HE admits he’s never really had a plan in place, but the multi-talented Tom Prendergast has managed to make a career out of doing what he loves. He speaks to Luke Watson about music as a full-time job, and the beauty of collaboration while still releasing music ‘just for himself’…
Nothing is certain, especially in the uncompromising and frequently bizarre world of the professional musician.
When Tom Prendergast sat in his bedroom with his first guitar, head filled with images of The Offspring performing on Top of the Pops, he couldn’t have predicted he’d be able to turn music into a full-time career while still managing to emulate his heroes.
Along the way he’s taught music students, toured with his own band while fixing computer parts in the hospital’s basement, and released a genre-hopping debut solo album via a studio in the Netherlands.
Having grown up in Thurnscoe, music student Tom played in several bands through school and college, as a drummer as well as a guitarist and singer, and eventually found himself on the other side of the desk as he took on a teaching role.
But the songwriter admits he became frustrated stuck in the classroom, teaching people only a few years younger than he was.
“I realised I didn’t want to be the guy that just taught music,” said Tom, 33.“It’s a great thing to do to pass on knowledge, but at some point you need to go out and do it.
“I needed to do something else, so I took a bit of a chance and took a couple of credit cards out to buy all the gear I needed.
“I never saw music being a career, I just wanted to do whatever I could, as well as I could, to make it last as long as possible.
“It was the only thing I wanted to do. I never had a plan, but I suppose it had to happen the way it did.”
As long as Tom’s been playing, he’s been writing music.
And Ginger Tom, the alternative pop-rock band he started with three friends that went on to gain a decent following – earlier this year releasing a comeback single – gave the multi-instrumentalist an outlet to express some latent creativity elsewhere lacking.
“We did quite a lot, but we made no money,” laughed Tom, 33, who now lives in the town centre.
The experience ultimately made him a bit savvier – if he was to make a proper living from music, he’d have to approach it from another angle.
A career in freelancing producing music for adverts and television shows might seem a little mercenary – it has an air of writing solely to appease a boardroom full of men in suits – but for Tom, who’s spent the best part of his life picking up more instruments, styles and techniques, it’s a rewarding day job.
“It’s definitely not easy,” he said.“You get a lot of rejection, which takes a bit of getting used to when you’ve spent six hours on something.
“It’s even worse when an album’s worth of material gets turned down, but it keeps your ego in check.
“You just move onto the next thing. You start to see music as more of a business.
“Everyone starts out in music for the love of it – but eventually you need to convert that into pounds.
“The people I’m working with are great guys, who are way better than me.
“The learning curve has been very steep.
“I’m fortunate that there is a lot of stuff I’m comfortable writing, so my ability to write a song might be better whereas their production is at a higher level. It’s a really nice mixture.
“Better stuff comes out when there’s more than one person involved.
“The more you do that, you start to build a positive community of people around you.”
It’s also given him more freedom to explore his own pursuits without the pressure of making a living.
MANY artists can have a totally solitary vision, often to their detriment, but for as long as he can remember Tom has practised music as a collaborative process.
He’s developed a ‘community of artists’ around himself – some of which contributed to his 2018 debut 'No One Home', produced at Raiko Records, just outside Gouda in the Netherlands, with Dutch musicians he knows from his teaching days.
Tom’s also a frequent collaborator with Adam Taylor – who creates music under the name ADMT – and Chris Aspin, with whom he’s now releasing a stream of pop-punk influenced material as Tape Rewind Repeat.
He’s also used his growing production experience to help other local artists with their own music.
Tom said: “I think you take a lot from other people without realising it, if you have the right mindset.
“This is just my own experience, but if I’ve been working on my own and doing my own thing – and not taking any outside influence at all – it only gets you so far before you start to recycle the same ideas.”
But Tom admits that in the two-year gap between ‘No One Home’ and his first solo single of 2020, 'Drop in the Ocean', he felt as if he was ‘missing something’ he could put his own name to.
The song piles more muscle onto the dark acoustic leanings of ‘No One Home’, Tom’s pained vocals – a nod back to his early love of hardcore punk – lamenting the disconnect it’s ever so easy to feel in the modern era of hyper-connectedness.
It’s fitting subject matter for someone who’s happiest when he’s sharing the stage.
Tom said: “You’ve always got to have a little bit of something that’s just for you, whether it’s drawing or writing a book, you’ve got to have that form of expression.
“As more time goes by, I’ve started to draw parallels between the two (production music and writing under his own name).
“The new stuff’s true to what I want to do, but it also contains elements that might make it fit to a certain show or advert and hopefully sound more appealing to more people.
"Putting more synths in, builds and crescendos that I wouldn’t normally do, or trying an effect on my voice – basically I’m just messing about more with a track where I’d have considered it finished before.
“Whether it’s done in a practise room or in a studio in pre-production with an engineer, it all adds to a track.
“On the other hand, everything has to have a reason to it.”
Tom followed ‘Drop in the Ocean’ with 'Run for Cover' earlier this month, and said he has a few more singles up his sleeve for the rest of the year.