How to Be the Next Ólafur Arnalds

twerking oliÓlafur Arnalds has definitely reached the tipping point.  Over the past couple years, we’ve received dozens of press releases from artists and labels mentioning his name.  Here’s a sampling of quotes (with names removed so as not to embarrass anyone).

If you’ve ever enjoyed Ólafur Arnalds …
… prefigured the likes of Ólafur Arnalds …
… inspired by the likes of Ólafur Arnalds …
… sounds like Ólafur Arnalds …
… a similar vein to Ólafur Arnalds …
… recommended if you like Ólafur Arnalds … 

And my personal favorite, “I noticed you covered Ólafur Arnalds recently, so I thought you might like (this) atmospheric electronic rock artist.”

This does not include the press releases that mention artists having played shows with Arnalds, or sharing his string section or producer.  While reading press releases, it often seems that everyone who plays piano is trying to become the next Ólafur Arnalds (except for those who want to become the next Nils Frahm.)  So for all of you aspiring Arnaldses out there, here’s your ten-step primer.

Eulogy for Evolution1.  Launch your career with an amazing, genre-jumping album.  Eulogy for Evolution is a classic record that still surprises because it veers from melody in the closing minutes to embrace dissonance.  It has a great cover too.  Think Arnalds is just a “pretty piano artist with strings?”  Go back and listen to this again.

2.  Collaborate.  Sure, Arnalds has collaborated with Nils Frahm, but as half of Kiasmos he released a split 12″ with Rival Consoles; he also recently recorded an album with Alice Sara Ott.  These collaborations have kept him from being pigeonholed, while increasing his acclaim.

3.  In related fashion, be friendly.  I first met Arnalds at a concert in New York.  He already knew who I was, as well as the name of the website for which I wrote.  A few months later, I met him again in Reykjavik.  Not only did he remember my name, he offered to show me around, despite the fact that he had multiple concerts to perform that week.  That’s just crazy.

4.  Don’t toot your own horn.  One of the main things Arnalds likes to talk about is other artists:  Oh, you have to check out THIS band!  And THIS band!

The Chopin Project5.  Be creative.  Arnalds twice released a track a day for a week.  Think you’ve got what it takes?  Do something similar, release a film with each, and give everything away for free.  (You can sell copies later if you’d like.)

6.  Say yes to small projects.  Have you ever heard of the indie films Blinky or Jitters?  No?  How about the TV show Broadchurch?  Those films laid the groundwork.

7.  Don’t forget where you came from.  How many have heard of Vonarstræti?  Arnalds worked on this film after he had already become world famous.

8.  Remember your fans!  Have you seen Arnalds’ friendly, easy-to-navigate Website? Or his constantly updated, upbeat Facebook page?  Arnalds is always on the go, but he’s a great communicator.  Be sure to get all your ducks in a row before launching a new project, and keep track of the artist-public interface.  Fans, not critics, are the base of your support.

9.  Work your butt off.  Arnalds slept an hour last year.  It was a slow year.

10.  And finally, YOU CANNOT BE THE NEXT ÓLAFUR ARNALDS!  What is wrong with you!  There is already an Ólafur Arnalds!  Be yourself!  Don’t ride anyone else’s coattails!  Blaze your own path!  Take risks!  Be daring and original!  The world needs more innovators!  Will it be you?  🙂  (Richard Allen)

Next in this series:  How to be the next Godspeed You! Black Emperor*


* Just kidding (we think)!


  1. A great, funny and interesting article. It makes me wonder if as musicians we’re really pursuing our personal path or just following the herd hoping to receive a slice of cake.

  2. Brandon

    It’s worth noting that Arnalds may not be the most mechanically talented neo-classical musician, but he has certainly made his music (and himself) more than accessible. He puts a lot of thought into simplicities that take little to no showboating. I’ve no doubt Living Room Songs (my favorite classical album) showcases very little of his mechanical skills on piano, yet it’s still irrefutably humble and heart wrenching in premise as well as in execution.

    • Erik

      Well, I agree that most of his work doesn’t show technical skills. However, if you witness him playing “lag fyrir ommu” in an extremely quiet sold out hall filled with 1.700 people, that takes a lot of skill and delicatesse.

  3. paul

    finger hit squarely on the keyboard

  4. And most importantly, be simple and beautiful.

  5. Paula Sofia

    I would love to meet him someday! Great artist, great person.

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