What does it take to work in Los Angeles (LA)?
Writing and producing music that is intended to reach and touch the world?
Zimbabwean born Tinashe Sibanda, popularly known as T-Collar, shared his experience on his journey to success in the American music industry. Beginning with his earlier days, growing up in Zimbabwe and producing music at the tender age of 13; to taking the bold move and relocating to LA on his own after high school to pursue his career and passion.
T-Collar has amazing insights into the music industry that go beyond the recording studio. I had the pleasure of interviewing T-Collar to talk about his work, his life and his most recent project; co-producing Rita Ora’s new song, “Body on Me” featuring Chris Brown and the lessons he has learned.
The Process of Co-Producing “Body On Me”
Starting at the age of 13 in his home country and now 23, T-Collar has indeed made some major improvements and is starting to get the recognition he deserves. He admits that “Body On Me” is the first song he has produced that has been quite successful in the public domain. He provided glimpse into the creative process of producing “Body on Me” and how Rita Ora and Chris Brown ended up collaborating on the single.
He began working on the song Body on Me in January 2015. His intention was to use the chanting at the beginning of the song, as a way to get people’s attention and as T-Collar says, “to put an African stamp on the song.” After finishing the initial production of the song, T-Collar sent the song to his publisher for distribution to several artists. Rita Ora loved the song and wanted to sing it. Originally the song was not written as a duet and with two female verses. It was later re-worked to consider a male verse. Several options were considered to sing the male verse including Nick Jonas and Trey Songz. T-Collar explained that turning the song into a duet was not the initial plan but it just worked out that way.
The male voice chosen for the song was not planned. Rita Ora was recording the song at “The Record Plant” in LA, which is a series of three famous recording studios. Chris Brown just happened to be in the room next to where Rita Ora was recording. While recording in the studio, she bumped into Chris Brown and played the song for him. Chris loved the song, he was keen to work with her. T-Collar and his co-producers went back and wrote an instrumental, made the song bigger by adding a few improvements to the final product to give us the song we now know.
Writing and Producing Songs for Artists
I have always wondered how songwriters pass on their finished songs to other artists. T-Collar walked me through the process and the approach he takes to song writing and co-producing music. T-Collar explains, “we make a demo and the song we do will almost sound exactly like the song should. We record it and normally song writers put their vocals on it. After the process of making the final demo of the song is complete, T-Collar said the songs are often sent out to artists, music producers or managers.
Working In The Music Industry: Expectation vs Reality
Being in LA, working with top producers and various artists, sounds like the life of the party. It is the dream for most musicians to reach this goal; especially for individuals coming from a foreign country like Zimbabwe. However, there is a vast gap between the expectations and reality of working in the music industry.
The entertainment industry, in particular music is often filtered and glamourized on TV. This can be distorting for those who are young and impressionable. For the record, although T-Collar works with some of Hollywood’s a list celebrities and high profile individuals, he states that what he does is still a job. It is a job that requires spending at least 10-15 hours, sometimes more time in the studio.
When he is working with the likes of Rita Ora and Chris Brown, it is strictly work and needs to be conducted in a professional manner. T-Collar says “you have to really love what you do. I don’t go clubbing, I don’t go out, I stay in a studio. I meet artists but we are working, it is about the product” said T-Collar.
To unwind and get away from it all T-Collar likes to go home to Zimbabwe where he immerses himself in local music. He describes this experience as an escape from the bright lights of LA and the commercial songs that flood the international charts. It allows him to think outside the box and also make links to his Zimbabwean and African roots when he is producing music back in LA.
Talent and The Essence of Hard-Work
T-Collar’s views when it comes to talent are simple. His belief is that you cannot depend on talent alone, hard-work and preparation are key. T-Collar say that “I’ve never believed in talent because I started making instrumentals when I was 13 years old. I did it every day for 6-8 hours. If someone says you are talented that’s something you have, no one received greatness you have to work that out.”
T-Collar says the hardest thing for him was the journey to getting to where he is now. It took years of preparation and working on his craft regularly. Body On Me is his first major break. T-Collar states “This is my first song to get out and go on radio. It takes a lot of sacrifice to get to a place where you can get recognized.”
T-Collar explains that your age and experience do not determine the outcome of your work. It is his view that hardwork is what matters, “You’re all on the same level playing field, it doesn’t matter what country you are from or how old you are; “I’m competing with people who are 40 years old. Your songs have to be outstanding you have to push yourself. It’s a lot of re-writing, a lot time” explains T-Collar.
Be Honest With Yourself
T-Collar’s advice for like-minded individuals is to be honest. He explains; “It is important to be honest with yourself, ask yourself what your motives are; if its money you might not make money for a while. If your goal is to be the best rapper or music producer, you have to understand the gravity of what you are asking for. Are you willing to pay the price? You can be like no, I’m not, and that’s fine, maybe this is just a hobby for me. T-Collar emphasizes that when you make something into a career, it moves on from being something you can take casually to something that becomes your life. T-Collar admits, “You have to be willing to get frustrated and lose sleep.”
As T-Collar continues to work hard in the studio producing music, we can expect to hear more of his work being played on mainstream radios. It’s also great to keep in mind that when you hear your favourite song or listen to your favourite artist singing, that hardworking individuals such as T-Collar who aren’t always necessarily thrust into the spotlight play an important role in the song making process. Without them, the music industry would not thrive to its full potential.
The music video for “Body On Me”