It’s All About Community: An Interview with Composer, Peter Young

As an artist and composer, Peter Young is a pro at crafting cinematic, ascending songs with notes of hope and optimism. Working solo and in cinematic duo Continent Drift, Young applies his many years of composition theory and experience to craft the perfect pairing for music and picture. When not working on his next composition, Young works as the Director of Business Development at Sparkplug, fostering community among musicians who want to rent or rent out gear, instruments and even studio space.

We chatted with Marmoset artist and friend, Peter Young, about his drive to become a composer, things he looks out for when starting a project and his work with Sparkplug. Enjoy.

Tell us your story. Who are you and what do you do in the world?

Peter Young: My name is Peter Young and I am a music person through and through. Music has always been an integral part of my world.  I’m an active musician, composer, songwriter, producer, and sound designer, as well as a music business industry executive. Over the past 2+ years, I worked at an established music licensing company as Director of Accounts, while simultaneously moonlighting as a composer writing and scoring compositions for ad campaigns and digital brand agencies.

Most recently, I have stepped into a new role as Director of Business Development for a quickly growing company called Sparkplug. Sparkplug is an online platform that connects musicians and artists facilitating the rental of music equipment, instruments and studio space. Think Airbnb, but instead of houses and apartments, instruments and gear.

Most kids who get into music want to be in bands. What made you decide to become a composer?

PY: I was actually in bands ever since my high school days. I continued to play and record in bands through college and all the way up until about five years ago. Now, I still actively produce and record artists as well as working on my own music (I'd gladly still play in a band if The Shins or another Portland band is looking for a keyboardist!) But I ultimately got into it because I majored in composition and piano performance in college. Composition goes hand-in-hand with songwriting and playing in bands. As I started writing more and more music for various bands and recording projects, I started getting requests for my music to be placed in ads, commercials and movies. Ultimately, I think my focus on studying composition and employing those skills into my band's songs and recording projects helped me to hone my skills in composition, which quickly allowed me to become a working composer.

“Musicians want to feel connected to a culture and to a community of other musicians who they can engage with.”

What makes a good composer?

PY: It's difficult to answer this question in a generalized way. But ultimately a good composer knows what has come before. They have some level of knowledge and understanding about composition forms and structures that have been honed and crafted over time. I think a good composer plays to their strengths, while also working on their weaknesses by learning other ways of composing music. Trying to write in an unfamiliar genre, or emulating the drum or synth sounds in a pop song, or mimicking a classical piece structure to see how a song was formed. Being dynamic is also a strong trait to have as a composer. Being able to compose in at least two or three different genres/styles.

When you are first brought onto a composition project, what questions do you tend to ask? What information about the project do you prefer to know?

PY: When writing a custom composition, I've found that it's good to get every bit of information possible from the producer or whomever it is that you are working with on the agency side. Almost always, you want to make sure that you get a very nuanced description of what the music should sound like, ideally with some musical language as well. A temp track is also very helpful if the project requires a very specific sound.  Often, however, after an agency or licensing company gets to know your style a bit, they'll rely more on your creative sense and often let you run with the composition within the parameters of the brief.

It's always good to know what key elements that the creative team deems essential. If the brief refers to the drums and the energy of the driving rhythm, I'll often make sure to ask follow up questions and send back a few temp track examples of songs that might be examples of what they are hearing. Regardless of how original a composition is supposed to sound, it's always good to feel like you are starting on common ground with whomever wrote the brief. In some ways, writing a custom track for a specific piece of content is like being a journalist for a newspaper.  

How did you initially get involved with Sparkplug?

PY: I was introduced to Sparkplug through a fellow music licensing industry colleague in New York. Since a great deal of artists who license their music are also touring musicians who own gear and are in need of gear to rent, it was an easy introduction and partnership to make with Sparkplug. With Sparkplug being a well established platform in NYC, Austin and some other larger cities in the US, I was hired as Director of Business Development to establish some of the other younger markets especially on the West Coast and in my hometown of Portland!

I should also give you a quick description of what Sparkplug is all about:  

Sparkplug is a community marketplace where musicians and artists rent instruments, equipment and space to and from each other. Sparkplug makes touring, recording and creating less expensive and more convenient, while also letting artists make money from their gear and space when it’s not in use.

We feel that by connecting through Sparkplug, artists can access a widespread inventory of creative equipment and space, finding whatever they need wherever they are and building real relationships with other creatives from all over the world.

How do you feel Sparkplug is changing the game for musicians?

PY: In terms of what Sparkplug provides in a purely functional way for musicians, I think it gives them a direct avenue to engage other artists, musicians and studio owners to access gear and space, usually priced much lower than what they could expect to rent from a more traditional rental shop. It also allows artists another real way to actually make some additional money on gear that they own. Very similarly to Uber and Airbnb, it gives everyday people the ability to monetize their own personal possessions in whatever capacity they choose.  

You mentioned that you’re a musician yourself. Do you ever find that your work as a musician influences your work with Sparkplug? If so, how?

PY: These days, I primarily work as a music producer and composer. In this capacity, Sparkplug allows me to easily access an array of microphones and other recording equipment that I’ve always wanted to try out, that I may not have in my own studio or can afford to purchase. It allows musicians test out gear either for a live show or in the studio to see if they want to make that purchase down the line for themselves.  I’ve also seen it commonly used to book studio time in local quality studios, which has allowed me to widen my music community by meeting other studio owners, artists and engineers.

As a musician, how important is having a community of musicians?

PY: For the most part, I think community is essential to any artist or musician. Whether you are making music solely for yourself or for an audience of listeners, at the core, musicians want to feel connected to a culture and to a community of other musicians who they can engage with. Sparkplug organically offers another connection to a larger global community, while also offering a very practical solution for gear needs.

Sparkplug 1.jpg

Do you have any advice to others about how to make the best use out of the platform? Something others don’t know?

PY: If you want to utilize it as a place to rent out your gear, I’d say to just make your photos look clean and authentic to what the gear’s quality is.  Once you become a reliable gear “renter-outer", people will give you high quality ratings and you’ll likely see your gear rentals increase over time.

As for someone who rents gear, especially while planning a tour for your own band or as tour manager, I’d say that it’s a really great resource for making sure that all the backline gear and instruments are going to be ready for you in whatever capacity you rented that gear. This will provide you a lot of peace of mind and flexibility while you are on tour even if you are in a bind. It’s not uncommon for Sparkplug users to rent an acoustic guitar or a kick drum pedal an hour before a gig in a pinch.

What’s best/coolest instrument you’ve had the opportunity to use through this program?

PY: I’d say that some of the most unique gear we get on the site is great recording gear including some high end microphones and pre-amps. This is always great for artists who might want to try out a certain piece of gear in their home studio or on their recording project that they might otherwise have not had the access to before. Some mics I’ve seen include the Neumann U 87 to something a little less available like an Altec 175a Lipstick Tube Omnidirectional Mic. I’d love to see a didgeridoo and a musical saw on the platform at some point, though.

Posted on August 16, 2016 and filed under Field Notes.