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Expert Interview: Felix Hoffmann - From the stage to the studio

Musician, producer and creative free spirit: Felix Hoffmann discovered his love of music at an early age. He formed his first band at the age of eight and after studying music in Cologne and Hamburg, spent four years on the road as a live musician with various bands. Felix founded the jazz band Grammophon in 2011 and the production company Hush Hush in 2015. In his studio in Hamburg's Sternschanze district, he composes and produces music, works with young artists and enjoys the mix of studio work and live performances.

Published on
April 9, 2024
Michael Schütz
Marketing Lead

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What is your background/story? How did you get into the music business?

I started playing the piano relatively early and formed my first band at the age of eight. However, we didn't have a bass player, so I started playing electric bass. For me, it was mainly about making music together with others. Connecting with friends while making music was what I really enjoyed and that was important to me. Later, I had the chance to go on tour and play concerts all over the world with the NRW Youth Jazz Orchestra. During this time, I became more and more aware of my true passion and decided to turn my hobby into a profession.

I then studied electric bass and double bass in rock/pop and jazz at the Cologne University of Music. After graduating, I went on to study popular music at the University of Music and Theatre in Hamburg, where I’ve been based ever since.

For four years, I played exclusively as a live musician in various bands. It was in the band Ben Galliers that I met my current studio colleague Christian Hartung. In 2015, we founded our music production company Hush Hush together. Since then, we have primarily been composing and producing music for moving images in our studio in Hamburg's Sternschanze neighbourhood. We also work with young artists such as Lina Maly and Lina Brockhoff on a regular basis.

What does your job look like today?

In addition to my studio work with Hush Hush, I founded the jazz band Grammophon Jazzband with colleagues in 2011. I also play with Lina Maly, Antje Schomaker and other German artists. This gives me the privilege of playing live on the road as well as working in the studio. The latter has become more and more important in recent years, but I can't imagine doing without one of the mainstays completely at the moment. The mix of both is what I love - I find a lot of mutual inspiration in both parts.

In everyday studio life, I appreciate a certain regularity and consistency. My studio partner Christian Hartung and I are both in the studio every day and have a normal nine-to-five day. It doesn't matter whether there's a job coming up or not: there's always a lot to do, even when there’s no direct commission. During ongoing productions, new ideas constantly emerge, but with them come new questions. When the deadline for a production is approaching, there is often a lack of time to pursue these. We tend to devote ourselves to topics such as composition ideas, further training and research in the software area from sampling to mixing, as well as everyday things like marketing ideas and office work, during non-project times.

How an assignment actually proceeds is always very different. For documentary and fiction films, there is usually more lead time and more time before the music has to be finished. Here, composition and production take longer. In the advertising sector, the timing is often tighter. Projects are sometimes completed within a few days.

What are the most important skills in your current job?

Of course, composition and production skills are essential. Apart from that, creativity and flexibility are the most important skills for me. Flexibility in terms of time, but above all stylistic flexibility. As a service provider, I always have to deal with genres and styles for new projects that I wouldn't have chosen myself. This challenge really appeals to me. It often results in exciting new things. What's more, in many cases it's not entirely clear at the beginning of a production where the journey will take us musically. So we help shape the creative process through our music. Of course, a willingness to compromise and a certain amount of foresight are also required during production.

What have been the biggest challenges and learnings for you so far? What were the "highs" and "lows" that you can share?

I have learnt that it is good for me to work with a certain amount of time pressure. This allows me to look at the big picture and not get lost in the details. For example, it helps me to stick with an idea that I'm not fully satisfied with at first and develop it further. I often realise that with the right focus, a great production can emerge from initial doubt.

Now and again, however, I also have to accept that ideas can diverge when it comes to commissioned work. In the end, you don't necessarily always choose the version that you find best or most suitable. I have the feeling that it is often difficult to convince people in the service sector with quality alone. Contacts and a network are very important.

I currently enjoy composing and producing for documentaries and feature films - this is where I can be most creative. Themes and motifs can be developed that appear again and again in different contexts and styles in the film and are developed further over the course of the film. These also give the film a common thread and recognition value. One highlight was certainly the Amazon documentary about the cyclist Jan Ullrich, for which we composed and produced the entire soundtrack (listen here).

What trends do you currently see in the music industry that could become a big or important thing?

I see AI right at the forefront. It's been playing a big role for a while now, but it's also becoming more and more present for us. In terms of composition, production and marketing, a lot will change over the next few years, which I view very critically in many respects. First and foremost because many areas of work, from composition and production to mixing and mastering, will probably be replaced by AI. This will of course result in the loss of many jobs. I also see a certain problem in the area of copyright, etc. It is no longer possible to clearly define who is the composer of a track and, as a result, who is remunerated for it or can be held responsible in cases of plagiarism.

Nevertheless, we should not turn our backs on the issue, because in many areas it will simplify individual work steps in productions so that we can focus on other things. In any case, I realise that it is also important to keep up with the times in our profession. That's why AI will also be a field in which I want to continue my education over the next few years. Flexibility in everyday working life is also required here.

What would be your advice to musicians who are thinking about a career in music today or have already taken their first steps?

I think it's very important for young musicians to try out as much and as long as possible. Play in different bands; try out genres that appeal to you; do internships in the music industry and find out what's out there on the labour market in relation to music. When I decided to make music my profession, I never thought that I would end up working as a composer and music producer and that I would enjoy it so much.

Thank you very much for the interview, Felix :)

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