Image: Josh Leveridge
In August 2020, singer-songwriter and rapper Will Baddeley released his first EP ‘Expression of Thoughts’. He has since been preparing his future projects, two separate albums, and a string of concerts for 2021 and beyond. In preparation for what will undoubtedly be an important second half of the year for the young producer from Surrey, Soundwave’s Adam Maghout spoke to Will about influences and aspirations.
A: What are your influences in music and who do you look up to in the music industry?
W: Ed Sheeran is one of my main influences. He’s got so much talent and doesn’t just stick to one lane. On his first collaborations mixtape, he worked with all these different artists from the English grime scene and he had some great successful solo albums after that. Then, on his latest collab project, he dabbled in rock and other styles he’d never played before. He’s very versatile.
I also like Dave a lot. His lyrics are on a whole new level and they make more sense to me than American hip-hop because I’m English. His album ‘Psychodrama’ is a masterpiece and nothing like anyone else has done before. I think he’s one of the few artists that’s going to push hip-hop forward in the years to come. I like a lot of different types of music so I obviously pull what I write from plenty of different artists. I don’t want to be stuck playing one genre for the rest of my life.
A: How did you get into music and are you a full-time musician?
W: I actually have another full-time job to be able to pay for my apartment. The music kind of pays for itself. It’s a funny story: a few years ago, I met up with a producer and he got me to work on one of his projects. I also picked up the guitar again. I’d started playing fifteen years ago for three or four years but wasn’t that interested in what I was given to play. It was electric guitar; I was playing all the classic rock pieces that most people know. Then, I completely stopped playing guitar for ten years until, as I said, that producer friend of mine got me back into music. Suddenly, it clicked. It just felt right.
At the beginning he was mostly producing what I was writing and playing but, as time went on, I felt like I wanted to be more involved in the production aspect of things so I asked him to teach me. I learnt the basics and started producing a few songs on Ableton that I don’t think I released. This was still a few years ago. I’ve evolved since then and took more of the production in my hands. You can hear and see it in the production of the EP, I think. Some of the tracks are mostly produced by my friend and then towards the end, there’s some tracks that I’ve completely produced myself. It’s a good feeling: I can get things where I want them to be and produce music as I hear it in my head. There’s no restrictions, or labels telling me something has to sound like this or that.
A: You’re very versatile and describe yourself sometimes as a rapper, other times as a singer-songwriter. How does this come through in your live performances?
W: I don’t always like referring to myself as a ‘rapper’ because I’m not really part of the ‘culture’. It’s quite funny, actually, because when I started out rapping, I used to put on an American accent. I did that because I listened to a lot of Kanye West, Eminem and other American rappers. I only realized afterwards that it sounded ridiculous. Nowadays, I’m more influenced by the UK rap scene because I live close to London.
When I’m performing live, it really depends on the venue. Some venues ask you to perform in a specific way, like with or without a backing track. I was planning to work on my performing skills in 2020 but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. I’ve only ever performed a set with a looping pedal once but I’m hoping to improve on that this year now venues are open again.
A: Do you dream that a label might offer you a deal one day and you’ll be able to quit your job and concentrate on music?
W: I’d like to be able to live entirely off music without being signed to a label. I like being able to make my kind of music without a label pressuring me into doing something specific that I’m not comfortable with and that doesn’t sound like me. Of course, if the perfect deal did arrive, I might take it, but I don’t want someone giving me – hypothetically – ‘X’ million and then be able to tell me what to do with my music.
Most of the time, a label has to find your music. You don’t throw it at them and hope they’ll respond. You have to make waves, if the music industry was an ocean, that is. Then, they’ll notice you and they might reach out to you. I’m not actively seeking out anyone’s attention at the moment and it feels great. Of course, if someone wants to talk to me about a contract or something else, I’m going to at least check out what they have to say. I’d obviously have to take different things into consideration and understand what I get out of the contract, too. It’s important to think about yourself while writing music. I don’t want money, I want control over my music and to make my music. Labels are big companies, though, right? All they want is profit. That’s another reason why I might want to stay independent.
A: You spoke to me about a second and third album. Are they scheduled to release any time soon or are they simply ready?
W: They’re ready but definitely not scheduled yet. I write a lot of music and in different styles. With my producer, we’ve just finished writing our fifth album for this LA-based label called ‘Big Idea’. I think that means I’ve got eight finished albums. All that in two years.
For ‘Big Idea’, we simply produce albums with my producer and send them over for them to be used in films or commercials. There’s no request for the songs beforehand and it’s basically like pick and choose. Big brands and companies contact the label and ask for a specific type of song that the label then provides to them and we get royalties from the PRS [Performing Rights Society] for that. Our five albums are very different in tone. One of them is lo-fi, and another is hip-hop and the last one we just finished producing is a chord section production that’s supposed to sound a bit like an orchestra.
Some of the songs we’ve sent to the label have actually already been used. For example, one of our tracks was used in the series ‘Neighbours’ on channel 5, for anyone that likes a bit of tellie.
A: How did you learn to sing?
W: I found it particularly difficult learning how to sing. Sure, your voice is an instrument, but there’s no key or button that you can press to get exactly what you want so you need to practice a lot. If I press an F# for example, on the piano (he plays an F# on the piano), I know I’ll get an F#. There’s no such thing with the voice. To get better at singing, I used to sing a melody line and use autotune to point out notes that I hadn’t sung quite right. Where the autotune was very clear, in the mix, I tried recording the note again to see if I could sing it better. I am also very lucky to have friends that aren’t afraid to tell me my singing is trash. If they hadn’t been so honest, my singing would still be terrible now. I’m still improving, I think.
A: How long are you planning on continuing music? Are you going to stick with the style that you are currently playing or try to adapt it to the trends as they evolve?
W: I want to play music for the rest of my life. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to make that my full-time job. I listen to so many different styles of music and I like so many things that I think I’ll definitely have to make my style evolve over the years. The [music] industry’s changing, too, and really quickly. When I was a kid, people went to the shop to buy CDs of their favourite artist. Nowadays, everything’s online. Streaming services are making music so much more accessible and easier to produce. There’s never been so much music being released on a daily basis and I get the impression that, with different platforms like Tik Tok, the borders between musical genres are getting thinner and thinner.
You rarely find an artist that sticks to one genre, even in the mainstream. Take female rappers like Cardi B, Doja Cat or Ashnikko, for example: they’re doing so much for the industry. When I started out, there weren’t any female rappers. There’s also Lil Nas X, two years ago, who released [Old Town Road]. That was a cross between rap and country. I say all this to show how quickly things are evolving, which I find great. It’s always been like that: something replaces what was the most popular trend of the time. I’ll definitely adapt my style to what’s happening around me when I find the need to.
A: If you could pick someone to collaborate with in the future, who would it be?
W: That’s a difficult question. I’ll feature on any track anyone out there wants me to feature on so long as there’s something there for me and it feels right.
Maybe I’d choose Ed Sheeran because I’d really like to just sit in the studio with him and dissect his mind. I mean, who wouldn’t? He’s a musical genius. We could talk through his songwriting process. He also seems like a really nice guy, very approachable. I feel like his music relates to him in a very special way.
A: What piece of advice would you give to a musician just starting off in the industry?
W: I’m not sure I’m in a position to be giving advice yet, because I’ve still got a lot to learn, but if I had to choose, I would tell them to make sure they get what they want out of music. It’s not about being selfish but rather about having fun and making music that truly represents the artist.
A: I hear there’s another Will Baddeley that specializes in bonsais, the Japanese art of growing little trees. Is that you?
W: I’ve heard of him too! People often mistake him for me and vice-versa, on Instagram. At this point, I think I only have two options: destroy his internet career or collaborate with him.