Q&A #28: Gabriel Öberg

 

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.

 

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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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Q&A #24: Matthew David

 

 

 

Matthew shares his journey as a drummer, his preference of one (big!) screen rather than multiple monitors, and the realisation that focused practice could have improved his skills greatly.

 

 

 

Leigh Lim: Thanks for agreeing to share a bit about yourself Matt. I noticed that there are a couple of vintage kits, is that a soft spot? (You’d pick, or even rescue an unloved, old-old-old kit, rather than purchase a new, or second hand one that was less than 5 years old)

 

Matthew David: I own 1 vintage kit yeah, and I had wanted to buy a vintage kit for as long as I could remember. Being able to restore one, well, that kind of makes it even more special. This kit was collecting dust and rusting away in a friend’s garage. When I dug it out and realised it was the exact sizes I wanted (20″ kick, with short 12 and 13 inch toms, plus a 16″ floor) I knew I had to have it. I took it home and spent an entire Easter weekend scrubbing, wiping, scraping, polishing, till the skin virtually came off my hands.

I smelled of polish and chemical and vinegar and detergent and whatever else I was using. But within a week, I had a fully functioning, totally restored kit (I also had to buy all new skins, plus snare wire and throw-off, plus a couple of hoops and some other bits and pieces). I use it in a 50’s/60’s band, and it’s great fun to play and sounds perfectly old-school.

 

LL: Did you have to wait long to find (and receive) the parts you needed for the restore?

MD: I just went to my previous place of employment (music shop) and bought the parts there. From memory I had to order something in but it only took a few days. I wasn’t up for trying to restore it with genuine parts, so I put generic parts on as no-one would be able to tell the difference anyway.

 

LL: Also! There are a number of Saluda Sound files! Was that a phase? (or you really like those Saluda Cymbals?)

MD: Saluda are great cymbals. I brought a whole bunch in from America to try myself and sell on to others, to get the name out there.

I don’t tend to use them much nowadays though, the ones I brought in were all within a certain kind of sound and I just don’t play the styles that suit the sounds. In saying that though, I use a Saluda Mist-X 16″ crash a lot, fantastic cymbal, it’s kind of like a Zildjian K Custom Hybrid.

 

 

 

LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?

 

MD: When I started playing, I had lessons privately for about the first 6 months from a guy that wasn’t trained himself. We used a book “Progressive Rock Drumming” by Andy Griffiths, and I just basically worked through the exercises.

I didn’t exactly learn rudiments properly, in fact I couldn’t do proper double stroke rolls till I’d been playing for over 10 years (I’d done a lot of press rolls up until that point!). I remember one exercise he gave me was to play the intro part to the Screaming Jets song “Better”. He came back a week later and I played him what I’d practiced. He had to correct me, as what I was playing was actually a more complicated version of the part (I think I had written it down wrong, or just learned it differently and got stuck on doing it that way instead). That basically gave me the confidence to attack just about anything, drum-wise.

From there, I started to delve into blues and funk… nothing tricky though. About 6 years later my tastes all changed, I got more into hard rock, including progressive music, starting with some odd time signatures by guys like Soundgarden, and moving into trickier stuff like Dream Theater.

This got me into even heavier music, mainly Pantera, where I started to write a fusion of heavy metal and progressive music, with solid heavy grooves that you might find in a Rage Against the Machine track.

Eventually I moved into hard rock, then fell in love with latin, which allowed me to experiment with new grooves using the kit plus timbales, bells and blocks, and is really tightening me as a player.

 

 

 

LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?

 

MD: I guess it would contain music by a variety of bands/artists, and chops from a variety of drummers. Even if you only like one style of music, check out a wide range of styles to see what people are doing.

Learn your rudiments, learn how to play to a click, but never forget how important groove is. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be a bit sloppy sometimes. Don’t be the player that sits comfortably in a song and just plays predictable safe grooves and fills. Be the player that does the crazy stuff, because even though sometimes you might screw up, I guarantee when you play that killer groove or smash that totally out there fill or solo part, you’ll feel amazing, and your crowd will love it (and you’ll be known as the drummer that landed it!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a drummer?

 

MD: Not entirely. I tended to just have a natural talent, that allowed me to not have to practice a lot in order to get better as a player. Problem was I became complacent and then years later realised I should be better than I actually was! I still feel like I don’t practice enough… I play a lot, but don’t tend to practice things too often.

 

 

LL: Where there times when you didn’t want to practice? (What did you do to keep going?)

 

MD: Quite often I don’t have the energy. Or if I do have the energy, I don’t have the patience, so I’ll tend to just jump on the kit or timbales and smash away for a while, as opposed to practicing technique etc.

 

LL: Any words of wisdom for drummers who are quite keen to find the energy and the patience, to practice?

 

MD: You really just have to make time to practice. And don’t let yourself plateau as a player. If you get stuck, change it up and learn a new style. If you’re a right handed player, start playing left handed instead. Flip everything around and it will keep you stimulated and interested.

 

 

 

 

LL: If you had a chance to redo things, what would you have wanted to practice on and work on?

MD: I just wish I had started to learn latin grooves years before I did. Not only does latin playing require a lot of discipline and feel, it’s also great to play a style where you can go between tight and robotic to crazy improvisation, all while people are dancing along and enjoying it.

 

LL: Heel-up / Heel Down?

 

MD: Heel up, both feet.

 

LL: Has that always been the case since you started drumming?

MD: Yeah always heel up.

 

 

LL: Favorite Shoes for Drumming?

MD: I don’t get a say, a lot of the time, because I play in bands that require me to wear more formal shoes. If I have to pick, I’d say light and grippy. Though I’ve had a lot of trouble with my feet and legs over the past 5 years (mostly unrelated to drumming) that have prevented me from wearing that kind of shoe (I have to wear something with a lot of rigidity and support).

 

LL: How would you describe your generic kit set-up?

MD: 5 piece, 2 up, 1 down, 2 crashes, ride, hats. This is my standard rock setup.

My setup for latin is usually the same plus add in an extra tom (when there’s room on stage!), an extra cymbal or 2, timbales, 3 cowbells, and a block.

 

 

 

 

LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?

MD: For drums, I have a Pearl VSX graffiti kit, 22, 10, 12, 14, 16, short stack toms, black hardware. I’ve also got a ’69 Pearl kit that I restored, oyster shell wrap, 20, 12, 13, 16. And a Sonor Force 3003, 22, 8, 10, 12, 14, with 10″ accent snare.*

Mainly running Remo heads – Pinstripes and Ambassadors (clear and coated). Tried Evans, Aquarians and Attacks for a while, went back to the trusty old Remos because they do what I want.

Pearl signature timbales. Meinl signature congas. LP, Meinl and Sonor bells.

Tama Iron Cobra double kick pedals.

I use a lot of different brands of cymbals, just whatever I’d collected over the years and I like the sound of. I’m mainly a Sabian man at heart though, they tend to make cymbals that really capture the sounds I’m wanting to use. Also have Zildjian, Paiste, Saluda and Stagg.

Sticks I tend to use Vater 7a in Sweet Ride or Manhattan. I never got the hang of heavy sticks and these ones are long and weighty, but also thin enough to fit in my hands comfortably. I also use a heavier timbale stick, at the moment it’s Pro Mark.

Snares I only have a few, a nice Yamaha Sensitive 13×6.5, a Sonor Force 3003 14×5.5 and a 70’s Ludwig Supraphonic 14×5.5.

 

* Editor’s Note: Since there has been significant time between Matthew answering this question and him reviewing the draft for publishing, Matthew mentions that he doesn’t play a sonor kit anymore. His main kit is a Pearl Masters MCX, 22, 10, 12, 16. Instead of a Sonor 3003 snare, he now has a Drum Craft Series 8 maple 14×6.5, and a Sonor Force 3007 12×5 maple. As he doesn’t play in a Beatles/Sixties band anymore, his vintage Pearl kit hasn’t had much use in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

LL: That is definitely an array of gear! Do you usually go (clear) Pinstripes for the batter and (clear) Ambassadors for resonant (for toms)?

 

MD: Clear Ambassadors or Evans G1s for bottoms, and basically anything I like the feel of for the tops. It really comes down to the kit, and the style that I play on the kit. On my latin / funk kit, I have clear emperors on top, to give me a hardy and punchy sound, but still tonnes of resonance.

On my old-school kit, I have coated emperors, again for the hardy punchy sound, but with the old-school element associated with it. And on my rock kit, I have pinstripes, for massive punch. Emperors and Pinstripes are highly tunable, you can take the pitch up and down and they still sound awesome.

 

 

 

LL: With your double Pedals, why Tama (Iron Cobras)? (Is it because the footboards are quite heavy and chunky — as opposed to Pearl’s double pedals?)

 

MD: I bought them because I knew they were good. These days I mostly play single pedal though, simply because I found myself getting a bit lazy and using double pedal too often for things that I should be able to do with just the single pedal.

One time in the music shop I worked at I managed to get a cheap Pearl double pedal to feel as good as the more expensive Pearl pedals, and even setup a Dixon double pedal to feel just as good as well. So this led me to believe it was more about the setup than any other variable. In saying that, I’m happy with my Iron Cobra pedals, and can’t see any need to replace them any time soon.

 

LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?

 

MD: I’ve always liked having at least 2 rack toms, and at least 1 floor. I like having a lot of stuff to hit! Also I avoid putting a ride cymbal where a tom might go, such as in a 1 up 2 down setup (even though it’s so trendy to do it!), because I prefer to have a nice flow between each tom, instead of a gap that a ride would create. Ultimately I think my ideal setup is 3 up, 2 down, with timbales, cable hats, and a whole bunch of cymbals.

 

LL: So having your ride a bit further from you isn’t an issue, as they would be (Comfortably) an arm’s reach, and you can spend a whole gig on the ride, and you wouldn’t have any muscle tension (as opposed to if you had to reach out a bit to get to the ride)?

 

MD: Usually don’t have any problems. I don’t find it’s “further away”, more like just positioned differently. I’ve spent 20 years with the ride in that position so I don’t tend to think too hard about it. When I play latin I also ride on an 18″ cymbal that sits over behind my hats / timbales. It really just comes down to what you get used to.

 

 

 

LL: Are cable hats for your auxiliary Hi-Hats? (Or are you using it as your main hi-hat stand?)

MD: Cable hats I only use when I play latin, as it allows me to place the hats closer to the first rack tom, meaning I can position the timbales closer in (so I don’t have to stretch out as far to the left in order to play the timbales). It beats me why more latin players don’t do this, to be honest I haven’t seen anyone else doing it like this.

 

 

LL: When tuning your kits, do you have a specific process?

MD: I just wind up the top and bottom till the key starts to feel a bit of tension, then I tweak with quarter turns top and bottom until I get the tone I want. I like to tension my top and bottom skins to be fairly close to each other, I think the drum resonates the best that way.

 

LL: Drum Maintenance and Storage?

MD: Not as much as I should do!

 

LL: How would you go about restoring hardware that has started to rust?

 

MD: A few pieces I abandoned entirely because they were too far gone. Most of it I was able to salvage by a combination of aluminium foil, steel wool, vinegar and polish. There was a lot of rust and corrosion but I was able to fix most of it no problem. The Ludwig snare is pretty rough but it doesn’t bother me in the grand scheme of things, I play it for the sound not for the look!

 

 

 

 

LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk? (heads, Sticks)

 

MD: I’ve never done it so I wouldn’t know. Probably not a bad idea. I’ve bought sticks in 3 or 4 sets at a time before, but that’s as “bulk” as I’ve gotten. If I was going to tour, or was playing more than a couple of times a week, I would buy up more in bulk.

 

 

LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?

 

MD: If I’ve just started with a band I may keep a note of who starts each song, until I’ve done a few gigs with that band and then it just becomes habit.

When I first started playing latin, I took a lot of notes, writing down how each song started, the main grooves in each song, the way the songs finished, and the main lines that were sung (so that I could differentiate between tracks, because at the time, since I was only just starting out, a lot of the tracks sounded the same to my untrained ears!).

I try to avoid having any notes at gigs, I prefer to just memorise the songs and stay alert on stage.

 

LL: With the gigs you do, are there universal communication signs that you agree on beforehand?

 

MD: Depends on the band really. In some of my bands I end up doing a lot of the leading, and people watch me for the cues. Other bands, I just sit back and let other people manage it. You tend to work things out on the stage, more than agreeing on things beforehand.

 The trick is to just be flexible, watch other band members constantly and don’t get too absorbed in your own little world.

 

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LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

 

MD: It doesn’t really exist. I typically just jump on stage and play. Though I will take it easy and remain as relaxed as possible in the first instances, which helps me keep my energy up for the whole night.

 

LL: Are there times when you turn down gigs?

 

MD: Definitely. Although I tend to take most gigs as I earn a substantial amount of my dollars this way.

 

 

LL: Do you have a specific diet that you stick to and exercise regimen?

 

MD: I should, but I don’t. I was doing cardio at a gym for a while there, but then moved house and didn’t join up to another gym. Lately I’ve been really conscious of stretching, just making sure I’m fairly limber before I start bashing away.

 

 

 

LL: Description of your playing style?

 

MD: I try to keep pretty consistent grooves happening. Sometimes I’ll get bored and chuck in some silliness for the sake of it. I tend to overplay as opposed to under, and I’m quite aware that it’s something I do so I make an effort to avoid doing it in gigs (though I’m pretty sure I still overplay haha).

Ultimately I just attempt to be sensitive to what’s happening in the music at any point in time, I try to have fun, create some energy and put on a show. I’m a little sloppy, I’m not the tightest player around, but I can slot into pretty much any style and take the music to a new level, which keeps me employed and has a lot of bands always asking  me back to play with them. I’m also my biggest critic!

 

LL: When you overplay — is it just enough that it satisfies your need for silliness?

 

MD: Very rare that my overplaying annoys other musicians. Typically if I try something tricky and pull it off, other band members will smile because they’ve noticed it. Sometimes I do it just to see if they’re still awake!

 

LL: What’s next for your playing?

MD: My next goal is to play for a Latin band where all the other musicians are miles better than me! I love a challenge and, providing they can be a bit patient with me, would love the chance to get to the next level with Latin music.

There are definitely plans to visit Miami (again) and Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia… 

I also have some connections with some solid Brazilian musicians so am keen to get back to Brazil to jam with them and see where it leads.

Technicality-wise, I spend a lot of time working on chops and jamming to Latin tracks, in an effort to just keep honing my skills. I don’t think I would ever reach a point where I wouldn’t want to be better, I’m always looking for that next level.

 

 

 

 

LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you play?

 

MD: Extremely mindful now that I’ve had the issue with my feet and legs for the past 5 years. The main thing I think about is my posture, and I have spent basically this year learning to sit more upright as I play. I also have to go easy on my feet so sometimes have to play softer so as to reduce the stress on my body.

Matched grip was just how I always played, and it feels right to me so I stick with it.

 

LL: What’s the average amount of takes per video?

MD: Depends on the video, and depends on the day! Some days I just crack it, other days I’m playing terribly. Or then the gear stuffs up and you only realise after you’ve done the perfect take that it only recorded the first 10 seconds then turned off!

 

LL: With your recording equipment, what are the current specs you use? (in your Saluda test video – you use a mobile phone, and some mics — what software did you use? And what did you use to keep that LG phone still?)

MD: Typically I record in Adobe Audition. Simple, easy to use and does everything I need it to do. The LG phone would’ve just been propped up against something. No other clamping devices or anything were used. The second video you referenced was filmed on a Canon DSLR. I tend to do all my videos now on that setup, as I own a lot of lenses and it gives me the best visual quality.

 

 

LL: Was choosing a DSLR something specifically for video?

 

MD: I had a couple of DSLR’s before I bought my 600D, and the reason I bought the 600D was purely for the 1080p video (I had a 40D before that and it took great photos).

 

 

LL: Do you mix the audio for your videos?

MD: Yeah I do all my own mixing. When I have mic’d in anyway. Otherwise I’ll just pull the sound out of the phone/camera and do a quick tweak before uploading. But I try to do things properly, with good audio, when I can.

 

LL: Will we be seeing gig videos with sound from the main mixer soon?

MD: I attempted it earlier this year with one of my bands, and because I didn’t get the chance to sound check it, it wasn’t perfect. I ended up combining live audio in the camera with the mixer output, and it sounded OK.

I’ll probably do more down the track as I have a new mixer that allows me to quite easily record the full mix in stereo. Usually it’s just enough to get the gig sounding good, so I don’t have much time to do a proper recording.

 

 

 

LL: What are your ‘go-to’ mixing settings for the kit?

MD: Typically I’ll roll off the mids in the kick, if there’s a way of doing a parametric on around 2.5khz I’ll do that. On toms I’ll do similar, just pull a bit of mid, and sometimes a bit of low if I’m getting too much rumble in them.

Snare I pull a little bit of mid. Ultimately if the gig is big enough to warrant doing a really nice mix of the kit, I won’t be in charge (it’ll be a sound guy running his own PA).

 

 

LL: Did you have to deal with latency issues when recording?

MD: Haven’t had to deal with latency too much. I’m usually running decent sound cards and don’t have the problem. If anything is slightly out of sync I’ll just jump in and match it by ear/eye.

 

LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos?

MD: Just whenever I get the urge, and have the spare time, to record one.

 

 

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

MD: Not entirely. Though I am a bit of a purist when it comes to latin grooves. Things like clave, you have to get that stuff right. And what instruments and sounds go towards creating different latin styles (for example, a lot of latin jazz / mambo gets passed off as salsa, when it’s clearly quite different.) Things like understanding why Colombian salsa is different to Cuban, Puerto Rican, USA styles of salsa.

 

 

 

 

LL: Can you share some of the artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others haven’t heard of?

MD: Just about all the latin artists I listen to are fairly unknown in Australia. With exception to guys like Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and bands like Buena Vista Social Club.

My favourites would have to be Victor Manuelle, Timbalive, Gilberto Santarosa, Jose Alberto, Oscar De Leon, Grupo Gale, Fabian Torres, Huey Dunbar, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Luis Enrique, Andy Montanez, Moncho Rivera, Frankie Ruiz.

Non-latin bands like The Truth, Directions in Groove, Incognito, not too well known around here but fantastic bands.

 

 

LL: How about songs/albums that you cannot get enough of?

MD: Pretty much the guys above. Can listen all day and not get tired (and I do listen all day haha).

 

 

LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new music?

MD: Yeah all the time. Because I also do latin DJ’ing, I’m constantly on the lookout for new material that no-one else is playing around these parts. It keeps my DJ’ing fresh and means that I always get rave reviews.

 

 

 

 

LL: Where do you go for inspiration? What do you do when you need to come up with a musical idea?

MD: Usually ask my brother! He’s a mad crazy guitarist and just a freak of a musician. Or I just absorb all that above music and bounce off that.

 

LL: What’s your view about social media?

MD: Took me a while to get into it. I see the benefits of it, but I think there’s still way too much crap out there.

 

LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

MD: Anything car related usually 🙂 Or just Youtube, checking out music / drum videos.

 

 

 

LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

MD: Play the kit. Or the timbales. Or the congas. Or work on my cars.

 

LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?

MD: Definitely. If they’re the same level as me and interested in doing the same types of music that I am, for sure.

 

LL: Are you interested in technology?

MD: I love audio plugins, I have a tonne of those. I like upgrading my computer every now and then, at the moment it’s a quad core beats with a fast graphics card, and my monitor is a 40″ Sony LCD. I’m definitely a tech head, though I don’t really have the income to be a very good one!

 

LL: A 40″ monitor!? Quite sizable! Did you choose that size because you needed more space when editing?

MD: Laptops bug me, I love screen real estate. the 40″ screen allows me to do audio and video with ease, opening multiple windows at once (like, a mix window and an FX window, for example), rather than running dual monitors. I’ll probably upgrade down the track but at the moment 1080p on a 40″ screen does me fine.

 

 

 

LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?

 

MD: I’d like to do some more guides, and also some more timbale covers. I’m probably due for uploading 1 or 2 more, now that I have a bit more free time that could be a possibility for the next couple of weeks.

 

LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favourite?

MD: Hard to tell. Really depends what I’m picking for. I like my timbale cover, since I like the song and I enjoy playing Latin. But I know it’s not my best playing. I don’t really have one that I feel highlights my playing properly.

 

LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

MD: Well, it comes down to the video. If it’s my latin band, I want them to think “these guys aren’t too bad!” and then they book us for a gig! For my personal playing, I’m happy if it inspires people to make up their own stuff and get better as a player. After all, it’s not a competition. And I am of the mindset that if I’ve learned something, I just be gracious enough to pass that on to others.

 

 

 

LL: What feeds your soul?

MD: Playing with awesome musicians definitely does that. Or just jamming along to my favourite tracks.

 

 

LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?

MD: This is still something I struggle with. Audiences are fickle and sometimes you just can’t figure them out. Ultimately I just try to do things that I think audiences will enjoy. Keep people entertained and do things in a way that they haven’t seen/heard before. And it usually pays off.

 

 

 

 

 

* Matthew is a drummer based out of Queensland’s Gold Coast. You can find content on his Youtube channel where he shares groove ideas, covers, as well as gear reviews. See things through his eyes (as well as have a glimpse of the projects he’s working on) via his Instagram feed. He is open to teaching privately though he thinks he’d be better at doing instructional videos than getting students in and trying to teach them. As for gigs and recordings (in person or online), you can reach out to him to have an initial conversation to see if your project would be a fit for him.

 

 

 

 

 

Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (August 2014 – September 2016) between Matthew and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is a musician based out of Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so based on this post. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her slightly cheeky FAQ.)

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