Welcome to the horror show coverEver wondered what sounds would work best to create mood on Halloween? Horror haunt musician Sam Haynes is the creator of “Welcome to the Horror Show”, a new collection of music for Halloween 2013. The CD contains dark soundscapes and dance influenced electronic music to accompany the scariest of haunted attractions. We invited him to share some his know-how on creating that perfect haunted sound…

Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere…

How to create the perfect Halloween soundtrack?

As a musician my speciality is producing soundtracks for Halloween Haunts. My music is written specifically for halloween attractions, to enhance the atmosphere and add to those chills you feel as you walk around them. I am heavily influenced by classic 70s and 80s synth-based horror scores, like those composed by John Carpenter, Goblin, Alan Howarth and Fabio Frizzi.

These soundtracks have one common theme: they are simplistic, synthesizer-based and all added a great deal to the tension and atmosphere on screen.

With my new CD, “Welcome to the Horror Show”, the idea was to try to combine this classic style of music with modern production techniques. So I took the common theme of those classic soundtracks and updated it for modern listeners to include a dance music influence, deep basslines and even dubstep beats.

Example 1: Ghosthouse

Here is an example from the new album: Ghosthouse

Ghosthouse starts off simply with the sound of a 1960’s organ: a nod to Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Then an almost rock drumbeat comes in. The beat was programmed entirely in FL Studio. A lot of reverb was added to give the sound “space”.

The track builds for a minute then suddenly turns into a dubstep track with a very simple, almost aggressive bassline and drum track:

More synths and organs play throughout. These are influenced heavily by the fantastic theme to the classic horror movie Phantasm. The aim of this track was to capture the feel of that theme in a totally modern sounding song, which would be effective when played over a soundsystem at your local haunt.

Instruments playing in the left and right channels along with lots of reverb add to the spooky feel and space of the mix.

Example 2: All Hallows

All Hallows is the opening theme to the album. For this track I wanted to create the feel of the title sequence to a horror movie.

The song opens with a very sparse music box sounding part:

The instruments build until the bass and choir parts kick in at 1.31:

The song then continues to build to the end with additional music box instruments and basslines that compliment the original opening riff:

The idea is to create a feeling of building tension… like something scary is about to to happen!

Spooky Sound Techniques

The key thing to remember is that the music is being used to create an atmosphere. Sudden quiet parts, then loud parts, slow buildups, unexpected noises, reverb and echo can all be used to achieve this.

This type of music does not have to be technically astounding, it can be incredibly simple. Some of the most effective horror themes are very simple ideas that are executed to complement the scenes on the screen.

The same idea applies with Halloween haunt music. The sounds should complement the theme of your haunted attraction. For the majority of tracks on my new CD, they were composed with an image in mind. For example “Dollhouse” with a dark and creepy musicbox feel, “Ghost Train” with a driving train-like sound, “Halloween Night” with a fun bouncy bassline and happier-sounding hook.

If you want to create a halloween haunt soundtrack you may not even need to create a song. Using instruments you can create a very scary sound that does not have a traditional song structure. If you wanted to create the soundtrack to Frankenstein’s lab you could achieve this solely using sound effects and samples.

Halloween Activity – make your own scary Halloween song

Try it yourself! Here is an exercise to create your own halloween soundtrack, or horror score:

  1. Imagine an image that scares you.

    Think about what types of sounds would fit that image. For example, a creepy forest might have a lot of echo. A haunted castle may have creaks and organs playing.

  2. Use electronic synths to create a simple riff that sounds sinister.

    Think of the theme to “Halloween” movie, for example. It’s just a riff to build your track on. Then replace the instrument or use combinations of instruments to create the feeling of the image you imagined in step one.

  3. Get creative!

    Use your riff as a starting point and add layers of instruments, building on them as I did in the “All Hallows” track. Split them between left and right channels to create a rich sound and the feeling of space. Add unexpected quiet parts, loud parts, bangs and sound effects to enhance the sound. Reverb is key – add reverb to some of the instruments, or all of them. Does it sound scarier or more atmospheric?

Now it’s your turn…

Hopefully the techniques described here you will have a good idea of how to create a sinister soundtrack to your halloween haunted house.

Remember: Keep it simple, add instrument layers and reverb, and try to create music that complements and enhances the ‘scene’ you have imagined.

Halloween will be here soon… Can you write a song that will add to the atmosphere of your evening?

Sam Haynes Horror Composer

Sam Haynes is a professional Haunt Music and Horror score composer. In his music business he creates new unique sounds for halloween- and horror-themed attractions.

He has composed horror music that has been used in theme parks and haunts across the UK and USA. His music style has been compared to the famous horror score composers of the 70s and 80s, John Carpenter being his main influence.

Sam lives in London, UK in a small quiet and leafy suburb. His website features links to all of his latest work: www.hauntmusic.co.uk

Listen to the full album: “Welcome to the Horror Show”