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Student Spotlight: Heiðar Sigurðsson on Turning Random Collected Ideas Into Songs

The following interview was conducted with Heiðar Sigurðsson, a songwriter and producer based in Iceland, and covers his experience finishing and releasing his new EP, made partially with the help of a Soundfly Mentor by his side

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Heiðar Sigurðsson back and forth for nearly a year now, and he’s one of those artists who can somehow put all of his personality into his music seemingly without even realizing it. A few months ago, he released his debut EP, IN A SPIN, which is an eclectic mixture of songs that simply, delight. And the same can be said of Heiðar himself, who’s simply a joy to talk to and engage with, any day of the week.

Not anchored by any one style or genre, the EP incorporates his influences across a span of artists we all know and love, many of which make up Iceland’s strong cinematic music scene. Heiðar’s music is also imbued with an emotive, touching sense of positivity, whether framed by hope or nostalgia, or just providing a musical space of comfort the listener can crawl into on dark days.

And these tracks were also made during a mentorship session that Heiðar took with Soundfly’s Joseph Capalbo, who professionally coaches artists on a wide range of topics from music theory to production, to songwriting and song-finishing. It was a mentorship match made in heaven, and we get into it below.

But first, if you’re interested in working with a mentor on a project you’ve got going on, or just to improve in an area of your practice you could use help on, just let us know and we’ll pair you with someone who can specifically address those needs. Learn more about Soundfly’s custom music mentorship here.

You just released your new EP, IN A SPIN. Congrats, it’s absolutely a joy to listen to! The album spans a few different genres but there’s definitely a positive, sentimental through line that touches all of the tracks. Is that intentional or important to you, and why?

Thanks, nice to hear you like the EP! It’s not really intentional, but I think I’m a rather positive and emotional guy by nature.

I’m not really good at categorizing music, per se, and I have not always understood such divisions. So I’ve never really made the decision to compose a particular type of music over another. Honestly, I do not know what kind of music my music is.

Does this album tell any kind of stories for you?

For many years, I had been planning to compose more music and release an album of some kind — and finally I succeeded. That is perhaps the story that this album tells the most for me. It’s the end of a long journey of “want,” and the beginning of a period of “can.”

Other than that, there is no extra context or story going on on the album, as these are random ideas from the hard drive that I managed to finally turn into full songs.

You made a lot of this album while undertaking a Soundfly mentorship session with Joseph Capalbo. How did that support help you throughout the process?

Working with Joseph was a great experience, and he helped me a lot. What he taught me was actually so simple and obvious, but I still had not been able to assimilate it. Being able to speak directly to a pro like Joseph is so invaluable, even just in how well he presented the material over the course of the session timeline.

“Honestly, I do not know what kind of music my music is.”

What is your songwriting/producing process like exactly? What elements do you start with and how do you build your tracks?

For a long time I had no process whatsoever. Like many others, I find it easy to come up with ideas, but it’s much harder to finish them and make ideas into songs. After the session with Joseph, I was able to develop a much clearer process.

I start with some ideation sessions where I systematically write down ideas. Usually the ideas come from the piano; melody, chords, rhythm, and so on. When I have a bunch of ideas plotted out, I choose the best ones and work on them systematically. I try to work every single day and so this progresses in the right direction and I manage to finish the songs.

When you started your mentorship, what did you look to get out of it, and how did you feel coming out of it?

Like I mentioned, I needed a way to turn musical bits and pieces into fully formed songs. I had read countless articles and watched countless videos about this when I came across Soundfly, but nothing had really worked. It’s always going to be hard to take small ideas and flesh them out into full songs.

So I think it’s great how Soundfly works, because Joseph could tailor his session completely around my individual needs. And it certainly worked, I’m super proud of how the EP turned out.

+ Turn your unfinished ideas and half-developed loops into full, compelling songs with Soundfly’s online course Songwriting For Producers. Preview a lesson for free and subscribe for unlimited access to all our courses here.

Who would you say are your biggest influences and why?

I listen to a lot of artists, so it’s hard to say who my biggest influences are. I can, however, name a few Icelandic ones that I really like and have listened to a lot lately, such as the film composers Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Guðnadóttir. I also listen a lot to Ólafur Arnalds, both solo and in his duo Kiasmos. My playlist also includes electronic-leaning artists such as Bonobo, Grandborthers, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kate Simko and the Icelandic jazz-funk fusion band Mezzoforte, which has been a huge favorite of mine since I was a teenager.

This is certainly a diversity of many different types of musicians, but I think what fascinates me about them all is how they create interesting worlds of sound, well-composed melodies, chord progressions, etc. Also, entirely instrumental music has always been my cup of tea 🙂.

What are your favorite moments of this EP and why do they stand out for you?

I think the songs “I’m In a Spin” and “November” are my favorite songs on the EP. It’s hard to explain why, but in the song “I’m In a Spin,” I got my friend Júlíus Sigfússon, a guitarist, to collaborate, and I thought it came out well.

The song “November” is actually a very old song that was composed in November in my summer house up in the mountains and I think the song captures that mood well. If you would come to Iceland on a beautiful November day and go out into nature, you would probably understand what I mean…

That sounds lovely! So what’s next for your musical career? And what are you working on nowadays?

I do all kinds of musical work in my home town of Hornafjörður, Iceland. I conduct a local choir, play live on various occasions, and of course, produce my own music from my home studio.

I will continue to do so with full force as much as possible, while this COVID-19 pandemic is still going, but I also aim to compose more music and release it later on. In fact, I have already set the goal for myself to release another EP on December 1. And that process has already started, so stay tuned!

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Jeremy Young

Jeremy is a Montreal-based musician, sound artist and improviser who loves giving advice to emerging artists on how to make their tours more effective. He writes, records and performs electroacoustic "concrète" music for tape, oscillators and amplified objects and surfaces, as well as solo guitar. He has performed and released material throughout Europe and the UK, Asia, the US and Canada, mostly with his trio Sontag Shogun.