that, I love photography. I have a small collection of digital and film cameras. When I can take a break, I enjoy going away but for me, it’s pretty much all about music.
Some of Oliver’s cameras
Do you have any tips for music composers looking to develop in the industry?
I would say, keep writing. Keep up to date on what’s trending. Research different avenues of composing, because there are so many potential ways in.
Also, keep a good, professional online presence and have a large portfolio of tracks and examples available for people to find and listen to.
In your opinion, what are the top things that make creating music for stock music libraries great?
- A clean song progression
- A catchy melody
- Well produced/mixed
- And a simple, adaptable structure
Last question for fun! What composers are you inspired by?
I really love Sigur Rós/Jónsi. I admire the sounds he comes up with. Hozier is also a big inspiration. Trent Reznor, Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, there are so many!
Oliver outside his studio
Thanks again to Oliver for inviting us to his London-based studio, where he works at creating music for stock libraries like Shutterstock Music and PremiumBeat.
All images taken by author.
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