Spokanes David Cebert was 14 when he did his first paid recording session, co-writing the music, playing the keyboards, and co-producing a promotional jingle recorded by Bill Latronica, then-owner of a small Spokane recording studio.
Cebert recalls that Latronica just had this old Teac four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. Even so, he says, That was when I got the bug.
Cebert now owns Cue11, a tiny, but growing venture here that provides music for a range of uses, from broadcast promotions and advertising to gaming, corporate branding, and retail product distribution.
Along with creating custom music, the business administers a music library through which it makes published compositions from a variety of genres available to commercial users nationwide. It also produces and distributes albums of original music.
Although most Spokane residents probably arent familiar with the 7-year-old enterprise, which changed its name from VU Music Inc. on Jan. 1, they likely have been exposed to its work-whether while watching TV, sitting in a movie theater, playing a video game, or listening to a compact disc.
Cue11 has done projects for all of the major television networks, numerous TV stations across the country, the National Geographic Channel, Toon Disney, and Sandpoint-based Coldwater Creek Inc., among others.
It has provided video-accompanying music scoring for everything from the NBC 2004 Olympics Share the Feeling campaign to the Oprah Winfrey and Regis & Kelly TV shows.
Its demo reel resume also includes promotional scoring for NBCs Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with Conan OBrien and ABCs launch of The Bachelorette, as well as music for the ABC Kids Saturday morning block of programs.
Locally, Cue11 has done a lot of work for KHQ-TV, including for the stations recent Gimme the MIKE! talent competition, Cebert says.
At the theater, moviegoers waiting for the main feature to begin might have heard music Cue11 provided for a Regal Cinemas Regal MasterCard promotion. And at Coldwater Creek stores, customers might have picked up last winter an album of holiday music that Cue11 produced. The Spokane company this year will produce its second such album for that expanding apparel chain, Cebert says.
Video gamers probably have been exposed to Cue11s work if theyve played Scene it? The DVD Game, an interactive board game created by Seattle-based Screenlife LLC and for which Cue11 provided music.
In February, Scene It? captured the 2005 Game of the Year award at an annual Toy Industry Association ceremony in New York City.
As for the more traditional production and distribution of original music, he says Cue11-through a division still called VU Records-plans within the next few months to release the latest album by Too Slim and the Taildraggers, a popular blues-rock band originally from Spokane that now has a sizable following. The album, called Big Red, is the second it has produced for that band.
Looking to diversify
Our wellspring has always been custom music, Cebert says. Kind of our claim is to write a piece of music thats going to live a long time on television.
The companys marketing slogan is, Using really good sounds to make things sound really good.
In pursuit of a more predictable revenue stream and as a long-term survival strategy, however, Cue11 has begun putting added emphasis on music licensing and on trying to negotiate an ownership interest in the collaborative ventures it participates in or companies it partners with, he says.
It used that strategy, for example, in its dealings with Screenlife, taking equity in the game maker as part of its compensation, Cebert says.
He adds, Our interest in that company obviously has been beneficial to our asset base.
Despite Cue11s seemingly wide-ranging presence, the company still operates from the subbasement of Ceberts Fairwood-area home, and has just three full-time and three part-time employees.
As for revenues, Were not at seven figures yet, but were very deep into six figures, and growing at 15 percent to 20 percent annually, Cebert says.
At some point, the company will need to move into a commercial space, he says, although he hasnt set a specific timetable for such a move.
As part of his diversification strategy, however, he says he plans to partner with a couple of other investors to open a combined film studio and sound stage facility here, called Applewood Film Studio, later this year.
He declines to provide some details about the facility, such as where it will be located, but says more information about it probably will be released soon and that hes excited about its potential for helping to boost film industry activity here.
Cue11 currently works with 25 to 35 clients consistently, and its average client relationship lasts five to seven years, Cebert says. Probably 90 percent of the revenue the company generates comes from outside the Spokane area, he says. For the custom music it produces, it relies on a stable of 20 to 25 local singers and musicians, he says, adding, Everything we do uses local talent.
Although Cue11 operates from a lower level of his residence, just east of Spokane Country Club, that space totals about 3,000 square feet.
It includes an office area, two studio control rooms, a vocal booth, and a tracking room, where the musicians perform.
Cebert says the company also sometimes will use the homes large main-floor great room, which has a vaulted ceiling and disperses sound well, for orchestra recording sessions.
The studio control rooms each are equipped with an array of instruments and high-tech equipment, from guitars and keyboards to digital sound-mixing boards, computers, and monitors.
Cebert says the company has 12 computers in all, plus a server with a terabyte of storage capacity on which it archives all of its music.
Ceberts chief collaborators at Cue11 are executive vice president Shawn West, who handles artist relations and administration, and composer-producer Joe Brasch, a longtime musician here. The one other in-house position he says hes intent on filling soon is a marketing and sales person.
Cebert is a longtime musician himself who has played with a number of Spokane-area groups over the years.
I can play lots of instruments, but keyboard is where everything came from, he says. Noting his equally longtime interest in music recording, he adds, I always had a studio in my house. I was always producing original music.
Cebert graduated from North Central High School in 1978, then attended a small college in Montana, where he majored in industrial arts and minored in architecture. His fascination with music, though, led him to pursue a career in that field.
He worked in sales for Spokane-based Hoffman Music Co. from 1980 to 1994, and says, I learned a great amount of valuable stuff while I was there. Thats where I learned to meld music and business.
He then spent four years as part-owner of an audio-production company here called Production Group Inc. before starting his own business.
One fortunate break while with Production Group, he says, was encountering an NBC executive named Ron Hayes, who urgently needed a jingle for a promotional campaign for the launch of the TV series Third Rock From The Sun.
Cebert says he wrote the song the night after speaking with Hayes, who informed him after receiving the song that everyone was singing it in the hallways at NBC by the next afternoon.
Establishing that relationship helped generate additional network-related projects later. Once you have that type of thing on your demo reel, that+s your calling card for garnering other such jobs, he says.
While Cebert is pleased with Cue11s growth to date, he also admits hes impatient that it hasnt occurred fast enough.
I think were functioning at about 25 percent of what we could be functioning at, he says. Were going to be fine. Im very confident, but the thing is, our potential is totally untapped.+
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