It’s been five years since I graduated from JMU – hard to believe so much time has passed and I am now considered a “grown-up.” Thankfully I don’t put too much stock into labels, so I still channel my inner-kid…
The truth is, a lot of exciting things happen after graduation. You find a job, move to a new city, build new friendships and earn money. You start to develop a “new normal.” For me, my “new normal” was different than others. At 23, after a year of working in advertising, I left my job to start my own company – Cleod9 Music. I’ve been a musician my whole life and have had a vision to score music for films and documentaries.
Cleod9 is now celebrating four years. We have scored award-winning documentaries/films and worked with national brands such as National Geographic, Red Bull and REI, among others. We added four composers to our team and have no intention of slowing down.
People often ask me “How do you start your own company?” Well, for the record, I’ve never considered myself the entrepreneurial type. There are smarter, more business-savvy people that can innately answer that question. For me, it was a learned experience.
Initially, I spent most of my time and energy figuring out how Cleod9 would stand out from its competition. It’s no secret that the music industry is saturated with artists, producers and composers alike. You have to find a way to rise above the noise. Let me tell you, it was and still is a grind. But I believe my drive, discipline and resourcefulness helped turn an idea into a reality.
JMU played an instrumental role in developing these core characteristics. Yes, I learned a lot in the classroom; yes, my music industry professors were a great resource; and yes, icebreakers actually worked.
But what was most instrumental for my growth was the JMU community. This school offers a lot more than just classrooms and textbooks. You can pursue student-led organizations, leadership groups, intramural sports and philanthropic events. Fortunately, I took advantage of these opportunities…I became a FROG, M.Y.M.O.M. Counselor, joined a Fraternity and signed up for alternative spring break sessions.
These aren’t bragging points. Looking back, they were actually building blocks for my future self. Joining a group or applying for a position was “taking a risk.” You had to put yourself out there, be vulnerable and do your best to relate to people. It’s funny how I still apply those same concepts at Cleod9 Music today.
During my college years, it was hard to realize all the resources at my disposal. Now that I’m five years out of school, I can appreciate what the JMU community offered me. I do my best to impart this hindsight wisdom to current Dukes. In fact, each semester I travel down to Harrisonburg and speak to music industry students in Dave Cottrell’s class, Survey of the Music Industry. It’s a chance for me to engage with aspiring creatives, share my past experiences and show them that what they’re learning now is applicable to the entertainment industry.
Ultimately, connecting with current students is my way of giving back to the community that provided me with the tools to succeed. JMU helped me become a stronger leader. Filling my schedule with responsibilities improved my work ethic, sharpened my creative thinking and introduced me to new people and cultures. Subliminally, I was learning to become an entrepreneur.
So, when students or graduates ask me “How do you start a company,” my answer goes beyond the obvious (i.e. work ethic, discipline, etc.). I tell them to step outside their comfort zone. I tell them to get involved in a community, to build a network of contacts and, as Joel Embiid says, to “trust the process.”
Ian McLeod (’13) is the Founder and Lead Composer of Cleod9 Music. Based in Washington, D.C., his company features a small collective of musicians that creates music for a wide array of media. In four short years, Ian and his team have scored award-winning documentaries, films and commercials. They have become a trusted music source for national brands and clients, including: National Geographic, Red Bull, REI, Patagonia and more.