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  • Writer's pictureDrew Schnee

Susan Hillman - Tension Specialist

In this Creator Magazine, we interviewed composers of the Audio Cartel team where they share their perspectives on composing music for films and TV, and talk in-depth about their careers and the production music industry.

We hope that these interviews will give you insight and advice about the library music industry, especially the business side and how to get involved with this fascinating industry.

Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Please introduce yourself.

"My name is Susan Hillman. I live in Boulder, Colorado, and I specialize in tension music."

How did you find yourself in the library music industry?

"I was watching TV one day after I started writing and I thought to myself, I wonder if I could write something like that which would end up on TV. So, then I just started looking around the Internet trying to figure it out how to find the answer. I eventually stumbled upon a few things like libraries and started sending music off, but it was really a dream come true to make it happen."

What do you like the most about the library music industry?

"What I like the most is the idea of being able to have my music paired with any media, television show, or a film. It's really thrilling to hear my music on television. I cried when hearing my first placement, it was so exciting. It was in France and it was on a news show about the killing of a terrorist and they used my music. Once I had my first placement, I was really hooked. It is difficult sometimes because you have to learn how to write without too much melody and to not interrupt the flow of whatever dialogue is going on. So it can be extremely challenging but very rewarding."

What is something that you would suggest to an early composer in the industry?

"You have to find your voice. You can't sound like everybody else because there are tens of thousands of tracks out there, many of which even sound the same - try to use your own samples, and if you have to, then don't use the same pool of popular sample libraries used throughout the world. Try to pick out some element of your music that gives it that ‘sweet spot’ that when someone listens, they go, 'Oh that's different, and it work.'"

Who are some of your favorite composers that have inspired you?

"My number one composer is Sean Callery, who wrote all the music for Homeland and other TV shows. I’m drawn to him because I have a classical background in opera and jazz. Callery is really able to combine beauty with tension at the same time and I want to emulate that. There are others, but right off the top of my head, Mac Quayle would be another who wrote all the music for Mr. Robot."

Was there a specific composition within a movie or TV show that made you say “Hey, this is what I want to do”?

"It would have to be Homeland. Absolutely, Homeland, because it's got that cool energy of Middle Eastern combined with classical and jazz. It also has a hybrid between electronics and acoustics and orchestra. It just blew me away."

That’s great that it was so inspiring to you. When you are sitting down to write a new composition, are there any challenges, mindsets, or routines that you have in place for yourself?

"It’s always a bit intimidating when you're looking at starting something new. I always start by trying to find a melody that kicks it off. It can even be just a solo instrument. From there, the major challenges are trying to arrange it so that it makes sense, and it's simple enough for an editor to be able to go in and pick and choose what they want. The music needs to be malleable so the piece can move around like pieces of a puzzle."

What are some of your goals within or beyond the music industry?

"One of my big goals in production music is that one of my tracks will become a theme song for a show. The music I write is a lot of tension and it's going to be intense. I feel like I write really fantastic hooks and I hear a theme song in a lot of my music. Another goal would be for one day to have my music playing somewhere in the world every single day."

Is there something special that you like about working with Audio Cartel?

"What I like about working with Audio Cartel is pretty simple. Oded and Amit are, like me, very spontaneous. They value freedom of expression, as well as being yourself, being down to Earth, and not having to be perfect all the time. But more than anything, I value working with Audio Cartel because I feel like it's just the beginning and they are extremely supportive and they're like family. You know, I really love those guys."

That's great. So now I have a bit of a bigger question. What are your goals here on Earth?

"Oh, I love that question. They're metaphysical, I believe that. The universe is in me and I am the universe. I want to project my personal original human qualities, so they leave a lasting legacy. And those qualities are freedom of expression and creativity. As well, I want to be my own voice. No one else is like me. I'm a really unique individual and you know love and happiness and all that is great, but it's more about continuing to be my authentic self always."

Is there anything else you want the audiences of Audio Cartel to know about you as a person, as an artist, or about your music?

"I would love to share my relationship with music and creativity. It is really so deep and so profound that it sounds a little corny. When I was four years old, I started playing piano, and while I was practicing my parents were bringing home Christmas presents from the store. I wasn't supposed to know what they were, but I heard this sound and it was actually just one note played on a marimba, and I'll never forget the experience of that one note, even though I was playing the piano. I heard this note and it reverberated throughout the house. And that moment, my whole life was set up to be a musician. It was absolutely incredible, and I've always found myself learning as much as I can about composition and opera and jazz. I played cocktail jazz piano growing up, and I’m excited about what the future holds, and what i’ll sound like and work on then."

Thank you for reading!

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