Matt Masters‘ life is evidence of the importance of perseverance and the transformative power of dedication. His work at Freerange for over a decade and a half has taken him from waiting for feedback to come through the fax machine and packing records with his gloves on in a freezing office, to helping the imprint become one of house music’s most highly revered labels with over 270 EPs & LPs.
Now he’s staking his own place among Freerange’s sought-after artist roster, with the long-awaited release of his Never Ending Nights LP. Never Ending Nights has been almost as long in the making as Freerange has, its title track one of the first that Matt wrote when he first started producing. With a mentor like Jimpster guiding his development, Matt’s production techniques and experience have led to a thoroughly well-developed album that has a dancefloor feel interspersed with carefully crafted downtempo tracks and a creative, musical touch that can only come from someone whose life has been dedicated to listening to it.
The first taste of the album was released as a 4 track EP that showcased the versatility and detail of Matt Masters’ productions, with each selection encompassing a different perspective of his sound. With the release of this introduction into what has been brewing behind the scenes at Freerange, Matt Masters provided 5 Mag with a peek into the past and future of his life with music.
How did you first get involved with Freerange? What was your initial role?
I was at London Guildhall University when I first started getting into DJing around 1999. I spent most of my student loan on rent and records. I was lucky enough to have a part-time job at the time too which paid for the social side of things. I used to go to lots of London parties during University at Velvet Rooms, Turnmills, The Cross, Bagleys, The End, Plastic People, Ministry Of Sound, Heaven, etc. There was so much going on and it was a very different party scene back then.
After I finished university, my part-time job at Pizza Express turned into a full-time job for around a year. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my degree so I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I was going through records one day and started taking in interest in several labels. It was around the time that Switch’s “Get Ya Dub On” came out that I realized I had few records from Freerange already from the likes of Shur-I-Kan and Audiomontage. I dropped Freerange a line and was invited in for an interview with Tom Roberts and Jamie (Jimpster) Odell. They are both amazing people and asked if I wanted to start doing a few days here and there to help with the promotion side of the label which was at the time packing promo records into envelopes and collating the feedback, via a fax machine! Email and internet was not as widely used back then as it is today so there was a lot of telephone calls to magazines trying to get hold of the right people and build relationships within the industry. It was a great first step into the music world. I worked there for a while but then moved to Ibiza to do a season DJing. After that summer when I returned to the UK, I was invited to work at the label on a permanent basis.
What were some of the hardest and/or most valuable lessons you had to learn at the beginning?
When I first moved to London for university the East was very different back then. In my second year of university I lived in an amazing Victorian terraced house in Clapton Pond with 5 friends for only #50 each per week. The downside was that it was on “murder mile.” There were new signs all the time for witness appeals for the murders. When my mum came to visit she wanted me to move out straight away. I stuck to my guns which gave me the opportunity to go to all of the clubs and just pay for the night bus home back to East London. The old Freerange office was in Hackney Wick. This was before the Olympic stadium was built so around the office there was only one greasy spoon cafe and one pub and then lots of industrial buildings and warehouses with some very colourful characters. There was no Crate Brewery, Micks Garage, The Yard and other bars, clubs and venues in that area. When I first started at the office it was winter and the building had no central heating. It took a long time for the electric heaters to kick in so I remember the first hour having to pack the records in my gloves.
When going into the office the first few times I used to check the fax machine straight away to look for feedback. I was very disheartened as I thought initially the feedback would come flooding in but I didn’t get any faxes. It was quite early days for the label back then as we were only on around our 35th EP release compared to a total of around 270 EPs and LPs today. Then one day I came in and I had a fax from Laurent Garnier. This was a few years after “Man With The Red Face” had been released and I loved that song at the time. I was over the moon to say the least! From then the faxes started coming in regularly and I started to get some ammunition to go back to press with for magazine features and reviews.
I guess the lesson I learnt from a very early stage is that you have to stick with it in this industry and get your head down and work hard.
Listen: Matt Masters – a 5 Mag Mix #87
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Detroit Swindle ft. Tom Misch – Yes No Maybe [Heist]
Matt Masters – Riding High [Freerange Records]
Franc Spangler – Dreamworld [Delusions Of Grandeur]
Eben Rees – Dyfal Donc (Tech Support Remix) [Ravanelli Disco Club]
Matt Masters – Once Again [Freerange Records]
Matt Masters – Gonna Make [Freerange Records]
Soul Reductions – Got 2 Be Loved [Take away]
Ralf GUM and Monique Bingham – Claudette (Jimpster Time After Time Remix) [Gogo Music]
Kerri Chandler, Jerome Sydenham ft. Troy Denari – You’re In My System (Dennis Quin Original mix) [Ibadan]
Wbeeza – Bodyman (Wbeeza Spektral Cut) [Peckham Fly Music]
Horatio – Nighttime [Stealth]
Matt Masters – The Ahs Have It All [Freerange Records]
What do you enjoy most about working at Freerange and in the electronic music industry in general?
I love meeting people and hearing about what they are doing and what they are listening to and new ideas they have. There have been lots of new technologies and ideas that have been built over the years and shaped how we access, produce and listen to music today. I remember attending Midem years ago. Tom, Jamie and I had back-to-back meetings on the Saturday with distributors, other labels and other friends they had previously met from around the world. It was a real eye opener for me about how the music industry works. We got very drunk that night and Sunday was a bit of a write off. The only Sunday meeting that we needed to do was with Beatport around the time they first started up. Jamie and I couldn’t make it as were not feeling great so Tom went alone. When he came back and told us about the concept it was really interesting and someone we definitely wanted to work with. Now there is Soundcloud, Fatdrop, Traxsource, Juno, Spotify etc. It’s all changed dramatically since back when we were pressing vinyl for every release.
How has working for Jimpster and Freerange influenced your own perspective on the music both creatively and on the business side?
When I was growing up I listened to a lot of Brit Pop, indie, garage, speed garage and only touched the surface of house. It was only when I started DJing at university and running club nights that I got more involved in house music. When I first started in our Hackney Wick office I was usually working there alone due to other commitments that Tom and Jamie had. At the time, Jamie’s studio was in the office. When Jamie was in the office I was lucky enough to be able to sit behind him whilst he was working. At the time he was in The Bays and sometimes he would spend all day going through his vast record collection in the office looking for samples he could use for his next gig. A lot of the records he picked out I had never heard of but liked them instantly even though a lot of them were not house music records. It was my first real experience into sampling and how he would chop up the samples and pitch them ready for assignment to his keyboards for the gig. He also used to work on his productions too so getting first-hand experience on his work process and ethic was a real eye opener.
I had worked on some tracks at college but had taken a break during university however I knew from that point I wanted to get back involved in music production.
What do you think makes for a successful label? Are there certain aspects you think people may underestimate the importance of?
This is a tough one as the music industry is a very hard place to survive in especially for independent labels. We have survived three distributors going into liquidation and lost a lot of money and records in warehouses along the way. I remember when one of our distributors went down and we hired a van with some of the guys from Ben Watt’s Buzzin’ Fly label to go to the warehouse to try and get some of our stock back. After leaving the van hire shop we got about three streets down and then unfortunately took a corner short so ended up damaging the van down one side and losing our #500 deposit. We were then on the motorway on route to the warehouse and received a call from Leigh Morgan from Urbantorque who was in the same position. He had got to the warehouse before us and told us there was no way to get any of our stock back so we had to turn around and go home.
I love the way that the labels pulled together on that day to try and help each other but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. You have to persevere in this industry to survive.
Having witnessed the evolution of the music industry, what do you think about the state of the scene today? Is there anything you would want to change about it?
Initially when websites like Spotify started up I was skeptical about how these new subscription services would work for artists and labels. Now subscription services are the norm inside and outside of the music industry. I think you have to embrace these changes as whether you like it or not, they are happening and you have to move with the times. What started out for me as something I was unsure about has turned into me now subscribing to sites like Spotify, Soundcloud and various music production tool companies like the amazing Slate Digital plug-ins. The only thing I would change is to make everything available on vinyl but I know it’s just not feasible for labels to do that anymore unfortunately.
What is most important to you in the music you listen to and create?
I listen to varied styles of music from new to old. My mum is a big fan of the greats like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, etc. I like the way that these amazing songs have the imperfections in audio quality because of the technology that was available at the time. It doesn’t matter how perfect the recording is, if it’s a good song it’s a good song. I think that when I produce my music I sometimes focus on things being too clean. When producing the album I spent a lot of time in the Secret Sundaze studio a few years back working with a lot of hardware and learning how to deal with the imperfections of old analog machines. This was a great introduction of how to use the machines and how to deal with the imperfections that come through on the audio. I also worked with Jimpster on the final touches for the album and this again has furthered how I create and finish off my tracks. Having the opportunity to work with him in his home studio was such an amazing experience. I feel very blessed to have him as a mentor.
What were some of your personal motivations or driving forces behind this album?
I had a few things on the bucket list to do before I reached 40. Money has been a bit tight over the years and I got myself into a bit of debt when I was younger. I worked hard and paid every penny back with a lot of interest. As soon as I paid it back I then saved for a ring for my beautiful wife. We got married last year with our amazing family and friends around us (Tom from Freerange was an usher) and had the most perfect honeymoon in South America. We then bought a house when we returned, so then next thing on the bucket list was to finish the album.
The title track to the album Never Ending Nights was one of the first tracks I had written when I started producing so this album has been building momentum over the last 10 years but I never seemed to have the time to finish it. I knew I had the goal of doing it by the time I was 40 so I tried to put more time into it over the last two years to complete it. I am glad I did it with one year to go!
Do you have any favorite stories from the production process, or a moment that sticks out to you?
I think sometimes when you work on your own you can get a bit lost. It’s good playing music to others to get their opinions and what they think works well and what doesn’t. A common comment from Jamie when I send him my tracks is that “less is more.” Sometimes stripping things out of a track does make things better. I sometimes over complicate tracks and add things that are not necessary. It’s funny sometimes how stripping out a few of the stems you have worked on for a track actually opens the track up to breathe more. Learning production techniques from people like this are invaluable. I have a Word document of comments over the years from various people on my tracks and when I am stuck I go to this document for inspiration on where to go next. My favorite moment though was finishing the last track in Jamie’s studio and cracking open the champagne with him and his lovely wife Emma and then doing the same when I got home with my wife!
What can you tell us about this mix you have prepared for 5 Mag?
The mix includes a few tracks from the album in addition to some old and currently unreleased track to. There is the Detroit Swindle track that inspired me on the album in addition to some bits from Jaime as well. It’s a mixture of deep, vocal, tribal and weird house music. I hope you guys like it.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you and your music?
Each track comes from one inspiration or another. What inspired me to write each track from the album or previous tracks that I have written as myself, Sam Matters or Arithmetics and how they sound to me will be different to how other people hear them, interpret them and hopefully inspire them. I just hope that people appreciate the time over the last 10 years this has taken me to get to this point to be able to produce this album. I hope that anyone who has dreams out there to produce EPs and LPs and get them released on reputable labels like Freerange follow their dreams and do it. Learn your trade, stay in instead of going to the pub, put the hours in, watch production videos, watch and learn from people who inspire you. It worked for me and I thank Jamie and Tom for being great mentors and great friends and giving me the opportunity to get to where I am today.
It’s been a hell of a ride and can’t wait to see what the future brings.
Matt Masters’ Never Ending Nights is out now from Freerange.