Mobilegirl on using foley, her sample pack, and The Legend of Zelda

Berlin-based producer mobilegirl is known for her eclectic sound, meticulous DJ sets, and disrupting edits of classic RnB tracks.

She recently released a sample pack on Splice that features a robust collection of her signature sounds. We sat down with mobilegirl to discuss how she creates atmosphere in her tracks, navigating creative lulls, video game music, and more.

You open up your DAW to a blank project file – where do you start?

I usually start with a melody that I can loop – I try to write something that’s maybe catchy or even just soothing. Often I just play it on a very basic synth or some mallet sounds, and adjust it later. Other times, when making edits for instance, I chop up the original material, usually the vocals first, and decide which sounds I want to keep and build the rest around that.

Walk us through how you create a sense of atmosphere for your tracks. What are you using to create your rich, textural sound? 

I’ve worked with Native Instruments before and they’ve given me their Komplete software package, so I’ve been using that a lot – mostly Massive. I also liked using iZotope’s Iris, but at this point my computer is slowly getting old and it hogs so much of my CPU that I need to avoid it haha (same with some NI Reaktor stuff). Now I just use the built-in sampler for sample-based instruments.

For creating space, I’ve recently played around with Oculus’ spatializer. It works well for scores that have a few sounds moving around in the distance, but otherwise it still feels a bit difficult to incorporate into a track. Native Instruments’ RC24 is a great reverb for synths.

I also love to use foley sounds for the general atmosphere. It’s such an effective way to create an idea of a space if there are sounds that you can draw real life references to.

When creating a track, do you have the setting in mind for where you’d want to hear it? Much of your last EP, Poise, reminds me of the quiet morning hours after a long club night.

Someone has described my EP as such before, and I love that image. I do roughly envision the surrounding in which I think the music works. Especially when it’s supposed to be a club track, the structure, sounds, etc., lead to a direction rather quick. But I’m even more influenced by the environment that I myself am in when making the music. I think that contributed a lot to how that EP, for instance, ended up sounding. I made it at home, in a place where I prefer to be calm and comfortable. On the other hand, there are so many times where I’m in a club and wish I had my laptop with me so that I could sit in a quiet corner and produce a club track.

How do you incorporate foley into your productions? 

I’m really drawn to nature sounds. I often like to use them nearly unedited, but it’s also always interesting to stretch samples out and run them through a bunch of effects. I don’t have certain rules to that. What I do a lot, though, is reuse one sample in a track several times, but pitched or distorted in a way that it’s not recognizable as the same sound. I like tremolo effects, and also making pads out of random sounds that are played through a sampler .

Walk us through your sample pack and what you’ve decided to curate for it. What do you hope producers will create with it?

I went through older project files of both released and unreleased tracks. It made the most sense to me to create a collection of sounds you’ve heard from me before, but of course I also wanted to add some new ones to breathe some fresh air into it. I had originally planned on creating a pack entirely made of sounds in and around water, but there are so many packs with a similar approach that offer way better recordings than I have the means for.

I was surprised to see people use samples exclusively out of the pack to build a track. It would also be interesting to just see how other producers incorporate some of my loops into their styles.

Your blend of digital and acoustic timbres (harps and synths, for instance) coupled with nature sounds reminds me quite a bit of video game music. This might be a stretch here, but Poise aesthetically reminded me quite a bit of The Legend of Zelda. Do you take influence from video game music?

This is the best reference you could name. The Ocarina of Time OST has always been a huge inspiration to me. Actually, half of my affinity to water sounds must come from hanging out in Zora’s domain. I wish I could absorb Koji Kondo’s musical brain – I love how he uses repetition in a way that very clearly sets a mood but doesn’t get boring. I’m going to put on one of those ten hour loop videos on YouTube of the Great Fairy Fountain theme now, in fact. It’s structurally so simple but so beautifully written – one of my favorite pieces.

I generally love video game music in all of its varieties. It can be very close to a classical movie score in genres like RPGs, but also some top acid techno tracks came out in racing games. I’ve played both of these kinds of music in DJ sets, too.

How does creating a track differ from curating mixes or performing a set? Do you find that you need to switch mindsets when DJing versus producing, or do they stem from the same place creatively?

It’s indeed quite different. I used to really struggle with the intersection of the two. Especially when I had just started producing and the direction was a bit vague, the way I DJed had a lot of influence on my productions. Because I play so many genres in one set that I all like, I felt I would’ve wanted to treat producing the same way, but my skills are limited and creating a track relies so much on my own state and emotions. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the two areas will rarely meet, but where they certainly do is in the tracklist of an EP. I like to create a dramaturgy with the order of my tracks, similarly to how I’d want to in a mix.

As an artist, how do you navigate creative lulls? Do you have any practices or processes for overcoming writer’s block or periods of creative hardship? What keeps you going, even if you feel like your tracks or ideas aren’t coming out the way you want them to?

I’m learning to just put things aside and go about doing other stuff. Forcing yourself through a block simply never works, and the more pressure you put on yourself during that time, the more mentally exhausted you will be (and thus less creative). It quickly becomes a cycle. Often, just taking a very active break helps a lot. Doing something that is completely unrelated to music but then also simply watching a movie or listening to other people’s music can give you ideas. What I also find helpful is to open a new project in my DAW and try instruments and plugins that I haven’t used before, or don’t use often, and just play around a bit with them in a very silly manner. This doesn’t have to turn into anything I can ever make use of, but generally, having a bunch of unfinished projects comes in handy when you have a deadline to meet but are not exploding with ideas.

Would you mind sharing 3 tips for new or aspiring producers? They can be creative, technical, etc. – whatever insights or advice you’d like to share.

  1. Take your time to find a sound that you love and feel comfortable with. A lot of people across different creative fields start out by copying someone they admire, and then only develop their own style over time. The focus should be more on creating something that you enjoy rather than something that painfully needs to stick out, even though there is always so much focus on uniqueness / originality.
  2. Work with people around you, and foster a good creative exchange. I’m going to be really corny, but music offers such a nice way to connect with people. The one thing that I value more than the music itself is all of the encounters it has allowed me to make. It’s so important to surround yourself with like-minded people who will understand what you’re going through, but who you can also just share your taste in music with.
  3. If you’re planning on living off of music, prepare to put a lot of work into it. Ideally, don’t do that in the first place haha. It’s a fickle career that you won’t have full control over. If you have another job that you don’t hate, don’t think that being a successful producer means you have to give that one up and fully devote yourself to producing. In general, basing your sense of success off of money is a bad idea.

Explore mobilegirl’s mesmerizing collection of sounds, spanning moody melodies, hard-hitting drums, and more.

April 24, 2019

Ken Herman Ken Herman is a producer under the name Exitpost and is an editor of the Splice blog.