T-Minus is a young producer from the GTA who has all kinds of major label, indie label, and no-label artists clamouring to record over his beats. For this issue of Black Ink, he steps away from his home studio setup long enough to answer a few questions about how he got started, what he’s learned along the way, whether the recession is affecting him, and what his fans can expect to hear next.
If you think about your favourite producer, a typical fan of hip hop or R&B will probably answer with at least one of the following well-known names: Timbaland, Pharrell of The Neptunes/N.E.R.D., Swizz Beats, Dr. Dre, Kanye West. The common perception is that all the hottest urban producers come from the States (especially New York, Los Angeles, or Atlanta), but the industry is slowly starting to recognize the incredible talent that resides on the cold side of the Canada-US border. Case in point: T-Minus (Tyler Williams), an up-and-coming producer from Ajax, Ontario who is represented by Lavish Life Management. At the age of 21, this prodigious talent has already worked with heavy hitters in the world of hip hop and R&B including Ludacris, Drake, Plies, Young Jeezy, Mya, and Chris Brown.
Williams first started experimenting with music as a student at Pickering High School. “I’ve always loved music,” he says. “I used to play the drums, so I’ve always been interested in music in that way.” After sitting at the drum kit for a few years, he decided to try making his own rhythms, so he downloaded a digital audio workstation program called Fruity Loops when he was 15 years old and was soon creating entire songs. His talent spans genres – while most of his placements have been for hard-hitting hip hop artists, he also creates smooth R&B beats for the likes of Letoya Luckett (one of the founding members of Destiny’s Child and now a solo artist), catchy up-tempo tracks for a variety of styles, and pop rock for Stereos, the winners of the first season of MuchMusic’s reality TV competition DisBAND.
Williams was already an acquaintance of Brendan Malette, who is now his manager, by the time Malette founded Lavish Life Management in 2007. Lavish Life is a management company for producers and songwriters which shops material to major label artists in order to get their beats, or songs, out onto airwaves and albums. “Shopping” music is like pitching or proposing an idea to someone in the industry. The process requires having reliable connections, a lot of patience, and high-quality material, since artists and their managers and record label A&R (artists and repertoire) representatives are bombarded with submissions on a daily basis. It’s important to prove to a client that your music, your lyrics, or your song are a perfect match for a particular artist’s image, and that one of the dozen or so spots for songs on an album should go to you. Williams sees signing with Malette’s company as the smartest business move he’s made thus far, since “They were able to take my music to places that would be hard to reach if I tried on my own.” Malette also gave Williams the nickname T-Minus. He was previously known as T. Williams, but that name seemed too common, and since the beats he makes are “explosive,” the short form for a countdown to a rocket or missile launch seemed appropriate.
Currently enrolled at Centennial College where he is earning a degree in accounting, Williams learned many things in high school which have been valuable to him in the business world, including clear communication skills and knowledge of how to conduct oneself in different environments. He admits that there was a period when he couldn’t see how getting a formal education could be helpful to him in his chosen career, but “I realized that having a backup plan is important.” Why did he choose to study accounting instead of something related to music or entertainment? “Because I’m good with numbers, and I come from a family of accountants. It’s naturally easy for me.”
Williams laughs when asked if he has ever had a business plan. “No. No, I haven’t. I should. My business plan is just ‘shop to labels until they like my music and I can get familiar with others in the industry, and develop my relationships.’ ”
His approach has certainly been working well so far. Barely out of his teens, Williams’ track record would be impressive even for a producer in his thirties. He co-produced the 2007 smash single “Replacement Girl,” by Toronto’s own Drake (featuring Trey Songz) with Boi 1da, and his recent releases include “Co-Defendant” from Plies’ latest album Da Realist; “Look at my Swagg” by Papa Duck (featuring Rick Ross and Ace Hood); “Black Out” by Mya; and “Break You Up” by Tyra B. Being so young has been both an asset and a liability to Williams in the industry. There are times when “artists and labels feel that they can jerk young individuals around, thinking [we] have no knowledge of how the business works,” he explains, “but others see potential in someone starting off young. When I was in the studio with Luda, he introduced me to [producers] 9th Wonder and DJ Premier and he’d brag to them about my age – at the time I was 20.”
Of course, networking and developing relationships is as crucial in music as it is in any other business, but the exchange of payment for services rendered is equally important, and Williams has definitely noticed the recession’s effect on his business. “Right now,” he summarizes, “some artists aren’t receiving their budgets because some labels are holding onto them, which slows down the process of me getting paid. On top of that, artists’ release dates are being pushed back.” So while there hasn’t been a significant reduction in cash flow, there is now a longer wait time between when he delivers his beats and when he receives payment for them.
This may be the case until after the economy is back in full swing – in the meantime, however, rather than worrying about such technicalities, Williams is focusing his energy on making music and finishing school. He has no regrets so far, and while there may eventually come a time when he branches out from producing music into something else since “we all need to grow and evolve,” he is happy to be pursuing his passion and making a name for himself, for Lavish Life, and for Toronto talent. His current and upcoming projects include collaborations with Chris Brown, Birdman from the Cash Money Millionaires, Yung Joc, and Chamillionaire. He also remains dedicated to working with lesser-known artists, including Toronto rappers and singers; current collaborators include Jhevon Paris, D’Brown (aka Captain-Hooks), Untitled, and A-Game . Lavish Life may eventually look into expanding its business to the Southern United States since many of their clientele reside in Florida and Georgia, but for now they remain based in Toronto.
When asked what advice he would offer to anyone who is trying to become an entrepreneur like himself, Williams keeps it short and snappy. “Network. Work hard. The best advice I could give is if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” Apparently he’s not only talented beyond his years, but wise as well; his tips for success apply to anyone chasing their dreams, regardless of their age or interest.
D C. Dolabaille