Sam Hulick interview

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Tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a living?

My name is Sam Hulick, and I’ve been composing for video games for the past ten years. I’m most known for my work on the Mass Effect trilogy, and have broadened my horizons since then, stepping into the world of fantasy RPGs with work on Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and Conclave. Lately I’ve also branched out more into film work, which has been a lot of fun!

What is your niche or speciality that makes you stand out from rest of the audio professionals?

I think my personal strengths lie in writing music that resonates with people on an emotional level, and creating memorable themes.

Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment you use regularly?

I work on a single Mac Pro 8-core which runs Cubase 6 as well as a wide array of sample libraries and synth VSTs. I use an Apogee Quartet audio interface (love it, such pristine sound!), a Yamaha CP33 MIDI keyboard, and Dynaudio BM6a mkII studio monitors.

What are your go-to plug-ins and software? (virtual instruments, audio processing etc.)

My preferred sampler engine is Kontakt. My go-to sample libraries are Cinematic Strings 2, LA Scoring Strings, CineBrass (+ Pro), Spitfire Percussion for orchestral percussion and Drums of War for “epic” stuff, Berlin Woodwinds, Requiem Pro and VOXOS for choir. Of course I have a ton more but a lot of it is stuff I don’t use all the time. For synths, I tend to rely on Omnisphere (of course), Arturia’s Mini V, and sometimes Zebra. I mix right in Cubase and use FabFilter Pro-Q which I just recently discovered, and I’m in love with it! So simple and easy to use, but it’s very informative visually. I drop my final mixes into Adobe Audition to trim them and do any final edits there, as well as a pass through Pro-L, my other favorite FabFilter plugin.

When do you find you are most creative?

Unfortunately sometimes it happens at very inopportune times like when I’m at the grocery store. :) An idea will hit me, and I’ll have to hang onto it till I get home. It used to be that nighttime was the most creative time for me, but now it’s kind of random.

What is your usual process for creating audio content for games, films etc.?

For any kind of media, my goal is to immerse myself in the world that the director and the team have created. I want to know as much as possible about this world as well as its characters, get into the characters’ heads, get an overall “emotional map” of how things play out story-wise from start to finish. I’m also very inspired visually, so concept art and footage play a big part in helping me do my best work. Reference tracks can be useful if I’m stuck or there’s something musically that’s too complex to explain.

Are there any particular secrets to your creativity?

If I share them, they’ll no longer be secrets! :) A couple things:

1. Keep an open mind. Be willing to try anything. Young children exhibit genius traits because they don’t limit and criticize their own ideas before even trying. As adults, we rationalize more and develop walls in our creative minds. We become more self-critical and it can become a habit to work within constraints of what works, what’s safe, or what’s expected. Try to break those walls down and just create freely.

2. When I’m in the stage of coming up with primary themes, I step away from the keyboard completely and just hang out around the house humming to myself. I find this is important, because if your melody is not singable, it’s probably not going to be very memorable or catchy. If you want people humming your music, you’ve gotta be able to hum it yourself first! But try to make as many elements of your music interesting, such as rhythms or harmonies. People “latch onto” different facets of music as they listen to it, not always just the main melody.

Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?

On one particular project, I learned to hold off and let all the tracks edited for the soundtrack album soak in for a very long time before sending them off. I kept finding small little things that needed to be adjusted, and I must’ve told the client “no wait, here’s an update” at least three or four times. So lesson learned: give it a week or so. Listen a bunch, then take a break for a day. You’re bound to find something that you missed multiple times before.

Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?

Always be open to new styles and diversify, but be REALLY good at a couple styles. Always study music when you’re able, with a teacher or on your own; you’re never too old to do that! Often, artists can feel like they’ve hit a plateau. Those are great times to scrap the way you do things, and learn other ways.