Show Off Your Studio: Oliver Nelson’s Scandinavian dreamland
We learn how TikTok affected the producer’s career, how to make a remix your own and why room treatment should always be a priority.
Image: Johan Lundsten
Oliver Nelson’s upbeat, dancefloor-ready remixes have garnered him steady success over the years. But when TikTok got hold of his 2015 unofficial remix of The Wombats’ Greek Tragedy this year, his music exploded online, being featured in over 430,000 videos online, leading to an official release of the remix. His original tracks have proven infectious, too, earning him support from the likes of Elton John, Mark Knight, Kygo, Blonde, Thomas Jack. and more.
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We head to his studio in Stockholm, Sweden, to learn more about his explosion on TikTok, how he produced his recent original track, Miss Me Much and why the UDO Super 6 is his favourite synth right now. He also shares some essential remixing tips.
Hey Oliver! You’ve been producing for several years now, but your 2015 remix of The Wombats’ Greek Tragedy must be your first TikTok viral moment, right? How did that happen?
Yeah, incredible how a six-year-old remix can be revived like that. It all started on TikTok without me knowing about it. I noticed something was going on when the remix on my Soundcloud started going crazy with comments and hits. I got messages every day on Instagram from people wondering why it wasn’t on Spotify and if I could release it.
I was tagged in a post on Wombats Instagram where it said something like “It’s going viral again on TikTok”. I had a look and saw that nearly 500,000 people, including Charlie Puth, Charli D’Amelio and many more had my remix in their video, which was insane! We decided to quickly put it on Spotify.
TikTok is significantly influencing the music industry right now. Are you keeping it in mind when producing now? Do you think artists should?
Yeah, somehow the line “this could go viral on TikTok” or “this is very TikTok friendly” always shows up in sessions. I go by it myself, I won’t lie. My Greek Tragedy remix got traction because of TikTok and I’m happy it did, it’s opened more doors for me, which I’m very grateful for. I don’t think it’s healthy to have TikTok in mind primarily when producing, though. TikTok feels very random in how a song fits a special purpose or video. It can be any song – like my remix for example(!)
Tell us a bit about the studio.
I had my studio at home first in Uppsala, Sweden, for six years. That’s where my career started and it was enough to make music and pay my rent. I could have easily continued working in that environment but when I moved to Solna, Stockholm two years ago, I wanted my own studio to go to every day so it would feel like a real job. Waking up and walking three meters to your desk is a dream but it takes its toll on you after a while. I decided to walk around the neighbourhood to see if there were any locations where I could fit in, but I didn’t find anything.
Then I remembered I had a session a couple of years back at an advertising agency located five minutes from my new apartment. They had an old control room which was then made into something that looked more like a music studio. I went there, had lunch with the owner and started renting that room which didn’t look like it does today. I have renovated the space to my liking and I couldn’t be happier. Every time I walk in here, joy fills my body.
How do you use your studio?
My studio is my second home. It’s located in a complex of different companies: people who do video production, a record label and more. I love every single person here at the office but when I close the door to my studio, it’s my space, no one else’s, and I feel calm.
I do all of my work here, from the start of an idea to the final details. I try to make use of all the instruments I’ve got, including synths, drum machines and more. I would love to have an upright piano and a drum set in here to record live, but there’s no space for it.
Which DAW do you use?
I started out with Reason. My best bud showed it to me and it was amazing. I used it for a while until I got introduced to Ableton Live. Somehow, it just made sense for me to switch to Ableton primarily. The interface, GUI and features – everything just clicked with me. I still use it today and I’m a happy user.
We heard that the UDO Super 6 is your new favourite synth…
I first saw it on Andertons’ YouTube and my jaw dropped when I heard what it could do. I reached out to UDO Audio and got my beautiful blue Super 6 a couple of months later. The looks, the build quality and sound is astonishing. It feels like an instant classic. It can do everything from deep basses, beautiful Prophet-sounding brasses, leads and epic pads. I have used it in a couple of new tracks, and it fits perfectly in my productions. Every time I turn it on and start playing, I just sit there for hours, exploring new amazing patches.
What synth or effect can be heard the most on your new release, Miss Me Much?
I would say that my Prophet 12 is the central part of that track. Nearly every key, arp or bass is from the Prophet 12, with some help from its friend, the Super 6, of course.
How did the VIP version come about?
The idea was to have a more clubby version from the start. The wonderful talented Milkwish, with whom I did the track, is also responsible for the VIP mix. We sent files to each other and finished the last bits together.
Do you have any remixing tips for producers? How do you usually approach the process?
Start only with the vocal stems, try and treat it like it was your material and turn it into your own track. My best memory of this is when I did my remix for Ella Henderson’s Ghost. I didn’t listen to the original until after the remix was done, and I was very happy with the result.
Also, try to not use every stem provided and using the same chords all the time. Be creative.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?
I have fallen down the rabbit hole of outboard gear. I just received my SSL Fusion, Stam Audio SA4000MKII, Ferrofish Pulse 16, Heritage Audio Successor, OTO BAM, Tegeler Audio Konnektor, and Thermionic Culture Swift EQ.
It’s not been kind to my wallet but, damn, there’s something special about analogue effects. I try to be in-the-box as much as possible as there’s no hassle, no cables, and easy recall. But smacking on Fusion with the SSL style comp on the insert is pure magic.
What is your dream piece of gear?
A Sequential Prophet 10. I actually measured my table so I could see if it would fit right in front of me, and it would just fit, someday.
If you were left on a desert island, what one item would you take with you to make music with forever?
My Casio VL Tone that I got from my dad. It has the sounds, it has speakers and, most importantly, it gives me good memories.
How did you go about getting the acoustics right in the studio?
I reached out to Matts at SMT here in Sweden. He’s a god when it comes to accurately measuring sound. He strolled around here for a while and told me exactly what I could do to make this room sound phenomenal. I ordered all new wall panels and diffusers from him which then got put up and built by an amazing team from a Swedish company called Studiobyggarna.
What is your top piece of production advice?
Trust your ears. Music is something you do for yourself first hand. I make all my music by ear and to what I like, personally. I can’t even lay down a simple chord if anyone told me, I can’t read sheet music, and I’m doing quite well.
There are no rules in music. People always tell you: “your compression is wrong, you can’t use a limiter like that”. Do whatever you like and whatever you think sounds best to you.
When I lay down drums, I have about 30 different kicks stacked on each other – does that sound crazy? Hell yes, but it sounds better to me so who cares.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Room treatment is very important, start with that. Do it all in your own time. I rushed everything from the start and I have redone it a lot of times just because I don’t have any patience, which is not worth it.