CMTEN: How To Blow Up And Stay Cool

If there is one simple phrase that encapsulates the grander music landscape since the inception of social media, it’s that “anyone and everyone has the power to jumpstart a career in music in one fell swoop.” Time and time again have the most simplistic, down to earth, and humble individuals seen their musical aspirations skyrocket as a result of one sudden blip in a certain algorithm online; it’s more than a trend at this point… it has practically become a science. 

But that does not mean that every artist who has benefitted from this state has utilized it as a science in the past few years, which is far from the case. And for the latest, and possibly greatest example of this concept being put into motion at random, look no further than the sudden rise of CMTEN. 

This 19-year-old rising star had his artistic career take off to unfounded levels when one of his tracks “NEVER MET!” became known worldwide with its popularity aided by the all-too-influential platform of Tik Tok. The song itself has been regarded as one of the most standout tracks from this rising underground pop movement that is gaining traction day by day and moment by moment, and CMTEN is following suit in his own right. 

But even despite this track reaching over 10 million listens on Spotify and others after it also performing extremely well, the Utah native has stayed relatively quiet on all of his own personal social media accounts. Though CMTEN is nothing short of a household name among avid music listeners and young teens alike, there’s quite a lot to be discovered about the man behind that name — just another level-headed musician named Cole who’s currently studying at the University Of Utah. 

LL: I’m sure people would love to know how this whole music thing got its start on your end first. Describe your musical journey up to this point.

So I was actually raised Mormon, and there’s a whole bunch of music-type things that went on early in my life based on that. We sang as a family a lot, and my mom actually wrote poetry too, so I was kinda immersed in both of those things. Once I got to high school though I joined choir and kinda made my way up the ranks there… (we) competed in a bunch of competitions and I was even one of the officers for the baritone section. It was really dope coming up like that.

LL: What was the moment where you decided that you’d like to pursue different types of music like you do now?

I’ve been doing kinda what I do now since like 2018. I was really just making music in my dorm, and like when I’d show my music to people and they’d ask things like, “what even is this?” or stuff like that, I just answered with “I don’t know, I’m just making what I want.” Like I didn’t even know that there was a scene with all of this. 

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LL: When were you first made aware of the scene?

It was right around June of 2019 when I first heard 1000 Gecs, and then later that year I really started getting into people like Quinn and artists like that, and they definitely had influence on my work. And really I feel like I’ve kinda always been making music similar to their stuff, so when I got into them I really started to realize that there was this entire scene surrounding that type of music. 

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LL: The type of music that you and certainly those other acts you mentioned stems from all types of different personal influences without a doubt. So what drove you towards this sound throughout your own life?

Oh yeah, I was definitely taking influences from like bedroom pop with acts like Omar Apollo, Billy Lemos, and other people like them. But also on the other side I was really influenced by Porter Robinson and M83 as well, so really what I was trying to do at first was mix EDM and pop with like hella glitched vocals and shit. The first project I made was kinda terrible but honestly, that’s just where I started I guess (laughs). But it was kinda all over the place with me, like I even went from Vampire Weekend to MCR and shit like that… even Peep too just a little. 

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LL: I find it really interesting that you mentioned bedroom pop there, because I feel like the scene now shares a similar methodology with those acts and how they used to be when they were first blowing up. What exactly did you take away from that era?

Definitely the way they were creating stuff. Now it’s less unorthodox, but the fact that I can record and not have to really worry about background noise or other sounds in my vocals is really cool, because they were doing that and still popping off and making really good music, so that was super inspirational to me. Even things like “happy accidents” too, like if I fuck something up in Logic and all of a sudden I’m like “yo this sounds cool as fuck, I’ll use this as a lead or something” you feel me? That shit is really important. 

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LL: That laid back way of making music is so fascinating too, because something that seems to happen after an artist blows up is that they are pressured into either keeping that same method or making things sound “more professional” in a way. Have you felt that same pressure at all recently?

I’ve thought about that from time to time, and for me it’s just a little different because of the way I blew up out of nowhere. Like I know what I’m doing with production for the most part, but if I watch a YouTube video on a certain aspect of production, I pretty much have no idea what they are talking about most of the time to be honest. And then I ask myself, “do I even deserve to be in this spot?” — which makes me kinda want to make my music sound a little more clean I guess. But then I think about how that might take away from the authenticity of the music… so I just want to keep that authentic influence with a cleaner approach I think.

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LL: One thing you do have going for you in that way though is the fact that the pressure might not be as tight from your audience due to how you like to keep your personality just a little more distant than some others in the scene are from their own fans. But what is your own perception of who your fans are and how they might see you?

I mean, a lot of the people are from Tik Tok. And I can really tell I’m pulling a lot of people from the “alt” side of things if you feel me, like the median seems to be alt-teenagers with dyed hair or something (laughs). But honestly, there’s a lot to be said about that because teenagers are the future, and whatever they fuck with, the world is gonna fuck with later. 

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LL: I really admire how accepting and laid back you are with all this, and I think that extends to your social media presence too. Out of everyone popping off right now in the scene, you are one of the least active as far as engaging with people is concerned. Explain why you take this approach.

I really just don’t go crazy or anything like that. There are people that tweet something every 20 seconds and have these super active fans, but for me I just stay a little distant compared to them. I really am involved in things though, I’m just getting used to the whole collaborating with and talking to a bunch of people online thing. 

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LL: People really do want to collaborate with you a lot and essentially everyone respects the hell out of you, so how come not as many features come from your name as maybe others would expect?

I’m really just super careful with a lot of things in the scene right now. Like I really fuck with everything that everyone is doing right now, and I actually get on opens and collab quite often, but not a lot of stuff materializes just because of how much I do things on my own and how my schedule operates. 

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LL: It’s really great that you value your time away from all this so much, but how has your big come up influenced other aspects of your real life?

It’s really interesting because I’m already a pretty social person, but I feel like I have to be a little cautious because I’m meeting all these new people and they’re like “I know you from your music, that’s so cool!” — and I appreciate that, but at the same time, are they only trying to talk to me because I’m making music? Like even some of my friends are like “HE’S THE ONE WHO MADE THE FUCKING SONG” and I just sit there like… “yep, don’t really know what to say….”

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LL: But at the same time, you seem like you’re all about this music stuff as it stands, so what’s next for you in the near future?

I feel like at this point I can go a lot of ways and do whatever I want, like I don’t feel boxed in by any labels. A lot of the perspective I have on my music right now has come from the experiences I’ve gone through in the past few months, so I feel like I’m really matured now and I know I don’t have to appeal to a certain sound or audience. I’m not trying to just do “hyperpop” or anything like that. I feel like what I’m trying to do is super diverse, and really the best way for me to continue forward is to be as authentic as I can with what I’m creating. If I’m just making stuff to appease other people, then I’ll never enjoy it myself, and there’s just no point in that.