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Recently, McLeod composed the score for the film "Cowboys," which premiered at the Austin Film Festival.

It was a memorable night. 

After walking the red carpet alongside his family, Ian McLeod (’13) sat in the audience of over 1,500 people at the Austin Film Festival Premiere of the documentary “Cowboys.” As the film began, he finally heard it over the loudspeaker: the music he and his team created.

“I’ve always wanted to score a film, and here it was,” McLeod said. “A film on the big screen.”

McLeod is the founder and lead composer of Cleod9 Music, located in Washington D.C. The company composes music for short films, documentaries, commercials, feature films and other platforms. He started the company in 2014 and has been developing it ever since. 

Composing and playing music has always been a part of McLeod’s life. He grew up playing piano in jazz clubs around the D.C. area and the improvisatory style introduced McLeod to the idea of composing his own music. In high school, he began making beats for local artists’ tracks.

“I learned at an early age you could write music,” McLeod said. “You could make it and you could sell it and that was, kind of, a career.”

After graduating from high school, McLeod came to JMU and majored in communication studies with a music industry minor. He continued his involvement with the music community on campus and took industry courses. He thought that he wanted to pursue a career in the advertising industry. 

However, after a year working in the advertising field, McLeod said he realized it wasn’t for him. He began reaching out to other entrepreneurs in the area to try and see what it would take to be successful.

“The first year out of school I worked at an ad agency, but the last two months after my nine-to-five I spent calling other entrepreneurs,” McLeod said. “I basically went back to school for being an entrepreneur, just by asking questions to those who had done it before me.”

Cleod9 Music is now in its seventh year. The company has grown from McLeod individually making music for his first gigs, to a team of composers working on multiple projects simultaneously. The team is a musically and culturally diverse group of musicians, which McLeod said is echoed in their company’s musical voice and helps them tackle a wide variety of projects.

“Depending on the type and style of the project, you know, I bring on the composer that kind of masters that instrument or masters that particular sound and vibe the best and we work in tandem together,” McLeod said.

While he’s primarily based in the D.C. area, McLeod often finds his way back to campus. For the last couple of years he’s spoken to current music industry students to share his story and answer any questions they may have. 

David Cottrell is a music industry professor at JMU. He teaches multiple courses, including Survey of the Music Industry, where he invites guest speakers to the class. He explained that his goal with his courses is to inspire students and share diverse stories and paths about how to get involved in the industry.

“My goal is to connect with these students, and as I tell them, really my goal is to change their lives,” Cottrell said. “I want to see them realize something that they may not have even thought possible.”

Dave Simons, a junior music industry major, took the Survey of Music Industry course last year and was invited to speak to this year’s class about his summer music internship. He agreed that there are many entry points into the industry, so it’s interesting to hear various stories. 

“There’s not one story to success,” Simons said. “And we’ve learned that through our guest speakers last year and kind of the weird worlds they live in, and how they’ve managed to make it in the industry in so many different ways and in different capacities.”

While it’s been seven years since McLeod walked through the halls of JMU as a student, he continues to return and value his connection to the school. Whether it’s through working with interns from JMU, returning to speak or visiting campus, he remembers his JMU experience fondly and continues to give back to the school which gave to him. 

“[JMU] helps to foster and develop a really good worldview and empathetic worldview,” McLeod said. “So I like coming back and giving back because it seems like that’s just the nature of people that graduate from that school.”

Contact Camryn Finn at For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.