During my time in London, I happened to come across a goldmine of a place called Tileyard, work-place and home of a multitude of indie and major label-affiliated professionals in the entertainment industry. Tom Fuller was one of those. Owner of The Cabin music studios, he's a songwriter/producer who's studio is occasionally available for hire through Miloco's website. Having become connected with Tom whilst studio hunting we decided to have a sit down at The Cabin to chat about his work in the industry.
Hi Tom. Thanks for having me over at The Cabin to chat. Tell me a bit your beginnings in music and audio.
I started playing violin around age 4, and then took up guitar, piano and songwriting as the years progressed. I studied music in university, where they had studios that I'd use to record my bands, which was great for learning how to use studio gear. I ended up buying a Pro Tools rig and a Mac, and taught myself the rest before graduating. I then moved to London, starting out as a tea-boy in a studio called The Dairy, in Brixton. When one of their assistants left around 2007, I took over his job, and moved on to be an engineer pretty quickly after that. We got a lot of different types of artists through there, like Soul II Soul, The Answer, and Basement Jaxx. During my time there I got to do a lot of great engineering work, including on Kelly Rowland and David Guetta’s "When Love Takes Over", which was great for me, as it went #1 in the UK. I remember the compressor on her vocal kept going crazy because she sang so loud, and I had to keep riding the gain on the pre-amp the whole time! It was cool to be in that place for only a year and still get to work on things like that.
What caused you to move on from The Dairy?
After having worked at the same place for a while, you start to feel like it’s time to move on. A client had also decided to take the Neve room on a long-term basis, so there wouldn’t have been much for me to do there other than mixing. I mix, but songwriting and production is my main passion, so I moved to Miloco and did an engineering stint there, which was great. I got to work with people like Salaam Remi and Amy Winehouse for some weeks. Just to chat with people like that is how you learn about music. It’s not often they open up to people outside their circle of friends when making music, but when they do, it’s pretty poignant, and you should take notice!
Interesting. So moving on from The Dairy, how did you end up at Tileyard with The Cabin?
After having spent a few years producing for other artists, I wanted to get back into writing, and needed a space for that so I wouldn’t have to keep renting studios. So I set up The Cabin for that, 4 years ago, when the Tileyard was just coming to life. As my amount of gear in the studio increased, I ended up doing more and more here. With production budgets going the way they are, if I can record something like drums here and have them sound good, why not? If I’m in a situation where I need a whole band to record at the same time, I’ll go to a different studio like The Pool.
As an independent songwriter and producer, I'm assuming that you've had not only build up a network of industry contacts, but one of fellow musicians also. Have you found it to be easy establishing yourself in the music industry, given that so much of it is based on knowing and working with the right people?
It hasn’t been easy, but it’s important to remember that the process is relative to each persons experience. To someone who may be still trying to get into the industry, it may look like I’ve made it to an extent, but I still know how much there is ahead. I have session musicians that I work with, who I feel are reliable. I have a drummer that I went to school with in Somerset, who called me up about 2 years ago and said he’d moved to London and asked to do a session with me. I said “sure”, but didn’t really know what to expect. When he started playing his kit, I was blown away; he was next level. This was just a guy I’d always known from school, but he was super professional and turned to be amazing at his job. He’s gone on to be really successful now and is currently touring with Josef Salvat. So you establish your network of musicians over time. I’m quite demanding, as my mates know. I’ve been called various names over the years, haha. “Vocal Hitler” is one. But it’s only because I know what I want, and they know that.
I work with John Davis at Metropolis for mastering. I’ve had the fortune of working with a number of great mix engineers like Cenzo(U2, Snow Patrol), Tony Hoffer (M83, Beck), and Matt Lawrence (Naughty Boy, Mumford & Sons). These aren’t people that I set out to “network” with. I just met them through other projects and stayed in touch. Also, I make sure I look after my musicians by making sure that they get credited and paid for all the projects we do together.
On the business side of things, I’m signed to 365 Artists, who are very good. The guys I work with there, Paul Smith and Adam Clough, are really great guys. Whenever I go to see them, they always play me artists that I am excited to work with, which is great in itself. They help build my business connections by setting up meetings for me.
Management tends to be a murky area from a lot of artists/producers. It's not always easy to find good representation. How did you find yours
Miloco used to have an in-house producer/management department which was eventually disbanded and became Gotham Producers. My first manager was a part of that, so when Gotham separated itself from Miloco, I stuck with her. After I parted with her, I signed to 365 because of my friends next door, a production duo called The Nexus, (Lana Del Rey, Hurts). They’re managed by 365, so I met the company through them.
Like I said before, it’s not about conscious networking. None of us attend networking events. These are people you meet through friends, over beers or something. Tileyard is a great place to meet people who are doing what you’re doing. There are some very interesting film composers here, and that’s something that I’ve been wanting to learn more about. For example, I’d done a record with a band called The Hics, and one of the film composers heard it, and called me up because he liked it. We had a pint and ended up working on some stuff together. That’s how these things work.
When you work on things like The Kelly Rowland and David Guetta records stuff in your early 20s, how did it help you move forward? Did people pay attention to that?
I’m not sure. Maybe it did, but I'm never privy to conversations when people are trying to sell me. If I’m aiming to work on a Patrick Wolf album, having done a Kelly Rowland project isn’t going to help very much with that. It’s more about forging relationships with people. What I do nowadays is set up a writing session with someone I’m interested in working with and if they like the vibe of what we work on, we talk about me producing their album or EP. That’s happened 3 or 4 times over the years. So it’s more about how you get along with an artist in the room. Whilst you might need some clout to even get the artist in a room, no-one pays for a writing session anyway. That’s why I have a studio. So we’ll do the session, and then if they want to talk production, we do that.
So you do the writing sessions with people that are interesting? You don't just do sessions with anyone that comes along and asks for one?
No, I don’t. If I’d did that, I’d be broke, haha. Also, my management may send me stuff that they think I’d find interesting. It might be from someone who’s signed or on the verge of signing. But either way, I don’t work on stuff I don’t want to do. It’s a quick path to being resentful with the industry when things don’t go the way you expect.
When you do songwriting with session musicians and artists, do you typically work on material prior to the meeting, and play them stuff when they arrive?
That may have happened once or twice - if I had an idea I really liked before they arrived, but it’s normally not the case. Normally I’ll wait until they arrive and we’ll write on piano or guitar. Recently I’ve been writing a lot with the Moog, for quick vibey bass lines. I rarely use virtual instruments, though I might use BFD if I need drums quickly. I like plugins, but they can be a bit convoluted and take a while to set up. When you only have an artist for a day, it’s faster to use real instruments. Plus, I prefer to print things and commit them, it makes it easier when you send sessions to other people who don’t have the same plugins. When I first started writing, I’d rely on using virtual instruments, and I'd pull up the session a year later, there would be problems with versions or incompatible plugins etc, really boring stuff. It happened to me recently when I was working with Becky Hill. We had some soft synths in the session from a couple of years ago, and I opened it to find that a load of the stuff was out of date and all the presets were screwed. Luckily, I knew how to work backwards to restore everything, but things like that are annoying. I don’t mind spending ages getting a piano or drum take right, but dealing with out-date-software is just time wasted. So I just print everything. Similarly with effects. I print most of my effects in case the mix engineer doesn’t have the same plugins - I use a lot of hardware effects which require printing anyway, so it's not too much of an inconvenience.
We've talked a bit about your music and industry background. so let me ask about The Cabin. What's been your focus in terms of collecting equipment. Does everything in this room have a purpose?
Yes it does. If I don’t use it, it has to go, because it’s a small space. I’ve got a few synths: The Juno 60, Moog Voyager, MS-20 and an OP-1 from Teenage Engineering. I also have a Suzuki Omnichord, Excelsior Chordette (harmonium) and a piano in my live room. A lot of the synths are connected to the patch-bay, so I can run sounds through their filters and everything is connected Doepfer Darktime to a and an Arturia Beatstep Pro (which can convert Midi to CV!) so I can sequence them together and sync them with Pro Tools. I also have an amazing spring reverb called the Ekdahl Moisturizer, which has an LFO that I sync to the Moog. It’s very cool.
I’m into tape delays, and have a Klemt Echolette NG51 Tape Echo from 1959. It’s a slap delay that’s crazy heavy. I also have a WEM Watkins Copicat MK IV tape delay, which sounds unlike anything else. It used to be Spike Stent’s, I got it from his old assistant.
In terms of a desk, I’ve got an Audient ZEN 16MPMF, which I bought because of the flying faders so I can ride them after the compressors. It also has fader recall.
In terms of outboard, I have a Culture Vulture and a Chandler TG-1, which I use on everything. I have them set up on 2 parallel faders on the board so I can send anything to them. I love tracking vocals through my LA2A. I also have a Standard Audio Level-or, which is based on a the Shure Level-Loc, an old vocal compressor. I use it for tracking drums and mixing vocals. I use the original 70s Valley Dynamite on kicks and snares a lot, and I also have a Behringer Edison, which I got recently. It’s like a spacializer that lets you control mid-side content to push and pull sounds closer or further away from you, whilst controlling stereo width as well. It’s awesome for tucking effects/BVs around a lead vocal. I tend to push the middle back a bit, and have the sides a bit wider.
Other tracking gear include, the API EQs, Distressors, and SSL EQs. I just got some Neve pre-amps too. On the mix-buss, I have an Al Smart C1 and an API 5500 EQ.
I’m obviously very much into the old stuff, but I embrace new things as well! I have the Eventide H9. It’s effectively a guitar pedal, but with line input and stereo in/out, and you can control it with your phone via Bluetooth! It’s pretty amazing. I set it up as a send from my board to get crazy-sounding effects from it, and all my presets are instantly recallable, since the information is stored on your phone. It sounds great on vocals and synths. I just print the audio straight into Pro Tools.
Cool. Wrapping up the studio talk, how many rooms do you have here at The Cabin?
It’s just the control room and the live room. I share the live room with my friends next door, The Nexus. They mostly track vocals, which let’s me keep my amps and stuff in there. It’s a nice creative space to work in. A lot of what I do involves jamming live, which the live room is great for. There’s a clear line-of-sight between me in the studio and the drummer in there.
Anything you have coming up for the rest of 2015 that you can share?
I can’t really talk about some of the stuff I’m working on, but I have a lot of writing to do. I’ve been producing Ariana & the Rose for the last year, with whom I have also been writing. There’s an artist called Starling (on Communion) that I’ve been working with, which has been fun too. For the first time in a few years, I'm able to slow down a bit, so I'm going to take a holiday! I have also started an artist project with a film composer here at Tileyard called Sam Sim, so I hope to be able to devote some more time to that in the coming weeks.