We're Ba-ack! The SAS Speaker Series Presents: Jacob Yoffee & Roahn Hylton

Published October 16, 2023

Drumroll, please! Earlier this month, we hosted another episode of our SAS Speaker Series and rolled out the red carpet for two musical innovators, Jacob Yoffee and Roahn Hylton. We've had the honor of working and collaborating with this dynamic duo on ad and trailer music for quite some time now. However, this was the first time we ever sat down with them to delve into their backgrounds, explore their creative processes, and learn how they successfully navigate our industry as a two-person powerhouse.

Musical Minds Unite! A Discussion with Film and TV Composers Jacob Yoffee and Roahn Hylton

Jordan Passman: I think what's really unique with you guys is how you're blending, not just musical genres and styles, but the approach to the creative outlet. Can you highlight a little bit more about how you're utilizing friends and your network of musicians to take Roahn's background with producing and songwriting in the pop world? Because Jacob, you would just spend hours and hours by yourself as a composer, as many do, in your own studio, and would be able to hire a friend to play a part, but I feel like this whole new process is part of the secret sauce with you guys. Can you guys talk about that more?

Roahn Hylton: It's funny because in the pop, rap, and R&B world, there's this thing called Songcamp, which pretty much everybody knows about. For a while, it was the thing that was localized to a certain group of labels and publishers, but it's a common practice now. We brought that kind of concept thinking, "Okay, how can we do that and approach a television series as if it was an artist?" The show Best Shot, allowed us to get some amazing ideas. To bring in artists and songwriters to those pieces and build a unique project. I think that energy translated not just from what we were creating musically, but to the energy of the show itself. I know the network and the show runners noticed us and called us a few times for a few other projects. I think most recently the project that we were able to do very well on was Vampire Academy. I know I'm skipping about 7 years of work, but with Vampire Academy, we were responsible for the whole score and for about 30 songs. We're able to interweave our processes in a very fun way. That allowed us to score AND write lyrics to some of those pieces that ended up being in the project. It was really fun to do that process and it's how we've been able to hybridize both of our skill sets.

Jacob Yoffee: I think the biggest difference is when you consider someone like John Williams. It's an incredibly efficient process: The movie's done, they hand it over to him, and then he custom creates each second of music to picture. There are no throwaway pieces unless the director requests changes. When I was studying with composers and orchestrators, the idea was to work on your efficiency. Yes, be able to produce at a high speed, but you also don't want to create anything unnecessarily. You want to really focus and say, "Okay, I'm going to wait till the film's done and score to the picture." Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do this quite a bit where they're writing away from the picture and then they customize it to work for various projects, and that is what seems to be the filmmakers' favorite approach. In our experience, they would rather have this feeling that we're just supplying lots of music ideas and content and then we will write to the picture. But we will take the stuff we've created, maybe a stem or a layer, and that becomes a building block. That makes them feel like we are creating a custom library that's living and breathing and can be adapted to the project. It also helps editors to do their projects at their pace, which is pretty quick.

Jordan Passman: How do you find balance with co-composing? I am sure there are a lot of pros and challenges that come along with it.

Roahn Hylton: When I first started, I was in a room by myself doing everything that I could on my own. I hated collaboration at the time since it was hard to get my ideas out. I think there was a bit of immaturity there as well. The more success I got, the more I realized the collaboration was actually the secret sauce. I think that is embodied in how Jacob and I work. I'll have an idea that I may hate and am about to delete and he'll tell me it's amazing and recommend ideas to add to it. It works both ways. Those exchanges and encounters allow us to synthesize ideas in a way that might not happen. That's why we've named our company th3rdstream. Overall, we've created a process that would not have occurred had we not collaborated on those ideas together. The challenges we face that arise from our different backgrounds work to our advantage. We've learned to use those differences to leverage our different views of the world and music.

Jacob Yoffee: It's no secret, but growth is painful and your ego is going to take a hit. While working together there are times I've created something, and I'm like, "Oh, man, I put so much craft and effort into this piece, and I think it's great because I used something that my old composition professor would like. Roahn will chime in and say "This sucks man. It's boring. It sounds old and traditional." That forces me to listen to it again, and I'm like, "Damn, he's right!" That situation goes both ways. I will say that for anyone who's trying to build a collaboration, it's going to be painful and you're ego will take a hit. But it's important!

Left: Roahn Hylton, Right: Jacob Yoffee
Left: Roahn Hylton, Right: Jacob Yoffee

Jordan Passman: One incredible thing that people outside of our niche industry doesn't fully understand is how entrepreneurial composers must be today. In a day, you are writing music, taking meetings, making marketing material, and hiring musicians. Walk us through the different things you do to go into this one part of the job, which is ultimately to make the director or producers happy with what you're doing because it takes so much! How do you know where to put your attention and when?

Jacob Yoffee: The first thing I'll say is that this industry wants to hire an artist but you have to behave as a business. That was a hard lesson for me to learn. They have to be excited about you. Roahn taught me that. It's hard because then you have to do double the work to figure out how to advertise. Roahn and I talk around the clock about it. We read business blogs, books, and articles since there is a lot to consider. We've tried different things. Some of them don't really work for us. There's no great template for it. Because if you read business books or listen to YouTube gurus it doesn't apply because we are artists behaving as a business, which is a very different thing. Everything you can name we've tried it. I've come to accept that it's just going to be insanity. If it matters to us, we make the time for it and we make it work. There's been 100-hour work weeks for the last decade. It's really been crazy but the passion is there and that drives us.

Roahn Hylton: I think we are in a content era. If you are a creator, you have to be as visible as your content. That comes with a sense of entrepreneurship. If you can stand out in an attention economy, then you're able to expand your business and your portfolio. I think there's always a balance between making yourself seen and making great work and it takes work to make yourself seen. That's one thing that we're always trying to balance and to make sure we're cutting edge.

Jordan Passman: I want to leave with one last thing. When you are burnt out but still have to find inspiration, where do you go? How do you get it?

Jacob Yoffee: Listening. Listening to music and finding new stuff. I always say that if you are listening to music at one level, take it up a notch and push your brain, soul, and heart to higher, newer heights. When I hear music that is on a level I've never heard before, it gives me energy. 

Roahn Hylton: I would add to that and say that listening to music but also going outside. Put your feet on the grass or go to the beach. That does it for me... all while listening to music. 

Cue the Outro!

As we wrap up another captivating episode of our SAS Speaker Series, we want to express our gratitude to Jacob Yoffee and Roahn Hylton for sharing their inspiring journey. Their creativity and success as a harmonious tandem remind us that in the world of music and entertainment, collaboration is key. Stay tuned for upcoming episodes by following us on LinkedIn or Instagram. Until then, keep the music playing and the ideas flowing!