First of all I want to thank you guys for finding my music and for giving me this interview opportunity. Let’s all hope T-Mass becomes a big name in the dubstep scene. I’d like to get the basic stuff out of the way first. My name’s Thomas Allen, but there are a lot of people who call me T-Mass even outside of a music context. I’m from the bay area and about to graduate with BA in Film and Digital Meida, although I feel like dubstep is my real major since unlike school work, I never procrastinate on my music.
May 2012 Interview: T-Mass
Let us start off with your history of music.
Like most musicians would say, music has always been a big part of life. For me though, I didn’t even consider production until about 4 years ago. Messing around in Fruity Loops with my friends on friday nights, I would make hip hop beats and rap over them while drinking a few beers; poorly of course. Although goofy, this is how I got introduced to music production.
My Freshmen year in college, I had a friend from the UK who showed me Chase and Status, and I feel in love with the style instantly. The wobble bass in their song, “Running” changed my life. Pretty LIghts is another huge influence in my music. Although by now our styles are very different, we both give our music out for free and aren’t afraid to sample different genres.
How long has this production covered dubstep?
Believe it or not, it’s really only been a year since I started producing dubstep, and I realize that my success so far is based off the things that set me apart. First of all, I produce music every opportunity I can. I’ve been nicknamed “The Dubstep Factory” by some friends because of my intense work habits. Making massive presets at 4am is on the menu for me. Over this last year, I’ve produced on average, two tracks a month, which is from my understanding, an unusually high amount. My philosophy about producing such a high volume of music is simple: Why not? I feel like if I didn’t work this hard, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a dubstep producer. The word “producer” is in the present tense, implying that it’s happening right now. I feel like too many artists are afraid to experiment and as a result don’t produce that many songs.
Thoughts on remixes- any future plans here?
Any future projects for me? Of course, there are always a ton. Because I’ve been a DJ at KZSC for one year now, I spend a lot of hours processing electronic music. That’s the fancy way of saying I listen to incoming albums and write descriptions for them. While I’m doing this, I keep my phone out and write down every song that sounds like something I could potentially sample. I keep a list of remix ideas and sometimes record myself humming melodies when they come to me. I never turn off “dubstep mode” and am always actively listening or thinking of song ideas. One could say I’m addicted to bass.
Recently I dipped my toes into some Ellie Goulding remixes, which I would compare to “cooking with bacon.” In other words, using her vocals feels like cheating because they are just so clean. For the near future, I’m going to keep working with the genre called “TranceStep” because trance vocals over deep bass are ear-gasmic. I dropped a TranceStep EP about a month ago on my Facebook fan page, and it was received very well by my fans. Some of the songs ganged popularity through Reddit. Fascinating.
How has feedback/input from other artists been, if any?
How about from the public and fans?
I mentioned earlier that my work habits set me apart, but the other aspect that lets me stand out is my willingness to talk with fans. Ask any of them. When I fan posts on my page or messages me a remix idea, I almost never ignore it unless it seems stalker-ish. Obviously if my music were to catch on a massive scale, it wouldn’t be practical to always comment back on their posts, but I would still certainly respond to some. It blows my mind that almost all big artists literally ignore all of the love-filled messages from their fans. Seems douche-tastic to me.
You have been producing dubstep for the last year or so. Could you tell us a little bit about your first steps, i.e. where you sought inspiration, what kind of sound were you going for? I know that a lot of young producers resort to using the same presets and sample kits that are readily available online. Finding your own sounds takes a lot of trial and error. How did you go about standing out/discovering your own style? Was it a tedious process?
How did I learn to do what I do? The answer is: lots of energy. I spend that energy listening to songs that I like and trying understand what specifically it is that I like about them. In a way I’m always trying to apply different theories about what works and what doesn’t. There are thousands of little tricks a producer knows both consciously and subconsciously in order to make something that sounds great. Although it’s hard to throw words on exactly what the difference between a great song and a mediocre one is, the average person can instantly hear it. It’s been said before that language isn’t capable of describing sound. I can’t describe how exactly I’ve improved, but I can feel and hear it.
As you mentioned, you are not afraid to sample different genres. Has that been beneficial to your development as a producer? Knowing to work with different styles of music and varying sounds must have given you plenty of new ideas and inspirations.
I have always made a definite effort to avoid presets and sounds that are overused. It’s tempting to go onto youtube and search “make skrillex growl” but every tutorial online really only scratches the surface. I love how Knife Party titled their album “No Modern Talking.” Modern Talking is a present in massive that gets completely oversued. It’s important to invent new sounds. For me, the best way to do this is to experiment with combining different VSTs. Sometimes I start with no end-game in mind and just go on an exploration of sounds until I find something really cool. It’s kind of like throwing paint onto a canvas and seeing if part of an image is there. A good producer finishes that image.
One of my close friends was talking to me about how people reach peeks and how it’s important to push beyond comfort zones in order to improve a little. Each time I sit down and go into production mode, I try to keep that in mind. More and more often, I start a track and it instantly goes in a direction I like. It feels great when that works. The feeling of “I made that?” is simply addictive.
In certain cases, there is a sort of musical threshold a producer will cross. That is, attempting to make sense out of what they are playing with, eventually reaching a point where things begin to just click a bit; where a deeper understanding of music theory is reached. Any thoughts on that? Were you one to this route, or was it more of a gradual build? When did you first fully realize your production potential?
I’m not sure if there was a moment where I “realized my potential.” All I know is that I’ve been working hard on my music and will continue to. At this point it’s safe to say that I’m making some sick stuff, but no matter the scale of my future success, I’m going to keep at it. There where definitely some moments where I was listening to some popular edm songs when I thought to myself, “I could do that”. It’s tempting to get an ego, but I know the reality that the music industry is not easy. Very few make it. The difference for me is that I’ll still make great music.
Some of the most common advice to new producers is just keep working at it. For the most, that is going to take quite some time. Can you tell us a little bit about the steps you took to learning the craft? Did you jump straight into software production (i.e. reason logic, fruity loops), or did you experiment with more bootleg recording methods?
I never messed around with any of the weaker programs such as Garage Band. My first program was Fruity Loops, and then I tried Ableton live. Both are great and share VSTs. Attempting to make a powerful electronic song in a weak program is like trying to drive fast in a slow car. It’s just not going to work.
Your current place of employment as a DJ over at KZSC has probably helped further your career quite a bit, correct? Did you seek to work there to get your name out there, or was this a decision you had made based on your new found interest in EDM? Do you get to play music from your private stash, or is it a set track list for the show?
KZSC is the radio station at UC Santa Cruz. The music I play on my show is almost entirely stuff I find online. I burn multiple CDs and fade between them. It’s nothing too complicated, but sometimes I do a real mix to keep it interesting. I do radio in part to get a greater understanding of the music industry as a whole. Radio teaches some classic skills. It’s nice to be able to speak on the air comfortably and have the responsibility of creating a two-and-a-half-hour playlist every week. It keeps me listening to new artists as well as gives me a chance to play my own tracks. The callers are always an unpredictable aspect. I had a man call in last week who said he was 42. He explained to me that he listens every week and doesn’t even like “that type of music”. Apparently this guy works until 12am in a job he doesn’t enjoy and catching part of my show is the highlight of his night. That was an eye-opener for me. By making music that I like, it can actually have a great influence on other people. Whenever I get a comment on a song that says something like, “I listen to this when I’m sad” or “I listen to this before games”, it reminds me that music creates a powerful emotional response for so many people.
Thank you for your time. Very insightful thoughts. We appreciate the opportunity and very much so look forward to hearing what is next in store from you.