by Niall Doherty

Emmett Cooke is 24 years old and lives in my hometown of Waterford, Ireland. I met him a few years back when we both worked answering phones at AOL Technical Support. A huge music fan all his life, Emmett started selling his own minimalist compositions online two years ago. He made about $2k the first year, $7k in 2010, and expects to be in the $10-15k range when 2011 is all said and done.

I knew I had to interview Emmett after he sold a license for this track to Ralph Lauren for $2,500 last October. Here’s a guy (Emmett, not Ralph) who devotes just a dozen hours per week to his small, self-created business, doing work he loves to do, and starting to make serious money from it. I’m sure he can teach us a thing or two…

1. Emmett, how do you leverage technology to minimize your expenses and maximize profits?

Great question. There’s so much technology out there, that there will always be something that can help to minimize your expenses no matter what role you’re in.

In music, there’s a lot of technology that can help to minimize time and financial expenses. First of all on the web-front, I try to automate everything. Digital delivery is an absolute life saver nowadays as people are usually just as happy to download something as receiving it in the post (plus it means they get it straight away). I’ve implemented digital delivery onto my own website (here) so that if someone contacts me to license my music, I direct them to my website, they choose the track, pay the fee and the backend automated system will send them a unique link to download my music which is usable for 7 days.

If I didn’t have this system, I would have to physically send the track to the customer or wait until they have paid and then send them a link where they can download it from (which they could then distribute to other people who could download it for free).  In short, digital delivery works wonders if you sell digital media – it allows you to get on with other work, while an automated system can take care of clients who just need something that you already have.

I also sell my music through a number of other music libraries who take a 50% share in what my tracks sell for, but do all of the marketing etc. for me. This again allows me to get on with other work while other streams of income come through.

One piece of amazing technology for musicians which is relatively new is that which Tunesat offers. They “fingerprint” the soundwave shape of your music which is totally unique to piece of audio. They then scan about 300 channels in the US and Europe for any usages of those tracks and list them in your account.  This allows you to ensure that your royalty payments from your Performing Rights Organization match that which Tunesat have found.  Its relatively cheap, and is a quick and easy way to keep up with your music placements around the world.

On the composition side of things, a lot music software helps me to minimize overall expenses.  Take a look at Liberis for example, a piece of software which I just recently bought. If you are working on a project that requires a children’s choir as part of the music, then you can cut the costs dramatically by being able to use software like this which samples a children’s choir.  When people hear the word “sample” nowadays, most think of loops and chunks of other peoples work – this isn’t the case.  Software like the above package has pre-recorded samples of a children’s choir with say 40 versions of them singing the note A at different velocities on a “ooh” vowel.  This means you have pretty much a fully customizable choir at your fingertips and opens so many doors musically.  For the small initial monetary investment, it can yield great results.

2. Where do most people go wrong when they try to create and sell their music (or any art) online?

When creating, they limit themselves too much.  Some people may think it would be a great idea to write a jazz hip-hop version of Carol of the Bells – indeed it would probably sound interesting, but unfortunately it is very unlikely that it will be bought or licensed.  When creating music or anything in the related online sales industries like stock photography, web templates etc. you need to make sure what you’ve created appeals to the masses. The more potential uses of a track/photography/web template, the more sales you are likely to get.

An example in music: I decide to create a simple piano track.  Sorrow and joy are the most prevalent emotions in TV/Film so I’ll go with sorrow as the emotion.  If a make a basic piano track that helps to convey sorrow, then it has near limitless end uses.

If I create a sad piano track with a wobble board and pop drums, it might sound cool, but chances are it won’t convey sorrow well and is not likely to get picked up by anyone.  The basic idea of all of this is to ensure that you always appeal to the wider audience – the more uses a track can have, the more potential customers you may have.

When selling their music/product, people don’t always come across like a business.  Selling anything is a business and you need to treat yourself as a business – get a good brand made for yourself (website, business cards etc.) and always be the business you want the customer to see you as.  If a potential customer asks you a question via email, don’t respond with “Yo dawg” etc. – be business like in your approach, and people will respect you more and be more likely to deal with you in the future.

A really important ethic I always try and go by is to under promise and over deliver.  Go a little further than people expect, and they’ll be impressed and usually more than happy to deal with you again in the future.

One last thing: be careful offering something for free.  In the beginning, I thought it was great that people wanted to buy my music and I would have happily given it away for free.  The only problem with giving something away for free – or cheap – is that they will always think of you as the “free/cheap” guy and come to you in the future when they want something free or cheap.

I don’t mean releasing a product for free is bad, just that selling all of your work for free/cheap will devalue it and you in the long run.  Releasing free products can be very beneficial, just plan on releasing it for free – don’t create something and then give it away for free.

3. What supplemental skills did you need to learn to grow your business?

I needed to figure out how the back end of a business works – ie. how you run your accounts.  I asked on forums for advice, went to the citizens advice website etc. and intend on getting an appointment with an accountant to ensure that what I’m doing is right, going forward.

I learned a lot of web development on my own – I always wanted to run my own website, so initially bought the domain and created content for it for fun.  I didnt renew it last year and its gone now, but it was good fun and a great way to learn the essentials of web development. That basic knowledge has allowed me to cut some costs further down the road with other websites and web development.  For example, I’m implementing a newsletter system into my website at the moment – if I didn’t know the basics of web development, I’d have to pay someone to install it for me.

Very basic accounting was an essential thing to learn.  I keep a spreadsheet of my income and expenses each month and have reminder set up each week to fill it in.  I really sucked at accounting in school, but its a lot easier in every day life when you see how its used (I could change my mind about that when I go to fill in my tax return though!) Excel makes things so much easier when you learn a few formulas – just input the numbers and it does the rest for you.

I needed to understand contracts and legal terms pretty quickly once I got started.  In music there are so many terms that can make a contract confusing and it’s really important to understand them so you know what you’re signing away.

4. Some people advocate quitting your day job and going all in to make a living doing work you love. Others, like you, prefer to keep their day job and build up a small business on the side. Why did you choose the latter approach?

Honestly, I’m not sure how people do this. My plan is to have enough tracks that make just enough income so that I can eventually go part time in work and then have enough to eventually be composing full time.  This way allows me to save up a small nest egg and is relatively safe as it’s a gradual change over.

I can’t see any other way of doing it. If I quit my day job now and moved to composing, I would be living on tins of beans for about 2-3 years. That’s a life I’d rather not lead 🙂

5. If you could go back two years and give yourself one piece of business advice, what would it be?

General advice would be “Screw it, just do it!” (Richard Branson).  Looking back at the last few years, I’ve always put things on the long finger by saying “once I buy this, then I’ll start” or “when I have this done, then I’ll start”.  Its so easy to make up an excuse not to do something and its a trap I still fall into sometimes.

Probably the best piece of business advice I would have given myself would be to draw up a plan and stick to it! Over Christmas I’ve really thought of what I want to do and where I want to be for the next 3 years, and when you have a clean plan in your head, its far easier to get there. Draw up a plan of what you will do each day, week, month, year and stick to it as much as possible.  I wish I’d done this earlier instead of plodding along with no plan of what to do and when to do it!

Wrap up

A huge thanks to Emmett for taking the time to share what he’s learned. What I found most interesting about this interview is that some of Emmett’s advice contradicts what I’ve heard from other online entrepreneurs. That’s not to say Emmett or the other guys are wrong; I believe it shows that there’s more than one way to succeed, and that you have to experiment with a few different strategies to find what works best for you.

Get more Emmett

Follow the links below to find out more about Emmett and hear some of his music:

And here’s a music video for Emmett’s track Slow Down:

More interviews

I’m planning to post interviews relating to small online business every two weeks, so let me know what type of questions you’d like to have answered by future cool people.

Here are a couple of interviews I’ve done in the past:


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