Producer TM88’s Guide to Creating Through a Pandemic

By DJBooth on May 28, 2020

“You gotta treat life normal, just to stay sane, because I was going kinda crazy at first.”

A GRAMMY-nominated producer and cofounder of beloved hip-hop production collective 808 Mafia, TM88 has unbounded creative energy.

Even in the face of COVID-19, the producer with credits for Drake, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Gunna, and more has been keeping busy. TM88, 33, splits his time nicely between exercising, making beats, reading, and, of course, video games.

“You’re only one person, and you can only control your outcome,” TM88 tells me enthusiastically. He’s at a place in his career where he’s done being a people-pleaser, and is focused on himself and his production team, CrAsH Dummy.

Live from quarantine, TM88 calls me up to discuss creating through a pandemic and battling his COVID-19 anxiety.

Productivity will go down—that’s okay. TM88, who normally could make 30 beats in a week, no sweat, noticed his productivity going down.

“At first—just like everyone else—I kinda didn’t understand it,” he admits of the severity of the pandemic. “I didn’t understand how long it was gonna be locked down. How long you won’t be able to see a lot of your friends and different things you use to clear your mind. At the beginning, I didn’t think much of it, so I was working regularly. The first week of March and going into the middle, with my creative process, it got harder towards the middle.”

Unplugging is essential. The producer and artist admits to feeling extreme anxiety as the severity of the pandemic became more and more apparent. The secret to keeping up his creativity during COVID-19? Unplugging.

“It’s hard to create if your mind’s constantly on it and if you’re watching the news and looking at different things online about the pandemic,” he explains. “It takes your mind out of that [creative space]. I was suffering a lot of anxiety towards the middle of March. I was breaking out in sweats every night. I was changing through 10, 12 shirts. Once you take your mind off it, off society and everything that’s going on… Of course, you know what’s going on! But you don’t have to indulge yourself into everything that’s going on.”

The show must go on. Once TM88 unplugged, he realized business could continue as usual. “Even when the pandemic wasn’t here, if we can’t link up, we was emailing and FaceTiming,” he says. Though life has been uprooted, we still have our vast technology at our disposal. We can and should still be collaborating. TM88 cites working with people as one way to stay sane during the pandemic, because that human connection helps keep us in check.

Take your time. Quarantine has allowed life to slow down, which TM88 sees as an unexpected benefit. “I had way more time to work and get things together, versus rushing,” he says. “I don’t have to rush and I’m pretty sure a lot of other producers have time to focus on their craft. The world moved so fast without the pandemic around, we’re not able to sit down and soak in the moment and get everything together. You gotta move fast. I have to make sure the rappers are taken care of, and I have to make sure my [artist deal] is going well, too. I had a lot of time to readjust and find myself again.”

Figure out what’s important. The other perk of quarantine has been an abundance of time alone to assess and reassess a producer’s artistry and perspective. “Everybody has an entourage if you’re in music,” TM88 says with a chuckle. “[Now], you might be sitting there trying to get your groove and trying to figure out beats, or looking at your phone, looking at animals and shit, just trying to do different things to take your mind off of stuff. When you do go back to making beats, you have a different outlook. Being able to spend more time alone and being able to spend more time with your family, it just took it back to before we had the internet. I probably done played every board game that’s out now.”

Diversify your sound. If you’re a producer feeling stuck in your sound, too, TM88’s advice is to mix it up. “I’m really more focused on getting this new sound out, this new wave,” he tells me. “I’m trying to give people every vibe that I have. I’m trying to tap into my inner self and bring out R&B, trap, the rock star vibes. I wanna give people everything. It’s a certain side to me that people haven’t seen, because being in the world that we’re in, we’re not able to express ourselves to the fullest, because rappers don’t rap on other shit. If we cooking up 25, 30-packs… You can’t make the same beats all day! I might go pop, trap, emo, R&B, experimental. I might do a lot of things!”

Allow yourself an escape (or two). Sounding healthier than ever, though having admitted to going through a difficult year with anxiety and depression, TM88 also shares his secrets for staying sane while under lockdown. “I play video games, a lot,” he says. “I make beats. I might spend six hours on video games, then spend the rest of the time making beats. If I don’t play the game, I watch TV. I been watching a bunch of shows. I been catching up on a lot of shows that I missed. And conversations with friends. Two of my best friends, we’ll FaceTime for two hours, talk about a lot of stuff. You gotta treat life normal, just to stay sane, because I was going kinda crazy at first. My anxiety is crazy, I had to go to the doctor and everything. I just had to keep taking my vitamins and tell myself: ‘Bro, you got this.’”

Make it fun. Finally, if you’re a producer who is losing their drive during quarantine, TM88 recommends searching for the fun within the work, and eating snacks. “Try to find that medium point where you can work and have fun at the same time,” he concludes. “Try to find fun in your work as well, even though it’s kinda hard. I was making beats the other day and I stopped, because I’ve been making beats for two months straight! I need a break. Give yourself time to think and come up with new waves. Eat candy! Do different things! Buy more video games! Talk to more people!”

By Donna-Claire Chesman for DJBooth.

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