Meet the Rag-Tag Internet Family Behind Ryan Hemsworth's Secret Songs
The Canadian producer is putting a DIY twist on our current co-sign economy—one digital single at a time.
When it first saw the light of day in the spring of 2014, Ryan Hemsworth's Secret Songs label seemed like a logical extension of what the Canadian producer had been doing all along with his own productions: reveling in the beautiful, chaotic, ecstatic high that comes from being a millennial music addict with high-speed internet. Every two weeks, the label drops a new chune from someone from Hemsworth's ever-expanding crew of musician homies—many of them bedroom producers he met online, and a handful of whom, like Lontalius, Fifty Grand, and Lindsay Lowend, he first introduced to the world via his own mixes.
"I had been doing mixes for a while, and slowly realized that what people liked were the songs I was introducing them to, and the artists [they] were finding through the mixes," Hemsworth told THUMP. "If people already liked my music or my mixes, they kind of trusted my taste, so eventually it just made sense to take a more direct approach."
The slew of digital-only singles and compilations that the label has released thus far run the gamut of music styles, from infectious bedroom pop and spaced-out ambient tracks, to the sort of quick-witted yet soulful, genre-jamming productions that Hemsworth himself has made a name for.
Putting on his homies is a constant: "Standing out is hard [on the internet], because we all use the same equipment and same platforms to get ourselves out there," he explains. "Even if you're making amazing music, sometimes it falls through the cracks because a lot of kids can't promote themselves that well. I guess it's just remembering that I didn't reach this point by myself and that co-signs do really matter, for better or worse, in 2015. [I'm] just trying to co-sign in the most natural, not-gross way. My career definitely depends on other people and the artists that I work with."
Secret Song's latest missive—Taking Flight, a collaborative EP between Hemsworth himself and Seattle producer Lucas—marks a new chapter in its evolution as a label. The six-track collection's release was accompanied by a line of fly-looking Secret Songs hats, tees, and bags. Moving forward, the label's founder says you can expect to see more of his own productions mixed in with the label's growing digi-discography.
"That's half the plan with my EP—having my first self-released single," Hemsworth says. "Just starting to use it more as an outlet to get my stuff out, and all of my collaborations that are more in singles format than huge projects." Still—as Hemsworth himself is quick to point out—Secret Songs is more of a loose-knit community of inveterate DIY-ers than anything else. Ahead of the label's CMJ showcase at Brooklyn's Palisades tonight, we got Hemsworth to give us a personal introduction to seven of the artists he's excited about.
His name is Matt Lucas. He is a kid from Seattle and has been producing for a while under a few different monikers. He used to do a lot of EDM. He emailed me a year and a half ago, back when he was trying to figure out a new sound, and we realized that we appreciated a lot of the same music and the same textures in our songs. It just made sense to start sending stuff back and forth, and it became a full project.
We made the Taking Flight EP basically all via Dropbox and email. I would work on a melody or a verse and send it to him, and he would build a drum back to it and send it back. We talk every day, pretty much, so it felt as close to being in a studio as it could be. I think it's still that bedroom producer mentality; I work a lot better in that environment than in a crazy studio with equipment that I don't know how to use.
I think we both agreed that we wanted to take the EP in more of a soundtrack direction than just something for the clubs. We both appreciate a lot of different types of music, especially post-rock, so even if the tracks still sound very electronic, I think we definitely come from a nostalgic place for the high school music that we still love—like Explosions in the Sky. Just good headphone music: songs that I listen to when I'm traveling, songs with a lot of warmth to them.
What do you love about his music?
I love the way [he's able to pull off using sounds] that are cheesy to some people. He uses a game guitar sound, but there's something very charming about that. He just uses sounds that are maybe widely available, but in a way that is cheeky and creative.
2) Henrik the Artist
Henrik the Artist is Norwegian, and part of this five-kid electronic producer crew whose name I don't even know how to pronounce [Rytmeklubben]. A lot of kids from that area look up to Cashmere Cat—Henriq comes from that world. "Naked" is also the most kawaii sounding track I've put out on Secret Songs, and I didn't want to go that far with that sound because I think I'm maybe too associated with it. He lives in that realm, but he plays with what's expected with those songs.
I found his music through Wave Racer, on SoundCloud. I started emailing him, and he basically talks like an English gentlemen—like, "Dear Mr. Hemsworth, thank you for your reply. I kindly..." When I sent him a contract, he sent me his own contract back. It was on a scroll that was scanned and said, "I agree to be Henrik the Artist's friend for life." It was the best thing ever, and I was like, "Yeah, we're gonna do this."
What's your favorite thing about his music?
The way he uses drum patterns—there's an EDM build in the track, but then the drop is this anti-drop. Little structural choices that show he's actually very self-aware.
Tennyson is from Edmonton. His song, "You're Cute," was the first track I released on Secret Songs.
I found his music via from my friend Lindsay Lowend. We started talking, and he was just an eccentric kid. When we hung out, he would talk about apps he wants to develop. And he always has a Rubik's cube in his pocket, so when we're talking, he would just be playing with it. He's a very unique person.
What do you like about his music?
It's super playful and all over the place. He's almost got too many ideas, but somehow it works. He doesn't listen to rap or R&B—I think I mentioned Frank Ocean to him once, and he asked, "Who's that?" He's just in his own world, but he's making music that would be amazing for a rapper.
4) swim good
swim good from Ontario, just outside Toronto. He has another project under his own name, which is Jon Lawless. He's working pretty closely with Arts & Crafts, kind of co-writing a bunch of their indie folk projects. I think he reached out first, just sending some stuff. I immediately got obsessed with his other projects, which don't sound like swim good at all. This track he sent is a little geekier. It's built around all of these samples from songs that don't make sense separately, but together, they somehow do.
What do you like about his music?
I think I like people who have all these different sides to them, and you can tell they use different parts of their brain for different projects. I just think he's super creative.
The first compilation I made was with 10 female producers, and Qrion did a track called "Only." This was way before Secret Songs. I think I found her Instagram first and just thought, "This girl is really funny"—she had her image and brand figured out from day one. And then I found her SoundCloud, and I really liked it and wanted to make a track with her.
What do you like about her music?
She comes from a trained background that was very musical, but also loves Martin Garrix and very American EDM stuff. It's a funny little balance, and she's just a really cute, shy Japanese girl and the most unassuming Martin Garrix fan ever. She's getting bigger and bigger, and she just did a small American tour. It seems really hard to break through to America or Europe as a producer from Tokyo, not even taking into account the traveling costs.
6) Fifty Grand
I've followed Fifty Grand for a while, so it's been amazing to watch him develop as an artist. His story is inspiring already, and he's a great musician separate from that. We've never met. I think I followed his Tumblr or something, mainly interested in his image and interests, and soon realized that he made awesome music. I reached out to him for the intro of the second compilation.
What do you like about his music?
He does a lot of dark, trappy music, but can also do some atmospheric, ambient music, which is what I asked him to do for this track. I think his next EP is just an ambient project as well.
7) Priscilla Sharp
I still don't know too much about Priscilla Sharp. I did the last track with her—"Floored"—and it's a bit dark, R&B-sounding. She emailed me a couple of tracks and said, "Hey, maybe we can be friends." I said, "This is awesome—do you have more?" She sent me 10 more tracks. That one stood out, but everything else was pretty awesome, too. She's a good example of someone with a very small following but with a developed sound; [for Secret Sounds,] it's about making that connection to an audience that probably loves her stuff.
What do you love about her music?
It's very sparse—and it feels like there aren't many different elements to the song–but it still flows really well.