Starting from humble beginnings in Brazil, musician and audio engineer Fred Oliveira is not your average artist. Originally working the stock market by day and devoting the night hours to his passion for writing music, Fred practiced and refined his skills, which eventually earned him a second degree from the famed Berklee College of Music as well as job opportunities for Hollywood. We got the opportunity to ask Fred about his journey, accomplishments, and future.
You seem to be a man with a wide breadth of knowledge which extends outside of music. So Fred, how did you find time to pursue your passion of music and production while working a time consuming job as a financial analyst?
Fred: Music started for me as a hobby. Growing up in Brazil, a career in music seemed unrealistic, so it seemed like the best option was to pursue a different career. I started college at 17, graduated 4 years later with a bachelor in Business and considered my options. Nothing really felt satisfying enough, so I started reading about the stock market and financial investments. My thought process was that if I was able to support myself through stock exchange, I could invest during trading hours and after that, I could work on music. I never really stopped playing, but in my early twenties, it became harder. I had started working as a full-time financial analyst and had joined a band that quickly became very active. My routine was hectic, I would wake up around 6am, play guitar for about 30 minutes, get ready and go to work, which luckily was only 3 blocks from where I lived. During my break, I would race home have lunch in 5 minutes and play more music for as long as I could. Then I would race back to work. At 6pm I would go home, get my things and drive over to the rehearsal studio and practice till 10pm (11pm if the neighbors were out of town). I even played some more when I got home at night. It was stressful, and a few years into it I realized I had to pick one career path and go with it. I had always dreamed of being a full time musician and that was my ultimate choice.
The first EP that your independent band In Verso released, Avesso, received a fair amount of radio time as well as music video airings on MTV across multiple continents. What was your role in the creation in Avesso?
Fred: I joined In Verso as a guitarist after listening to a few demos that my friend Marcos (singer and guitarist) had. When we got together to rehearse we were all trying to make the songs more interesting and I naturally gravitated towards arranging it. As we began to form our musical identity all four members started to collaborate and we all did a bit of everything. With Avesso specifically, I played guitar, sang backup vocals, and co-produced it. I also wrote the music and lyrics to the song “Me Desfaz”, which became our first single and got a music video. What was great about In Verso to me, was that it was a group effort, we were all pitching in and bringing things to the table. We all decided as a group which musical ideas to pursue and which to discard.
While you could generally be referred to as a musician, in reality your abilities include songwriting, recording and audio engineering. How did your experience at Berklee College of Music in Boston shape your understanding of music and its applications?
Fred: Attending Berklee had been a dream of mine for years. When I found out they were offering online courses I signed up for a class. One class turned into a handful. A few months in, I was awarded the Glen Ballard scholarship and started pursuing an online certificate program. Fast forward a couple years and I find myself quitting my day job and moving to Boston, enrolled as a full-time student at Berklee College Of Music. Berklee was significant to me for many reasons. First, because it was truly the realization of a dream, which in my mind signified that there was no going back. From the moment I stepped foot in that College, I was going to be a musician and make a career out of it. Secondly because of the people I met while I was there and what I learned from them. It is one thing to read about the artists you admire, but it’s a completely different thing to get to know successful people, who are still relevant, active, and willing to share what they’ve learned and talk about their journeys. Being that much closer to something makes it seem more real. In addition to all this, Berklee really made me realize how broad “working with music” really is. Just reading through the curriculum made it obvious there was so much more than performing and writing music. I could study music synthesis, or learn about copyrights, and publishing rights, royalties, music therapy, electronics, acoustics and so much more.
Given that you received your second degree in Music Production and Engineering with a Minor in Acoustics, you can likely produce a wide range of sounds. Is there a particular music genre or style that you find the most interesting to work on?
Fred: Like with most things in life, variety is good and helps keep things interesting. I have been enjoying creating music utilizing more electronic elements recently. I make extensive use of digital plugins and I’m always trying something new. The wonderful thing about it is that you can pretty much take it with you anywhere, all you need is a computer and some software. That being said, I still have an undeniable preference for working with rock music. It is the style of music that first made me want to pick up an instrument and I have listened to a lot of it. In my years of experience as a rock musician, I have already spent countless hours experimenting with fuzz tones on a bass guitar, and how something simple like heavier gauge strings can change the sustain on an electric guitar. Therefore, I feel like it’s the genre I know more about and usually have more to offer in terms of production skills and recording techniques. At the end of the day, if it feels honest and real, it is good music, and good music is always worth working on.
How did you begin doing work for more high profile artists such as Robin Rimbaud and Harvey Mason?
Fred: I suppose I could sum it up to being in the right place, at the right time. While I was still at Berklee College of Music, I spent most of my time inside the recording studio. So much that it made sense to take a job as part of the studio support staff. I learned as much as I could about the studios, the equipment, the software, everything. I was there so often that everyone eventually got to know who I was and were confident that I knew how to run the studios. So I was offered the opportunity to record Robin Rimbaud and I took it. Everything went smoothly and soon after I was also offered the opportunity to record Harvey Mason. I was fortunate to have received both invitations and I am glad I was ready for them at the time.
What were those first experiences working with these accomplished musicians like?
Fred: The experiences couldn’t have been better. Both Harvey Mason and Robin Rimbaud were very receptive and gracious people. They are both very accomplished and competent. In essence, all I really had to do was capture their performances and keep things running smoothly in order to give them the space and freedom they needed to be creative. It was like being on the winning team, everyone involved was great at what they did.
“La La Land” took audiences by storm upon its release in 2016 and subsequently won many Academy awards. What type of audio work did you do for this project?
Fred: When I got involved with La La Land, the film was still being finalized. I was part of a team that was tasked with recording the musical performances from the actors. Since it was a musical, there was more rehearsing and recording in the studio than a traditional film. The actors would come into the studio and work out the vocal performances. These were recorded and then replicated on set. There was some back and forth between the set and the studio and it was great to follow the process.
How does the experience of producing and engineering for bigger projects like “La La Land” and 2016’s “The Choice” differ from your work back in Brazil working for In Verso?
Fred: In Verso started as a personal endeavor. It was a band that I wanted to be a part of, four people playing music and that’s it. Things escalated from there, playing small shows led to making a self-funded record and a music video, which then led to playing larger festivals, getting radio play and having our video on TV. It all started small and the only pressure we felt was our own. Working on major productions, such as La La Land and The Choice, meant that there was a lot more at stake from the beginning. “Beginning” may not be the most accurate term, but from the moment my involvement started in both feature films (post-production), a lot of time and money had already been invested in them by that point. The train was already in motion when I boarded, and I knew going in, that a lot more people were bound to see the final product. There were deadlines, expectations and certainly more pressure. There was also a much larger team of people involved, I knew I was only one piece of the puzzle and everyone was really committed, so that was reassuring. Ultimately these were all creative endeavors I was really happy to be involved with. I learned a great deal and that’s always a good sign.