I am pleased to introduce a new feature on Where I Write where instead of blithering on about my own stuff, I’ll be inviting you in to another person’s story. Stories of grief and loss, stories of creativity, stories of being vulnerable, stories that will inspire and showcase a life lived differently to your own (not because there’s something wrong with your life… I may need a shovel to dig this hole).
I am especially pleased to write the first my story feature about Tom Marshall, a.k.a Marsh, an up-and-coming electronic music producer based here in the UK. Though I can play a bit of piano, I have never been especially musical and have great admiration for people with that talent. So much creativity goes into music, not just the music itself but how an artist presents themselves. Even Marsh’s artwork and images are superb and engaging.
“Don’t think too much” is one of Tom’s mantras in the early stages of composing a new track. It struck me how this mantra is probably applicable to most writers with their first draft, and most artists with their blank canvas.
Without further ado, here is the interview:
So, give us some background, Tom.
Hi all and thanks Jeni for inviting me to feature on your blog. I’m Tom Marshall or Marsh and I am focussing mainly on melodic, house and progressive music. I have been a core artist on the record label Silk Music for the past five years. Silk release my music on iTunes, Beatport, Spotify etc. and my music has been supported by the likes of Above & Beyond, Paul Oakenfold, Gareth Emery, Andy Moor, Jaytech, amongst others.
I have recently had the honour of remixing the prestigious Above & Beyond and their song Counting Down The Days, which was released on their Anjunabeats record label. Currently doing the rounds are two EPs of my own: Face To Face EP and Where Is The One EP (Silk Music). I also have a remix of rising star Hosini and his stunning single And U, which has been released on upcoming Berlin-based house and progressive label Nu Ideals. I’m proud of this remix and it has been gaining a lot of traction. In addition to these tracks I have a remix of Tirlucid’s Mirrors on Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Black record label and a remix of good friend and Silk colleague, Dan Sieg and his single To The Sun, which will hit the stores shortly. If that wasn’t enough, I have my latest collaboration with Jesse Bullitt coming soon on Silk called Your Eyes, an EP on Nu Ideals, singles and… my first artist album cued for summer 2017!
How did you get into music?
I have loved music from an early age. Long car rides would be a mixture of Dad playing classical music and Mum playing 80s and 90s dance music. I began playing the piano at the age of six. I disliked practising but slogged through the grades (up to seven). Looking back, the piano is foundational in my ability to compose music and think/hear musically.
I spent much of my teenage years listening to a wide variety of music until I stumbled across a Trance mix CD called Classic Euphoria. I quickly fell in love with Trance music. I suppose it captured some of the emotion I was used to in classical music and featured the beats and synth grooves I was used to in 80s and 90s dance. I soon came across Above & Beyond and Armin Van Buuren and became a big fan of their record labels and radio shows. My musical taste continues to develop and deepen. I am still drawn to melodic, electronic music but it is house and progressive house that is grabbing my attention at the moment.
My love for music composition began with the software Dance eJay. This taught me about arranging blocks of pre-made music, which is essentially what I’m doing now, albeit I am composing the individual blocks! I began to dabble with professional music production software in school and college. I would sit in lesson with a musical idea stuck in my head, eager to use my 15-minute break to record the idea into the (useless) school computers.
Come September 2009 I was at a crossroads working out what I was going to study at university and therefore what I’d do with my life. It would either be sport-related (I grew up playing tennis every day), or music-related (based on my passion for composing music in school). I decided to take up music and studied Music Technology at university. I took the financial plunge to buy a MacBook Pro and professional music production software, Logic Pro. Seven years have passed and I’ve been honing my skills. I am a totally self-taught music producer.
What are your inspirations?
Music provides the largest source of my inspiration. I’m often ‘liking’ tracks on Soundcloud that I wouldn’t necessarily buy but something in the tune inspires me. This could be the sound of the drums, the synths used, the chord progression, the atmosphere, or the emotion of the tune. I’m occasionally inspired by film soundtracks, particularly Thomas Newman’s work (American Beauty, Shawshank Redemption, James Bond: Spectre etc.).
I’m inspired by the world; beautiful places, going for walks and drives. I have a lovely view out of my studio window that overlooks the South Downs countryside. This view, together with the birdsong I can hear, and a beer or two, make the perfect setting for me to create something special.
Finally, nights out inspire me. I was at an Anjunadeep party in Brixton last weekend and came away inspired by the overall vibe of the night and a couple of tunes Theo Kottis played in his set really stood out to me.
What is your creative process?
The creative process begins with a desire to make music. I then fire up Logic Pro, keyboard at the ready and search for sounds that inspire me and start jamming out a chord progression. When the chord progression is in place I like to add lots of different melodic elements to give me a big sound palette to play with. I resist the temptation to add beats for as long as possible and believe if you can create groove and movement in the melodics alone, you’re half way there to something special.
Eventually I will cave in and start creating my drums. I love making drums! I will then start to create my bassline. By now, I will have the rough outline of the main theme of the tune. I will keep this looping while adding more and more until I feel I have enough to make a complete track. I will then move this big chunk of music to one side in my project window and begin arranging the music.
A key thing here is not getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty production bits (these come later in the mixing stage) but to just nail out as much of the tune in one sitting, to play off the vibes I’m feeling at the time of making the tune. This means that sometimes, whilst I love getting a good night’s sleep, I must stay up until 2am to get the initial arrangement done. My mentality is often ‘just move this here, don’t think too hard, roll with it and make fine tweaks later’. I also find it useful to export what I have been making so I can listen at work. A lot of the composition work can be continued while I’m sat in the office!
How do you stay creative when you hit a wall or don’t feel very inspired?
I make music when I have a craving to make music. The key here for me is to never force the creative process. If I don’t feel like making new music, I don’t try to as I just come away frustrated. However, the voice inside my head is often saying: “what a wasted day it would be if you did [insert anything but music]”. In this situation I have found it best to just do what I want to do at the time. My desire for making music just comes back stronger the next time. If I want to play sport, I play sport. If I want to see the guys, I see the guys. On the other hand, sometimes I’m sat down and I’m meant to be “mixing a tune” but I feel like making something new. So I choose to make something new and this is when the good ideas are born.
How do you handle ‘imposter syndrome’ and keep your confidence?
There is a fear that once I get a ‘break’ I won’t be able to keep delivering the goods. I suffered from this after Above & Beyond picked my track Sleeping Now as their Record Of The Week for Trance Around The World 445. This was a big break for me but sadly I couldn’t seem to get inspired to write something quite as special for a long time – a couple of years in fact.
I suppose there was a fear in the back of my mind telling me I would never make something as good again and that I was going to let the people down that loved Sleeping Now. This fear held me back from relaxing and enjoying the music I was making. I think a lot of this fear came from the fact that I was not yet fully clued in about the sound I produced and it took me as long as two months to make a track.
I have come a long way since and gained a lot of valuable experience. Signing my remix of Above & Beyond to their Anjunabeats label was my biggest break yet and this has not caused me to start doubting my abilities. I am much more settled in the music I am making, the Marsh sound, and my ability to quickly make new tracks. I make music that I love making, not music that I want to sign on some big label. If it gets played, great. If not, too bad. I had a lot of fun making it and that is what matters most.
Listen to Marsh music and hear about his EP releases by checking out his Soundcloud page and following him on Facebook and Instagram.
Marsh on Soundcloud
Marsh Facebook page
Marsh on Instagram
If you have a story to tell send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.