By Nicholas Younge | @nicholas_younge
Tom Writing Lyrics (Photo Credit: Thomas Lain)
Tom Laim had never been an organized person. Entering his room on April 22nd, chaos reared its ugly head once more. Starting college had sparked a change in him, as his old room was abandoned for the separated guest room attached to his parents house. His change started with his environment; a change of pace towards living independently. By the door, his well-worn wardrobe lay smothered in a heap near his raincloud gray bookshelf. Next to the bookshelf was another set of cubic shelves, about waist high, holding various vinyl records and half scribbled ideas on crumpled note paper, which extended down to the closet space and instrument storage. The simple catalog consisted of an old acoustic guitar secured in its stand and a keyboard with pink and yellow sticky notes scattered across it. Above the keyboard was a cheat sheet print out of the music staff, notes arranged in rising fashion. A single candle burned in the center of the room as Tom took a seat at his desk.
Thomas Laim, now nineteen years young, was fitted in his casual quarantine attire, a long sleeve white shirt with accompanying gray joggers. His hair was trimmed down, but his beard had grown exceptionally since I had last seen him. It had filled itself in across his face, making him look arguably more mature. Ableton Live, a common audio software, sat open on his primary desktop monitor. A rough thirty second track sat in development, waiting idly for a response. On the second monitor was his digital office for the campus technical support job he had picked up earlier that semester. Tom said that they moved everything online since quarantine and that all he had to do was answer a call if someone asked for him. Otherwise, he was getting paid to make music, just not in the conventional sense.
Who is Tom Laim?
I had taken a seat next to the desk and was preparing my laptop’s recording software for our interview when I looked up to observe my friend. At this point, his first full length album, Addison, was entering the final stages of post-production with a set release date in late July. All Laim had to finish was recording the last song and making a few technical tweaks to the overall sound of the album before it was sent out through the distributor and onto streaming platforms worldwide. Watching him process all the deadlines and ideas swimming within his mind, I realized he seemed a lot more comfortable in his own shoes these days; calmly managing his process, his job, and me, all at once. He made me feel unprepared. “If you hear a buzz, that’s my boss getting my attention, but aside from that, let’s do this interview,” Tom said, turning to face me with an aura of comfortability.
Lucky for the rest of us, Tom Laim had not always been as confident, as on top of things and as comfortable with himself as he seemed that day. Laim had been working on finding that confidence within himself for years; a process that involved the growing importance of music within his own life. Prior to high school, music remained largely unimportant in his life until he was rejected by an old high school crush midway through his sophomore year. Once that shift in circumstance and self esteem occurred, it was then Laim began to explore a wider variety of music than what he was used to. During our conversation, he explained, “The fact that something could emotionally relate so much to the things that I was feeling was just kind of awesome to me.” The exploration to find more songs that connected to how he felt led him to artists like Daft Punk, Gorillaz, Kayne West, Travis Scott, JPEGMAFIA and Brockhampton; sounds he would later receive a lot of inspiration from once he began writing his own songs.
Yet as fate would have it, rejection would continue to be the driving force that pushed Laim to find his voice. As his love for music grew and his desire to pursue it strengthened, the nervous uncertainty that came with that declaration found its way into his head again. “I feel like everyone gets told, if they do something that's music, it's just a phase, you can't do it, you're actually just shitty, and no one wants to tell you.” Laim went on further to explain that a lot of people in his circle of friends had been practicing music for years before he did, which fueled the feelings of exclusion and made him unsure if pursuing his own endeavors would be worth the possible judgement and ridicule from peers. Because of this uncertainty, Laim’s approach to music production wouldn’t take a linear path; instead, it would have to survive in an unconventional landscape.
He started off by doing what everyone else does: singing loudly in his car. Additionally, Laim began producing parody-esque songs on soundcloud and YouTube, which acted as an outlet for his creative process that he could still pass off to his peers as a joke. Laim lived in that state of doubt and denial for a year or so before meeting his mentor and good friend Fisher Thompson, who has been learning and practicing traditional music his whole life. Their friendship and similar tastes in music provided Laim with a unique opportunity to join a startup indie punk band by the name of The Amnesiacs & The Amnesiacs, created by Thompson in 2019. “Love Song 131” was their first single to hit streaming platforms, followed by a four track EP titled Baldspots (An EP) released later that year. It was around this time that Laim also began to take vocal lessons, where he learned valuable techniques to better control his range while singing. With the combination of those two outlets, he had grown a lot more confident in his ability and understanding of music. It was time to take it to the next level.
Laim Working in the Studio (Photo Credit: Fisher Thompson)
The task of writing verses for a couple songs had now evolved into the much broader idea of completely writing his own. The first hurdle Laim knew he was going to cross was developing a personalized sound for himself. He wanted his music to be something people hadn’t heard before, so he took to the drawing board. As our conversation began to focus more on the creation of Addison, Laim had this to say, “A lot of things go into it. I think that's something with music that you have to be aware of is you don't want to just be copying people. It's very easy to just be like, ‘Oh, I want something that's this’ and then you just copy something without even thinking about it. If you base a song off of something, then you can get lost in that so fast and you’ll lose your own voice and your own sound.” After much trial and error, Laim believed he had found a healthy balance between his own unique style and what he enjoyed listening to. He cites artists like Daft Punk for their “hypnotic” way of expressing “how things feel” to Gorillaz for their “potent sounds that have distinct feelings attached to them” as what he believes helped to influence his creative process. He further mentions big league contenders such as Kanye West and Kenny Beats for their ability to pursue instincts without “compromising their image.” Laim applies a similar mentality when writing his own songs that can be summarized to the pursuit of “a specific feeling in a specific moment. You just do it and don't think about every single detail. Just get the main feeling out. That's when you can really build something.”
It was that mentality Tom Laim possessed while writing Addison. I asked him what aspect of creating a song was his favorite, which he replied with, “None, really. It's all fun and it all starts in different places.” By creating Addison, Laim wanted each song to represent how he felt about certain experiences he’s had in the past and the first emotional instincts he experienced afterwards. He elaborated that his process involves a cutoff point; an area where he draws the line and stops second guessing what he has produced. This mentality was also incorporated into the technical process of the music. “At least how it works in my brain a lot of the time is I'll start hearing something, then Fisher and I normally will build the instrumental together. Then once it's there I’m hearing notes in my head of how I'm going to sing it, what I'm going to do, and then it becomes experimentation.”
At the time of writing this, I have yet to be able to listen to Addison, but Laim currently has two singles out on all major music streaming platforms, titled “Pollen” and “Bubblegum.” Laim’s sound has been described primarily as alternative pop with some aspects of rap and punk sprinkled throughout to offer something new. “Pollen” brings forward its upbeat, high energy sound through clever lyricism, unique transitions, and a catchy chorus melody, whereas “Bubblegum” slows down with soft vocals and a guitar melody that allows Laim's audience to focus on his lyrics.
Shifting to the lyrical half of songwriting, Laim stated that a lot of his writing process is done alone, away from a recording room or instruments. A significant aspect of his process is the generation of an arc within each of his songs. The time it takes to create said arc varies heavily depending on what the song represents and then crafting it musically. Laim’s two officially released singles highlight this contrast in his writing process completely. According to Laim, the majority of “Pollen” was written in about fifteen to twenty minutes whereas “Bubblegum” received a lot more attention, having been created and then completely rebuilt a few times before its release. The rest of Addison has gone through a similar process of experimentation and revision before Laim decided to settle on the overall tone. Once the production has wrapped on the album, it’s onto publishing the final product.
Laim Working in the Studio (Photo Credit: Fisher Thompson)
How Streaming Platforms Changed the Music Industry
Music publishing in the 21st century is vastly different than how it used to be before the digital age. Whether or not individuals engage in publishing on their own, the overly simplified process has made music far more accessible than it has ever been. Laim and myself grew up alongside CDs and the initial rise of MP3 players to now exist comfortably in a streaming service-based music industry, but what has been revealed by the pursuit of creating music (and by extension, my reporting on the process) is how vastly different streaming music has made publishing it. Anyone who possesses the drive to create music and the capabilities to produce a song can just as easily release their sound to the world.
To properly encapsulate what is meant by streaming, NPR’s Jacob Ganz specifies that, “every time you click play on a streaming service, from Pandora to YouTube to Spotify, you're licensing the right to listen to the song in that particular moment, whether you pay a subscription or sit through an ad.” Rather than the days of purchasing albums, whether they be physical or digital copies, it is far easier for consumers to access a whole catalog of music than buy their own. That’s not to discredit the recent revival of vinyl records by younger generations, but for artists like Tom Laim who lack the capabilities to produce records and aren't signed to a professional label, streaming offers a great foundation for his artistic endeavors.
In Laim’s case, he uses a distributor called DistroKid, which allows him to upload however many songs he wants for only a cost of $19.99/year. Furthermore, DistroKid allows its artists to receive 100% of royalties made off the streams. In other words, for every person who streams one of Laim’s songs, he makes a fraction of a penny per stream. There is a lot more that goes into the specific rates and exactly how much a stream makes based on whichever service was used, but in general, the more streams an artist gets, the more money they can make. When talking to Laim about the statistical side of his music, he noted that, “It's so easy to get pulled into the numbers and get extra worried about them and become like a machine in that regard of, ‘I want to do the thing that has the most streams and the most playability.’ That can become a very shitty mindset. Because the main thing I want to do when I'm making music is make things that I like.” While Laim does believe that looking at the numbers can help artists gauge what songs are doing well, he highlights the importance of finding a healthy balance.
Tom Recording a Verse (Photo Credit: Fisher Thompson)
Why Music Matters (To Tom Laim)
All that has been discussed previously begs an answer to the very nature of self-produced music: Why bother making it at all? Towards the end of our conversation, I posed the very same question to Tom. I was hoping for a defined answer, perhaps something that called back to his past experiences and life moments. Instead my friend paused and then chuckled. “I don’t fully know why I do music,” he replied. Now it was my turn to pause. Mouth slightly agape, I ran through my mind, trying to find a way I could follow up on my final question, but I couldn’t. What do you mean you don’t know? But before I could respond, Laim continued, “I just really have a passion for it. I love listening to music. I love hearing new ideas, feeling things out and I also feel like there's room for more weird in music. That's kind of what I want to do with music. Just make more people aware that music can be a lot more than what people initially see in it. There's people who listen to Top 40 stuff or just one album forever and that's it. I think then, ‘Why limit yourself to that when there's so much more to experience?’ The emotional connections you can make with people I find super, super valuable. I like doing music because I know that I can represent who I am for other people and I can talk for myself and others through it.”
Addison is now available to stream across all major music platforms.
Biggs, John. “The DistroKid Music Distribution Service Has Launched An Indie Artist To The
Top Of The Charts.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 6 Aug. 2015,
Ganz, Jacob. “How Streaming Is Changing Music.” NPR, NPR, 1 June 2015,
Laim, Thomas. Personal Interview. 22 April 2020.
“Spotify for Artists Announces Upcoming Integration with DistroKid.” Spotify, 28 Nov. 2018,