INTERVIEW: Producer and Songwriter Oscar Neidhardt
Oscar Neidhardt isn’t just a professional songwriter and producer, he’s also just a huge fan of music and everything that goes into it.
During our conversation, it was easy to see that Neidhardt finds joy in every part of the process, from the earliest moments of finding a new melody all the way up to the day a new track or album gets released to the public.
There’s a positivity to his work that’s pretty hard to find in contemporary music, and it makes his place in the industry that much more compelling.
Now based in Los Angeles, Neidhardt has recently worked with the likes of Tommy English, Lauren Aquilina, and Captain Cuts.
He has a special passion for collaborating with other artists, as he explained during the interview.
Neidhardt’s advice and career perspective isn’t just useful for aspiring producers but also for just about anyone looking to embark on a career in the arts. Yes, there will be challenges ahead, but the rewards of creating something unique are truly unparalleled.
How important is collaboration to the recording process?
Extremely important. I am a big believer in collaboration, especially in creative work. Songwriting and production are processes that consist of merging and exchanging different ideas to create the best possible song. What I find so fascinating about collaborating in music is that everyone brings a different type of expertise, as well as different tastes and inspiration sources. It makes for an interesting outcome.
Every musician has a different approach to making a song, and when there’s good chemistry in the room, their skills can complement each other so well. For example, a certain writer might be very good at writing melody and can have great ideas in terms of rhythmic patterns, but lacks the skills for creating lyrical concepts and writing great lyrics. That’s when collaboration becomes crucial to the quality of a song. And it doesn’t end here. It truly is a joint effort until a record is mastered and released.
I love working with other songwriters and producers. Not only do I find myself working faster and more intuitively, but, on top of that, I also learn so much from my collaborators. I just love it when you can bounce ideas off each other and can help each other out when feeling stuck during a song. Oftentimes, I’ll have an idea for a melody or a lyrical line, and just when I think I have it all figured out, another writer in the room will get up and take the idea to a whole other level, making it ten times better, and you’re just there thinking, ‘How did I not think of that before?’ I love when that happens.
Which of your projects has been the most exciting from an artistic perspective?
A few months ago, I started working with an artist named Emeline. She’s a young writer and singer from Providence, Rhode Island who moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago. Earlier this year we met during a writing camp here in LA, and shortly after, we started collaborating on more songs for her artist project. Emeline is exceptionally talented, and we both had good writing chemistry from the start. Our creative instincts just really matched well. This project has probably been the most exciting for me this past year, as I feel like I’ve been able to express myself creatively in ways I never have before, not only as a writer but also as a producer.
The great thing about Emeline is that she’s so open about new ideas and ways of creating music. We’ve both been able to implement our musical inspirations and tastes and merge them into a sound that I think is unique. All her new music is completely genre-fluid, but at the same time still makes sense as a whole and is very recognizable through her amazing voice.
I think that sometimes I tend to hold myself back a little too much creatively because I’m afraid to fail and don’t trust my instincts enough. But with Emeline, it’s been a real eye-opening experience in terms of what I can achieve as a songwriter and producer, and the fact that she’s an unsigned, independent artist with no label involved helps so much. It means that we’re not setting ourselves any creative boundaries and are mostly just having fun and experimenting. It removes so much pressure. By now, we’re also very familiar with each other on a personal level and openly talk about pretty much anything. That’s a vital foundation for good collaboration and songwriting.
I think Emeline is one of the rare people where I feel like I can be totally myself, and that’s why the music that we create together means so much to me. It’s a pure and honest reflection of me as a writer and producer, and I consider it to be some of my best work. I’m very excited about what we have coming up. We’re currently working on finalizing her debut EP, and Emeline is planning on releasing her first single in January.
Have you noticed any major shifts in the music industry since you started your career?
Most definitely. Thinking back now, it’s kind of crazy to think how much everything has changed and evolved in different ways. Even Though I’ve been making music all my life, I have only really been actively involved in the world of pop songwriting and production for the past two and a half years. And even in such a short span of time, I’ve been able to witness some major changes and new trends within the industry. Especially when you live in LA, everything is moving so fast, and sometimes you barely have time to keep track. But you have to stay on top of things to adapt in the best way possible.
I think the shift that I noticed happening the most in the past few years is that songs are becoming shorter and shorter. This is mainly due to the fast-paced, consumerist society we live in. People’s attention spans seem to be decreasing, also due to a higher flow of information, and since streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have taken over the market, the way we listen to music has changed so much. I remember the old days when I would line up in front of a CD shop and buy that one album that I’d been waiting for forever. It felt like such a relief. I would go home, put in on repeat, and attentively listen to every detail on the album, without skipping a single song.
By the end of the week, I would know the whole thing by heart. This form of consumption in music doesn’t exist anymore, and with the streaming platforms and their algorithms, it has all turned into a very different kind of listening experience. Rarely will an artist release a full-blown album anymore, it’s mainly singles and EP’s, with maybe four to five songs max. Also, most people are interested in the “Top Tracks” area of an artist, the section containing the most played and popular songs. The majority won’t even listen to the other material.
This phenomenon is also interesting because we, as songwriters and producers, have to adapt and create pop music that fits into the right format. I feel like this specific trend of short songs peaked this year, with Lil Nas X’s song ‘Old Town Road’ being the shortest #1 single since 1965. It’s so interesting to witness shifts like these being a result of our society as a whole, rather than just the music industry itself.
Another major shift I’ve noticed since working in the industry is that the way we create music has changed drastically. Major recording studios are shutting down one after the other, and with all the technological advancement that there’s been, you can now literally craft hit songs from your bedroom. Obviously, it depends on the sound you’re trying to achieve and the recording methods you want to apply, but realistically, anyone with a laptop can write the next #1 song.
Generally speaking, I would say that’s a pretty positive shift since it’s made professional music-making more accessible, and it contributes to more content being created, which is especially useful in an industry with such high demand.
On the other hand, the market is also completely oversaturated, and sometimes it feels like there’s just too much music happening. It’s become so simple to make it, even for people with literally no musical background, so you suddenly have hundreds and thousands of songwriters, producers, and artists making music in their bedrooms. I recently read an interview with famous songwriter and producer Oak Felder, and he said the following about this topic: ‘I think technology has become the great equalizer. I think we are all on an even playing field, and now it’s about skill. Now it’s about who’s just good.’
When producing a track, what’s the most valuable skill you bring to the table?
I think that my main strength and creative tool as a producer is that I have an extensive range of musical tastes. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, Queen, and The Beatles. I went on to fully dive into heavy Nu-Metal music and Rap during my teens, listening to bands and artists like Linkin Park, Korn, Slipknot, Slayer, Eminem, and Kanye West.
After I moved to the UK when I was 18, I got to encounter so many different music scenes and went to some of the weirdest live shows ever, which further shaped me creatively. I also joined the post-emo outfit Lightcliffe in London and spent a significant amount of my time in the DIY music scene, while also crafting pop songs in my home studio.
I’ve never really tried to fit into anywhere specific, and have never really cared about committing to one genre. I love music as long as it speaks to me. That’s why nowadays, especially where genre-fluidity in pop music is so important, I feel very comfortable writing songs coming from all different kinds of angles and tapping into various genres as a source of inspiration. I think that’s a precious skill to have as a producer and writer, and I’m eternally thankful for my musical upbringing. I mainly thank my parents for that!
In your opinion, who are some of the most influential producers and songwriters working today? Have they influenced your work at all?
There are so many. Every month I work with new talented writers and producers that I learn so much from. But there’s only a handful whose work really inspires me and whom I admire, one of them being writer and producer Jason Evigan. Jason has produced and co-written some of my favorite pop records, including Maroon 5’s song ‘It Was Always You’ or Nick Jonas’ ‘Chains’, among others. Most recently, he worked on the album ‘The Fall Of Hobo Johnson’ by Hobo Johnson, who is one of my favorite new artist discoveries of 2019. I especially love the song ‘Typical Story’, which Jason produced and co-wrote.
He and his wife Victoria also started their own artist project Elephant Heart, and I fell in love with their music after first going to their show in Downtown LA last year. Jason has an extraordinary taste and sense for music and his productions are incredibly creative. Like me, Jason also has a background in rock and emo music. He was the vocalist for the band After Midnight Project, who were successful in the scene. You can hear a lot of that musical influence in his contemporary work as a pop writer and producer, which is also why I think that I’m so drawn to it. He’s been able to preserve an authentic and unique identity in the music industry and is one of the kindest people I’ve met yet, and that’s a rare find. I admire him and his work doesn’t cease to inspire me.
Another one of the most influential songwriters and producers the music industry has today, and whose work I genuinely admire, is Tommy English. Tommy and I met earlier this year and we have been working together for a few months now. He’s known for his amazing work for artists like Kacey Musrgaves, Børns, K. Flay, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Adam Lambert, to name a few. Tommy also has a strong background in rock music, and is able to implement his wide range of different musical tastes into his work. I think what defines him most is how unique his sound is. Even in pop music, where the formats can sometimes be very limiting, he’s able to preserve true originality and has made a name for himself by doing so. His real strength lies in developing a specific sound for an artist and helping them create their identity. That’s also what he’s most passionate about.
He’s become the type of producer that artists seek collaboration to define them further, and I think that’s a fantastic skill to have, especially in a world where a lot of music sounds very alike. Tommy has majorly inspired me and influenced my work since we met. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a great amount of time around him, collaborating and watching him work. I’ve learned so much and he’s helped me approach my work in ways I’d never experimented with before.
Are there ever times when you want to move away from software and work more with hardware and physical instruments?
Absolutely. I love going back to the basics. I would say I actually split my time equally between writing songs on the computer and playing a real instrument. I love the simplicity and rawness of it, and I’m obsessed with the process of getting something to sound great on just a piano or a guitar.
What’s tricky about writing a song purely on a computer sometimes is that I get very distracted by the production part of it. I absolutely love arranging and creating weird and unique sounds, but I tend to forget about the song and compromise its quality by doing so. When I first started writing pop songs, I used to cover up melodic or rhythmic sections that I wasn’t sure of by adding more production layers to them. But that always fires back, and the fact is you can’t make a bad song good by having great production.
The core elements of a song, the melodies, chords, and the lyrics, need to feel great and sit right; only then does everything else makes sense, and the production can lift a song to an even higher level. That’s also when production is the most fun because the song is inspiring, and that’s what drives you.
I used to work as an assistant for producer and writer Dee Adam when I was still living in London, and she gave me a piece of advice which I’ll never forget: ‘Get the song to sound as good as you can on piano or guitar, and when you’re happy with it, only then start producing.’
I used to be unsure about how to approach songwriting, so I asked her how she does it. What she said just really stuck with me, and I try to keep reminding myself of that. I also just generally think that less is more, and there’s just something about a real instrument that you cannot get from a computer. They’re worlds apart. One of my favorite things to do is to sit down at my piano in the morning and to just play some chords and sing. I usually get very inspired by the sound and bareness of the piano, and the fact that there’s no production just clears so much mind space, and leaves room for ideas.
I love putting together the puzzle pieces in my head and imagining the type of arrangement, like what instruments and sounds to put where and how fast or slow the songs should be. I’m obsessed with doing that, and it’s usually when I feel the most creative. But with that said, obviously, it’s important to mix things up, and I’m a big believer in experimenting with different ways to write. So when the piano or the guitar doesn’t do it for me, I’ll sit at my desk and play around with sounds, and that usually gets me inspired very quickly. It just depends on the day.
Has your music career affected the way you experience live music?
I love that question. It most definitely has. I used to be the kid that would just jump straight into a moshpit at a Slipknot concert, or at least make my way to the front row as quickly as possible.
When I was younger, what fascinated me the most about a live show was the energy a band had on stage and how much more powerful it was than just listening to the music on crappy headphones. It was also an opportunity for me to escape the real world for a moment and just let myself be captivated by the music.
I don’t think any of it has changed when I go to see a live show now, but I would say I’m more focused on other aspects. Since I started producing and writing professionally, I’m always intrigued by how well a song that I love translates live. A lot of the time I’m actually disappointed and prefer the idea of listening to a pop record at home rather than at a live venue, especially when there’s no band to back it up and it’s all just a bunch of backing tracks being played. I just find that quite boring.
But I do admire it when artists view their shows as a chance to perform their art in a different way than what the record already offers. When I go see an artist, I want to be mesmerized by the performance and want to experience something different. Otherwise, I can just stay at home and play the music on loudspeakers.
Generally, since I moved to LA and started a career in music, I’ve been paying much more attention to detail when going to see a concert by an artist I love. Instead of jumping up and down and dancing back and forth, I now usually stand in the very back and just observe. I also love to watch how an artist communicates with the crowd, especially when I know them personally. I think that’s fascinating.
What would you say to a young person looking to become a successful producer like yourself? What advice would you have for them?
Just keep doing it. Keep doing what you love and let yourself be driven by music. If you work hard enough and are passionate, you will see that everything else will fall into place. You just have to be very patient and accept failures. It’s so important to understand that. Instead of talking yourself down and drowning in self-pity, take every opportunity you have as a chance to reflect and think about why it’s not working out and how you can solve it.
Keep perfecting your craft, pay attention to detail, and be thankful for criticism. It usually comes from the people that care the most about you and what you do. If you think you’re ready and your songs are great but you’re not getting the response you hoped for, then there’s probably a reason for that. I keep reminding myself that it’s not meant to be straightforward and that nobody owes me anything. Accept the challenge, stay humble, and keep working on becoming better.
I also can’t express enough how important it is to surround yourself with people who are active in the same field. The support you get from your music community is essential, and it’s crucial to be with people that share the same interests. If you think that you can figure this whole thing out by yourself, then you’re wrong. No one can. Yeah, it’s great if your songs are good, but you’re not going to get any further if you just stay in your room. Get out there and build relationships, make music with the people you love, learn from them, and exchange experiences.
Also, my last piece of advice, and probably the most important one is to trust your instincts. Believe in your ideas and creative thoughts. Your true self is the only thing that makes you unique! Your opinions count, and you can achieve greatness by trusting yourself. You have to take the risk and express your art in the most truthful way possible.
I used to think that copying successful work is the way to success. Well, I was wrong. The opposite is true. People want to hear your voice, your talent, and your ideas. Experiment, be creative, make the weirdest sounds, and figure out your own way of creating a song. There are no rules. Now, go, make a song, and tell us your story!
by Giorgio Chang