INTERVIEW – Robert O’Connor Chats About New Single “Over (Before It’s Begun)

Irish singer Robert O’Connor has very recently dropped his brand-new single “Over (Before It’s Begun).” You can stream it over on Robert’s Spotify now! You can also check out the awesome music video below:

We got in touch with Robert to talk about this incredible single which features Peruvian producer Skynem GT. Here is what he had to say, check it out!;

Let’s talk about your new single! ‘Over Before It’s Begun’, out on the 31st  July. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it, what is it about?

So, basically the track was written several years ago, and I have recorded a version of it here in Dublin. It never really turned out exactly how I wanted it. It was one of those songs where I played it live a little bit before I went into the studio and I think that brought up the expectations of how it was actually going to be when it was recorded. I thought it had the bones of being a really good song but for various reasons, communication between me and the two producers I was working with at the time, it just never came out the way I wanted it. So, I put it to rest for a while, and then I came back to making music. 

   I had quite a few brand-new singles out, and then during lockdown, I started to release some re-issues, so I went through my back catalogue. I had worked with a couple of different labels from independent labels to, you know, my first album came out for distribution through Universal, so everything was everywhere. I didn’t have a massive amount of control over my back catalogue, which was quite frustrating. 

  During the process of taking these masters back and re-issuing everything, I started thinking maybe now is the time to take the song that didn’t reach its’ full potential and go again. No-one that follows me now has really heard it. I went to Skynem GT, who I’ve worked with on two previous singles. He really wanted to work on this song from a while ago but I was kind of resisting going back to old territory, but with the lockdown it was like, now is the time. Everything just kind of, pointed to it, you know? 

So, you just mentioned Skynem GT, and last time we spoke you said you met through a contest that you hosted. What’s it like working with someone you clearly have such a strong creative connection with?

It’s great because I feel like for once I’ve put something out to the universe and it actually came back. I had been saying, because I have worked with a lot of great producers, but I kept saying I kind of want to meet this producer that I would work with as a partnership, whereby they would be my equal. We would collaborate. As much as I wouldn’t be pressing the buttons in terms of production, I would be giving a lot of direction and finding a way to get it to sound exactly how I imagined in my head, which is often the most difficult thing when you’re not actually producing yourself. 

   To communicate that is tough. The madness of it happening with someone who, English is not their first language, he lives in Peru with different time zones, so your communication matters. It came up in a strange shape and form I suppose, and like a lot of things. I’m very happy it did happen. The contest wasn’t even my idea last summer, it was another producer who was due to work on a remix at the time. He said “Why don’t you do a competition, there’s so many guys out there who want to work on stuff like this”, and apparently there is!

You worked on this track through lockdown, you just mentioned that. What’s it been like working in that kind of environment and how did you find your motivation?

It was really strange for the first few weeks as I have other jobs as well. For the first couple of weeks I was missing my jobs, as I’m lucky I do like those jobs! So it was a weird adjustment of getting up, with the gyms closed and work closed, it was kind of like an identity crisis of what do I do now? Then suddenly it clicked to me – I can get through all of the things that I wanted to do for the past year or two that I never had enough time for. There’s never enough hours in the day, when you’re an independent artist and you’re juggling, and you’re wearing so many different hats. You get up and think, who am I today? Where am I going, what do I need to be? So, for me, it was hugely beneficial with lockdown on a really selfish level. 

   I went back and I did the remasters, and looked back to anything that I felt needed to be rectified. I took back ownership of my work which was a very big thing, a big challenge. I’m glad it’s done and I never have to do it again. I went back and looked through my website and things that I wanted to change there. I tried to learn a few new skills as well, like editing video and images, which I was previously handing over to other people and paying them to do. I always had a bit of basic knowledge with the website. I made the website myself because it’s not as difficult these days as it used to be. I just tried to advance that, with the apps that are out there now. The free apps that you get with iPhone. Those are really helpful. I think everyone should try and do as much as they can themselves. 

Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean with the lockdown you see people saying they would like to learn new skills, but I don’t think many people did! So, it’s good that you used that time to be beneficial to you.

I couldn’t believe that the hours were just flying. As soon as I turned the computer on and got immersed in something, I couldn’t believe what a mess I had let everything get. I thought this can’t go any further, I had to use this time, as we are never going to have this possibly again. It’s a good time to get ourselves sorted and put our best foot forward, and get us back out into the world again.

Yeah, definitely need to stay positive! I wanted to talk to you a little bit about how you actually make the music. Could you describe your writing process for us? Like where do you get your inspiration from?

It’s different all the time. I find it’s quite difficult for me these days to just sit down at home and write a song. I think it would be a good task to actually teach yourself to do that, but for me, I find I operate better when I’m out and I’m soaking up inspiration from being out and about. In town or on a night out even, I get ideas and jot things down on my phone. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and have a line or idea. I find just as I’m about to go to sleep at night I will get a line. Like the first line [in Real Good Fight] ‘I Close My Eyes and Go to Sleep’. That was literally the Saturday night. I wrote the song the next morning while I was at work. I think it was literally 20 minutes. That was one of the lucky ones where it just came, and then melodically. Sometimes the melody will come second or together with the lyrics. Or it often comes from what I’m listening to at that particular time so you know, in 2018 I was listening to a lot of music from Nashville, so Country. There was a lot of Country inspired melodies. Whereas from then onwards to now, it was much more electronically charged. 

   One thing I really did want to learn how to do, and I didn’t, was actually production itself. I can play keyboard so what I’m thinking is to buy one of these mini keyboards that you can hook up to your Mac and learn to do things yourself. Even if you’re not fully producing yourself you can at least put the bones of something together. We never know what’s going to happen when we can’t get into the studio. It’s been months and months and months since I’ve been in the studio!

Yeah, it’s a good skill to have, so many artists produce their own music now.

I know, it’s pressure! It’s not good enough just to sing and write it anymore!

Yeah you have to do it all now!

Exactly! I watched some videos that Charlie Puth posted. The way he does everything, you think ‘oh that’s a guitar sound’, but actually it’s him playing a guitar sound through a keyboard. It’s fascinating. It is awesome. A lot of pop music is electronic. Think of how much money you’d save as well!

That’s true! So, you actually work as an independent artist, but how does this work for you? How do you get your music heard?

So, it’s a long process. Once you have the EP or single or whatever, you have to find a distributor, which really anyone can get these days as long as the quality of your master is there. I’ve worked with a couple of different ones. I’ve worked with ‘Amuse’ and ‘Distro Kid’ over the last couple of years. Essentially you have to submit the track to them, and then they will vet it, and then they will be the middle man passing it onto Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Shazam, all of those things. Then you will have often a royalties’ agency that will collect any royalties that might or might not come in. Then there’s copyright and a lot of behind the scenes stuff that happens. I’m still learning. 

   Things like embedding all of the information for publishers. I have a drop box folder that I use when I’m sending music to the likes of you guys, bloggers and radio stations. I actually have everything that a journalist or a blogger or a radio host needs. So, from your press kit, to the track itself, to if there’s a video, if there’s lyrics. Anything that can make that persons’ job easier and make them more likely to actually write about you or play your track. The big thing that I previously slipped up on and it’s a big thing for radio particularly, is embedding all of the details into the track. That means that when it’s played, you get paid. When they open up the track in their interfaces, they can see who it is and what it is, because otherwise it’s moved to the recycle bin and it’s lost. 

   You’ll always get something wrong and you’ll learn from that. This time particularly after having gone through all of the remasters, I feel like I finally kind of have my stuff together with this one. 

Definitely. I suppose that’s the same in every industry though. You are always going to be learning things. So, what advice would you give to someone who wants to be an independent artist?

Don’t (haha!). Having a team would be amazing, to look after all of those things. But at the same time, the skills that you actually build. Like learning the recording process, to assembling your own press kit. To know what is your brand and who you’re targeting. 

   Two weeks ago, I sent about three or four hundred emails in one day. That is a rabbit hole to go down I suppose. It’s very time consuming. But also, you learn so much about not writing one email and sending it to every single person. Learning about the individual blog, to know who you’re approaching. Like don’t approach heavy metal blogs if you make electronic dance music. Save yourself time and do the research. That is the one thing I would say is, take your time and do the research! I’ve rushed things before. Like two years ago I had a Christmas single come out, and I was pushed a little bit for time. I literally got the master the morning we were going to radio with it. I had a radio premier booked in. It was very rushed, and then the producer came back and said“Actually I’ve made a few tweaks”, and I thought now I have to go and do these mail outs again and say “By the way that’s wrong”. It makes you look amateur. 

   I think anything that can make you look professional and glossy and you can make people think that you are major, and you can make it look like you have a team. That’s when you can get things right. Learn the craft before you start rushing out there. The beauty of being independent and new or unknown, is that there is no one actually waiting on your work. So, take the time to get it right before you show them what you’re about. 

I think that’s some really good advice. Of course, with lockdown, live shows have been cancelled and haven’t been able to go on. So just for fun, if you were on the line up for a festival, who else would you want on the line up with you?

Wow, they would make me look horrendous because they are all so incredible! Last week I discovered the new Jessie Ware album, which is mind blowing. It’s like a throwback 70s/80s disco/funk /soul. Everything I like is a little bit nostalgic at the moment. I like Tame Impala. I’m really liking the new album from The Weeknd. It’s not that I wasn’t previously on board with his stuff but I wouldn’t consider myself a mega fan. But now definitely I’m really into his stuff. There’s a new Irish act called ‘In Bits’. He makes kind of, dream pop. That would be an excellent line up and I’d be happy to be bottom billing with that!

So once live shows can go on again, what sort of things can people expect from a live show with yourself?

I was thinking this this morning actually! Because previously it’s almost like I have had two different acts, because originally, when I started making music this time around in 2018, it was sort of pop country, and that is what my live show has been like with the live band that I have. But now, with the shift in music, before lockdown I was still performing that same sort of show, and thought ‘I am sending out mixed messages here’. It took me so long to find a band and get things right, I think I didn’t want to shake things up too much. But I think there is a necessity now for me to bring in new flavours and bring in some electronic textures like keyboards and that sort of thing into the live show. 

   The one thing that keeps coming into my mind is to make it more of an experience. There’s so many acts out there, there’s so many independent male singer song writers, that they are sort of blending into each other quite a lot. Something I’m conscious of doing is separating myself from that. I do see myself as more of a pop product. I want it to feel a little bit more escapist. I want to have fun, and after the year we’ve had, I don’t want to have an absolute cringe fest of a show! I want it to be really fun and a great experience that people can walk away from having enjoyed. 

Yeah absolutely! This is actually the final question that I have for you. We wanted to know of any future plans, what else have you been working on?

Skynem GT and myself have been calling this single the calm before the storm, because we have another track that has never been released before. I had originally recorded the vocals of it using a sample from a dance act from the 90s, and I couldn’t afford clearance for it because sampling music is really expensive. When I came around to it again, I wanted to make it completely original. We’ve been experimenting a lot with styles, and this track is chill out and quite zen… Whereas I want the next one to be a big house 90s banger! We’re just currently deciding what way to do vocal production – whether to bring in another producer here in Ireland, record vocals and send them back, or to record them at home for the first time ever, and see how that goes.

    So, there will be another collaboration. We made this interlude the other night, which is like a little orchestral intro to this current single. That sparked an idea for me, of putting all of our collaborations together with some little interludes and making a nice body of work, like an EP kind of thing. That will be something for later on in the year. Just kind of rock up everything we’ve done together and present it nicely. 

Big thank you to Robert for sitting down and having a chat with us! We look forward to seeing what else you have to give to the world. Be sure to follow his Instagram and Twitter for more updates!

What did you think of “Over (Before It’s Begun)”? Let us know over on our Twitter – @aboutthe_noise