Kaizen Collective, a creative company set up by Ashton Miranda and Thomas Totten, operates in the live music, song writing, production and visual content realm with a strong belief in taking care of your body and mind. During a unique and unexpected time for the music industry, the collective has uncovered new spaces for focus when it comes to creating music and planning for the return of live shows. Speaking to TPi over Zoom, the duo reflects on a series of landmark lockdown projects.
Following the lockdown of live events, Miranda and Totten worked closely with BRIT Award-winning artist, Mabel and her team to devise the plan of a stripped-back album, reimagining her debut album, High Expectations, for her existing fans and opening doors to a wider audience.
The reworked album was released on the one-year anniversary of its initial release on 31 July to rave reviews. The project was completed in 25 days during the lockdown of live events, marking the first time Mabel’s artistry has been stripped back and completely reworked from scratch. “The idea to re-work the album came from a new focus on making bespoke live performances with the lockdown restrictions,” Miranda explained. “We tailored a stripped-back version of Mabel’s last single, Boyfriend, for The Graham Norton Show and a bespoke performance for BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend that were both received with high acclaim.”
During BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, the collective enlisted the services of Videographer, Oli Kane to devise a split screen and flashes of VFX during Mabel’s virtual set. “It was a new version of these songs for her fans. The easy route would have been to film her miming to a track, instead, we created a new performance, which was essentially a bespoke set, shifting her demographic from young teens to a mature audience,” Miranda noted.
The producer and instrumentalist team of Miranda and Totten, along with Vocal Director, Mike Hough; Backing Vocalist, Yasmin Green; Vocal Producer and Mix Engineer, Cameron Gower Pool and Ben Totten, providing additional support on bass, had 25 days to arrange and produce, including backing and lead vocals, with everything, mixed, mastered and approved – quite a task, given the fact that everybody was recording in separate spaces.
“When I look back 10 years from now, I want to make sure that everything we created during this historic period was true to this pandemic,” he commented, explaining the reason for this low-key version of Mabel’s artistry. “She has a phenomenal voice, which often gets lost behind the flashing lights, video screen and backing dancers. Tom, Ben and I jumped on a Zoom call to put together a song and rehearse. It was difficult because you can’t play at the same time.”
To deal with the latency issue, Miranda created a Logic project with the tempo, click, and marker across the top, such as keyboard plugins, guitar, and bass. “We used an app called Audiomovers, which is a plug-in for the stereo out of a Logic project, which transmits everything from the project up to the server.”
Once the team was sent a link, a page with “crisp, studio-standard” audio appeared. “We all sent each other links and took turns of recording our sections, while muting the rest of the chat, and we jammed,” Miranda reminisced. “It was a long-winded process and difficult in parts, but our passion saw us through. I’m a firm believer that show production doesn’t bring people together – it’s the music, and I think that’s what sometimes gets forgotten about in this industry.”
Once each part was done, the collective took turns to record their parts separately, and Miranda mixed the entire thing. “We were afforded total creative freedom, which was refreshing,” Totten explained. “There is a high level of trust involved.”
‘STRUCTURE IS IMPORTANT IN LOCKDOWN’
The collective understands the importance of keeping healthy and on top of wellbeing during extended periods of time on the road. Having worked as part of Ed Sheeran, Anne-Marie, Mabel and James Arthur touring camps, Miranda has spent his time in lockdown bringing the same energy to music industry folk with a HIIT class three times a week. The fitness enthusiast even hosted a class open to the public in May on DICE to raise money for Help Musicians UK.
“Tom and I work out a lot on tour. We toured the world with Ed Sheeran for two years, with a trunk of gym equipment, so I began hosting a few classes on the road,” Miranda recalled the organic foundations of the classes. “As soon as we went into lockdown, I was racking my brain for things to do. Given the lack of industry work, I needed a focus, and structure is very important when you’re at home 24/7.”
Figuring that touring personnel might crave structure, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1pm (GMT), Miranda began hosting virtual HIIT classes. “Essentially, you see me for an hour, and we work out together – musicians, management, booking agents, crew members, technicians, friends and family getting fit and having something to focus on.”
Aired live through Zoom and presented by Kaizen Collective and Only Helix, Totten recalled the importance of the HIIT classes. “Mentally, knowing you’ve got something to look forward to was great, as we’re not used to being home for so long. Mental health is something important to look after in the music industry, given the dynamic, fast-paced nature of touring.”
Having toured extensively with Anne-Marie for the best part of four years, Miranda described himself as starting to “burn out”, mentally and physically. “I was getting to the point where I needed to stop and reassess myself. I’d been talking about launching this company for quite some time, but never really had the chance to get my teeth stuck into it. When you’re touring, you’re running around the world to a ridiculous time schedule.”
For Miranda, lockdown brought about a much-welcomed pause to reassess everything that is of value, as well as affording him time to lay the foundations and future plans of Kaizen Collective. “The luxury of time has afforded us the chance to decide where we want to take the company, what our ambitions are and who we want to create art with.”
Totten has also enjoyed the time at home. “Personally, I don’t think this company would have started without this downtime. I’ve spent time to grow as a person and, of course, garden,” he laughed.
Uncertain of the future but excited for the return of live shows, when it is safe to do so, Miranda had the last word: “We want to push the boundaries and move forward. At times like this, it’s time to sink or swim and I’ve been swimming this far that I’m not drowning yet. This is the perfect time to show what we are capable of.”
Having wrapped up a recent project with Clean Bandit, as well as sewing the seeds of another Mabel offering, the duo shows no signs of slowing down. “It’s important for the company to show what we can do, not only for music fans, but for the industry.”
This article originally appeared in issue #254 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: Kaizen Collective