Experiment – Hiring an Online Virtual Assistant

For the past year, I’ve been a full time composer, having been composing in my spare time for a number of years before this. Composers nowadays can generally be sorted into two categories – those who write music for online libraries, and those who actually score media (film, games, tv etc.). Some composers work in both pools, but I’m in the former category – I generally write music for online libraries as my main source of income right now, but I really want to push into the other side of the industry – actually scoring films and games – ie. what I got into the whole thing for originally.


As a full time music library composer, and indeed I’d imagine as a full time Film/TV/Game composer, you find yourself getting stuck doing some very boring and mundane tasks each week, which suck your creativity and potential composing time for the week. Having read the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, I became interested in “outsourcing” some of the workload to someone else so I could focus more on the creative side of my business, rather than the day-to-day things that seem to pop up.

Before we go any further, you might be wondering “well why doesn’t he hire an intern or assistant?”. This option is not available to me right now for a two reasons:

  • I’m not currently earning enough to be able to hire someone part time.
  • I live in a small city in Ireland, where few, if any, would be interested in being a composer assistant.

Due to these reasons, I decided to look into hiring an online assistant who can do some of these tasks for me and relieve the burden of some of the general “data entry” work each week. I went to both Freelancer.com and oDesk.com in search of “Virtual Assistants” who might have the suitable skills and talents for completing some of the work I would be providing them with. I chose oDesk in the end as it was the easier of the two and had more applicants.

There are also couple of agencies like BrickWorkIndia and YourManinIndia that will provide you with a virtual assistant, or even a team of them. If you have the budget, I’d definitely advise looking into them, as they’re a little bit more expensive than some people on oDesk, but you know the quality and standards of work is very high – plus they have a whole host of security measures in place to secure your files and information.

How it works:

Hiring a Virtual Assistant is a fairly simple process – you place a job offer on oDesk.com and set out exactly what you are looking for in your description. Before posting your job, you can select how many hours of work applicants must have done on oDesk already, how high their level of English is, the highest hourly rate you want to pay, any tests they should have passed etc. By selecting these options, you can filter down the possible applicants to a smaller total number – you also save yourself time further down the road.  Once your job offer is posted, people from around the world will start applying and your inbox will be flooded with applications.

After about 24-48 hours, the majority of applications will have come in, and you can start sorting through them to find your ideal candidate. This is exactly like any job interview – you can read applicants cover letters, view their portfolio and CV, ask them questions etc. Once you’ve settled on who you want to hire, you click on “Hire Now” and you’re ready to go.

You now click on the “Contractor” tab in oDesk, and can start sending your assistant their work and instructions over message. They have oDesk software installed on their computer which takes random screenshots when they log working hours, so you can see exactly what they’re up to if you’re unsure at all.

My job offer had 30 applicants and I noticed a few trends I noticed in the applications:

  • Pretty much every applicant was from India or the Philippines
  • Most applicants had a low to medium level of English – very few had a high enough level for my requirements.
  • Most applications had some of the skills I was looking for, but not many had all of the skills I requested.
  • Hourly rates ranged from $0.67 per hour to about $5.50 per hour.

Who I hired:

I went through the list of applicants, and finally landed on a lady called “Sarah”. Her application stood out to me as she seemed to have the necessary experience from her previous work on her profile, had a very good level of English, and had a very reasonable hourly rate of $2 per hour. Now, you’ve probably just read that and thought “what the hell, $2 an hour? He’s an asshole to be giving that little”, or maybe even “For $2 an hour, that person he hired is going to suck pretty bad”. You’re probably right on both accounts, but this being an experiment, I decided to go all out and try hire someone who costs very little and who seemed like they might be able to complete all the work I give them.

Of course one problem I have heard of people coming across is that applicants will put down a very low figure for their hourly rate, but then take 2 or 3 times as long to complete the work so as to boost up their income. I was aware of this when I hired Sarah, but so far so good!

What work am I getting my VA to do?

Right now, this whole thing is an experiment so I’m getting my VA to do a range of tasks, including the following:

  1. Register my tracks with my PRO. This is pretty much data entry – having provided Sarah with detailed instructions of exactly how to register a track, she is able to go through my spreadsheet of tracks and update them all one by one on the system. I’d suggest registering your tracks with your PRO as soon as you’ve written them, but I had built up a bit of a backlog and had also got an exclusive publisher for some, so they had to be updated.
  2. Remove any spam posts from my forum daily. The forum for this site receives around 1-5 spam bot posts a day – I’ve done all I can to stop this, but naturally a couple always slip through.
  3. Upload a non-exclusive cue to a number of non-exclusive music libraries. This is probably one of the biggest time sucks of them all as a music library composer. If you work with a few “non-exclusive” music libraries, you have to take the time to upload the cue to each library, enter the description, keywords, tick the genres etc. each time. iSyndica was a service that used to allow you to do it automatically, but as it closed, it can be a time consuming process. I’ve provided my VA with the instructions on exactly how to upload to each site so I can keep writing music, while they upload it for me.
  4. Create tags and descriptions for my cues. So this one can be a little time consuming too, but I’m wary about asking someone to do it who’s first language isn’t English. I’m therefore going to be giving her a few tracks to try her out at it, and if she can’t do it, its no real big deal.
  5. SEO – one of the skills I asked candidates to have was a high level of understanding in SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). I’m asking my VA to spend about 4-5 hours per week working on my SEO for all my websites. That includes the following sites: www.SonicOctave.com, www.Soundtrack.ie, www.FilmandGameComposers.com, www.AudioforApps.net and www.VSTBuzz.com. So far, I’ve been a little lazy with SEO, so it will be good to have someone looking at that side of it for me each week. (NB. All SEO will be Whitehat SEO)
  6. Other random personal stuff. I’m looking to go on holiday to Barcelona later in the year – instead of taking 2-3 hours of searching online for the best hotel and cheapest flights within my budget, my VA can do this for me. My thinking behind it is this; if I’ll have to spend 2-3 hours some evening looking into the trip, why not pay someone else $6 to do it for me, and I can spend those 3 hours composing instead?

What I’d suggest:

Log all the work you do in a week. You can use a pen and paper, or even use Rescuetime to track what you spend most of your week doing. Have a look at what you do each week and see if you can outsource this to anyone else. As a composer, you are running a business a bit like running a factory – the product starts as an idea in your head, goes down the production line in your DAW, and is put on pallets and send out in the vans. Its hard to run an entire factory by yourself, so see which simple parts of the process can be handed off to someone else, and focus on the more important and fun parts yourself!

At worst you’ll break even, and at best you’ll either get a boost in productivity, or be able to spend more time with your girlfriend/wife etc. If you decide to give it a go, let me know how you get on! I’ll post an update on this in a month’s time, to give you an idea of how I found this experience, and if I’ll continue it.

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicky.butler.16 Nicky Butler

    I really liked the article, it was very interesting and taught provoking. I have gone ahead and hired a virtual assistant to also try this out and will let you know how I got on.

    I really liked your suggestion of using rescuetime to see what you are spending your time on every week and then identifying areas your virtual assistant can help you.

    Sometimes its important as musician or even a business owner to let someone else do the mundane admin things so you can focus on making more money for your business.

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