Ørjan Nilsen on the birth of his career and what tracks inspired him
The esteemed Norwegian trance producer/DJ dives into which gear shaped his first experiences in music and what advice he has for today’s producers.
This Norwegian producer and DJ was first known for his driving and anthemic Trance sound, with his breakthrough tracks in 2005 and 2006 for Armada Music under his DJ Governor alias. A successful debut solo album came in 2011 before hundreds of solo releases, remixes and another three studio albums. Constantly working with some of the most renowned electronic music labels in the world, Ørjan Nilsen’s talent for studio production and sound design has allowed him to easily straddle house, tech, techno and more and his fusion, big-room sound has seen him become a regular at the biggest clubs and festivals on the planet. We tracked him down in his home studio in Kirkenes, Norway to find out more about his first steps into the industry, his advice for upcoming producers and what studio gear he’d spend €1000 on…
Tell us about some of your earliest memories of music?
I’ve always been into music because I come from a pretty musical family. But I think I really started to get interested in making it after hearing In Trance We Trust back in 1996. Realising you could be the master of every part of a track thanks to technology really made me interested in music production. But the track that really got me excited and wanting to take the next step was Universal Nation by Push.
Was the internet a big turning point growing up? Giving you more exposure to different music styles?
I come from a small town up north in Norway called Kirkenes and luckily for me, we had quite few people loving electronic music up here, so the record store in town was filled with all kinds of electronica! It definitely was an amazing opportunity when the internet started getting big, especially with forums back in the day. Finally, there was an outlet where you could get both feedback and support.
What were your first experiences of making music like?
Oh wow, I think the first piece of software I had was Madtracker. An absolutely horrendous program but it did give me the basics. Then, I finally got my hands on Steinberg’s Cubase and a Roland JX-305, digital hardware synth when I turned 16. From there my sound started to mature. I do think my real progress came after I managed to acquire a Roland JP-8080, an Access Virus B and a Yamaha CS6X, that my late brother bought for me. When I got my hands on those, my sound really developed.
Tell us about the early groundbreaking moments in your productions…
It was a track called Arctic Globe. I signed my first track in 2005 with Armada Music, called Red Woods but I never knew if I could top that. So when Arctic Globe came out and it actually became even more successful I started to dream about doing this full time. It definitely didn’t go down too well with the family at first, but they were amazingly supportive. I’m still so thankful for that.
Electronic music seems to always come with controversy and politics between genres, ghost production, DJ fees, underground vs commercial etc etc.. Do you think this is getting worse? How have you seen the culture change?
It has changed definitely because I don’t think anyone expected electronic music becoming this influential on a global scale! So a lot of people loving some sub-genres got scared it would all blend into a commercial audience and become more and more generic. If I can give my personal opinion on this I feel like it has only done good! Because of the commercialisation people can now enjoy their favourite genre/artist more or less all over the world, and not just for the big stages. I remember when us ’Trance guys’ were considered the most open-minded and including bunch because our genre was so frowned upon by all other genres within electronic music. I fear that might not be the case anymore.
What have been the biggest changes in how you produce now?
Well,l now I almost solely use the software, whereas 10 years ago I’d never make anything without having a few sounds from my Virus TI2 or JP-8080 in there. Plus, I do think I’ve become more of a jack-of-all-trades kind of producer. Trance and house will always feel like home and be my favourite genres, but it really is fun diving into unknown waters testing my own abilities. I don’t think I’ll ever stop producing music.
How do you stay inspired and not get cynical about the scene or the masses of music out there nowadays?
By trying new things, testing my limits as a producer, learning new tools and most definitely to listen to all types of music. Only way to move forward is to, well… Move forward.
Who have always been the producers you aspire to produce like?
Oh there’s so many… But Axwell, Sander van Doorn, Marco V, Max Martin and so many others! Plus I’ve lately become a huge fan of Magnificence, Shapov and Alesso!
If we gave you €1000 for your studio, what would you buy and why?
I’d use that to get myself a new Universal Audio Apollo X4, at least as a down payment!
You must get sent a lot of demos – what are the regular mistakes or areas people can improve on that you hear?
Three things which usually are the case;
1. Adding too many layers and sounds that in the end will mess up your mixing and make it sound stressed and messy.
2. The arrangement! People seem to want to show every single element added every 30 seconds, which turns the track into a monotone and not very nicely progressed piece. I always think when I arrange my tracks if I’m building it for me, or for the people who are going to listen to it.
3. The overall mixing, which many times comes down to people working in non-acoustically treated rooms with sub-par speakers. I’ve given that advice quite a few times, know your sound, and use reference tracks so you can aim for a good mixdown.