A-list Music Producer for Adele, Sam Smith and Stormzy delivers a songwriting masterclass

Monday October 2, 2023

We were thrilled to recently welcome Grammy-winning music producer, Fraser T. Smith, to our Nottingham campus. Known for his work with megastars like Adele, Sam Smith, and Stormzy, Fraser is also an artist in his own right, performing under the moniker, ‘Future Utopia’. Ahead of his upcoming show at The Bodega on Monday 25 October, Fraser stopped by for a songwriting masterclass in our Confetti X venue.

Fraser T. Smith (pictured right) and Dean Jackson in the masterclass.

On Thursday 28 September, our Music Production and Sound Engineering degree students got a unique opportunity to hear all about Fraser’s journey into industry and the dizzying heights he’s reached so far in his career – Fraser T Smith won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2012 with Adele’s seminal album, ‘21’, and was nominated in the same category in 2015 for Sam Smith’s breakout album, ‘In the Lonely Hour’.

Fraser T Smith

Fraser is a multi-award winning, internationally acclaimed artist, producer, songwriter, and musician. He has co-written, mixed and produced 7 Number One singles in the UK, 2 Billboard Number One singles in the US, and contributed to 18 Number One albums. Some of these include ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ by Adele, ‘You are the Reason’ by Calum Scott, Big Michael by Stormzy, Not In That Way by Sam Smith, Wanna Know by Dave featuring Drake, and Sober by Tom Grennan.

As part of the 90-minute masterclass, Fraser made use of his keyboard, breaking down the writing of some of these iconic tracks. Speaking on how he initially broke into the music industry, Fraser said:

“Once I knew what a music producer did and what the role entailed, it was a natural career path. Initially starting out as a guitarist, I used to write songs with the lead singer in a band, and just fell in love with the production aspect. I got introduced to Craig David, we did a gig and it went really well. We had a great good connection and it led to me touring with him as his guitarist for 5 years. At the same time, I continued to build production credits, writing for Craig’s album including the track ‘Can’t Be Messing Around’. This song was huge for Craig and that started our creative partnership. After that I made the decision to become a full-time producer.”

Fraser T. Smith in our Metronome studios.

Ahead of the session, Fraser received a tour of our Nottingham facilities, including our live music and events venue, Metronome, and our cross-media venue, Confetti X.  Asked why he wanted to get involved and deliver a guest lecture, Fraser said:

“It’s my first time at Confetti and I’m floored! It’s amazing to be here, to see the tutors, these wonderful students and Confetti X is such a great venue.

“Really for me the key in these institutions is meeting other musicians, and to be able to tap into a community like Confetti is fantastic, I think what they’re doing is very important. Particularly after lockdown, I think we all realised how important human connections are, and how well these emotions sync in with music. This can’t be outrun by something like AI.

“The studios in Metronome are great, they have amazing audio technologies here. In this age where music is primarily made with a laptop, they have all these incredible vintage recording techniques which continue to play a vital role in music production. It’s great to give the students the opportunity to experience how it’s made now and how classic records were previously made.”

Having spent most of his career producing and songwriting for some of the biggest artists in the world (Adele, Stormzy, Sam Smith, Florence and the Machine, Drake, Gorillaz, Kano, Dave etc.) Fraser released his own debut album, ‘12 Questions’, in October 2020, under the moniker ‘Future Utopia’. The artist’s rich background as a producer, songwriter, and musician, uniquely positions him to speak on the recording, production and performance aspects of making music. Here are some of our key takeaways from the masterclass:

  • It’s important to have discipline and it helps to focus songwriting. Fraser sets a timer for 15 minutes every morning to work on creating music. It doesn’t matter what comes out, the process just really helps him get into the mindset. It also provides lot of ideas to work on.
  • Fraser also discussed the pressure of writing, and how it’s important to try opposites. For example, instead of attempting long notes, try focusing on short notes instead and see what comes out. Switching up the process can really help you overcome that roadblock.
  • Put the time in to really perfect your craft. Be honest with yourself and master the skill of being self-critical.
  • Trying different genres can be daunting, however, Fraser encourages you to branch out and try better understanding them. The industry keeps on changing and new sounds and styles come into fashion. Music is not the same as it was 5 years ago, and being versatile can help you in the long run.
  • Fraser discussed the importance of health in the business and taking good care of yourself. He mentioned how much he enjoys running which supports his mental and physical performance. It also gives him an opportunity to get out of the studio and provides new sources of creativity. In addition to putting your wellbeing first, Fraser emphasises the importance of community learning and relationship building.

Future Utopia

Future Utopia’s debut album, ‘12 Questions’ was released in October 2020. This album was in collaboration with top artists, such as Idris Elba, Tom Grennan, Stormzy and Dan Smith of Bastille. This was followed by the album ‘12 Questions After Dark’ in 2021 and his latest album released this year – ‘We Were We Still Are’. Future Utopia is currently touring the country promoting the new album with an upcoming show in Nottingham on Wednesday 25 October 2023. The gig will take place at The Bodega, one of the best places hang out, party and listen to live music in the city. Run by our partners, DHP Family, many of our students perform and gain work experience supporting their live events – find out more.

Free gig tickets for Confetti students

Fraser was ever so generous with his time – a portion of the session was devoted to an audience Q&A where students were encouraged to ask questions – he also, provided all students that attended free entry to his upcoming Future Utopia show on Wednesday 25 October. We caught up with Music Performance degree student, to get her reaction and takeaways from the session, she said:

“I wanted to attend the event because Fraser T Smith’s a legend who’s worked with so many artists I know and love, especially Adele, who is one of my favourite singers.

“It was really interesting to find out more about Fraser’s background and career, and to be able to learn from his experiences and lessons learnt along the way. I was taking it in as a songwriter and a performer – It was interesting to learn how he writes and his process for working collaboratively with other artists. Communication is important and there’s definitely some tips and insights which’ll help me going forward.

“I am really enjoying my course and looking forward to more industry guest lectures this year. So far, I have managed to make some useful connections and met some really inspirational people. I’ve also performed lots of gigs which is really helping me develop as an artist and raise my profile – someday you are going to hear my name” Joyce Costa, Year 3 BA (Hons) Music Performance student

Fraser T. Smith with the vinyl winner Marta Komorowska

Fraser also brought along a signed vinyl copy of Future Utopia’s 2021 album, ‘12 Questions After Dark’. By the end of the session, he surprised all the students with a competition. To check their musical knowledge, he asked the students, on which scale ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ by Adele was produced. The answer was D minor and Marta Komorowska (pictured above), a third year BA (Hons) Music Performance student, took home the prize!

Confetti X

Confetti X is our £5 million complex which brings together years of expertise in live events, content creation, streaming and competitive gaming. With strong links to industry, the 14,000 sqft complex has already hosted the qualifying rounds of the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships 2022 and the Amazon UNIVERSITY Esports Masters 2023 Live Finals. A flexible space – the venue recently hosted a screening of Vicky McClure’s Our Dementia Choir and hosts a variety of interactive masterclasses each year as part of our popular enrichment, ‘Industry Week’.

Are you interested in hearing from accomplished industry guest lecturers as part of your studies? Book onto an Open Day to find out more about all the opportunities on offer here at Confetti.