Production crew TMS LDN built their career the hard way — and wrote Lewis Capaldi's smash hit 'Someone You Loved' in an afternoon.
Back in July 2002, Sound On Sound's Readerzone series profiled "a six-man business partnership producing hip-hop and garage music for white-label release". Fresh out of school, the six-piece had put together a studio in a garden building, and duly named themselves The Musical Shed. Trying to make it big in music production was, inevitably, tough, and by 2009, TMS were down to a trio, consisting of Tom 'Froe' Barnes, Ben Kohn and Peter 'Merf' Kelleher. The shed didn't quite meet expectations, either, and although they kept the name, the group have worked their way through a number of different spaces.
Eventually, however, TMS did make it big, and they are now one of Britain's top pop production teams, with credits including G‑Eazy, Bebe Rexha, Maroon 5, Niall Horan, Dua Lipa, Anne-Marie, Ed Sheeran, Lewis Capaldi, Emeli Sandé, One Direction, Paloma Faith, Little Mix, Jess Glynne, Kelly Clarkson and Sigma. The occasion for this interview is their sixth UK number one, Lewis Capaldi's 'Someone You Loved', which was released in partnership with Live Life Give Life, as part of the charity's campaign to raise awareness of organ donations. (You can revisit the original Readerzone profile at www.soundonsound.com/people/tms.)
At the time of writing, the group that started out in a shed had just moved into one of the most exclusive studios in London. Formerly known as State Of The Ark, it is owned by the legendary Terry Britten and was the subject of a 2014 Studio File profile in this magazine. Reaching this point has, however, been a long road, as Kelleher describes. "In 2006 we worked with Lily Allen, and the next thing she was the biggest thing on the Internet. It was really educational for us to see somebody go from being unknown to well-known, and we ended up producing one track on her debut album. But it was three years before we had another release on a major record label."
Kohn: "Anybody who is trying to do this job knows it does not happen overnight, and when it does happen overnight, people often disappear overnight again as well. There are some shortcuts that can be taken, but we didn't take any of them. We had very few connections, and our manager, Paul Centellas of North Pole Management, learned as he went along, just like us. During the '00s we did have some success touring as DJs, in the UK, US, Australia, China and so on, and had a run of releases that gave us some public attention. But we never felt that performing was our gig. We always were more into studio work."
Barnes: "So we had this semi-successful dance act, called the Breakfastaz, that made us a bit of money. But it was very tough for many years, and Dan Kohn [Ben's brother] and Phillip Davenport went off to university and got 'proper' jobs. By 2009, Gavin Jones left for Sweden, where his mother was from. He still works in the music industry, mostly as a topliner. That same year our manager managed to blag us a deal with Sony/ATV, which gave us some financial security, so we didn't have to worry so much about money."
"We listened to a lot of hip-hop when we were kids," Barnes continued, "and for us it was very natural, when hip-hop started to become big in the UK, to take part in that. Through a friend of mine, Ben Scarr, who is A&R at Island Records, we ended up working with Tinchy Stryder on tracks for his second and third albums, Catch 22  and Third Strike . When we worked with Tinchy again he brought Dappy with him, and together we did 'Spaceship,' which was a UK number five in 2011. Immediately after that we did 'No Regrets' with Dappy, which became our first UK number one."
Kelleher: "We were doing sessions with the best people we could get, and off that you get your next pieces of work. It's not snakes and ladders, more ladders and ladders. If one job goes well, it leads to the next job. Soon after Dappy we did 'Read All About It' with Professor Green, and that also went to number one. So we had two number ones in the space of a month, and all of a sudden our whole world had changed!"
The reason that TMS were not climbing ladders from their shed was, says Kohn, because, "the soundproofing that was described in the SOS article wasn't as good as we hoped! My dad was getting lots of complaints from neighbours, so in 2003 we moved to a studio complex in Chiswick, which had a very grungy basement, like a rehearsal room, and we turned that into a studio. The studio was called RDS. We met Wayne Hector there, one of the UK's biggest songwriters, and we later worked with him several times. After four years, in 2007, we went to another studio, which we constructed ourselves in a former call centre, and called Grand Prix House. We stayed there for 12 years until recently we moved to State Of The Ark."
Naturally, the gear in these studios evolved greatly over the years, and the only constants have been Apple's Logic DAW and EXS24 sampler. Barnes: "We are very lucky to be sponsored by some companies. Our setups are laptops with UAD interfaces like 8p's and Satellites, and UAD expansion cards. We have 11 pieces of UAD gear between us, that are spread across two systems. Our main monitors have for many years been the Barefoot Sound MicroMain 27s, though we also have NS10s and Auratones."
Kohn: "We have tons of plug-ins, like Waves and Softube have been kind enough to give us a lot of stuff, which we use often, and we also have plug-ins by FabFilter, iZotope and Soundtoys. Those are our main workhorses. We're not going for anything super-new on this front."
Kelleher: "We might start buying some more hardware toys now that we have more space here at State Of The Ark, but we have always had a piano that came from Froe's living room when growing up, a Hammond organ and some guitars ready in our writing space. Our in-the-box instruments are by Native Instruments, like Kontakt, plus Xfer Serum, Spectrasonics Omnisphere, Trillian and Keyscape, Arturia and Spire. Splice also is an incredible resource these days. We still use the EXS24, because over the years we have built up a massive library of samples for it....
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