Hit House composers William Hunt (left) and Scott Miller at work, while executive producer Sally House watches through glass. LOS ANGELES, CA—A brief from Petrol Advertising on behalf of a client, WD Ventito, gave music and sound design company The Hit House an opportunity to not only show off its abilities but also provide a demonstration of the emotional power of sound for picture. The Hit House applied music and sound design to a clip of a young woman sketching and observing a couple in a park to invoke five different emotional responses—romance, comedy, horror, melancholy and inspiration—so successfully that the client decided to expand the project and film them at work.
“It really was a dream project, because when it comes to sound, people underestimate how important it is when it comes to form of any kind,” says Sally House, executive producer and co-founder of the company, along with husband Scott Miller, creative director and a prolific composer. “People have absolutely no idea what an impact it makes.”
The Hit House came to the attention of WD Ventito, a branded online magazine launched recently by hard drive manufacturer Western Digital, through Petrol Advertising. “We scored a video game trailer for Fire-fall—we did the whole campaign—for Petrol, who are the agency of record for Western Digital, and they really liked us,” she recalls. “Originally, the idea was to just feature us as a creative company and what we do, to inspire young composers, sound editors and sound designers.”
But then, she says, “The creative director [at Petrol], Joe Granados, came up with an idea. He said, ‘How do we show what you do?’ He came up with the idea of different emotions, because it kept coming up—how music is all about how you make people feel.”
Petrol found a 10-minute video on Vimeo, Lila, got permission to use it and created a 60-second clip. “Even though we knew what we were going to be doing, we did it blind,” says House. “When we got it, we had to come up with the different emotions on the fly.”
The resulting content, entitled “Once Upon a ? Time: One Film, Five Scores,” was serialized in a succession of short films on the front page of the WD Ventito web site beginning in December, 2014. In addition to showing the scored and mixed clips, numerous short films also follow Hit House staff through the creative process, from Danny Ex-um, director, music supervision and business development, taking inspiration from old blues records, through Scott Miller discussing chord and instrument selection, to sound designer Chad Hughes and composer William Hunt recording everything they could find in the garage.
As Miller comments, “Every single chord rings a different way; every chord depicts a different color. The combinations just make you feel differently. Through this sound for picture, a composer can navigate people through how they should feel about things; a composer can manipulate people quite easily.”
“Western Digital is a giant company; they have hundreds of thousands of people following them on social media, but they’re a hard drive company,” observes House. “The people who use their giant hard drives are creators; they create video games and entire worlds—they’re photographers, video editors, musicians and composers. [Petrol] wanted to talk about the creatives that use their products. The idea was to create an inspiration for creativity.”
House and Miller, who began their careers in South Africa, established their company 10 years ago. “Everyone thought we were crazy to start a music production company in Los Angeles,” laughs House, who started out working for various ad agencies before relocating to work for Ogilvy Los Angeles then switching to the client side in marketing positions with consumer electronics companies Kenwood then Clarion. “So I have some insight into the production process, and [Scott] has insight into creativity; we are a really good team.”
She continues, “We stayed really small; we feel that if you spread it too thin in terms of the composers and sound designers you use, everybody just gets too teeny a piece of the pie.” Including Miller and one composer in the U.K. there are five composers in total, plus a sound designer, a music supervisor and House. House and Miller maintain a home production facility, as do each of the composers, sending projects to a mixer in Colorado and finishing everything at Universal Mastering.
“There’s a lot of iChat, iMessage and Facetime” she reports. “But even though we work from home and we have a great studio, we still try to keep up the production values on every single thing we do. We always outsource for finishing; I feel like that’s just mandatory, and that’s where a lot of people fall short, quite frankly.”
The Hit House