Gabriel shares his journey as a composer: How playing around with looping software grew his interest in creating his own music, not letting his lack of mixing/mastering skills keep him from finishing projects, and the importance of playing live.
Leigh Lim: Hi Gabriel, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! While on your Instagram feed, I noticed that the posts are mostly videos. Do you find that posting them ensures you don’t procrastinate?
Gabriel Öberg: Hey Leigh! No problem, it’s always rewarding and fun sharing your process to hopefully help and inspire others! I mainly upload videos because it’s essentially what my music is designed for Plus, I personally think videos are more enjoyable to watch than photos.
LL: Why do you think you do the things you do?
GO: Well, the simple answer is because I love what I do. Being able to find a way to make a living out of what you love is a dream for most people. Having that as a driving force gives me more than enough motivation to keep going, no matter how tough and exhausting it is at times.
LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are as a composer?
GO: it started when I was a kid and got a demo of Ejay, which is a very simple program where you just drag and drop loops. That sparked my interest and eventually, I got into more advanced programs. From that point to where I am now, all my skills and knowledge come from just sitting and creating songs digitally. So, to sum it all up, creating music all the time is how I got to where I am as a composer.
(Editor’s note: A link of Ejay has not been provided as the site has tested positive for malware)
LL: Would you say that it was the looping software that got you into piano?
GO: Maybe not the looping software. But definitely music software piqued my interest, it all started with drawing midi notes to make a melody, which made me want to learn the piano and eventually guitar as well.
LL: Do you have specific books that you keep within reach that you regularly refer to?
GO: Not really. I do have “Oblique Strategies” that I use sometimes if I get stuck for whatever reason. The tips there are slightly abstract, but it can help to shift your perspective on things that helps me often. For more specific problems I’d say just use Google or YouTube. There is a lot of really great and helpful content all around us.
LL: Are you referring to the card deck from Brian Eno? (I’m keen to hear about a specific card from the deck that helped you tackle what you were stuck on. And yes…if you can include how web searches have helped you get unstuck and how you ended up deciding to purchase the deck!)
GO: Yes, exactly! The more abstract ones have helped me the most, when I’ve been completely stuck and need a new perspective. One good example is “convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element”. Or “what wouldn’t you do?”. Things that can put a spin on your entire approach can always be helpful. Regarding YouTube searches, I have no good examples. I just use that for a specific problem, like how a certain synth is made, etc.
LL: Were there any challenges that come to mind during your learning process?
GO: I’ve always struggled with mixing and mastering, probably because it’s on the technical side and I am not a technical person. And, since I am an all in one producer, it’s hard to keep track of everything sometimes since I do everything at once.
LL: Do you find the ‘everything at once’ approach gets things moving for you compared to doing things linearly?
GO: It’s the workflow I’ve developed over the years. I would not recommend it to anyone though. I think it’s better to have a linear workflow. A creation phase, then a mixing and mastering phase. It’s a bit chaotic doing all of those at once, but it works for me since I rarely have a clear vision for a track to begin with. It all shifts and changes while I’m working.
LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never composed anything before, so they could have the capacity to create at your level and skill. What would it look like?
GO: That’s a very tough question. I do think that everyone has to go through that hard journey, to find out if they really like it. But regarding music, there are so many paths. But if I were to decide, it would start very simple. I’d share a lot of music, with different mixing styles, compositions, genres and emotions and work on an individual level from there.
LL: Artists are known to be very protective for their work. What would you say to someone who can’t seem to let go, and share their ideas/work — while it is in progress?
GO: What I’ve learned from being in this business, which I think can be translated into all of the music business is that you have to take some distance away from what you’re making. It’s just a song. You’ll make so many more songs in your lifetime. Stop being selfish and afraid of being judged, and share your unfinished (and finished) work to the world is what I would say to them. Everyone will have a different opinion on your songs, every single time. All of us are struggling with doubt when it comes to our work, you’re not alone.
LL: How important was it to have someone help you learn a specific technique?
GO: I’m completely self-taught when it comes to music. I did have a teacher that inspired me in different ways but it didn’t really change my overall thoughts on music. What he did, though, was introducing me to Sigur Ros, a band that everyone in the entire world should check out!
LL: In what way would you say you are self taught?
GO: I just jumped into a program with both feet and learned that way. By just experimenting and creating. Eventually, I got pretty good at it and could make my very own song. So all my learning came from just listening to a lot of music and loving creating. If you love doing something, you will learn about it automatically.
LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a composer?
GO: As I said before, it was only really the love for music that made me who I am today. The discipline came out of that love, no matter how hard it’s been. Sometimes I’ve thought of giving up, but I can’t stay away.
LL: Is there a specific time of day you enjoy working?
GO: Early morning or late at night is where I get things going.
LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you sculpt your compositions?
GO: Honestly, not at all. Never even crossed my mind.
LL: How much do you plan before you start a project?
GO: I rarely ever plan anything, I usually come up with an idea on the spot, which turns into a song.
LL: What usually is the sign you look for that will give you the signal that it’ll be the take/version you like?
GO: It’s always about the song. If something I record isn’t perfect, but it fits for the song, then I’ll go with it. If a certain take makes your song a lot better, no matter the imperfections, then use it. There’s always a certain point when your track can be 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5% better, that’s the point where you have to let go. Let someone else listen, listen to it in a weird speaker. Realize it’s just a song and move on. It’s never, ever going to be perfect, neither for you or for anyone else.
LL: How long would you say it takes, for you to complete a recording?
GO: I usually have a track done in a regular workday (so 6-8 hours), but it depends on the scale of the song and arrangement required. Some tracks take longer, some I have finished in 1 hour.
LL: How would you describe your creations?
GO: I’d describe my creations as heavily emotional, dynamic songs. The core of my songs is always to convey a clear emotion, and mostly I tend to do the melancholic or the euphoric ones.
LL: What are some misconceptions you find about you as a composer?
GO: Well, I guess it’s the misconceptions that everyone makes about the things they don’t understand: The enormous amount of time and the energy that goes into it all.
LL: Are you learning something specific at the moment?
GO: I’m always learning. Right now I’m looking more into the dynamics and placements of orchestral strings, as well as mixing.
LL: Can you share three approaches you take that helped you become a better artist?
GO: Distance yourself from your work, do not take what you do too seriously. Be curious about everything regarding music, it will help you. And finally, don’t forget why you do what you do.
LL: What’s your go-to set-up?
GO: Reason (my DAW) and my Nektar Panorama Keyboard is my setup when I’m creating a song from scratch.
LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?
GO: Not really. I’ve always been based on software
LL: So, your current MIDI controller, that’s something that you didn’t really have to research?
GO: Well, I did research what MIDI controller would work well with my DAW (Reason), and I found the Nektar. I’m not playing live, and have no plans for doing it right now so I only care how well the controller works when I’m composing.
LL: If you were to start with scratch to build the gear that suits you best, do you think you’ll end up with the same thing?
GO: Yes. I’d end up with a simple computer and Reason, maybe a cheap midi keyboard too for convenience.
LL: Do you think the rule of thumb for DAW use (gaming laptop specs: which would be at least 16 GB memory with an i5 processor), is too much for a workstation?
GO: It all depends on how big and demanding your projects are. I like to upgrade my workstation pretty often so that I don’t have to worry about that. But you can easily make a great song with a simple workstation.
LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?
GO: No warm-up, I just get up and do the work!
LL: What’s next for your projects?
GO: I’m working with different music libraries that keep me busy pretty much all the time. But when I have some time over, I like to try different creative techniques within my DAW, like weird sorts of processing, genre mixes and so on that hopefully gets me started on a new song.
LL: How do you maintain your gear?
GO: I don’t, but I’m trying to get better at it.
LL: Has any of your equipment undergone customisation?
GO: I’ve colorized my acoustic guitar some times. Other than that, no.
LL: Do you have a piece of equipment (or software) that you thought was a good buy at that time, but you eventually didn’t use it as much as you hoped?
GO: I’m very careful about that, especially software. So no, I haven’t purchased any software that I regret.
LL: Any learnings you’ve picked up through the years when playing live?
GO: I recommend every musician to play music live, even if it’s not in front of an audience. You learn how to communicate your ideas in a new way which is very helpful, especially if (like me) you’re always alone when making music. Getting an idea through in a way that other people can understand is very beneficial because you have to remove all the fluff. And, of course, getting inspired by other people’s ideas is always good for you.
LL: Do you keep an archive of your work?
GO: Yes, I keep a backup of all tracks and project files. Since I’m selling my songs to music libraries, it might come a day when they want something to be changed or whatever it may be, then you have to be prepared for that.
LL: What I noticed when uploading videos on Instagram is that not all formats are accepted. Did you also struggle to find a way to upload video that has audio properly mixed? (Or are you looking to build more content on your YouTube channel as you can upload ones that go for longer?)
GO: Indeed I did, it took some time to figure out what formats work for Instagram. But now it’s all good. I could upload more on Youtube, but I really like the Instagram format. You only have one minute, which means you have to make that minute count. I like that, and I enjoy consuming that sort of content.
LL: Can you share a bit of background on how some of your videos came about? (You can choose your own, though I’m particularly keen on hearing about: ‘Reverse Piano’ and the process you went through with the audio. Did you flip the video then grab the audio? Or did you just slow down the video then overlay the processed audio?)
GO: Most of my videos are used as a way to showcase what I’ve been working on. Almost every time I record audio I take out my camera and film it. Regarding the reverse piano video, I just recorded myself playing. When I looked at it later it didn’t really grab me, so I tried reversing the video and I thought it sounded and looked cool and interesting. The audio is ripped straight from the camera and processed with lots of reverb and some tape saturation.
LL: What approach do you find is the best way to serve your listeners?
GO: Be humble, service minded and grateful that people find value in what you do.
LL: Are you looking into constantly tweak your site for yourself as a composer?
GO: I try to, but making new music is what takes up most of my time and it’s always my highest priority. Like with most musicians, marketing and self-promotion are definitely not my strong suit.
LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting entries?
GO: Not really, although I try not to take too long between posts. I mainly post something if I think it’s good content. But ideally, you should be posting at least once a day.
LL: Were there instances when you hesitated about posting something?
GO: Almost every time, haha. I always have that voice in the back of my head saying: “no one is gonna care about this, why even post it?”. But now that thought is actually what encourage me to post it because I’m mainly doing it for myself and try to not take it too seriously.
LL: What’s the one thing you have to put time on —- but have been putting off?
GO: The marketing and business side of music, it always kills all my inspiration. But I’m learning one step at a time.
LL: Are you currently mentoring someone?
GO: Nope, and I never have. Maybe I will in the future, who knows.
LL: What do you do when you come across something that annoys you?
GO: It depends on the problem. Spending time fixing a problem is almost always a good investment of time I think. Like fixing a certain thing in a mix, a certain synth sound etc. But some problems are just not worth it, then you just have to let it go.
LL: Are there certain things you can’t help but ‘geek out’ about?
GO: I have pretty good knowledge in all fields regarding music, so I don’t have a certain field where I’m extra passionate, skilled or geeky. Which is both a strength and a weakness, I guess.
LL: Got any peers you’d like to mention? (Basically a chance for you to say to readers of your Q&A: ‘Hey, you’ve got to check these musicians out!’. Also I’d be interested to hear about something you’ve come across that has really inspired you — or a specific approach that a peer is doing…that made you go: ‘Whoa! I’d like to try that!’)
GO: Julius Wallenberg is a great composer and producer who makes music similar to mine. N-S makes some super cool techno and edm stuff, I recomend him too. Regarding what has inspired me lately, I would say the techniques by Mick Gordon has inspired me lately. He uses a simple sine wave and manipulates it with lots of different kinds of distortion. A technique I’ve had a lot of fun with.
LL: What were the last 5 things you pre-ordered?
GO: Oh, I never pre-order anything. The one and only thing I’ve ever pre-ordered was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for PC.
LL: Are you a big listener of music?
GO: I am, but not as much as I should be. Constantly looking for new music is always a good investment, but I tend to fall back on the same old music that I love. My favorite band of all time is Radiohead. Other bands and producers that I take major inspiration from in my music right now are Sigur Ros (an Icelandic post-rock band which is also one of my favorite bands), Jon Hopkins (electronic music producer), Mac Quayle (tv-series composer) and Mick Gordon (video game composer)
LL: What are you reading at the moment?
GO: A book called “The Art Of Mixing”, which is student literature I should have read about 8 years ago.
LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things?
GO: Always, whether it’s new genres or approaches to mixing and sound design. I recently found a Youtube channel called Sonic Scoop that has a lot of great mixing masterclasses.
LL: In what way do you approach motivation and inspiration?
GO: Watching other people create almost always gives me motivation. Also finding new music that you haven’t heard before can spark some ideas in your head. I usually get inspired when I can’t do anything about it, like when I’m not in my studio or at home. So if I’m feeling uninspired I usually go for a walk, I just find it easier to get ideas going when you don’t have your tools around so to speak.
LL: What makes you smile?
GO: First thing that come to mind is the movie “In Bruges”, a favorite of mine. Many scenes in that movie make me smile. Definitely check it out!
LL: What’s your view about social media?
GO: Personally, I’m not a big fan of the shallow climate on social media. The spamming of fire emojis on every post just to get clicks. But due to how extremely saturated everything is, I totally understand why that is and I’m a part of it as well. It is what it is, and it’s necessary to grow your brand.
LL: What are your favorite sites at the moment?
GO: Splice.com is my favorite site at the moment because I can always find inspiring loops and samples there.
LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?
GO: I usually watch a comedy or a stand up show. Memes are also a good instant joy injection.
LL: Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists?
GO: Sure! Although I don’t do it that much currently. It’s always inspiring and rewarding letting someone else apply their ideas and thoughts on your work or vice versa. Even though the product isn’t always great, I feel like I’ve learned something new every time I collaborate with other musicians.
LL: Are you interested in technology?
GO: Can’t say that I am. I love new software and instruments that I can create something musical with, but the actual technical side doesn’t interest me that much. My computer is built by my friend, and contains an i7-7800X @ 3.50 GHz, 32 GB of RAM and some 2.5 TB of disk space split between some SSD’s and other drives. The software I use is Reason (DAW), Izotope Ozone 8 for mastering and Hitfilm Express for video editing.
LL: With your Instagram posts, do you have specific subjects that you go through a rotation of?
GO: Yes, I try to. I love posting snippets songs that I’ve made in different types of genres, or different spins on some recording technique etc. Keeping it varied is very important to me.
LL: If you were asked to pick from the entries (either a post or video on Instagram or elsewhere) you have, which one would be your favourite?
GO: I think it would be this one [using a violin bow on an acoustic guitar]. I’m very happy with the sound and melody I got from the guitar. I don’t know, it just makes me kinda uplifted.
LL: Are you the type of person that finds it easy to start something? (For example, you are hit with an idea — then within a couple of hours, you have written up a plan on how to make that happen. Or at least taken the first step! Or are you more of the person that waits until the idea is pulling you urgently before making a move?)
GO: Definitely the first type. I can get things going very quickly, and I rarely stop and plan things out. I work best when I just go for it without a solid plan.
LL: For someone listening to your work for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?
GO: I’m always after emotion and atmosphere when listening to music. And it’s pretty hard to pinpoint where that comes from. It could be from a certain chord progression, the sound of the synth that plays those chords, a vocal melody, or maybe just the ambient sounds and fx behind the actual song. And I always try to create that with my music, a mood that makes you feel uplifted and inspired (mostly).
LL: What makes your soul sing?
GO: Music, obviously. Good movies, video games, meditation, cooking are some things that gives me energy.
LL: What’s the best way to connect with people who admire your work?
GO: Can’t say I have that many people who admire my work since I currently just make music that’s aimed at supporting other mediums. But I think the best way is to always answer everyone who has taken the time to comment on your work, no matter in what form.
LL: Have you found your tribe yet?
GO: Can’t say that I have. I’ve always gone my own way, and I’ve met and worked with a lot of inspiring and talented people. But I can’t say I “belong” anywhere.
LL: What kind of opportunities are you looking forward to?
GO: Hopefully just getting some bigger projects and more clients. I really hope I get to do an actual custom soundtrack for a movie, that would be super cool.
LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others?
GO: Creative help, new perspective and new ideas are my favorite type of help to give. As i have mentioned, I’m not a technical person. So helping out with those sort of things isn’t as rewarding, but I’ll of course do it if it’s needed.
LL: Looking back through your journey, are you amazed at what you’ve accomplished so far?
GO: I’ve grown a lot as a musician and as a person, but I don’t like to look back too much. I’m very proud of some things I’ve accomplished, but I still feel like I’m in the middle of journey so I haven’t really reflected on that.
LL: How can we support your work?
GO: Following me on Instagram @gabrielobergmusic is more than enough if you want to support me! You’ll find more information If you’re interested there.
* Gabriel Öberg is a composer based in Borås. See things though his eyes via his Instagram feed. If you have any business suggestions or feedback on his tracks, he’ll welcome the news via email as something that can spark a creation is always fun! With that said, collaboration is also something he’ll welcome (as in the past he has been the one who has reached out and would be delighted if the reverse would happen).
Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (January – October 2020) between Gabriel and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.
Leigh Lim is a Sydney composer helping brands get their mojo back. When she is not doing that, she can be found spending time through various rabbit holes (offline and online) or sniffing out stories for a music discovery project.
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