Tom Barnes, Ben Kohn & Peter Kelleher, also known as TMS, are a massively successful production trio from West London. They have worked alongside the undeniable talents of Emeli Sandé, Jess Glynne, Ed Sheeran, Tinchy Stryder, Olly Murs and many many more so when we heard they are big fans of Synthogy´s Ivory pianos we had to get in touch to find out more.
Here we talk about their career, studio, and software they´re loving.
Let´s start at the beginning, how did the three of you get together as a production team?
We’ve known each other since school from the age of 9, and starting working together musically at around 13 when we all realised we wanted to make our living out of being musicians and music producers. There used to be six of us at the beginning, but we lost a few along the way!
What were your existing music-related experiences at that time?
Well seeing as we were only about 13 years, not a lot, we’d just gotten a pair of Technics 1200s, and between us had a keyboard, a drum kit and an ancient Apple computer running one of the earliest versions of Cubase. I’m not even sure if it had audio at the time!!
Looking back, which track/project remains the most memorable to date and why?
The most memorable was probably our first number 1, which was with Dappy “No Regrets” back in 2011. That’s a massive moment for anyone!
You´ve worked with a huge array of artists, who have you been in the studio with lately?
One of the great things about what we do is that we get to work with so many different artists across a variety of genres so one day we might be producing a big dance track with, for example, Sigma, and the next day we’ll have Ella Henderson in and we’ll be writing a ballad. Apart from the two mentioned, we’ve recently been working with Emeli Sandé, Years & Years, Ellie Goulding, Madcon, Jess Glynne and The Vamps to name a few!
We spent a couple of months of the year in LA, and this summer we were out there writing with One Direction, Nick Jonas and Hey Violet who are a new rock/pop band who we’re really excited about.
TMS has various meanings, including The Music Shed, which pays homage to the fact that your first studio was a converted garden shed – can you tell us more about that studio?
We built our first studio in a shed in the car park out the back of Ben’s Dad’s Doctor’s surgery! The need for planning permission ruled out a proper brick building, so we came up with the idea of using a highly insulated wooden structure. We started building it the summer after our GCSEs. We built, wired and stocked the whole thing ourselves, which was pretty impressive looking back for a bunch of 16-year-olds with no DIY/electrics experience!
Can anything in that studio still be found in your current set-up?
The only things I can think of are our original pair of Alesis speakers (never sell your speakers!!!) a Fender Rhodes MkII and all the books we read to figure out what the hell we were doing!!!
Tell us more about your current studio – what key pieces of hardware are fundamental to your set-up?
Hardware-wise we have a very minimal setup, to be honest, the main thing that makes our studio stand out is probably the size of it. As there are three of us we split into two rooms, one more traditional mix type setup based around a Macbook Pro and bunch of monitors (Barefoots mm27s, AE22s and Auratones).
The other room is a large writing room that looks more like a front lounge. When we’re writing we like to make everyone in the room feel like part of the process so we have set the whole room up as a circle of sofas, comfy chairs and random instruments all miced up and ready to go. Lately due to all the travel we are doing out to the US we have reduced our setups down to 2 laptops, some UAD cards and some large hardrives. We can literally pack down the brains of our setup in around 10min into a big flightcase and move to another studio. We do have a neve preamp and an 1176 we use for recording vocals and a variety of mics. Our biggest investment without a doubt is the room itself, the acoustics and the speakers.
Which DAW/Host software do you primarily use and why?
We use Logic Pro X, mainly because we’ve been using it for almost two decades now and we’re far too lazy to learn anything else (better the devil you know)!
The first thing we remember about it was how unbelievably dynamic and real it felt to play. Also, we love the flexibility of the software, being able to tweak the piano to perfection, and importantly for us, the ability to AB different variations at the click of a button.
What is it about the Ivory II American Concert D sound that you particularly like?
Quite simply it is, by a country mile, the most realistic piano software we’ve ever heard. When a great piano player plays it, we believe it is indistinguishable from the real thing.
How does it compare to other virtual pianos you´ve used?
As we said, it’s in a different league!!
On which tracks/projects have you recently used Ivory?
We’re currently working on some tracks for the new Emeli Sande album which we’re using Ivory on, and its also on our most recent number 1 with Jess Glynne, a track called “Don’t be so hard on yourself”.
Have you been using it to mock-up piano parts or as a replacement for live piano in tracks (or both)?
A bit of both, we’re jacks of all instruments and masters of none, so we’re definitely pretty keyboard heavy in our studio, we do have a nice piano but most of the time we prefer to use Ivory.
Which user features and/or built-in FX do you tend to utilise when using the American Concert D?
In all honesty, we’re big plug in tweakers, so we use all of them, eq, ambience, I even quite like adding in the creaky stool fx!!! Oh and also changing the audience player perspective is really important.
Have you tried any of Synthogy´s other Ivory II virtual pianos?
Yep we’ve tried them all, lately the kind of tracks we’ve been doing have needed a lot of deep south style upright sounds so we’ve been heavily using the Barroom Upright.
Finally, what´s on the schedule for the next few months production-wise?
Well we’re currently looking at a list of about 20 songs that all need finishing, we’ve got Fleur Easts new stuff, Little Mix, more Sigma, a few Nick Jonas bits, a great new US artist called Bebe Rhexa, James Newman, more Emeli Sande… The list goes on and on!!