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Gift Tshuma

Artist

Gift Tshuma carries more than fifteen years of experience as a professional artist. He was mentored by Oliver Jones: a Montreal-based jazz pianist who was in turn trained by Oscar Peterson. In 2007 he co-founded the United Tribulation Choir, organising regular performances and overseeing the release of an album ‘Seasons Change’. Over the past decade, as a co-founding member of Accessibilize Montreal, he has been heavily involved in advocacy for disability rights and accessibility issues in Montreal. He currently holds positions at March of Dimes Canada and Matchbox Virtual Media as an Assistive Technologist and Advisor in accessibility and universal design. In 2019 Gift created Blurring the Boundaries with Charles Matthews and David Bobier as an outlet for their emerging music technology development and collaborative practice. In response to events in 2020, he shifted his attention to live podcasting, co-hosting the Unashamed Truth and Crip Talk Corner.

Gift Tshuma

Digging into the creative process, Byta speaks with artists, musicians, producers, DJs and anyone involved with music creation. A conversation about how they create, collaborate and share music. From studio setups to routines, and the first person to hear about the next 'big' work.

Where are you based?

I am based in Montreal. I’ve actually been living in Montreal for a little over 20 years now.

How, when and where did you start making music? Are you primarily a musician or a producer, or do something else?

At the moment, I consider myself to be both a musician, a singer-songwriter, and a producer. I’d say I’m stronger in the writing of songs, composition. When it comes to  production I usually self produce most of the material that I put out with my brother Paul. He’s also an artist. My love for music started when I was seven years old, in the church.  I’m originally from Zimbabwe and grew up in a black church community in Zimbabwe, where gospel music was very prominent, it played a major part within the church services. I sang in gospel choirs from the age of seven onwards. After I had been singing for multiple groups, I finally started my own gospel group, with my brother.  I started doing music more professionally when I was 16,  looking into recording and production after that. When I moved to Montreal, I looked for what was happening on the gospel scene and continued the journey.

Who would you consider some of your biggest influences when it comes to your “sound”?

My biggest musical influences, I would have to say are Earth, Wind and Fire Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye on the soul side and then Kirk Franklin and Israel Houghton on the gospel side. More modern guys would include Samm Henshaw, Leon Bridges, Anderson Paak, Bruno Mars & John Legend.

Explain your creative process? Do you have a routine?

I wish I had a routine. I wish I could say that I had a routine and that I’m disciplined, but I don’t and I am not. I only write when I am inspired. I’m not the type of artist that tries to set time aside to write. It’s mainly when something hits me. That’s when I write. It could either be an event or related to a situation that happened to someone within my circle, whether it’s family or a friend, or something that happened to me personally. It can also be more spontaneous as well, like waking up in the middle of the night, restless, with a song. Four in the morning and a song just pops up. 

The idea for both the melody and lyrics and everything usually comes to me all at once when I’m inspired. Like how the drums are going to sound, the rhythm section. So all of that usually comes together with the melody, it’s never separate, and always starts with either a chorus or a verse. Over the next few days I will actually dedicate time to really massage the song and intentionally write out the bridge and work on the nitty gritty of the song. Much of my writing is influenced by events, but also when I’m on vacation, and I do not mean a staycation or working holiday, but actually away,  in the countryside, where there’s not much distraction. That’s when a lot of my inspiration kind of kicks in automatically. All this to say, I wish I had more discipline when it came to creative writing.

What is your “studio” setup?

So personally, I don’t have a studio setup. I use my brother’s studio setup since we both usually work on the production side of things together. He is the music engineer. Our primary set up, in terms of software, is Digital Performer and Melodyne and we use an iMac pro and for monitors we’re using Evans and then Rode microphones.

What is your process when working with other people? How is collaboration different in the studio vs working remotely? 

So when it comes to music production, or songwriting I usually do it on my own and almost never co write with people unless I am producing a project with someone else.  I do all the writing myself and then the meat of the song gets developed and spiced up with other musicians and with other singers where they might hear something different in the background vocal or the bass line that I did not think of. So that is when I begin to include people in the creative process. When it comes to the foundation, it’s usually me, but to make the song come alive, that’s when the collaborative process takes effect. The collaborative part often happens in a rehearsal studio. I don’t usually go into the recording studio with a song I just wrote. I like to introduce it in the rehearsal settings, test it out and play it at shows, see how people are feeling. If the audience is reacting well to it, then it gets added onto the list of the upcoming recording project. By the time the songs get to the studio, they are already a finished product. They are not a work in progress, or anything like that. They’re really a finished product.

At what point(s) are you comfortable letting other people hear what you are working on?

For me, the writing process is usually relatively quick, because both the melody and the lyrics come to me right away and I usually have the song completed within about a week or so. And then that’s when I’m comfortable introducing it to other people, whether it’s my brother or my other musician friends or my bandmates. Whenever it is kind of complete, but I am not necessarily 100% content with it, I’m comfortable enough to get feedback, to hear what other people might have in mind for it. So when I do get to the studio, am I 100% content with the final result? No. I never am. There are always things that I wish I had done differently. So I’d say that the material gets to other people when I’m about 80% comfortable with it.

Do you share your work in progress (streams or downloads)? Any technical frustrations?

Paul and I work in his studio, and then after that we will record a demo and send it to people in my music circle to hear, and see what they think. So it’s never letting an audience or random people hear it as a stream. We will test it live with audiences, which is always a good indicator whether a song will do well.

How do you know when a track/album is finished?

Money dictates whether the album is finished or not. So depending on the budget, that basically dictates how many songs we’re going to be putting out on our next album. I do have other songs that haven’t been released that didn’t make it onto my last album, but that was purely for financial reasons.

How do you listen to the final mixes/mastered work?

So the sound engineers we work with, often their studios don’t necessarily have a fully wheelchair accessible studio. My brother’s home studio is not good enough for the final production that we are trying to achieve. So the studios that we work with, they will send material to us virtually, usually using Dropbox . So our process is that we will usually do the vocals at my brother’s home studio and then send the files to the  sound engineer to get them mastered and mixed. The musicians will go to the sound engineer’s studio to record their parts and I will be there virtually, on Zoom, to help direct or produce the sessions.

How important is pre-release security when sharing new work?

I never really share my material with anyone, except for those involved in the project. So I’m not usually that concerned with music security. No one else has access, or even has a listen. If they do, let’s say family members, it’s often them coming over to my place and listening. I’m never sending files of final mixes out. So those that are not part of the project listen to it physically, in person in a controlled space, not as a shared file.

Who on your team gets to hear the final versions first and why, what formats do they each need?

So with the team, everyone in the team listens to it first at the rehearsal studio space, and they also know that they shouldn’t share. We have a trust system in place.

Outside of your inner circle who are the people that will need to hear the new tracks next?

Close family, since they’ve seen and heard my musical evolution and can give me honest feedback. Other than those who are part of the production, my family are the ones that get the chance to hear new work,  probably not the actual final final version, but a final draft, and that is to get feedback. And it’s never sent. It’s never sent to them by email, or Dropbox or anything like that. I don’t need to worry about encryption, it’s all done in person.

Anything you are working on, anyone you are working with and want to share?

Yeah, right now I am actually working as a producer for an artist named Dwayne Linton. He’ll be dropping an album by the end of this year. In terms of my own personal work, there may be something that will come up next year. I’ve been writing but I haven’t hit the studio for my own projects yet.  I’ve mostly been working on other people’s projects. Also working with Blurring the Boundaries, a program that hopes to establish a dialog between maker communities and Disabled-artist-led performance organisations in the UK and Canada. We want to increase the number of disabled artists who are recognised as technical innovators as well as performers. We’ve been busy with that. So my plate is a little bit full. I hope to at least release a single next year some time.