Creative small business:Tom and Marshall - the Sound Room

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Soundroom - Tom Fox (L) and Marshall Smith. Photo / Supplied
Soundroom - Tom Fox (L) and Marshall Smith. Photo / Supplied

Tom Fox grew up in South Africa writing songs and playing guitar in afro/funk/pop bands graduating to session work in studios, then composing advertising jingles and scoring documentaries.

He emigrated to New Zealand in 2003 where he met business partner, Aucklander, Marshall Smith who started as a singer/songwriter and took his first demo album off to London (recorded at BFM). He worked in the business side of the music industry and played in bands, then discovered how satisfying and financially viable it was writing music for film and TV.

At their company, The Sound Room, they focus on composition, production and song writing for international clients including the Discovery Channel, the BBC and Morgan Freeman as well as local clients, Natural History NZ, film makers, Leanne Pooley and Briar March. They recently scored Annie Goldson's Brother Number One.

Tom and Marshall: What do you enjoy most about running your own music composing business?

Tom: I love the freedom of being able to work at times that are more productive, not always nine to five... The choice of which work to take on and generally being able to forge my own path in the world, not be shackled by someone else's dream.

Marshall: Mostly it's just that we get to write music - I like the sense of fulfilment, freedom, variety, the people and the travel. Oh I also get to work from home in my pyjamas...

How international is it or does it have to be?

Tom: We try to be as international as we can and a large percentage of our work is offshore. There are an incredible amount of opportunities out there and we put in a lot of time promoting ourselves in NZ and abroad. It's hugely competitive as well, but it makes sense in a small industry like NZ to spread our work as widely as possible in the world.

Marshall: The NZ documentary and film market is really struggling at the moment with the demise of TVNZ 7 and recent funding changes with NZ On Air etc. To survive we have to look to other markets - Australia, Asia and the USA are our main focus - but our music is used pretty much everywhere in this online world. A lot of what we do now would have been impossible even three or four years ago. We are definitely an export led business.

How do you get in front of the decision makers?

Tom: Bypass them...?

Marshall: Ha ha. Well almost all our business is built via face-to-face meetings, long-term relationships and our networks. We do a lot of online marketing, social media, attend conferences, seminars and workshops in NZ and abroad - and are doing increasing amounts of trips overseas to grow the business. Most of our work still though is very much word of mouth and from client referrals. But we also know we are only as good as our last job - i.e. we need to concentrate on writing and producing better and better music and carving out a niche for ourselves in a crowded marketplace.

What could happen which would make the business truly secure?

Tom: A business is never really 100 per cent secure, but I think a long list of satisfied clients who keep returning, people who trust that you will deliver and have integrity in all that you do... That will go a long way to ensuring that more work will come our way.

Marshall: I agree with Tom - reputation and the quality of your work is paramount. It's big ongoing commissions and returning clients that make a business like ours viable. Still awaiting that call from Sir Peter Jackson...

Small businesses are often at the end of the queue when it comes to payment for services and products.

We talk to some of the expert advisors about how to limit the risk of slow paying customers and want to hear your stories about how you cope with powerful customers who put you under pressure in the way they pay their bills.

Email me, Gill South at the link below:

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