Correction to This Article
This column about Todd Hahn, a Washington area commercial musician, misspelled the name of Denison University. The column also referred to MIDI (music instrument digital interface) as software. MIDI is an industry standard protocol that is used with compatible software.

Value Added: Commercial musician tuned in to needs of Washington region

"I was at the right place at the right time meeting the right people. The technology was right," Potomac musician Todd Hanh says. (Gerald Martineau For The Washington Post)
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By Thomas Heath
Monday, March 15, 2010

You've probably never heard of Todd Hahn, but you might have heard his music.

Hahn, 47, has scored soundtracks for everything from President Obama's campaign commercials to History Channel documentaries. He's done work for the Learning Channel, WETA (where my wife is employed), National Geographic, and a host of other current and former politicians and advocacy groups. Think U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former president George W. Bush and even the Swiftboat Veterans.

The musical entrepreneur grosses more than $500,000 in a good year, pocketing more than half that after expenses.

He has no employees. Works at home. Loves what he does and gets to hear his stuff on television.

And $50,000 worth of technology makes it possible. A piece of music software called MIDI (music instrument digital interface) allows the Potomac resident to pound a set of piano keys and reproduce in a couple of days the sound of a symphony orchestra that once would have taken weeks and cost a small fortune.

"I call up the guitar sound and the computer will re-create its sound," he said. "I can offer a dramatic musical score for a relatively inexpensive amount of money. And all that money [that would have gone for the orchestra] goes to me."

A one-man band

I call it a miracle of productivity.

Hahn has at least $10,000 invested in music sounds alone on his computer, ranging from a harmonica to a full 120-piece orchestra. He performs hundreds of jobs a year, charging anywhere from $750 to compose background music (called wallpaper) to $2,500 and above for a more complex score that pulses a political ad.

"I've developed a niche business here in D.C.," he said.

How?

"A convergence of three things," he said. "I was at the right place at the right time meeting the right people. The technology was right. And I was creative enough to deliver a decent product."

Early days in Ohio

Hahn learned piano as a kid in Akron, Ohio, from a former professor from the Julliard School. After graduating from the Institute of Audio Research in New York with a degree in audio engineering in 1984, and after a short time at the University of Akron, he studied music composition at Julliard himself. His first job was as an assistant engineer at a studio in Cincinnati. The studio, known as the Fifth Floor, was a hotbed for funky band music. Hahn was in his early 20s, making about $20,000 a year.


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