Composing while having a full time job

Recently I’ve been having a really hard time trying to find time to compose, run this site, and work a full time job 40hrs a week. At the moment, I’m working on about 3 projects for people – a soundtrack for an oriental animation, a soundtrack for a 10 minute film and an upbeat piano track for a game.

If you don’t have to work 40 hrs a week at another job, that wouldn’t be too bad, but trying to find the time to do large-ish project in your spare time, while having a girlfriend and a job, is quite a strain. It either means a small amount of sleep, and large amount of pressure, or using and managing your time effectively.

I’m sure if I actually focused, I could probably get all of these projects done quite a lot quicker, but I’m still learning about myself, and how my mind works – what makes me work quicker, and what slows me down. However, I’ve picked up a few things which I find beneficial to myself – maybe they’ll be beneficial to you too.

, I always jot down my goals for the day/week. Something this simple, just can’t be overlooked when you are trying to be productive in any part of your life. Whether you have a huge amount of music to write, or whether you need to clean the house from top to bottom, setting out your goals is the first step. To actually do what needs doing, you have to agree with yourself first of all what it is that actually needs to be done. Your mind might say, oh I need to do clean my room, I need to look on Amazon for something etc. but when you have you goals set out on paper, it helps focus your mind – each time you look at it, you are reminded what is important and what exactly it is that you originally set out to do.

, I always find that wearing headphones can help – may sound weird, but for me it works. A good set of headphones drown out background noise and make you more aware of what you are doing. I noticed this quite a number of years ago, when I first started college, and used to be on the bus quite a lot. I would put on my headphones on the bus, and all of a sudden, all the background nosie was drowned out, and my mind focused on issues that were in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I read a blog post by Joel Falconer on producitivity on, then it brought it back to me. If you are in a busy place, and need to get work done, headphones rock. Sometimes, if I’m mixing a piece aswell, I like to have headphones on (for at least some of it) as it helps me focus more – try it – it might work to your advantage in every day situations.

– something which I absolutely and totally believe is the only thing you need to succeed – perseverence. “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. If you want to do something, nothing whatsoever can stop you. Without sounding like any of those self help books or videos, you really can do anything if you put your mind to it, and perservere. You only have to look at some popular success stories to see exactly what I mean.

Look at Abraham Lincoln – he truly mastered persistence:

* 1816: His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.

* 1818: His mother died.

* 1831: Failed in business.

* 1832: Ran for state legislature – lost.

* 1832: Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.

* 1833: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.

* 1834: Ran for state legislature again – won.

* 1835: Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.

* 1836: Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.

* 1838: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.

* 1840: Sought to become elector – defeated.

* 1843: Ran for Congress – lost.

* 1846: Ran for Congress again – this time he won – went to Washington and did a good job.

* 1848: Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.

* 1849 Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.

* 1854: Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.

* 1856: Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – got less than 100 votes.

* 1858: Ran for U.S. Senate again – again he lost.

* 1860: Elected president of the United States.



So you see – persistence pays off. The only one thing you need to succeed is persistence.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: The would is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge”

– always laugh – no matter what happens, now matter how stressed you get, just laugh. If you can’t laugh, force yourself to smile. I once read that when your cheeks move to the smiling position, it releases the human bodies equivalent of morphine into your body. Try it – raise your eyebrows, lift up your shoulders, and smile – you’ll find that you can’t physically feel bad unless you move out of that position. Its quite funny – and handy! Always look on the bright side of life when you’re under pressure, and it will always work out :)

– excercise. I can’t talk – I’m no fitness guru, but in the last while I’ve found myself going for a quick 15 min jog now and again, and the difference it makes is astounding. When I get back home after going for a jog, my brain is far more active, I feel great, I have more energy, and I’ve forgotten why I was so stressed in the first place. Try it – its great.

I’m sure that theres lots more things to talk about here, but ironically, I don’t have the time right now lol :)

Written by: admin

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

  • Agargara

    These are useful tips; thank you!

    One small thing: I think the proper quote is: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Makes a bit more sense :)

  • Austin Morales

    Hey Emmette I checked out your twitter page and decided to check this blog entry out. Pretty kool stuff man. I will definitely need to read this! Oh and Ill be emailing you soon about the music you wrote for the movie.

  • Erez Henya

    You know, Emmett, this is amazing.

    I am still in the phase of converting pressure from something paralyzing into something purely beneficial, and I feel very relaxed now after reading your “just on time” post about just that. Your words of wisdom are now part of my tools for life.

    I am going to print it, as well as keep it in “My Tools” folder on my film scoring hard drive, for continuous future reference.

    I am grateful for your help.

  • Yadgyu

    Honestly, I think trying to work and make music is a very bad thing to pursue.

    You really have to make a choice and stick with it. There is nothing worse than someone who cannot fully commit to a task. All of that part-timing and half-a**ing is not going to cut it in the real world.

    There are people who work full time on music. Do you really think that being a weekend warrior can help you to get ahead? Those who put everything else on hold to pursue music are always more successful. I have seen it.

    If you are serious about making money from your music, you have to seek out the venues that pay the most money and pursue them like crazy. Once you get established, the money will build and build and build.

    Success is all about doing one thing extremely well, even to the oblivion of everything else around you.

  • Rob

    Fantastic post! I’m a few years beyond I think and have one graduate already, and believe me the schedule doesn’t get any easier. I am at the piano when I can be and try to squeeze it in when I can (mostly after hours). But, there’s this thing called “responsibility,” and a dad has to consider all the things that are really important in life. The interesting thing that I’ve found is that no matter how busy I get, I set love to work out a score or develop a melodic sketch. Also, I look to composers like Charles Ives who was a very successful insurance salesman. So, thanks for your post and for your excellent website.

  • Mike

    Very cool, Emmett! I think these are all good suggestions. I’m in the same boat; I work full-time as a musician and it becomes pretty rough trying to find the time to write. And with a family it’s a delicate balance of when it’s OK to be selfish with my time.

    I would also disagree with Yaggyu’s point-of-view. While many composers have found success by going all-in, I don’t agree that it’s the only way this works. That’s rather ridiculous. There’s a calculated risk that must be figured out first and that takes time to build; as you stated, “once you get established.” For those of us who work full-time and write part-time, it doesn’t make our time of establishment less valuable; it just; it just means that it might take a little longer for that to happen.

    Don’t fall into the “all or nothing” myth.

    • admin

      Thanks Mike, glad you liked it. I’m still in this position right now, but I’m moving to part time in my day job, and can finally start to compose loads more music soon enough :) Like your music on your website, its great :)

      • Mike

        Thanks! And congrats to you on being able to move to part-time. What a blessing!

  • Sam T

    This was exactly the article I needed to stumble across today! I moved to LA earlier this year to start freelancing, and it’s been a bigger challenge than I ever imagined. There’s SO much involved that isn’t even to do with composing – printing flyers, networking & marketing yourself, maintaining/upgrading your DAW, figuring out how to earn enough to pay rent…and then figuring out how to make awesome music on the side. Perseverance and the right attitude are KEY, and I picked up a couple more tips from this post, too.

    Many thanks! :)

  • theMidiTamer

    While I think that composing and have a full time job is a big stress that reduces ideas and creativity (in the long way), I agree with your observations!
    Perseverance. If you believe in what you do, and feel it really is your way, go for it. I would also add: Sacrifice. To get anything of value, you have to sacrifice.
    I’m one of you moving to part time in my day job, and that’s because of the sacrifices, time and efforts spent learning and improving myself while people looked at me as a guy wasting its time by not enjoying his life.
    I’d say it was totally worthwile, and it’s only the beginning! :)

  • Ridvan Düzey

    Re-read this post again. I’m currently at the point where I’ve decided to work part-time (24 hours a week) only to be able to pay the things I really need to pay, health insurance etc. It allows me to not go out as much as I used to, not to buy all the things I want but dedicate more of my time into music than before. I hope it works out till I get enough paid jobs each month/year :)

    • Emmett Cooke

      Stick at it Ridvan – it just takes time is all :)

  • Green

    Very useful. I know this post has been in ages, but I’m curious about things you come up everyday when you have a commission on composing. If you have dead line while work on your daily job, Is it a time-consuming that you prefer to leave your daily job off? Composing is my big dream, and I have a day-job too. I don’t want to loose any of them. Hope I can get some insight from you.

    • EmmettCooke

      It is possible to compose while having a full time job, but I don’t think you’ll ever get to a high enough level until you focus on it full time.

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