The power of music, according to composer Erwin Steijlen

Would you like to hear what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) sound like? Then pay a visit to Erwin Steijlen during the CWF2019. The Creative World Forum addresses seventeen SDG’s, of which he translated seven into songs. A ten-headed orchestra performs the songs.

Erwin Steijlen is a guitarist, speaker, writer and composer. He believes that: “Music is the major connector. It does not necessarily speak a universal language, but it is the language of emotion. 97% of the world’s population considers a sad tune to be a sad tune, from Australia to Japan to Iceland. And even if you do not like certain music, it can still give you goosebumps. That is the power of music and is what makes it the Holy Grail of communication.

“You basically need to be better than good and add your own twist to that.”


This musician in heart and soul started his career as a guitarist. Inspired by Queen’s Brian May, Erwin already knew at the age of 11 that music would be his purpose in life. Conservatory, bands, record deals, studio recordings, he experienced it all. That was until he was asked by chance to write music for Cirque du Soleil because somebody dropped out. He did not even know what Cirque du Soleil was, but it did make him a composer at the age of 31. He and his client were quite happy with this and more assignments soon followed. Then he received a big one, for BMW. This turned out to be quite a mishap for him: “I had to compose music for a commercial about the BMW Motorrad, an off-road motorcycle. Nice and rough is what came to mind; mud, driving fast, spectacle. So I composed quite an intense piece. The top executive did not like it at all. As it turned out, this intensity doesn’t match the DNA of a BMW Motorrad at all; a waltz does the trick. Fortunately, I got a second chance. Ever since that moment, I have been composing based on DNA. This could be an artist’s DNA, but just as well that of a product, event, show, company or organisation. And a Sustainable Development Goal!”

The BMW story is told in his book ‘Corporate Music Method’. Erwin does not only play and compose music, he also writes and talks about it. About its creative aspect, but also its scientific, emotional and healing aspect. And about where the opportunities of music lie, for example, in the dentist’s chair. “Why be forced to watch a teleshopping programme while the assistant could just as easily play the client’s favourite song through headphones via Spotify? Firstly, you wouldn’t hear those awful drilling sounds and secondly, you would relax more easily because you are listening to something you love. Why are we not just doing this?”

“Music is the Holy Grail of communication”

What is the message you would like to pass on to young musicians?

“Only 7% of musicians who graduate from a conservatory find work as a musician. How can you make a living off your talent? “I would like to let you know that there is a completely different world, outside of the music industry, in which you can make use of your talent. You will not find me in the Top 40 or on the Pinkpop festival. I have put my talent to good use in organisations, events, companies. Given how powerful music is, every organisation should not only have its own logo, font and colour, but also its own sound. Through the business world you can also reach a great many of people, for example, via YouTube and Instagram instead of from a stage or through radio. It starts with delivering the best possible quality that you can do. From there, you should invest in becoming better; take things a step further and focus on your specialisation. You basically need to be better than good and add your own twist to that.” With Totally Tuned, Erwin helps talented composers and producers in doing so and in introducing them to clients. This forges a connection between the creative world to the business world.

In his lecture, Edwin tells how to get to the DNA and what it sounds like. He tells about the right chords, bass line and instruments. Not only the creative process is discussed, but also the scientific aspect: how music works in the brain.

What sounds like music to your ears?

“If people were to treat each other better, with more kindness and respect. That people’s actions better reflect who they are. If you do so, you can stop pretending. That would make the world more credible.”

What do you yourself need to take the next step?

“Business partners, and I have found these: three of them, in fact. With them I can really make headway with my approach ‘Music First’, which is aimed at giving brands and organisations the possibility to touch their customers’ ‘Brain, Heart & Heaven’. An example is the music for the commercial for NLE (a Dutch energy company) that I have composed. This music spoke for itself; all the commercial needed was just a few words as a final touch. Within a month, NLE gained 300% more customers. Via the Music First Group I get to sit directly with the CEO. My business partners help me professionalise this next step in my life. I used to draw up quotations consisting of an inspirational story and a number below it, but that is quite different now!”


Finally: as soon as Erwin wakes up, he is immediately ‘switched on’. He works 12 to 16 hours a day and so he never really ‘switches off’. An audiobook will sometimes do the trick and calm him down. But it’s never really silent in his head. When asked what he himself ‘sounds like’, he ponders. Perhaps it is something flamenco-like, fast and passionate? Erwin nods and is rendered speechless for a moment. Just for a tiny moment… 🙂

Meet Erwin Steijlen at day 1 in Eindhoven >

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