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How To Make A Living From Music feat. Tommy Zee

In this video I talk to Tommy Zee about how to make a living from music by making music for brands in advertisements. Tommy runs a company called Tommy Zee & Co where he’s made music for brands like Nike, Google, Visa and more. He also teaches musicians how to get into this industry with his company Making Music For Brands.

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Important Points:

Tommy shares that despite not earning as much as those who did this kind of work in the 80s there are still good opportunities for musicians in the industry today.

One of the pros of creating music for ads is the steady pay, but it can come with the sacrifice of letting go of the kind of music you want to make and creating music that aligns with the client’s needs for their brand.

Andrew and Tommy discuss the qualities needed to succeed in this industry, including producing high-quality work and maintaining a strong work ethic. They encourage listeners to strive for excellence and follow up with clients.

To succeed in this career, Andrew and Tommy advise musicians to set a destination and work hard towards that goal by consistently creating music and showing up. 

Tommy shares how teaching others what you know doesn’t mean creating competition. Instead, it’s an opportunity to gain new perspectives and build a network of like-minded people.

Podcast Outline:

[01:21] Tommy Zee talks about what he does: a music producer responsible for delivering music made from scratch— songs, scores, or sounds for big brand campaigns – Tommy Zee

[02:15] Tommy Zee is a corporate banker by day and finds it hard to balance his career as a banker and DJ. That pushed him to explore career opportunities in music – Tommy Zee

[03:29] Before being invited to make a score for the Pontiac Aztec Ad, Tommy Zee only knew making money from music the traditional way – Tommy Zee

[05:36] Tommy Zee didn’t realize how well-paying this job can be and how many musicians don’t realize that such opportunities exist – Tommy Zee

[06:21] Andrew and Tommy Zee discuss how expensive licensing songs from top artists can be compared to having musicians create one from scratch – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[07:46] Tommy Zee talks about the feasibility of having a career in producing music for ads and commercials – Tommy Zee

[08:18] Making demo music for ads help support Tommy Zee financially, detailing the difference between the demo fee and the significantly higher fee for the final material – Tommy Zee

[09:33] He set up his own boutique music company, Tommy Zee & Co. It’s the only music production company that teaches musicians how to make a living from making music for brands. – Tommy Zee

[10:46] Andrew and Tommy Zee discuss what the workflow is like between the music production company and the brand – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[12:12] Tommy Zee explains how brands choose agencies they work with – Tommy Zee

[15:13] These agencies, according to Tommy Zee, outsource the work to film production and music production companies to shoot the ad and add music post-production – Tommy Zee

[18:28] Music production companies, as Tommy Zee detailed, also compete for the rights to produce the music for the ad by creating musical sketches (demo) – Tommy Zee

[20:31] Andrew and Tommy Zee talk about how brands come up with a brief to guide music production houses – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[22:54] Tommy Zee shares how sometimes the brief can also be stifling and limiting the music team’s creativity – Tommy Zee

[24:57] When you get into the industry, Tommy Zee advises managing expectations on being okay with what the client wants and whatever final version they approve – Tommy Zee

[25:41] Getting into this industry, according to Tommy Zee, doesn’t mean you always get to be an artist. Sometimes you’re an artisan who solves the client’s problems – Tommy Zee

[27:29] Andrew and Tommy Zee talks about avoiding getting too attached to the music and being okay with letting go of your “creation” when the client requests changes – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[31:58] Tommy Zee shares how musicians can get paid demo fees when pitching for ads – Tommy Zee

[36:57] Andrew and Tommy Zee discuss the quality of work and ethics expected from musicians to thrive in this industry – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[40:35] The key to working in the advertising industry is consistently create beautiful music despite the many revisions – Tommy Zee

[41:53] Tommy Zee encouraged those working in the advertising industry to keep pushing and keeping their content world-class – Tommy Zee

[42:19] The trick to getting response from emailing potential clients is follow-up. – Tommy Zee

[44:22] The difference between the amateur and genuine dreamer is commitment to pursue their ambition – Tommy Zee

[45:19] Andrew and Tommy Zee talk about how success often comes with pain and rejection in the process – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[48:09] Andrew and Tommy Zee agreed that success only comes by determining a destination and doing the groundwork to get there – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[50:37] Making music for ads is not just about delivering, it’s also about enjoying to, so you can create wonderful and magical music – Tommy Zee

[53:57] Andrew shared that his success comes from him just doing videos over the years no matter what.

[56:31] Despite the Naysayers, Tommy Zee explained why he worked in the advertising industry. Doing what he loves and getting paid to do it. — Tommy Zee

[58:42] Teaching musicians how to create music for ads is not competition for Tommy Zee. As a music producer, this gives him access to a talent pool and a bigger perspective – Tommy Zee

[59:47] Andrew and Tommy Zee discuss what courses Tommy Zee offers to musicians – Andrew and Tommy Zee

[1:01] Tommy Zee talks about how his course offers a high-touch and actual projects. The course provides opportunities for musicians to score real ads – Tommy Zee

[1:05] Andrew and Tommy Zee talk about giving straightforward feedback during the course to help musicians improve the viability to offer demos to brands

[1:07] Tommy Zee recommends using Output Suite to enhance their music – Tommy Zee

[1:13] Tommy Zee offers free resources and training to inspire people to commit – Tommy Zee

Wise Words:  

[05:13] It was at least two months of my salary at a full-time job, which was, “Wow”; basically sucking the life out of me. In exchange, this paycheck was for sitting a couple of nights in the studio, which I was doing already anyway, for free. It was like, “Hey, is this thing happening regularly”? — Tommy Zee

[12:12] The job of Red Bull is to create a mythology, a story, an aura, a certain frequency that will make you say, “Ah, I got to have the Red Bull and not the no-name stuff. So Red Bull is not in the business of manufacturing energy drinks. They are in the business of manufacturing stories that are going to move you. — Tommy Zee

[24:57] You kind of become just a craft person. And you know if you enter this business, you have to be okay with that. I mean, while we all bemoaned as fact, me and my peers in the business, the fact remains that we’re sitting in a studio getting paid to turn knobs to open sessions to basically create music. I mean, you know, it’s just a pain, a bit of a pain that people should be aware of that comes with this job. — Tommy Zee

[43:22] Most artists who make it spend. They might spend a decade grinding and just like not caring what people think before they finally start. — Andrew

[45:53] You think that pain is bad of facing rejection, of enduring the silence, of getting no answer, no kind of recognition. You think that’s bad. You wait ‘till you’re about to, breathe your last breath, and you realize that you actually haven’t taken on the thing you knew deep down in your consciousness and your soul was a thing you wanted most,or the thing that you believed you were called to do.- Tommy Zee

[53:11] You know, the most common thing I’ve noticed is that the people who have hit those successes have like one thing in common. It’s that they just did the thing that they wanted to do a lot, and when it didn’t go well, they just kept doing it until it did go well.- Andrew

  • Tommy Zee & Co Website – link
  • Making Music For Brands – link

Learn More:

If you enjoyed this interview you might also like this one I did with Tom DuPree III on how to make a living with music.