From his early days, learning production from Youtube, TCTS has gone on to forge his own unique route to success. Having recently released the hit Not Ready for Love (feat. Maya B) and moving to the prime time Kiss FM Friday night slot, Sam took some time out to talk production, methodology and how he's been applying Zone and Zenith to his music.
Q. Hi Sam, thank you for joining us! Can you start by telling us a bit about your career to date?
Thanks for having me! So having grown up playing piano and guitar as a kid, and knocking around in local bands throughout high school and college, I was a student in Manchester and managed to get a foot in the door of the music industry with some tracks called 1997 and Like This. For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to call music my full-time job, releasing productions as TCTS, remixing other artists, and working as a songwriter/providing additional production to other artists’ records. I’m currently signed to Astralwerks working on the next single.
Q. If you had to recommend a track to those who are new to your music, which song would it be, and why?
I’d say my latest releases with Astralwerks; Not Ready for Love and Lazerbeams. They’re representative of where my head is at currently with my productions, and what I’m enjoying writing; house music which is sometimes vocal lead, sometimes more club-focused.
Q. Initially you were discovered by submitting '1997' to BBC Introducing in 2012, which lead to you being quickly snapped up by Bondax’s label, Just Us. Subsequently, you were signed to MTA (Chase & Status’ record label) and have since gone from strength to strength, including charting in the UK charts. In such a fiercely competitive environment, what do you think helped you the most?
Yeah, it’s quite a crazy industry. I had basically no preparation for it, so I’ve just been kind of going with the flow and thankfully it’s gone ok so far. I like to think I’m hard working and pretty versatile, goes without saying that you have to be to survive being self-employed. One major thing that’s helped is having a good team around me; I work well when I’ve got good management looking after me and it’s definitely been crucial for me.
Q. How did you initially get into producing? Did you learn by reverse-engineering tracks, or did you take a more formal route?
I got a copy of fruity loops and figured out the basics of programming and sequencing, I was making really rudimental stuff but that was my introduction to producing. I properly started getting my head around producing when a mate gave me a copy of logic and I would spend hours and hours on YouTube watching tutorials, figuring stuff out. I would end up in YouTube holes watching tutorials on things like envelopes, LFOs, how to EQ etc. I guess there was a bit of reverse engineering tracks, but mainly it was trying to figure out how to make the component elements rather than recreating tracks I loved. I do find that’s a really useful exercise, but mainly for structure, I don’t do it very often for sonics.
Q. You recently Unveiled your new prime-time Kiss FM Residency (Fridays, from midnight), which is an incredibly exciting way to end the year. Can you share any exciting records or remixes that you’re about to drop on the show?
Yeah, I’m really excited to move from Kiss Fresh to main station Kiss FM. Some bits I’m loving currently are the new Will Easton EP on Stress Records, and The Magician’s new club focused Club Fever release ‘Disco Dakka’ is incredible. Also excited to play Andrea Oliva’s forthcoming ‘Dancing, No Sleep’, and the new Franky Rizardo remix of Blue Boys ‘Remember Me’. We’ve also got some wicked remixes of ‘Not Ready for Love’ to drop at the start of 2020.
Q. In terms of your music set up, can you talk us through your key pieces of gear that you’re using at the moment?
I work pretty in the box, so soft synths are my bread and butter when I’m producing. My projects will use Serum, Sylenth, often Diva, and I’ve built up a big library of one shots in Logic’s ESX24 sampler which make their way into every project. Valhalla verbs are my go-to for reverb, and Waves H-Delay is my delay of choice currently.
Q. There is no one “right” way to write a new song, but I’m interested to understand your process when writing a new track. Are you a technical composer with a formulaic approach, or do you lean towards a more instinctive method?
I’ll usually start a track with the drums and work from there through bass and then synths. Playing instruments growing up means I understand musical theory and can play and stuff, but I’ll need to hook into a groove initially when I’m starting a new record to feel inspired. I’ll start with a basic beat and start messing around with bass riffs until I find a nice pocket that grooves well - I play everything in using keyboards, from percussion and clap rolls to bass lines, chords and synth lines.
Q. Do you approach your remixes in the same way?
Yeah, but I’ll throw the acapella into the project early on and start bouncing off that. This is part of why I love remixing records - usually, you never start a record with a vocal existing so it’s a totally different tool to have from the beginning, and from the off, it can shape where the production goes. I also tend not to listen to the original too much so it doesn’t take me down a certain path, I like making different root note or chord choices and not necessarily sticking to the melodics of the original.
Q. A lot of artists that we talk to have a specific sample or production technique that they like to incorporate subtly across their works. What’s your “Wilhelm Scream” of sounds/techniques? Do you have a consistent sound or sample that you like to slip consistently into different tracks?
Specific sample wise I go through phases. For a while I was putting orchestral samples in everything, you can hear them in Icy Feet/Do it Like Me and remixes from around then. I mentioned my one shot bank of samples earlier - One thing I always do in my productions is chuck in random things as ear candy, so whilst it might not be exactly the same sample each record, it’s a feature of my records.
Q. You recently got your hands on Zenith and Zone, can you tell us your thoughts so far? How do you think the plugin(s) will fit into your workflow?
I got stuck into Zenith first, I feel quite attached to my go-to synths so I thought Zenith would fit more naturally into my workflow. It’s a really strong arp and chord generator and goes way beyond other ones I’ve used before. The chord inversions and the inbuilt synth templates are a touch.
Even though I’ve only had Zone for a few days now it’s already found its way into a few projects. It sounds nice and analog and feels intuitive to navigate, you can get to grips with it quickly. So far I’ve been using the presets and then tweaking from there whilst I get a bit more used to it, it’s a wicked synth though, really powerful, I’m sure it’ll become part of my regular lineup.
Q. Do you have any favourite presets? Or do you prefer to make your own?
I tend to go to different synths for different sounds and needs, so I’ve got saved presets for each, like a favourite bass sound to start from, or a gliding top synth or something. Presets are useful, but I think it’s important to manipulate and put your own stamp on the sounds. As well as presets in the synths I’ve got a lot of channel strips saved, where it’ll be a unique preset plus a chain of processing which gives the sound another level of uniqueness. These days with things like Splice (don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing tool), it’s too easy for sounds to become homogeneous so whatever you can do to differentiate is great. My favourite synth to make sounds in is Serum, the noise generator adds so much depth.
Q. In October you dropped the anthem Not Ready for Love, (featuring Maya B). What’s in store for 2020? Are you about to release anything new?
We’re about to drop a bunch of killer remixes for ‘Not Ready for Love’, and a video, which is exciting. Also just in the process of finishing off the next single too, along with some more club-focused stuff!