After kicking things off in this series last week with a fairly new entity on the block, I switched gears and went with one of the OG’s in this independent dance music realm. T&A Records have built things from the ground up through mutual admiration between partners Tittsworth and Ayres. Through their DJ and event collaborations, things naturally transformed into becoming a formal label just under a decade ago. It’s interesting because nothing was forced. It was all organic because things were fun and they were into a lot of the same records. Sounds like a simple step one to a working relationship, but to last as long as they have and to exist in a constantly evolving industry, there’s definitely way more to the story. Recently I got to catch up with Tittsworth and Ayres and they were kind enough to break things down for me.
You guys as a collective have been steadily making noise and releasing music for a long time now. How and when did everything formally come together for T&A to become an actual thing? Who’s all involved in the business and who’s on the roster (if there is one)?
Ayres: Tittsworth came from a Drum & Bass background and I was more of a Hip-Hop DJ, but we both played kind of everything. I guess “open format” before there was a name for it. We started out working together just by playing parties together in New York and DC, and our first collaborations were in 2006. We did a battle/breaks record called T&A Breaks (which was all Miami bass & Baltimore club loops and locked grooves) on A-Trak‘s AMMO label, and a mix CD of Baltimore club for Turntable Lab/Money Studies called Ayres & Titties. Those two releases did really well, and we followed them up with an EP of bootleg Baltimore Club remixes on vinyl called The Old Bay EP. That was the first release on T&A Records.
That one did well so we just kept going after that, releasing vinyl-only remixes by me and Tittsworth, Bamabounce, Dave Nada, A-Trak, Scottie B, Technics, Top Billin, etc. These were mostly bootleg Baltimore club versions of popular hip-hop, funk, and house records. Eventually we would branch out to other styles of music, start producing original songs, and launch T&A as a digital label on iTunes and Beatport. There isn’t really a roster per se, it’s more like a bunch of guys who like to drink together and sometimes release music. And dudes like Dave Nada, Munchi, and Bro Safari, whose first releases were on T&A, have gone on to release on bigger labels and even start record labels themselves, with our blessings, but they still come back and put out stuff on T&A too.
As much as you guys are willing to divulge, what are everyone’s responsibilities at T&A and do you guys project any potential internal expansion with label staff, roster, etc. in the near future? If not, why?
Ayres: It’s always just been me and Tittsworth, with Dave Nada as kind of like the Ricky Powell of the crew, or maybe Money Mark is a better analogy? [laughs] I dunno, but Dave has put us onto artists and made connections for us and he’s the guy who we still bounce all of our ideas off of. We’ve never had staff, but we have each had assistants who help out with our personal DJ stuff and with label stuff. We don’t have an office because Tittsworth splits his time between LA and DC, and I’m in NY, so it doesn’t make sense. We’re happy with how things are going and we’re very self-contained, so we’re not really looking to expand. The informal “roster” will continue to evolve as we meet new people and our tastes continue to change.
The majority of your releases are now coming out for free via your website in addition to going to retail. What’s your reasoning for giving away so much music for free in addition to selling the releases on the back end through more traditional digital retail outlets? Is this allowing you to provide any substantial revenue for the artists releasing music on T&A?
Tittsworth: Surprisingly what we’ve noticed is that giving a song away seems to generate hype for it, as opposed to hurting sales. Always good to be on your toes though and play around with different avenues at different times to see what makes the most sense and in what order.
Ayres: Yeah, sales have definitely gone up as we’ve moved over to the current model (both selling and giving away all of our releases). It seems weird, but we thought a lot about it. People who want to get music for free will get it for free whether or not it comes directly from us, so it’s dumb to put up a wall between fans and the music. Musicians like us make most of our money gigging, but T&A is a good secondary source of income and we’ve had some big sellers, like Bro Safari, Munchi, and Misun.
In your guys’ extended timeline of cranking out an insane amount of quality music, some being very influential on the development of a number of different genres, what do you guys ultimately dedicate your success to? If you have some landmark/favorite releases…what are they?
Tittsworth: I think staying excited about music is important. Trying to stay forward thinking plays a big part of that for me. It’s not like Ayres and I are banking hard off the label by any means, so I think the fact that we’d rather choose records we like, rather than ones that succumb to attempts at mainstream success is reflected in what we do. It’s hard to choose and homey’s aside, I still have a soft spot for the first Dave Nada EP (Kick Out The Jams, the pre-moombahton Nada). I still play a lot of his solo club stuff from this era like the title track and a couple others that weren’t T&A, like his Baobinga remix. Also I gotta shout out T&A Breaks which was essentially the precursor to T&A Records. Also I miss Bamabounce but that could be my internally conflicted redneck.
Ayres: Besides the simple fact that we put out music that resonates with club kids, I think at least part of T&A’s success can be attributed to dope artwork. We always make sure to get good graphic artists to do our covers. And of course we are both working DJs in big cities and we travel, so we’re able to get the music in the hands of bigger, more influential DJs who blow it up to bigger audiences. What are my favorites? Even though it bricked, I really loved Rampage and Nader “Windy City Nights,” and I’m also partial to Starks and Nacey, Clicks & Whistles, and Wax Romeo.
How do you guys feel about the idea of a label “brand” still being an important aspect in today’s free for all mindset in the music industry? Has this changed or evolved at all since T&A started? How so?
Tittsworth: There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but it seems like label branding is less and less important as compared to artist branding. I think Fool’s Gold has done an excellent job of keeping label branding relevant, same with dirtybird, but by and large the industry is at a point (at least right now) that makes it more difficult for a T&A or Trouble & Bass.
Ayres: Case in point, we’ve had the same logo, designed by Nick Catchdubs (shout out! thank you Nick!), since the very first release. I don’t think either Jesse or I got into this in order to put all our time and energy into marketing; it feels more honest to put out music we love and to tailor the look of each release to the individual artist.
Tell us a bit about what’s in store for the coming months and throughout 2014. What are some long term goals you guys see/have in the foreseeable future?
Tittsworth: I’m excited for more forward-thinking club. And techno. I’m happy to see T&A outgrow its earlier reputation as gray-market/bootleg-only and personally, I’m excited to see that evolve further. I’m also excited to see Ayres producing more and more!
Ayres: Thanks buddy! As a matter of fact the most recent thing on T&A is Tatiana Owens’ “Beautiful People,” which I produced and has a remix contest currently underway via Legitmix and Okay Future. And we have some top secret shit coming in 2014! I don’t like to say too much about what we’re working on until the music is mastered and the art is wrapped up, but suffice it to say we’ll keep putting out club music at all tempos.