Silas Hite: The Composer’s Path

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Silas Hite’s journey from percussionist to Emmy Award-winning composer has taken some surprising twists and turns. After college, Hite apprenticed at Mutato Muzika studios, where he cut his teeth working alongside his uncles Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh—co-founders of the influential rock band Devo. While there, Hite contributed music for countless films, TV shows and video games—including Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Sims 2 and Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! As a freelance composer and producer, Hite’s studio creates music for films, tv, games, and commercials. Recently, Hite got the chance to score a rather unusual short film (it’s essentially a PowerPoint presentation turned cathartic dance party)—and, of course, turned to iZotope BreakTweaker for creative inspiration.

Growing Up with Devo

Hite’s musical education began early—both of his parents were musicians, at age 11 he studied drums under noted jazz drummer Mel Zelnick, and he had two very famous uncles. As you might expect, being the nephew of Devo co-founders Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh provided a heavy dose of early influence. “It was like having a wacky fun uncle, and I thought he was very cool,” Hite recalls about Mark. “I was very aware of Devo—I started listening to them at a young age and watched all their films. Of course, I’m biased—but I’ve been a huge fan ever since I was a little kid.”

Hite’s interest in drumming stuck with him, and he went on to study a variety of percussion styles in college—from rock, jazz, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian, to marimba and orchestral. The time he spent on percussion made a huge impact on his development as a composer. He explains: “I had a great teacher named Craig Walsh who was known for experimental composition. I learned quite a bit from him—everything from twisting audio digitally to the history of electronic music. It was very eye opening and useful. I came away with the idea that sound is very malleable, so you can do anything with it. Whether you start with the sound of a violin or the sound of banging on a kitchen sink, you can really twist it into something else.”

Learning the Family Business

After college, Hite began an apprenticeship at acclaimed music production company Mutato Muzika, which his uncle Mark Mothersbaugh owns. “I started off doing things like walking dogs and making coffee,” Hite says. “Eventually Mark gave me the opportunity to write things here and there, and pretty soon I was a full composer.”

After working at Mutato for seven years, Hite decided to begin working as a freelance composer and built his own personal studio. He says he learned a great deal from Mothersbaugh. “Mark’s done a billion projects, and I learned a lot working there: how to score a commercial, how to score a cartoon, how to score a film, and how to deal with the business aspects,” Hite explains.

“It was a pretty wild scene at Mutato—there were always artists, musicians and all kinds of creative folks coming in,” he remembers. “You might walk down the hallway and Steve Perry would be there. I walked into a room once and Vampire Weekend was doing a song for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It was mind-blowing.”

Flexing the Creative Muscles

Hite is comfortable moving between musical genres, and his compositions run the gamut from hip-hop to classical. As his career continues progressing, he’s been asked to cover a wide range of sounds—something he loves to do. “I wanted to be a composer because I like writing in different styles and figuring out what makes a genre different from another,” he relates. “If I had to do only one type of music, it would get boring. You want to move forward and do what’s interesting to you.”

By taking on projects that allow him to flex different creative muscles, Hite stays creative and interested in the music. Lately, he’s received a lot of requests for dubstep, hip-hop, and EDM tracks, and needed a tool that would provide a fresh palette of exciting sounds. He happened upon a video of iZotope’s new BreakTweaker plugin, and found himself intrigued by the sounds and the unique interface. So intrigued in fact, that he immediately went out and bought it.

“BreakTweaker sounds very modern and fresh, which is something I really need as a composer,” he states. “The way you can stretch and manipulate audio is very intuitive, and the sequencer makes a lot of sense. I find myself going back to it more and more to build drum tracks.”

“I have a lot of opportunities to create music for TV shows and I’ve been using that as an opportunity to explore BreakTweaker,” he continues. “I just wrote some very modern hip-hop and EDM tracks using it, which forced me to get familiar with the software. For a few weeks, I said to myself ‘every day I’m going to bust out a minute long track using BreakTweaker.’ Now I’ve got a pile of tracks I can give to editors.”

A Source of Creative Inspiration

Hite recently collaborated with director Jonn Herschend on the unique short film Discussion Questions, which was commissioned for the 2014 Whitney Biennial at NYC’s Whitney Museum of American Art. The film consists of a PowerPoint lecture that discusses the other works in the Biennial program. As the film progresses, the pretense breaks down, and a more personal narrative emerges—culminating in a cathartic dance party. It’s an unconventional plot line, and Hite used BreakTweaker to create a truly original and dynamic score that inspired an emotional response from audiences.

Discussion Questions from Jonn Herschend on Vimeo.

Moving forward, Hite plans to continue exploring new instruments, sounds, and production techniques, and with BreakTweaker, he now has a major new source of creative inspiration. “I buy a lot of instruments—including plugins—and there’s something about picking up something that you’ve never played or used before,” Hite explains. “Your mind reels in different directions of what you could do with the sound, and it’s very inspiring. BreakTweaker was amazing right off the bat, and the interface is really interesting. The way you can build sounds and then tweak them—I feel like I still haven’t fully explored it!”

As a special bonus, we asked Hite if he might have time to craft something fresh with BreakTweaker. Here’s what he whipped up for us — a fun track showing off BreakTweaker in a rock context — as well as some notes on his process.

“First I found a drum session I recorded for my band, Hellbeast of The Night. The drummer is my old friend and immensely talented musician, Jeff Friedl (A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, Filter, Devo, The Beta Machine). I opened the Logic session and bounced individual drum hits that I liked. Then, I opened BreakTweaker and imported the hits so I would have custom drum sounds to work with. I spent a few minutes effecting the individual drum hits in Beat Tweaker by adding filers and distortion, and layering drum samples. The drums already sounded great clean, so I was just playing around with my options basically. When I was happy with the sounds, I wrote a drum pattern I liked playing the samples in a conventional way with my USB keyboard. After that I plugged in my guitar and came up with a riff that fit the beat.”

“The next part was where I really had fun. Using the sequencer in BreakTweaker I made twelve different drum patterns that were variations of my original beat. Then I just started exploring how to twist and tweak each beat, pattern, and sound until I was dancing in my seat."

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