Time to read : 15 minutes

In today’s interview, I have the opportunity to talk with an amazing – Pete Checkley!
Pete has been a well-known member of the musical community, especially with joining SampleLibraryReview and helping fellow musicians with reviews of sample libraries, and also doing cues for big companies and commercials!

I’m really glad to have you in this interview! So, for our first question, I would love to ask you – what got you into the music business? What motivated you of becoming the great composer you’re today?

Hey Alan and thanks for having me here! I started playing guitar at the age of 10. I have always listened to music growing up and was fascinated by how it has been put together. I essentially listened to whatever my parents listened to, but lucky for me they have great taste. My parents record collection comprised of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, and someone who would later be a huge influence, Frank Zappa. I fell into the metal and then prog scene during my teens and was enamored with Dream Theatre. At this time only two albums were available, and I think Images and Words became my most listened-to album of all time.

As a guitarist, I was learning challenging John Petrucci parts, while also focusing on my other favorite players, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, and Joe Satriani. I had started my Jazz and Classical Degree at the University of Southampton where I was able to attend the Guitar Institute in Acton to receive focused one-to-one tuition. Two things happened to me at university. Firstly, I played in an amazing Jazz/Funk band called The Principles. Before I thought there was only shred but playing this style of music was immensely satisfying for me.

A new string to my bow, but ultimately a lot of fun! Secondly, I was a classic bedroom shredder…practicing my arpeggios and sweeps for up to nine hours a day. I overdid it and managed to get repetitive strain industry and a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome by the time I had graduated. A case of overdoing it if ever there was one. So I couldn’t play guitar that well but wanted to get back at it. It was during this time, I did more studying of music and expanded my listening palette.

While my technical standard was never the same after, I have enjoyed being a live and re-scoring performer on a lot of projects. It was only until settling down in my mid-thirties that I turned my attention to composing. Having learnt back in 2003, I started up again in 2018 having cobbled together an initial studio. I was amazed at how the standard of sampling and technology had become and that ignited the love of composing again. I had a lot to learn, a lot had changed since 2018 but I found with the combination of an amazing composing community and incredible online resources, it was easier to get up to speed!

Collaboration with Pete Checkley – Space in time

While mentioning that, I’m curious about how often do you find yourself being stuck in a creative loop?

It happens and sadly it can happen when you least want it to! I had a period of sending out maybe thirty new cues over a month and that took its toll. I had a good break after that but was soon back at it. I find the worst time for this to happen is in the middle of a cue. I tend to turn it off, do something completely unrelated and return to it later. I often want a cue finished in one session, whether it’s some simple tension or some grand orchestration. I’ve learnt good things take time and shouldn’t be forced so now if it isn’t happening, come back to it later.

I can only imagine how challenging must have been to make music for commercials and music libraries. Especially when you need to stand out from the rest to be featured?

There is a lot of competition out there and while I have had some successes, I’ve certainly had more rejections. It’s a learning curve and not only is this about creating music for a purpose, but it’s also ultimately about creating music for one single person. The person be it the publisher or sound supervisor has a definite idea of what they want. Your music can be perfectly wonderful but if it does not fit what is going on inside that person’s head, then it’s rejected. That was something I had to learn very early on, but as a result, rejection doesn’t bother me. When I was beginning, it certainly did. Yet, if you get feedback, that is how we learn. Feedback is the most important part of this business!

You also had the opportunity to work with big companies in your musical career – MTV, CS, just to name a few! Would you love to share with us how those companies recognized your work?

I’ve been very lucky to have my music placed on various networks and that has always been a huge ultimate goal for me. Going back to my previous point, it’s all about tapping into what the publisher is asking you for. I remember being asked early on to create 10 epic adrenaline tracks for competition reality shows. I thought that was impossible as I was working on one track a week and back then did not have much of an idea about what I was doing.

Composing was coming along but my production needed serious help. Eventually, I got them made, and while on holiday I spend hours by the pool watching tutorials to up my game. This was an important album for me as they got me some of my first placements but I upped my production game. Another lesson is always to invest time in your self be it composing study, learning new production techniques or simply listening to a wider palette of music.

Walk me through your average workday. How do you organize?

My work day sometimes starts as early as 4.30am. I have a young family so find that working on music at the start of the day and the end of the day is most beneficial. As an early riser, I can compose music before I have to go to my day job, end then for a few hours in the evening. This is as long as I have no other work to do. I’m fortunate in that I get a good amount of holidays, so when I have a studio day I will surface to cook meals for my family (another passion of mine) and then back in the studio. So time is precious and I do not have the luxury of working on music every day so I make sure every second counts.

I’ve mentioned in the prologue that you’re a member of the SampleLibraryReview website. Would you please share with us some insights about it? And also for those who are not familiar with that website, what does that website offer to musicians?

One of my proudest achievements is working with SamplelibraryReview and having the opportunity to simply share my thoughts on a topic I care dearly about. In essence, I am a contributor and I write reviews and make videos on new virtual instrument libraries.

This gives me the opportunity not only to test out new libraries but also to speak with various developers in the industry and understand more about the process involved in creating the tools of our trade. I wouldn’t know where to begin so I am in awe every day of how developers keep on pushing the boundaries of instrument design and give us realistic, and very entertaining instruments to make music with.

In your opinion, what are the essentials of becoming a media composer? Comparing to the music industry 30 years ago?

Wow, now that is a question. There are a certain amount of personal qualities I think a composer needs. Firstly, resilience is of the utmost importance. We work in an industry where our work can be rejected for any number of reasons. Rejection is going to happen and it can either make you up your game or destroy your confidence. I made the decision a long time ago that I would use rejection to make me more determined and improve my craft. Like many, I’m always learning and that process will never stop. We all have some days where we churn out some absolute rubbish, and those days need to be learnt from also.

Secondly, adaptation is important. We all have our specialist genres yet if we want to thrive in this business, we need to be able to create music that we may not necessarily listen to! As a result, you may find a new genre you love, or be able to add your unique twist to different styles. Either way, we must adapt. Finally, the community is so important and I feel it is so important to be supportive of others. Celebrate everyone’s achievements and offer support where needed. We are all in the same position and we should always support one another to create more opportunities for the community as a whole.

In terms of equipment, I used to think that if composing wasn’t going great, then buy a new library! While new sounds can help massively, learning what tools you have is of high importance. I started on an old laptop with 16gb of memory and a little mixer for an audio interface. I used the Educational version of Cubase Elements and a £20 midi controller I found on Gumtree. As my ability improved, I invested more money into better gear. I work out of a very small studio, but for my needs it is perfect. Bigger doesn’t mean better and ability is far more useful then owning every sample library under the sun. That said, investment is important so I see the initial building up of a studio as a great investment, as is investing in your own development.

Do you think most composers nowadays become famous because they are viral, but not for their talent?

It’s the celebrity world we live in. There is a huge amount of talent out there yet sometimes people just want a quick of entertainment. If you go viral for something, then fair play. If it brings you a lot of money, then even better. I’d personally rather be unknown but have the ability to make great music, which is something I will always strive for. At the end of the day, this is my hobby and passion, my level of public success isn’t really of huge importance to me. How I feel about my music is and if people like it, then great!

What do you think is a common misconception about being a composer?

Hands down the most common misconception is that you must have formal music educational training to become a composer. Yes, I agree it can help and offer you new ideas and directions, but it is not a necessity. Some of the greatest composers and musicians have no formal training and have just worked very hard to achieve the sounds they want!

A big struggle for me has always been getting music into a DAW and making it sound as realistic as possible. That will always be a challenge. I’m also a guitarist and have had to learn my version of “busking” piano. It’s great for arranging and just playing ropey cover versions of songs but this isn’t a disadvantage. It’s all about your mindset and approach to composition. Formal education is great, and I do use mine when composing although it hasn’t helped at all with technical production.

Also..Do you have some of the ‘’lessons learned’’ stories that you can share with us?

Aside from the examples mentioned above, it is important to do your own research when buying libraries. Libraries are like dentists, everyone has “the best”. I bought a library through some serious sales campaigns and posts on Facebook. While it was a perfectly good library, it turns out it wasn’t suitable for my needs. Money wasted, although I then found ways to use it and succeeded. The most important lesson is use your own ears to decide if it is right for you.

As a fellow composer, I would love to ask you, what are your top 5 VST libraries that you find yourself using all of the time?

Ahhh, so this is where I give away my secret weapons. I’ll bundle a few together.

Terraform from Audio Imperia and Riff Generation Outside In Edition are my two go-to libraries for adding momentum and movement. I use them on virtually every crime, tension, and underscore cue I write.
The Spitfire Symphony Range. These are my new toys and they are mind-blowing.
The Spitfire Olafur Series. I make a lot of Nordic music and combined with Albion V, these are spectacular. I’m a huge Spitfire Audio fan, for me they are incredible. I have several developers who are up there with them!
Cinebrass from Cinesamples. Perfect for that John Williams-style brass!
Spaghetti Western from Fluffy Audio and Ethera Gold 2.5 – The most fun I have ever had with sample libraries!

What do you think, do you find yourself having a G.A.S.? (gear acquisition syndrome?)

I will happily say I used to although I sold 15 guitars, worked an extra job, and sold all of my video games, consoles, and VR to fund it. The thing is, when I got back into making music, I was like a kid in a candy store. There was so much choice and so many advancements. These days I have a need vs want policy and make sure I have a method of funding before making a purchase. At the end of the day, buying libraries is an investment and popular to contrary belief for those who know me, there are huge industry staples that I do not own, and will never own. I’m in a position where I feel like I have everything I need so I rarely make a purchase these days,

For those who don’t know, you also play in a band! Would you love to share some info about it? What do you play?

I’m a guitarist in a wedding/function band and also I play in an 80s duo. Big hair, spandex, and neon guitars. Both are a huge amount of fun and it helps me continue to play guitar as I don’t record a huge amount. I love performing and am lucky to have two awesome bands to perform with!

How many instruments do you play?

As mentioned guitar is my main instrument although I play piano, drums, bass, and ukulele. I am self-taught although I had lessons at university to further develop my playing. At that point, I had been playing the guitar for 10 years.

Since you know how to play guitar and piano, is there an instrument that you always wanted to learn but it’s too hard to master?

Saxophone…I tried once and couldn’t get a sound out!

Tell me, what are your top 3 favorite songs and bands that you adore listening?

The current me is very different from the twenty-year-old me but I’d say….

Hot Rats – Frank Zappa
Lightbulb Sun – Porcupine Tree
Fire Garden – Steve Vai

All three of these represent a very intriguing part of my musical development and they instantly transport me back to that part of my life when listening to them. I love how music has the power to do that. I could go on for hours about musicians and bands I love!

If you could make a collaboration with any composer, who would it be? And why?

It would have to be Danny Elfman. His composing process must be mind-boggling. I would love an insight into his imagination, craziness, and just all round energy.

What are your plans for the upcoming weeks, months, or years? Is there an album in making?

I have several more albums coming up and music that needs to be made. I am working on some new pitches but my main goal is to work my way through the remaining Evenant training courses. I took out the subscription and it’s one of the greatest moves I’ve ever done. Learned a lot, met some great people, and was up-skilled no end.

That would be all from me! Is there anything you’d like to tell us at the end of our interview?

It’s been an absolute pleasure. My parting words are simply to enjoy yourself. Music is an incredible gift and while there can be frustrations, disappointments, and really tough times, it is also an amazing way to be creative, enjoy yourself and stand back and think, I made that! Whatever you make, whatever style you do, just have a great time doing it!

Thank you once again for taking the time for this interview!:)

Thank you so much for having me! Until next time!