Emmett Cooke is a full-time composer for television, film, and video games. He’s been working in the industry for close to 7 years and I recently had the pleasure of talking to him about how he got started composing music, getting tracks into music libraries, and licensing his work directly to clients like Ralph Lauren and Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Cooke is also the author of an eBook called “The Business of Music Licensing,” where he outlines his strategies for composing, licensing, and generating money with stock music. I can’t recommend the short eBook enough. It’s only €12.99 and is available at the link below.
Emmett is also working on a guide to sampling and creating custom Kontakt sound libraries called “The Sampling Handbook.” When finished, it will be available here: “The Sampling Handbook” http://thesamplinghandbook.com
1. Would you mind introducing yourself, what you do, how old you are, and how you got to where you are today with owning your own music licensing company for media and games?
I’m a 28 year old full time composer for film, TV and adverts from Waterford, Ireland. I did a music degree in university, but finished it not knowing how to actually make money from music! I didn’t want to teach or perform, so couldn’t figure out how to be a full time composer and get paid for it. I went the “normal job” route for a while and was a process analyst for 2 years.
In that time, I kept composing music in the evenings, just enjoying writing in different styles. One day I decided I’d try to figure out how to make money from selling my music online, so I literally googled “How to sell your music online”. I came across an article that mentioned the stock music industry and a few days later, I signed up to a couple of stock music websites and uploaded some tracks. I went on holidays and came back a week later to find that my tracks had sold 2 or 3 times. I was amazed so started to focus on writing more and more music to build up my portfolio of tracks and increase the income.
I joined more non-exclusive websites and eventually started looking into exclusive publishers. Around that time, the company I worked for went bust and we were all paid a lump sum of money as “redundancy”. I decided that rather go look for a conventional job again, I wanted to try my best at writing music full time. So I went into over drive, writing and submitting as much music as possible – the lump sum I received helped to buffer my income for a while until I had it to the point where it supported me full time.
It can be a little boring just writing stock music all day every day, so I like to mix it with writing custom scores for film, TV and adverts too. I contacted a number of video production and advertising agencies and luckily got my foot in the door with a number of them. Since then, everything just keeps growing and I’m really luckily to be able to support myself full time from composing.
2. When did you start Soundtrack.ie? Did you start a production music company because you saw a need in the marketplace or because you had a large collection of songs you wanted to self-publish?
I started it when I first started submitting music to libraries so they could see I had a website and was contactable. I started my own product music company as I don’t want to just write music for libraries all day every day – its pretty boring and lonely. I like working in a creative team with other people, so I enjoy licensing my music along with writing custom scores for projects.
3. What are some of the most noteworthy placements you’ve had?
A Ralph Lauren documentary, Obama’s TV campaign before presidency, American Idol and America’s Got Talent (that soppy sad music in the background), “Alien Encounters” on the Discovery Channel, an advert for a Sony Playstation video game, a Lockheed Martin video, and a wide range of other shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, The Biography Channel, ESPN, The History Channel.
4. How did you start finding clients to pitch your music to? Were you doing a lot of cold calling to businesses or were you going to conferences to meet game developers and film producers?
I used to hate going to conferences and festivals as I’m not the most social person, but it took me a very long time to actually see the benefit in meeting people face to face to make the connection. Many of my first clients just emailed me through some of the stock music websites I sold my music on, and because I treated them well and worked fast, they kept coming back to me for future jobs.
Most of them nowadays actually come from secondary acquaintances – people who know me, who tell others about me.
5. You wrote an awesome resource called The Business of Music Licensing. What inspired you to write the book and what do you think the biggest takeaway from the book is for new composers?
I was inspired to write the book after I kept getting messages from people asking things like “How to I make money selling my music” and “where is the best place to sell my tracks”. I looked for a decent book to advise people could read on the subject, but found that most of them were too short or too big and full of useless, filler information. I knew I could do a lot better that what was already out there, and put all of the information in a short and concise book that people could read in under 2 hours.
I actually found it pretty therapeutic for some reason – its really nice to just get all of the information out of your brain and see it on paper. I didn’t expect much from it, but its old over a thousand times so far now since I released it and I constantly get emails from people thanking me for putting it together.
I guess the biggest takeaway from it for new composers is to start now. Seriously just start now. Its taken me a long time to get where I am, and you can’t expect to make a huge amount of money straight away from music licensing. It takes a long time and a lot of patience.
Also, you might want to do it full time, but I would suggest doing it part time along with something else. Writing stock music full time is a very lonely job – sure you get to work your own hours, but I work in my studio from 9-5 without seeing anyone else throughout the day until my wife comes home at night. It can be tough at times, so having something else like teaching or a “normal job” on the side can be good for your mental well-being.
6. When you write music do you write specifically for clients or do you build small libraries or groups of sounds and then pitch them?
When I write music for clients, I’m normally given a rough video cut asked to score it. They normally have an idea of the type of music they want (instruments / style) and I compose a short 30 second piece and if they like it, I’ll expand upon it.
When I write music specifically for music libraries, I write either:
1. Popular music that sells well on music libraries in the “corporate style” (ie. kicking drums, jangly guitars, poppy ukulele etc.)
2. Whatever music I feel like writing that day
I think its important to write music for yourself, aswell as music that is “corporate” or a popular style. Writing music that I want to write, no matter how strange or weird it might sound, is important for keeping your creative juices flowing and growing as a composer.
7. Do you think music libraries are still an effective source of passive income for artists or has the industry shifted to more direct licensing in recent years?
Yes they are still an effective source of passive income, but it is changing to some extent. Many TV channels in the US are now only licensing music from exclusive libraries as multiple non-exclusive libraries were sending them the same tracks each time. Imagine the scenario – the music supervisor asks for “action music” and gets 10 tracks from 10 different non-exclusive websites. They listen to the tracks and hear the same 2 – 3 tracks 10 times in a row as they’re licensed by all 10 non-exclusive websites. It also caused a headache for the licensing fees – all 10 non-exclusive publishers had that track and gave it to the music supervisor – who would get paid for it? Its like selling your house with multiple estate agents – which one gets the fee?
So yes, its moving more towards exclusive music libraries now.
8. What suggestions would you give to a new artist trying to get into composing for games, TV, or film?
Go to your nearest college/university and get to know the people doing the film / video game / animation courses. Write music for them, become their friends and your career will grow with theirs over time.
Also, keep writing music – never stop learning and never stop composing.
9. How often do you write music? Is it daily or do you only write when you have upcoming projects to work on? Is writing something you do as you record with a certain mood in mind or do you write a piece on guitar/piano/etc first and then record it?
I try to write 1-2 new tracks per week (outside of custom scoring work). I normally have a day now and again where I just put down some basic ideas like a piano riff, or a mix of instruments and sounds I like, and then work on these throughout the month.
My week normally consists of 1 or 2 days of admin work per week (uploading music, writing new eBooks, blogging etc.) and the rest is pure composing.
10. Any final thoughts you’d like to share with readers about your life as a composer and how those interested in the field can get started?
It can be a lonely life and if you’re not a motivated person you will find it very hard. You have no boss standing behind you checking your work or making sure you get out of bed. Having said that, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Getting started in the field consists of constantly writing new music and constantly meeting new people in the film / tv / game industry and making new contacts, while most likely having a side job in the beginning to keep you going.