Toolroom Academy behind the scenes: Meet Pete Griffiths

Pete Griffiths has been an integral part of Toolroom for over twelve years and in that time has played a pivotal role in building the label into an international brand. Working his way up to eventually head up the A&R team, Pete has discovered and signed many of Toolroom’s most famed artists and releases, and more recently has become increasingly involved in developing the Toolroom Academy.

Pete works closely with students on the Production Certificate and Production Masterclass programmes – and can also be found at many of the Academy Live events across the world.

How did you find your passion for electronic music initially?

I remember spending my early years listening to my parent’s old 45s and becoming utterly obsessed with groove-driven music! But the journey really began when my older brother introduced me the rave scene in the early 90s, I remember borrowing his tape packs and having a Walkman literally glued to my ears every day. One thing lead to another, I saved up to get some old belt driven decks and I landed my debut gig at a local rave at the tender age of 15.

I majorly got the bug for music after that, spending every spare minute in record shops around the south east, building my vinyl collection, after several years of DJ’ing I enrolled on a production course at a well-known electronic music school back in 2002. This taught me the basics of how to build my own productions from scratch, I would always work on my own edits of big tracks for my DJ sets, and I also produced a host of club inspired bootlegs that gradually built me a reputation. I suppose I became hot property for local promoters, and over time I became a full time weekend DJ at bars and clubs around the southeast of England, with a string of residencies including the infamous Source Bar and The Loft in Maidstone, Kent.

When did you start working for Toolroom?

I was already friends with Mark and Stuart Knight, in the early days of the label back in 2006 I used to hang around at Toolroom HQ pestering them for promos and watching Mark in the studio, and they eventually offered me a job when the label started to really take off. Initially I was recruited as a label assistant and in-house graphic designer as this was something I had studied at college previously, so working on everything from designing record sleeves to looking after the website, but as time went on I got more and more involved in the musical decision-making. Initially I was Mark’s right hand man when it came to A&R, but as the label grew and I had more successful signings, I eventually ended up heading up the A&R team and overseeing our singles releases entirely.

What have you learned from Mark Knight as an A&R?

I’ve learned a great deal from Mark over the years, it’s definitely made me a better A&R. We work really well together as we have similar tastes and also a similar ear when it comes to hearing hooks and those special parts to records that make them stand out, in terms of production and the stamp of quality Mark always strives for.

In the past we’ve worked on records together where we’ve got to about version 30 with all the tweaks and adjustments we’ve made to the Mix down and added touches of production. He’s also taught me a lot with production in general which really helps when working closely with artists on an A&R level, to be able to understand exactly how they’ve actually created certain sounds or using certain DAW’s, synths etc, and also when discussing the all important Mix down! It really helps as an A&R to have a strong understanding of production

As an A&R, can you talk about 3 tracks you’re most proud of working on?

Its really hard to pinpoint only 3 individual tracks that I’m more proud of above others, as they all have a different story behind them or journey we went through to getting them released, but I guess one of the most memorable records has been Mark Knight & Funkagenda’s ‘Man With The Red Face’. I’ll never forget when Mark & Funkagenda first played it in Miami at the winter music conference, they had made it only a few days before leaving, and it literally went crazy over there, I’ve still got an old video on my phone from one of the early Beatport pool parties and its going absolutely nuts when Mark drops it! It was at a time when there would be that one record that everyone would want during conference week, and a select few DJ’s would be playing all over at the big parties that week, it really kick started that records success, so was enjoyable to see if grow organically from the dancefloor to the successful record that it was.

A big favourite of mine personally is Weiss ‘My Sister’. I had worked with Richard for a few years prior to the Weiss project, and this was at the beginning of a change in direction for him, we had a bunch of records he had worked on, and I helped A&R this one and some others for his first ‘Weiss City EP’. We worked really closely getting things just right , It became a huge success and a springboard for Weiss as an artist, from there I worked with him on his branding and artist development and have loved to see it grow to where he is now as an international artist.

Toolroom also have a knack for bringing an old school classic bang up to date with new remixes from current artists, and a couple of these projects I really enjoyed working on were Cloud 9 ‘Do You Want Me Baby’ and Steve Silk Hurley ‘Jack Your Body’. I worked closely with both the original artists and the remixers to ensure everyone was happy and justice was done to the originals, needless to say the Dusky remix of ‘Do You Want Me Baby’ was huge and it was a real honour to work with Steve Silk Hurley on such a seminal house record that shaped things at the very beginning of house music, a personal all time favourite of mine.

How have you developed new artists in your time with Toolroom?

Artist development has been a big part of my work for Toolroom for the past few years. We rebranded as a label in 2014 with the #RESET campaign, which was all about us going back to the roots of what the label was set up for. Great new artists and quality Tech House. I set up an artist management company with Toolroom, and I brought the new generation through the ranks – Weiss, Adrian Hour, Prok & Fitch and Ben Remember. I’ve worked extremely closely with these guys on their music, their branding, their business strategies – all of which has given me an even rounder perspective of artist development, beyond A&R.

For some of these artists it was about the very beginning, so making sure everything is right from the off as the first impressions can mean a lot for an artist, so we had to make sure their first records were the best they could be, and be something that was going to really hit home and do well. For other artists like Prok & Fitch who were quite well established I worked very closely with them on a slight change in direction, with branding as well as the music, and I’m proud to say I have been quite influential in some of these guys success.

Tell us how you got involved in the Toolroom Academy?

Initially I was asked by the guys to host our Toolroom Academy Live events. It made sense because a lot of our producer followers know me from the times I’ve DJ’d for the label, or done video interviews with artists, and of course offered A&R feedback to their demos. Doing these events in Brighton, Tokyo, Dubai, Amsterdam and other cities really inspired me. I enjoy meeting new producers who have a passion for wanting to learn more and make it happen for themselves and it’s great to be able to offer them advice on all aspects of their burgeoning careers. We’ve met some amazing artists on the way and signed some guys for management as well as their music, all from the Academy.

Then we established our mentoring programme, the Production Masterclass, I started working really closely with our students as their A&R mentor. We’ve had some great success since launching that programme, and I’ve met some amazing people in the process.

Can you give an example about a time A&R has helped a student get signed?

With the Production Masterclass I spend a lot of time helping the students with their creativity, guiding them to help bring their ideas into practice, and offering them the best advice from my experience and knowledge of the current market, I’ve got quite an in depth catalogue of House music both in a physical collection and also just in memory so I’m often referring to tracks & artists they can be inspired from, or old school samples that could work well with their sound and styles. I also like to spend a lot of time really fine tuning their tracks with A&R and production advice. It’s very difficult if not impossible to A&R your own track, so bouncing your ideas of another person is essential, and I’m able to offer them this through all the stages, but without the same tired ears they might have from hearing the track played over and over whilst making it in the studio. It’s much easier for a trained ear to hear something that could be adjusted or offer advice when hearing it for the first time, as opposed to the artist hearing it over and over 50 times.

Two recent students that I helped get signed were Tenova and Thatman. Through some detailed advice on a certain sample and also some production & arrangement tweaks we were able to sign Tenova’s first two tracks to both Toolroom and Incorrect which is based in Miami, two of his target labels. And through working closely with Thatman he was able to get his first track he completed through the course signed to Toolroom, something he was very proud of achieving.

 

Tell us about the new Production Certificate course?

We’ve been working on the Production Certificate for over a year now, so we’re excited to finally get it launched. We wanted to create a version of the Production Masterclass which was more readily accessible to more people, so we’ve created what I think is a very innovative online production course.

Because it’s Toolroom, it’s super focused on our sound – we won’t teach about anything other than making the kind of music we stand for. We’ve developed a three month programme that takes students step-by-step through making the genre in Ableton, which includes loads of assignment work, weekly A&R feedback and ‘live’ online tutorials from Ben Remember.

I’m so glad to be working with Ben on this – he’s played a huge role in developing the curriculum, and he’s a very talented producer. I know a lot of producers envy his grooves, so it’s exciting to be able to share those techniques, and a lot more, with our students.

The first cohort of the course actually sold out in 3 days, which was amazing. We’ll be running more throughout the year, and it’s going to be a big focus for me personally.

What would you say to producers thinking about working with the Toolroom Academy?

There’s a lot of good production schools out there, I have experienced others first hand, but I think we have such a unique place in that market. We know exactly what it takes to be successful in the industry, because we’ve been doing it ourselves for the past fifteen years and are currently top in this area of the market right now. We know our genre inside out – in fact people often talk about ‘the Toolroom sound’ – and we’re passionate about sharing this knowledge. Whatever we do at the label – be it singles, albums, events, merchandise – we endeavour to do it with a level of quality and put our all into it, and the Academy is no different, we give everything we can to our students to help them achieve their goals and leave feeling inspired and full of creativity, I wish I had this opportunity when I learnt production myself!

Make it happen

Learn how to make cutting-edge House and Tech House with our 3 month online Production Certificate taught by Ben Remember & Ben Keen.