Owen Thomas and Lily-May Young embody what For Love and Music is all about. Not only are they married to the music and work together as a highly successful songwriting production team, TY Songs, but they are also married to each other. Having met through mutual friends, their partnership began in London and finally settled in Los Angeles for the optimism, opportunities, and sunshine. Full of ambition, drive, and energy, Owen and Lily-May recollect the tenacity with which they hit the ground running when they decided to move across the globe in pursuit of their dreams.
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Married To The Music with Lily-May Young and Owen Thomas
These guests embody what this show is all about. Not only do they work together as a highly successful songwriting production team, TY Songs, but they are also married. On top of that, they have a gorgeous son. Welcome to the show, Owen Thomas and Lily-May Young. How are you, guys?
We’re good. Thank you for having us.
It’s an absolute pleasure. I’m excited because you two embody exactly what I was trying to achieve by creating this show. How did it all begin?
Our partnership began in London. We met through some mutual friends. We were at the same university studying different things. I was on music technology and orchestration course and Lily was studying directing.
I was going to have nothing to do with music as far as I was concerned.
She had a great voice and had come from the performing background. I was looking for new people to work with, co-write and branch more into that. We started working together and that was the beginning of the end.
That was in 2005, was it?
Yes, around the beginning of 2005. Then in mid-2005, we took ourselves to the States for an eight-week writing tour. Essentially, we knew a very small number of people in the States, namely Nashville, Houston and LA. We thought we would give it a shot and see where we ended up, what we could do while we’re on the road and taking each day at a time, meeting new people and writing more songs and play it by ear for the most part. That was very inspiring. Early on we wound up in Houston. One of the places we started was Music World, which was run by Mathew Knowles, who’s Beyoncé’s father. We were in their studios for a good amount of time working with different producers, different artists. It’s very buzzy around that time with everything that has been going with Destiny’s Child and what was going on with Beyoncé and lots of new artists and stuff coming through. Spending time in Nashville, which was culturally very different from where we’d come from in England, and also where we’d been working in the community in Houston.
A lot of this co-writing was still very new to us. We’ve got to grasp how different people write. Nashville at that time was certainly very new to us. There’s a slightly more formulaic way of one in shorter writing sessions. Often they can start with the lyric and then write out from there as far as melody, chords, etc. We did a rough phone sketch and then we send it to a studio and then it comes back the next day as a fully-fledged production by this amazing band. We spent some time there and then we jumped to LA through people that we’re introduced via Houston or Nashville. We started working with them in LA for a couple of weeks and went back to England for a few months. During that few months after landing back in England, we immediately applied for visas. We completely took a punt on the optimism and the opportunities that we saw in the States mostly Los Angeles and the persistent sunshine also.
It does feel when you first arrived here as a foreigner that anything is possible. It does feel with the sunshine and the opportunity. Anything you set your heart on wanting to do, you can make happen if you believe in it.
We were young in our twenties. We were full of ambition, drive and energy. We didn’t take no for an answer and we also weren’t very precious or soft-skinned about anything. We would literally go into meetings and then people would say, “This isn’t for us.” We’d just go to another meeting and we kept going. We had that tenacious thing going on at that stage in our lives. Before Owen touched on it, we went back to the UK for a six-month period and we literally sold our cars. We packed up everything that we had into boxes. We packed a suitcase and a CD and got on an airplane and that was pretty much all of the research we did for a new life in a completely different country, culture, and time zone. We hit the ground running and absolutely haven’t regretted any of it.It's definitely an art form to be able to make a space feel relaxed enough that people do their best work. Click To Tweet
I love what I read in your bio, your mentality, “Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.”
Looking back on it, we were young and very naive, but we didn’t look beyond the landing. We did land, we started looking and we stayed with a friend for a few nights. We’re looking at renting a place and we’re like, “We might have enough money to rent for a month or maybe two.”
The sale of our cars bought us about two months. We were kids. They were our first cars. We thought, “We’ll sell cars and we’ll go live in America for a year.”
What you’re saying is quite interesting because one of the questions I was going to ask you is when you’re starting out in this industry, what advice would you give? What you’ve said is the advice that I presume you’d give. You’ve got to be fearless and you’ve got to go for it as you guys did.
It’s easier to do that at certain stages in your life. You mentioned that having a son of our own and I think it would be harder to be completely fearless because you then have a few more consequences. I think that is the secret to our success is to be fearless and also not to take yourself too seriously.
How is it living and working together?
Surprisingly, it’s amazing. We’ve made it work for a long time and a lot of people look at our situation either people that work with us or friends from an outside perspective will be like, “How do you do it? You’re literally in each other’s company 24/7.” You’re working together, creating, running businesses and you’re living together. Obviously, that’s not to say that we don’t have the occasional disagreement, and often that would be creative things. We overcome that and we’re trying to keep the work and life side separate. A big part of how we do and did manage to make it work is we started professionally. We both had the same vision. We were both out to achieve similar goals rather than the flip side. If it started as a relationship and want to drag the other one into maybe helping or doing something to achieve one person’s goal, that would have been different. We started on that train and we’ve somewhat kept on that train.
People ask us all the time like, “How do you guys do this? I couldn’t imagine working with my spouse.” For me, I find it such a natural, easy, cohesive relationship because of the fact that we work together. We started from that professional side where we were both working towards the same goal. We got to know each other in a way that I don’t think you get to know someone romantically straight away. It was a different way to start a relationship. For me, the easiest relationship I’ve ever had in my life. I didn’t think about it too hard. I didn’t put all these pressures on who my romantic partner was supposed to look like, act like, behave, be like or any of that stuff.
It was something that organically and naturally happened. To be honest, before having a relationship with Owen, I was in a relationship with people that didn’t get my goals or understand my love of music, which is probably both of our first loves. Before either of us were on the picture, we fell in love with music and it was the fabric of our childhood and things that we both love that same thing first. We fell in love with each other and it was the easiest thing that ever happens. It’s funny when people say, “How do you do it?” I’m like, “How do you not do it?”
What is your creative process together? How does that work and look?
I think for us it is not typical. We do change things up quite a lot creatively. Sometimes it will start with the germ of an idea in terms of a melody or a lyric. Sometimes Owen will listen to this riff or has a beat, a track or something that he’s developed already. That’s important to our process. There’s variety in how we create music. It’s not super formulaic, so it doesn’t get stale. We also have quite a lot of people at this stage in our career coming into the studio and working with us. They bring fresh energy and direction. We’ve been writing together for several years. We try when there are new people in the room to let them drive the direction of the creative because it would be very easy for us to take over and go the way that we would usually go.
We’ve become good at listening and watching when new people come into the space and letting them lead the creative because it’s such a difficult thing to walk into a space and just be open, honest and creative. It’s very daunting. It’s a little bit like speed dating. You have to walk into the room and immediately lay it all out on the table and you’ve only got an hour to create some magic and then you’ve got to go and you’ve never met each other before. It’s definitely an art form to be able to make the space feel relaxed enough that people do their best work.
That’s obviously something we were also conscious when other people do come into the space and work with us. We want them to feel completely relaxed and not like they are in the space of a married couple that might start bickering. It’s got to be a very even level playing fields with everyone in the room.
Our creative process is to try and do a little as possible at the beginning and then let the artists come into the space and work with us drives things so that they can have ownership of the music.
You write and you record for both recording artists, TV and film on both sides of the Atlantic. For people that don’t necessarily understand the different techniques that you may need to do such a wide range of work, how would you explain as a writer, producer you cover both areas of the music industry?
We have spent a lot of time in both of those spaces and have arrived creatively somewhere in the middle, but essentially we have exclusively written for film, TV commercials, brands, etc. That’s called the sync world. That means synchronizing music to picture. We have definitely invested a lot of our career in that sector of the music business, but throughout that journey been writing our own music as artists and with other recording artists from indie to major labels across the spectrum of writing for singles or for album projects. We’ve lived both of those worlds quite in-depth and spent a lot of time seeing the differences.
The reason why I say we’ve arrived in the middle ground is that we try not to write for either one of those spaces exclusively anymore. When you’re writing for picture and for brands, it can sometimes lack that sense of artistry and realness that comes from the times that you’re writing with an artist who got something important that they have to say and a very clear idea of how they want to say it. The reason why we’ve managed to find this sweet spot for us is that we’re straddling both of those worlds. We don’t write exclusively for picture and we don’t write exclusively for an album. We’re trying to find a place where we can be honest, real and all of that good stuff that comes from writing as an artist but also accessible for an editor who wants to put that piece of music to picture.
We’ve got that knowledge we know when an artist comes in the room, the technical side of how we need to create the music so that it is sync-friendly. We don’t even want our artists to think about that side of stuff. We want them to focus on the stuff that they have to say that they mean and is coming from the depths of their being. That’s what we do. On an everyday writing session for us, we’re not writing for either one of those places. We’re trying to be honest and create music that can have as many outlets as possible.
Do you have a dream artist you would love to work with or a dream director you would love to write a movie trailer for?
I would never pick a trailer. It’s been a dream. There are movies or even TV shows like Breaking Bad or Peaky Blinders. There are lots of fantastic shows I watched and would love to have music in.
For mine, I’ve got a massive ambition. That’s very specific. My sister works in film too. She is a draftsman and she has worked on some amazing projects. She’s working on a show with Joss Whedon. It’s called The Nevers. Joss is responsible for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s done a bunch of incredible sci-fi shows. I believe this is an HBO show. It’s in production and my dream would be to get some music in the show or in a promo or something so that both of our names can be in the credits together. I’m working on that and maybe it won’t be this show, but hopefully they’ll perform.
Moving back to love, do you have a specific love song that has made an impact on your life? Is there a particular song that resonates romantically, sexily?There's not one catalyst that changes everything. Click To Tweet
The song that we danced to at our wedding is What a Wonderful World by Sam Cooke. That has been on repeat. The edge has been taken off a bit romantic romantically, slightly because since we had our baby he liked that song and it made him go to sleep. We’ve listened to it on loop way more times. That is healthy for your mind, body and soul. We needed to take a break from Sam Cooke’s What a Wonderful World for a minute, but I’m sure it’s going to come back around because we absolutely love that song.
Is your son musical?
He likes hitting things. We try and put a drum in front of him every now and then.
He’s working on it. He’s got a little ukulele and he sits down on piano for three minutes and bashes that.
I love your Instagram and Facebook pictures. He’s so gorgeous. He’s such a mixture of the two of you.
Everyone typically thinks that he looks like the miniature Owen, but that’s okay because Owen’s cute too.
Lily refers to him as a potato.
Has love ever guided you to make an unexpected decision in your careers?
Would we both be here if we hadn’t found each other?
I think the longevity of our relationship and our career is because we fell in love and there were no distractions from anyone who didn’t get it or pull to go or be anywhere else. We were soul mates and we absolutely were a team navigating all unknowns.
Would you say when you decided to move to LA, that was clearly a defining moment in both of your careers? Have there been other defining moments in your career since you’ve been here?
I don’t think there’s a singular defining moment. Everything feels like it’s been an organic progression. There’s not one catalyst that’s changed everything.
When we first got here, we had enough money to live for a couple of months. We had no idea how we were going to make money. We were on a visa that meant that we could only make money via music. I’d never worked in a bar before or a restaurant. I was just that person that always drops everything. I knew that was not going to be an option. I think having no options made us work even harder. Right at the beginning there, we met someone who submitted some of our music for an opportunity with a commercial and we ended up getting a car commercial, which paid a way for another few months. That was the turning point because we had this cushion and that a lot of people being twenty and in LA, getting an injection of money like that maybe could have been a bit reckless. Maybe we were so focused on work that we didn’t do those party head on the stick early twenties days. We traded that for grinding, chasing and dreaming. We use that money to build the start of our catalog and create more opportunities down the line. At that point, we didn’t have any more big-ticket items like that, but we had lots of small ones that all added up and sustained things. We met new people and that was a little snowball effect.
Tell me a little bit about your Conversion Studios. Is that what it’s called in the UK? I love the story behind that.
I set that up when I was about seventeen, eighteen and I was presented with the opportunity to convert some old dairy barns on a farm at my parents’ place.
Where is that?
Dorset in the Southwest close to Stonehenge. At the time I was working with a producer assisting him in London. I was traveling back and forth and then converted these barns and then started bringing in local engineers to run sessions building a community around the local musicians for a place to record. It slowly grew. We turned into a residential place where people from London would come out and stay for a period of time for records and such. It’s still going. It’s been a very turbulent time for the commercial studio industry over the last several years. Maybe I didn’t get into a great time.
It’s been beneficial for you though because the fact that it’s been difficult to sustain commercial recording spaces has meant that a lot of the professional recording facilities in the Southwest of England. Sadly they have had to close the door, some incredible, beautiful iconic venues. As a result, it’s meant that conversion. Almost last man standing on that fact and it’s opened the door for some diverse and creative projects. You’ve had epic voiceovers going on, string sections coming in, people were tracking drums for feature films. It’s been beneficial for conversion even though it’s obviously sad for commercial studios in general.
It’s also handy because when we get off the plane over on that side, we can continue working.
We never stopped. They used to say something about sailors having fun in every port and we make music everywhere.
We did take a holiday in Antigua, but we had a project that was coming in just before we left. We converted the closet in the villa to a vocal booth and we took a rack of equipment over and we landed on holiday and then continued working in a closet.
Owen sat in the bedroom with a window that looks out and outside of the window is paradise and I’m in a closet with no lights and it’s pitch black. I know the outside is paradise and inside I was recording vocals. That’s how we roll.
How many guitars do you own?Having no options can make you work even harder. Click To Tweet
I think it’s ten or twelve. I’m trying to change the arrangement on my wall so I can fit some more in. I’m building a new stacking system.
Do you both play instruments?
He plays so much more proficiently than I do that I’ve given up. When we first met, I tinkered around on the piano. I was learning guitar. Owen is incredibly talented. He’s a multi-instrumentalist. He plays everything. I leave him to it. He can’t sing though so that’s my one saving grace.
If you were stuck together on a deserted island for eternity, what would be your top three or four songs that you take there with you?
I think we’d just write them there.
As long as we’ve got a guitar. This is going to be difficult, especially because we are quite different on our own musicals preferences.
It depends on the island and the temperature as well. For the most part, I need something spiritually uplifting to get us through this. Maybe some Paul Simon’s Graceland, The Beatles’ Revolver, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Joni Mitchell and Massive Attack.
You can be on separate sides of the island.
I like a lot of the ones that he dropped. Billy Joel is mine. I love the album, The Stranger, specifically. I literally listened to that almost every single day. I like an artist called Ali Farka Tourè. He’s a guitarist and that’s my chill music. I put that when I cook some food, have a glass of wine. If I was somewhere for a long time with only one piece of music, I think it would be Ali Farka Tourè’s album for sure.
What are your goals for the future?
We have a production company here in Los Angeles and we’ve started a label which we’ve signed one artist so far from the UK. That’s something we’re working on, and as we build upon that maybe we’ll look at some growth there to bring other eyes in. We’re constantly coming across new talent and if we can find ways to help and to bring it to market in some way.
We’re releasing this new generation bubble up. It’s exciting because it reenergizes you creatively in terms of your vision and your goals. Working with that next generation is important to us in many facets as we can with the labels signing artists that we can develop a little bit. We’ve honed in on that skill of being able to get people in the room and letting them blossom, grow and creatively guiding them. We’d like to do more of that.
Look into the sync side that we do a lot of work. We look at a new distribution platform. We start with commercial places and then release off the back and using that as a driver to reach new audiences rather than maybe going the traditional route of starting with radio, a lot of marketing.
We use what we know. We use sync as a platform for exposure. I’m also getting to work more and more with people who are exclusively songwriters. That’s a side of things where people do not necessarily want that spotlight and to do the artist thing, which is incredibly a difficult hat to wear. Amazingly talented young writers that want to get in the space and create. That’s a refreshing energy to be around and definitely something that we’re building on and doing more of on a day-to-day basis.
We’re all very lucky to be in this business that we love. It comes with its highs, lows and a graft sometimes.
Sometimes I do wish I got my plumbing apprenticeship.
Are you good at fixing the old pipe?
I feel like I wade through enough in the music industry.
That was a very diplomatic way of saying it.
I enjoy painting as well.
He works hard and incredibly long hours and it’s definitely a massive driver for his happiness. If he isn’t working, he gets a bit agitated. In those times when he knows that he has to step away from the studio, he does some projects. He builds a cabinet or paints some house.
Thank you, guys. It’s been so fun having you and knowing everything, your words of wisdom, all of your experiences and your success. Coming here with literally nothing and turning yourselves into successful writer-producers with your production company. Congratulations and thank you for being on the show.
Thank you, Tara.
Thank you. See you both soon.
About Lily-May Young and Owen Thomas
T.Y Songs are a British songwriting production team based between Los Angeles, CA and London, UK. The creative duo, consisting of Owen Thomas and Lily-May Young, write and record for both recording artists and TV & Film on both sides of the Atlantic. Collectively T.Y Songs have had over 450 international placements, with their work featuring in some of your favorite TV shows, films, trailers, commercials and on the radio. Where did it all begin….
Owen, originally from Dorset, South West UK, began his musical journey at the tender age of 5, playing piano, at age 10 embraced the drums, which led him to perform weekly shows throughout his teens in a plethora of cover bands. While his peers were out partying on weekends, he found himself counting the band in at some pub or wedding. Cutting his teeth playing live not only broadened his musical experience, but brought the behind the scenes insight into the world of studios, engineering, production, and indeed songwriting.
During college years, (much to the dismay of his lecturers and narrowly diverting expulsion due to lack of attendance) was commuting weekly to London to assist musician/producer Paul Stacey (Oasis, Black Crows). This brought forward the opportunity to convert an old barn on the family farm into a recording studio, apply titled ‘Conversion Studios’ and grew into one of the South West UK’s premiere residential studios, still in operation today.
Still commuting to and fro London, but wanting to expand his network of like-minded peers, Owen attended Rose Bruford University for a BA Hons in Music Technology and Orchestration, it was here that his paths crossed with Lily-May. Lily, born within the sound of the bow bells, was raised in the heart of the east end of London, in the borough of Hackney. Her mother was a music teacher and her father an artist. She had a pretty eccentric upbringing and vowed to never “have a job in music” (lest she turned into her mother).
Fast forward a few years and Lily had inadvertently become entrenched in the arts, trading the nightclub party scene of her peers for study at the English National Opera and training as a vocal coach. The front (wo)man to numerous bands, Lily sang her teen years across pub and festival stages, treading the beer-sodden boards of community theatres and falling firmly in love with theatre. Head and heart-led Lily to a directing course in European Theatre at the prestigious university of Rose Bruford, where the trajectory of her life’s journey would be altered forever with the chance meeting of kid in the music strand…
It was then, in 2005 that Owen and Lily met and their love affair with making music together began. Within 12 months, Numerous co-writing sessions, a handful of average songs and a whole lot of ambition, the duo embarked on a 2-month writing tour of the US. Starting the American leg of their songwriting and production journey in Houston Texas they found themselves in the mix of the buzzing Music World Entertainment company, which at the time, ran by Mathew Knowles and home to the blossoming Beyoncé fam.
Followed by a brief stint in Nashville and then onto Los Angeles, the barely 20 somethings worked hard door to door, or rather studio to studio. Thoroughly invigorated by this experience in the US, inspired their filing of Visa’s and 12 months later with little more than a suitcase, guitar and a CD of songs they once again upped sticks and set their sights on Los Angeles. This time with a one-way ticket.
The youthful naivety played in their favor as they barely thought beyond their arrival as too any living or financial security. ‘We’ll figure it out’ was the mentality. With a handful of previous connections they once again set about the town writing and recording songs. This led them into the hands of, now good friend, Karen Kloack, whom at the time was VP of Music Sales. Karen brought forth the suggestion and opportunity to pitch some of these songs for film & TV, an outlet for songs Owen & Lily had yet to discover.
It was the response and reaction in this new sector of the industry that would forever shape their future. Rewarded by the relatively quick turn around and airing of songs excited the duo to shift focus and really come to understand what each and every aspect of this ‘sync’ industry entailed. The writing now brought meeting upon meeting and in turn more writing, and the demand on their ever growing song catalog increased.
Skip forward 13 years, through their own production company their music has been featured in films, trailers, commercials, TV shows weekly around the world. The T.Y journey continues, now embracing the extensive knowledge of this side of the industry and with a fully-fledged team, they seek to embrace new artists, writers, producers and bring forth opportunity to expose new talent to the world.