The Life of a Freelance Composer: HushSounds
Chris Skipper—AKA HushSounds—is a freelance composer, music producer, podcast guru, and all-around audio lover.
He has worked with high-end brands, scored music for hundreds of commercials, and composed music for TV and film as well as creating spell-binding tracks on Envato.
The talented audio Author, recently won Envato’s 16th Birthday Competition in the Storytelling category, where he shared his story about how his love for music and finding Envato broke the monotony of his normal 9-5 job.
We sat down with HushSounds to find out about his life as a composer, the challenges that he faces as a freelancer, and his top tips for breaking into the industry.
Congratulations on winning Envato’s 16th Birthday Competition! Your submission was very creative and you used your own soundtracks, which really brought it to life. Talk us through the thinking behind your entry…
I loved how there was a storytelling category for this year’s birthday competition with Envato. I’m a big advocate of storytelling, especially in bringing stories to life through the use of sound. Words can always spark a connection to a sound and vice versa and I love playing with the overlap between language and sound. Hence why when I heard the word Audiojungle for the first time I honestly thought it was a sound catalog of animal noises.
Thankfully I was wrong! But that gave me the idea to create an audio journey in the style of a short audiobook for my story about my relationship with Envato. It starts off with these short sharp sound effects that are similar to fast-paced cuts in a Guy Ritchie movie sequence and this is contrasted with some banal atmospheric sounds to give the feeling of dread. Then we are thrown into this fantasy of Audiojungle, Videohive, 3DOcean, etc. all having their own sounds. Eventually, we come crashing to a halt when we realize all of this can break the chains of the 9 to 5. The resolution of the story ends with one of my first pieces of production music I wrote. For me, this was a nice personal touch to the story. Hopefully, people enjoy it and see that storytelling can really be enhanced through the use of sound.
What’s your background and how did you get into composing?
I was born in South Africa to a very musical household. My father is a music teacher and we were always surrounded by music. I moved to the UK when I was a teenager and I completed my schooling and went on to study music at university. After that, I did a masters in composition for film and television and like every hopeful composer, I moved to London. I was lucky enough to land a few small commercial jobs whilst learning from other composers there before being offered a position in Vietnam as the head of audio for a post-production house in Ho Chi Minh City. I really plied my trade and paid my dues as a composer there doing everything from big car and beer commercials to documentaries, films, and albums for bands – you name it I’ve probably done it!
What are the key elements of your role as a freelance film composer?
My role as a film composer is really to help everyone tell the story they are trying to tell. You have to realize very early on that being able to collaborate is important. No man is an island, and that’s certainly true for composition. One of the other important elements is also just not being afraid to experiment, play and fail with your music.
Often creating something new comes from not having a fear of failure.
What are the benefits and challenges of working as a freelance composer full-time?
The benefits are working whenever you want to and working with people who are passionate about what they do, and doing what you love every day. The challenges are working whenever you don’t want to, having creative block, and dealing with the subjectivity of others.
How do you make an excellent musical score?
Being there from as early on in the creative process. In order to really create an excellent score, you have to want to live the creative process with the director and producer or whoever else you’re collaborating with.
What main programs, tools or techniques do you use to create your work?
I am a huge Pro Tools user. I think I’m amongst only a handful of composers that use it to compose music (it’s a great editing tool). Lately, I’ve found moving away from the DAW and just sitting in front of the piano with a pencil and paper works really well for me. That’s how I learned how to compose and moving back to the basics is both liberating and refreshing. I also find starting with words instead of music can find you new avenues of exploration that you didn’t think to look down.
You’ve created work for high-end brands, scored music for hundreds of commercials, and composed music for TV and film— Can you give some examples of where we can find your work?
My music has appeared on National Geographic, CNN, Fox Sports Asia, and BBC Radio 1 to name a few. I’ve worked with high-end clients including Samsung, DJI, Honda, KFC, Unilever, Nestle, and Toyota. You can find most of my work on my website. I’m also active on Instagram.
What has been your favorite project to work on and why?
I think working on the launch of the Hi Phi X electronic vehicle in a sonic branding capacity was definitely my favorite experience so far. I got to spend time with the development team in Shanghai and really learned the culture of the company, Human Horizons, which creates the car.
There is something special when you realize your music will be in their commercial spaces, their products, and their workspaces. It meant being able to tell the story of their brand through my own music and for me that extra-lived experience was so special. My music will influence people’s life choices; something that I never imagined I would do when I started this journey.
Who are your inspirations in the industry?
I’m really inspired by those who try to both push boundaries and bring people together. I love everything Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have done together, the way they push Pro Tools’ capabilities is fascinating. Jonny Greenwood’s textures are just otherworldly (his score for Norwegian Wood is the music I dream of). People are sleeping on Cristobal Tapia de Veer. His score for Channel 4’s Utopia sticks in my mind to this day. I also love the way Nick Cave plays with words and music—that’s always inspiring. Another Australian artist, Genesis Owusu brings such a fresh perspective to the intersection between poetry and music.
What’s the best thing about Envato for freelancers?
Envato is really simple to use and as a freelancer, it gives me the freedom to create whatever I want.
Envato can provide you with the motivation to keep creating.
How is Envato a useful tool for creatives? How has it helped you as a freelancer?
Envato allows freelancers to have an outlet that supports them creatively and financially in their endeavors. As a composer, it has been a big part of my production music outlet especially as there is a large range of freedom when it comes to what you can create for the platform.
What are your top tips for other freelance musicians, film composers, or creatives wanting to make a career from their work?
My number one piece of advice is to keep creating no matter what. I went through some dark times when I felt my creative output had stagnated. I felt like I should give up on music altogether, but if you continue to write whatever motivates me, you will be rewarded. Whether that’s built on a drive to succeed, your muse, the Universe, or otherwise; doing up your bootlaces and getting to work is the way to succeed.
My other tip is to go out there and put your art out into the world no matter what anybody else thinks. Put your stuff on Envato! You’ll be surprised what connections you make.