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You’ve Got This: 5 Tips for Newly Remote Creatives from a Virtual Production Music Company

A production music Library that has been virtual since Day 1 shares its secrets to navigating today's new, remote-work normal.

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

To my creative colleagues who have recently joined the world’s largest work-from-home experiment, take a deep breath, find a smile somewhere and take comfort. You’ve got this. Take it from someone whose production music company charted that path nine years ago and never looked back. Not only can you do it, but you’ve got way better tools at your disposal today than we had. 

See, ALIBI may have been virtual from Day 1, but our remote-work structure was more the result of an unscripted natural progression that took shape as we rolled out. When it worked for the global clientele we were looking to serve, we simply stuck with it. Why fix what’s not broken, right? 

So in light of all the creatives making the grand shift to remote work life, we’d like to offer a few tips on how we – a virtual production music library – have been able to grow together, apart. 

Remote Working Tip #1: Try to keep it regular.

Your schedule, that is… Yes, it may be tempting to hit snooze a few more times or turn off your alarm completely, especially if you’re no longer commuting, but resist the urge to fall too far out of a routine, at least in the beginning. Schedule your day as if you’re going to an office, and clue family members or roommates into your routine to prevent unnecessary interruptions. Ask them to try pretending you’re not physically there, if possible. Try bribing your children if it gets really bad (just kidding…maybe).

Today, ALIBI has a core staff of 15 employees, including eight in Pennsylvania, three in Los Angeles, one in San Francisco, one in Portland and two in London. Additionally, we contract the services of 205 professional composers in 17 U.S. states and 12 different countries. All are already well-accustomed to working remotely, so when COVID-19 threw the world that unexpected stay-at-home curveball, we were thankful we could actually field it and keep going. I mean, who factors global pandemic into their creative company’s business model?

I know I sure didn’t back in 2011 when I had just left my post as executive producer at Beyond to launch my own music library in Studio City. My round-the-clock focus then was search infrastructure and library content, and for quite a while I was a multiple-hat-wearing one-man-band on steroids (or lots of coffee, in my case). Which brings me to Tip #2. 

Remote Working Tip #2: Give yourself a break.

Believe it or not, you may find that you work a lot more when working from home. Minutes blend into hours and suddenly you realize you haven’t stopped to eat. Remember to nourish yourself, take a break to stretch. How could you possibly be creative when you’re a starving, tired zombie? Go outside and feel the sun on your face or – in my case – watch your puppies chase an RC car in the backyard. It will do you good.

Though I was the only full-time employee for the first few years, it took close to 100 people to launch ALIBI when you consider the freelancers – composers, accountants, lawyers, a graphic designer, etc. – that I enlisted little by little from all over the world. Somehow, I had amassed this vast network not for where the people were, but rather for what talent they brought to ALIBI… and it worked.

When I did begin to hire staff about a year after launching, geography certainly played a factor in the way we handled music requests but from a strictly time zone standpoint. I had moved to New York, where I took care of East Coast requests and could easily deal with the UK, and hired a part-time music supervisor in the Bay Area to handle the Western time zone. The following year, we brought on a third employee to handle European requests from London, and the company has continued to grow since then, each new hire fitting neatly into a unique virtual structure that we have honed along the way. Which brings me to my next remote work tip.

Remote Working Tip #3: Rise to the occasion. 

One of the things that’s made ALIBI’s remote-work model so successful is the extremely self-motivated people I’ve been able to hire. I’ve come to realize that I’d probably be a terrible manager if I had to motivate unmotivated people. So tap your inner rock star and get to it. Be prepared to kick your own ass when you start slacking. 

Ironically, the biggest challenges we faced in building this company virtually were the same challenges any brick-and-mortar production music company would face. Regardless of physical location, we still needed a systems management set-up that would enable us to share vast amounts of files internally or externally, server-based or cloud-based. We still needed a set-up that allowed us to exchange feedback, master and edit music, recognizing that composers weren’t always able to access an “office” whether right down the street or half a globe away. Which makes this next tip really important.

Remote Working Tip #4:  Get together on how you’re getting together.

In other words, be on the same page about your communication tools of choice and how you plan to use them. Work out the details that will save your sanity by keeping everyone in sync. How often will your entire team communicate, and what are the parameters for using instant messaging tools? Defining those WHATs, WHENs, WHYs and WHOs early will prevent lots of WTFs later.

Thankfully, file sharing technology has come a long way since 2011, and virtual communication tools like Google Hangouts, Slack, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime mean anyone with a laptop or phone can connect and work without borders. It’s a whole new digital world, and the learning curves are much shorter nine years later. And that brings us to our fifth tip on handling life as a remote creative:

Remote Working Tip #5: Remember it’s OK to be human.

While my team and I have always worked from home, it was obviously never due to circumstances like these. The global pandemic may not have changed any of our methods or procedures, but it is emotionally different. Adjusting to our “new normal,” we’ve instituted more casual chat conversations with memes, humor and updates about where each of us live as a way of keeping us even more connected and in good spirits during this time. Be sure to give yourself some kind of outlet for just being human with coworkers.

Whether you’re working remotely until the COVID craziness passes or you find you love it so much, you may just do it for good, just remember you’re already resilient if you’re in this business to begin with. You’ve got this.

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