You have heard his works on several international channels, such as MTV USA, not to mention NRJ and other leading channels in Sweden. Aftonbladet listed one of his recent works as a part of ”The best releases during June”. Markus Harju, the finnish son raised in the small Swedish village Kallinge – today living in Stockholm – is the CEO of the company Dreaming People and has collaborated with producers and songwriters all over the world. But who is he, and what is a mixing engineer like him doing?
WHO IS MARKUS HARJU? Haha, good question. Or… how do you even answer that? I’m “that” finnish, fiery and passionate soul who completely live for music. Don’t know who I would be without it. I think that shines through pretty easy when people meet me, or people at least can see that I’m some sort of a creative person. I usually get the question “You are working with music, right?” before I’ve even mentioned it myself, haha. But I’m some sort of multitasker in the music business, I always see possibilities instead of adversities and I can’t live one day without all this. I’m as artistic as business minded – a hybrid of both worlds, I would say. Man of contrasts!
Haha, good question. Or… how do you even answer that? I’m “that” finnish, fiery and passionate soul who completely live for music. Don’t know who I would be without it. I think that shines through pretty easy when people meet me, or people at least can see that I’m some sort of a creative person. I usually get the question “You are working with music, right?” before I’ve even mentioned it myself, haha. But I’m some sort of multitasker in the music business, I always see possibilities instead of adversities and I can’t live one day without all this. I’m as artistic as business minded – a hybrid of both worlds, I would say. Man of contrasts!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE A NORMAL DAY OF YOUR LIFE?
I don’t think I have something such as “normal days”. No, but every day is very different to the other, from week to week. I have a office in Gamla Stan (Old City) in Stockholm where I normally spend 3 days a week, consulting one of my cooperation partners. The other days and nights i normally work in other environments with mixing, recording, songwriting and production. I guess my life is pretty irregular but I try to find some sort of structure through my days. Can be pretty hard though when you are so driven by feelings.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING AS A MIXING ENGINEER?
I’ve done two educations (Blekinge Institute of Technology + SAE Institute) and examinated from SAE in March 2012. By then I already had started to receive mixing jobs during the period of studies. So my first “sharp” mixing job must have been somewhere during 2011. That’s when I started professionally and felt that “now I’m ready for this”.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST THING WITH MIXING AND MASTERING?
It must be that everything is so relative and every case i so unique. It’s always interesting and creatively developing, and of course I love the fact that you are able to be a part of the whole sound and do all your marks on it. Both mixing and mastering is a art form and I completely love that! Frequencies isn’t just frequencies. To me it’s all about feelings, and how do you express feelings through frequencies and audio waves? To get the whole arrangement and composition to speak the same language as the energy of the whole song, the lyrics and melodies etc? Every part of that is extremely important to me, and each song has it’s own little world you need to find yourself in – that work is the best of it all!
WHAT SONG WAS THE FIRST YOU MIXED AND HEARD ON THE RADIO, AND HOW DID IT FEEL?
Wow, it was back in 2009 with the death metal band Omnispawn. I was involved in both the songwriting and production though, but I was studying my first education in Karlshamn, Sweden, and I remember sitting on the bus – on my way home – when suddenly my subconscious hear this drumming intro and my body starts play along. Didn’t understand what it was, why my body even activated like that, but at the same time I notice that I am playing along to the song ‘Armageddon’ by Omnispawn and thinking “WHAT?! What am I even doing? WHERE THE FUCK DID THIS COME FROM? Is it the radio? IT IS THE RADIO!”, haha. I went from sitting there, almost sleeping after a long day in school, to get energetic enough to tip over the bus, haha. It was surreal but pretty cool. It might not be that “big of a thing” when you think of it but I can still find it thrilling when it happens today. Feels more and more exciting every time it happens, to hear how the productions and mixes getting better and better fitted for the media.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOB AS A MIX ENGINEER TO SOMEONE THAT HAS NO IDEA OF WHAT YOU'RE DOING?
The thing is I do sooo many things in the process, but if we focus on the mixing parts that somehow has become my “main thing” it normally looks like this. I receive recorded material. The artist, label or company has recorded a song on their own. My job as a mixing engineer is then to step in after the whole creating, songwriting and producing process and somehow meet the song with my unbiased ears from start, listen to the parts of the puzzle with fresh ears etc. The foundation and sounds already in there and my main job is to make sure that the songwriter’s and producer’s vision highlights 100%. Since I’m a songwriter and musician myself, I’m used to work with arrangements etc, and that makes it pretty easy for me to step in and work with the songs as a subtile producer as well – lift up good colors that the customer maybe missed out many times – affect the energy in the songs etc. My longtime customers know who I am, what I can do, and usually send me their raw material and says “do your thing, do your magic” and gives me the space to do my thing.
But you can say that my job is to be there and make sure that every part of the puzzle will fit perfectly to each other and that I edit the picture so it speaks “the right language”. I make sure that the song and sound will reach their full potential.
That’s a question I hear a lot: ”How are you able to know so much about this world when you come from the complete opposite?”, but I claim that it’s a strength in all this. To come from the extreme music and understand that side of expressions has only made it easier for me to understand the big variety of colors in different genres. I always know what’s important, what buttons to push regardless of what music style I’m working with. It’s also a strength when it comes to finding and blending interesting flavours in all kinds of music styles, cause I guess I naturally think differently thanks to this. Overall I’m very passionate about the commercial “radio sound”, and always been, and that was always my main goal on my way here, to “learn so much that I’m able to deliver at the same level, the big labels are doing”. But yeah, it’s just a big strength today och it makes me very flexiible between genres. There’s nothing I can’t work with – nothing too big, too small, too common or too weird.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS TODAY, COMPARING TO 5-10 YEARS AGO?
The music business has been very messy and moving the last decade, in some sort of constant developing phase. So many things been turned upside down and forced all the people in the business to find their place in all the new things that’s happening. I don’t think it steady yet, still moving. The internet and how to come through as an artist and company is like…everything’s just moving forward so fast. But I think all of this is very positive and it has made everything very exciting. This journey never stops.
The second you think you are “done” and you think you know everything – that’s the second your journey heading downwards. I’ve met so many through my journey that doesn’t understand this at all, who don’t want to understand this – people who don’t want to be a part of what’s happening right now and figure out how to be a part of the future. The business doesn’t work like it did before, old artists loses attention and many artists today trying to get heard but still focusing on ineffective things. It doesn’t work that way anymore, you have to be interested, be willing to follow the journey forward, get to know all the new patterns, evaluate the old ones, develop etc. Stay committed.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ABOUT THE MUSIC TODAY, COMPARED TO BEFORE?
I guess it depends on what music style we are talking about but overall I like where everything is heading. The only sad thing I can see is that everything is moving so fast today, which makes it almost impossible for new songs to find place and grow enough to become “old classics”. Is that even possible? I don’t know. But I think the songwriting process is pretty similar today compared to what it was earlier, BUT the productions is a whole other story. Today it’s crucial that the productions is minimalistic, every little part of the production must have a clear, important and a major role. Less is more. It wasn’t like that before. But I also love what is happening on the side of extreme music, especially soundwise. Earlier the sounds was lacking of bass and low end, it was more scratchy and screamy but it has changed remarkably lately and that is something I adopted and aim for in my mixes and masters as well.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ARTIST/PERSON YOU DREAM OF WORKING WITH?
No, I’m not like that. Don’t know what to say. I’ve never been focusing our thought of people that way. I more like, consider everyone as collegues. I think I’m more focused on some sort of “dream scenario” in the studio, rather than thinking “THAT person I would like to work with”. It’s not important to me who I work with as long as the main feeling and mutual interest matches and feels right – you know when, like, you are standing there in the rehearsal room, with your band mates, and everyone is just “feeling it” together. It’s like all planets lines up in a symbiosis and whatever time is, just stops. That feeling is incredible! That’s something I look and aim for, rather than focusing on who’s there creating that feeling with me. Everyone is just collegues and regular persons in the end.
WHAT MUSIC ARE YOU LISTENING TODAY?
I listen a lot to what’s hot on the radio today. Keeping myself updated with the commercial side. Tend to be a lot on Spotify, I like the Digster list. Have had a long period now with rap and hiphop in a mix with a lot of metal – probably cause I’ve been working a lot with these genres. But yeah, a lot of Spotify and what’s relevant and in the hot spot on radio.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU BECAME A MIX ENGINEER?
I’ve been working A LOT in home care service. Been taking care of old people. Met so many different people, dealt with some many different tasks and meetings, learned how to read different people fast etc. That’s also a strength today. When I started the company I also worked as a live sound engineer for two years and did jobs for the artist elite in Sweden.
SOMETHING ELSE YOU WANT TO ADD?
No, don’t think so. If you’re interested of getting in contact with me, if you need my help and services or just want to talk music, audio and production, you are more than welcome to throw me a mail. Hit me with your best shot!