Composer and sound designer Joel Haines grew up in a musical family. His father Kevin is one of New Zealand’s most prolific bass players, while brother Nathan is a renowned jazz artist. At 11 years old, Joel featured on TV show Jazz Scene with his whānau, and performed in international jazz and blues festivals run by singer Tommy Adderley.
At 14 Joel joined The Jazz Committee with Nathan, and started a professional career as a musician. While still in his teens, he spent time in band These Wilding Ways, and toured with Jimmy Barnes and The Stray Cats.
Whether on stage or in the studio, he has lent his musical skills to Hinewehi Mohi, Annie Crummer, Fiona McDonald, Maisey Rika, Cairo Knife Fight, Strawpeople, Che Fu and The Human Instinct. Working with his brother Nathan, he has composed pieces for an 80 piece orchestra.
Haines' early gigs as a session guitarist saw him learning from mentors like screen composer Murray Grindlay (who composed beloved ad campaigns for Toyota). Grindlay guided Haines in the art of storytelling through music. As Haines told The Big Idea in 2017: "I'd been playing guitar on loads of TV commercials and films for some big established composers, and really loved working to picture, and that sound came out in my own music."
Jaded by those who treated him "like a servant" in the live music scene, Haines felt ready for change. "I think the biggest challenge was convincing people to hire you when you had only worked on a few projects. That was scary." His first commissions were for commercials.
His first documentary jobs included award-winner Relative Guilt (1999), about the family of a man accused of murder, and Kiwi Buddha, which followed the journey of a New Zealand-born Buddhist High Lama. His acoustic work on both attracted attention: in 2001 Haines got his screen break when he was asked to write a demo for the opening titles music of new South Pacific Pictures TV series Mercy Peak.
Haines ended up being hired to compose music for all three seasons of the show, and was nominated for a 2002 NZ Screen Award. Mercy Peak also seeded a long-running relationship with South Pacific Pictures and producer John Laing. Haines went on to compose for Outrageous Fortune from the second season until the last (resulting in a second Screen Award nomination in 2007). Further SPP credits include prequel show Westside, Diplomatic Immunity, The Brokenwood Mysteries, Step Dave and TV movie Stolen.
"I really dig the collaborative nature of being part of a big machine," says Haines. "I think it’s fascinating to work closely with editors, directors, producers, and others involved to make an amazing product together."
Haines has crafted scores for short film Ebony Society, feature film After the Waterfall, and a run of TV movies: including The Kick, Nights in the Gardens of Spain and International Emmy nominee The Golden Hour. His score for docudrama Strongman - The Tragedy was nominated for Best Original Music at the 2012 NZ Television Awards.
In 2009 Haines was introduced to filmmaking duo Thomas and Sumner Burstyn, who asked him to compose the score for acclaimed documentary This Way of Life. The feature-length paean to a modern-day Kiwi cowboy was an apt platform for Haines to deploy his guitar playing skills. Haines was also one of the composers on madcap comedy Atomic Falafel, a coproduction between Israel, Germany and New Zealand.
Haines has written numerous scores for Māori Television, including brand music for the channel, series ranging from Marae Kai Masters to Artefact (in which he utilised taonga puoro) — plus documentaries The Price of Peace, Ngā Tamatoa - 40 Years On and The Polynesian Panthers.
Notable promos created by Haines include composing long-running channel identification music for TV2 and Sky Sports; and the music for many dozens of commercials, for clients from Mercedes to MasterCard to McDonald's. A score for a NZ Water Safety promotional campaign was nominated for a 2007 Axis advertising award. He has also created soundscapes for Auckland Museum and Te Papa.
Haines works from his Mt Albert studio, with his wife and producer Charmaine Batt. He credits nearly four decades of making music as key to his ability to engage with a diverse range of material — plus his willingness to both take risks, and be self-effacing in the service of the score.
"I believe I have been put here to make the most incredible soundtracks that I possibly can. So I should not waste my given talents on average dribble, but do my utmost to fulfil the brief, or heighten the scene, or tweak that emotion, or make those viewers weep, always as best as I can muster."
Published on 26 March 2018
Joel Haines Music website. Accessed 26 March 2018
Author unknown, 'Joel Haines: Composing behind the scenes' (Interview) The Big Idea website. Loaded 22 May 2017. Accessed 26 March 2018