Music Industry Careers: Rohan Hill
Name: Rohan Hill
Job: Self-employed music electronics designer at Synthstrom Audible
Studied: Victoria University of Wellington, Philosophy and Computer Science (scholarships helped!)
What kind of music did you like listening to when you were in school? What kind of band were you in?
I was an early 2000s / late 90s rock kid, playing guitar and drums in covers bands of questionable quality with my friends. I wish I had something a bit more inspirational to report! Contrasting with my current career running an electronic music hardware company, I wasn't exposed to any electronic music that I really liked, and certainly didn't know a thing about synthesizers.
In school you were interested in both music and computers. When did you first think about putting them together?
In school I did recording on computers, and made MIDI music for computer games that I made, but computers and music were a largely separate thing for me. Aside from recording, it was only a few years ago that I became interested in using my computer as a live instrument and guitar fx processor - something that's quite difficult to do, and I really needed to get quite creative to make it work the way I wanted. For a while I was playing, and occasionally performing, with my guitar being processed through a vast array of effects (some partially created by me), with an elaborate MIDI controller footpedal that I built controlling them. Technologically it was quite spectacular, but around that time, I got so busy developing the Deluge that I stopped having much time to play!
How did studying arts and STEM help you get to where you are today?
My BA was something I was passionate about at the time and got satisfaction from, so that was worth doing.My computer science study, primarily focused on software development, was essential in being able to create the Deluge's firmware, which is a very complex piece of software.
What was your first music + hardware project like?
In my old band, I was the drummer, my bandmate would make loops on his loop pedal, and I'd need to stay in time with them. The loop pedal had an LED that would blink out the tempo, but keeping in time by looking at that was very tricky. I'd recently learned how to use an Arduino, and I realised that I could blu-tac a light-dependent resistor onto that LED, and have the Arduino register when the LED was blinking, and play a metronome-style click through my headphones. We used this for a couple of years. It worked great except when the blu-tac came unstuck in the middle of a gig, or when we tried to play outdoors in direct sunlight.
You must have had a lot of trial and error when building the Deluge. What drives you to persist and keep trying when building a project?
I'm just kind of an obsessive person, and stopping never seemed like an option. I just always have to be working on something creative and self-directed. Also, in between quitting my last job and the Deluge beginning to succeed as a business project, there was a period where I didn't know how much longer I'd be able to sustain my mad-inventor lifestyle, so there was quite a sense of urgency to get it finished.
You are now part of a team that is building and marketing your product. What kind of personal, technical and professional skills do you think are important to be successful in this role?
You have to be ready to deal with unexpected circumstances on a day-to-day basis when you're dealing with so many people, manufacturers, suppliers and customers. It can get extremely busy, and it's certainly not for everyone. If you like having set work-hours and finishing at the expected time, starting your own company might not be the best option! I can only do it because I'm so obsessed with our product that working til midnight seems normal. That said, I am able to more-or-less choose when I work, and schedule time off for other creative projects whenever I need to, so I am extremely lucky to be able to be my own boss.