Gabriel Lundh is a 24-year-old producer/mixer with one of the first Dolby Atmos-equipped recording studios in Sweden. As a mixer, he’s had the opportunity to work with a broad spectrum of musical artists such as Smith & Thell, Maia Reficco, and Emma Jensen.

He also worked on the Nickelodeon film Kally’s Mashup, A Very Kally’s Birthday (2021), as well as Netflix's musical The Prom (2020). Additionally, he’s produced music and sound design for H&M, Human Horizons, and Fabege.

Lundh was an early adopter of the new Dolby Atmos object-based surround system, resulting in his first solo album, Adventures of, under the stage name Pollnow. The album was written and composed with immersive audio in mind, giving him the opportunity to experiment with placing different production elements behind and above the listener.

We had the opportunity to speak with Gabriel about how he became interested in audio engineering, what kind of immersive projects he’s currently working on, and how he thinks recent strides in immersive audio will shape the music industry in the years to come.

Tell us about your early career. What made you want to become a musician and producer?

From an early age, there was always music around. No one was interested in sports, and we had zero sense of ball control. One day, at 7 or so, my father said, “You should play the bass so that we can play together.” And so I did.

Years later, I studied music in high school and realized early on that I really enjoyed working at the computer more than practicing bass. There is something about the linear workflow of projects on the computer that really draws me in, like the way you can save and then come back the next day to see and hear the progress. I really admire musicians who can practice and keep motivated despite the lack of clear day-to-day progress.

How did you first get into engineering and immersive audio?

Growing up, we had a simple home studio setup at my parents’ house. This made it possible for me to learn engineering, through recording my old rock band and friends’ bands. I also wrote and produced tirelessly with my dear friend David Bekic, a collaboration that meant a lot to me and my understanding of music production. Directly after finishing high school, I started to work as a freelance producer, mixer and sound designer.

Despite working as a sound designer and being around people working in 5.1, I never took an interest in it. I could never cope with the way channel-based work was structured for surround sound and how it was hard for the consumer to experience it. Therefore, I stayed in stereo, doing mostly music and commercial sound design, until I heard of Dolby Atmos 1.5 years ago.

My friend and colleague Fredrik Jansson asked me what I knew about Atmos, and I realized I knew nothing about it. I put aside everything else and started digging into the world of immersive audio. I quickly understood that this was what I was longing for: an adaptable, channel-independent audio format ready for what’s to come to the future of audio. Since then, I’ve just gone full throttle to learn and work in the format.

Your studio in Stockholm, “the dome.”, is one of the first in Europe to be fully equipped for Dolby Atmos mixing. How did your close collaboration with Dolby come about?

After a month of digging into Dolby Atmos, I started trying out the format on headphones and auditioning the binaural engine’s capabilities for colleagues in the business. After a short period of testing, I was certain that I wanted to invest in a 7.1.4 speaker system and rebuild my studio.

I contacted Ceri Thomas at Dolby to start planning the build. Ceri was such a great help during the build process. When I was done, I got in contact with the fantastic David Ziegler, who is working with studios in Europe. He has since then helped me answer even the most obscure thoughts and questions about the format and how it works in certain situations. Our talks have really helped me understand the capabilities of the format as well as helping me develop what I call my “Atmos First” approach, where I work from the start in Atmos and derive all the subsequent mixes from the same project.

Gabriel Lundh
Photo by Mira Aasma

Do you have any anecdotes to share about the making and production of your debut solo album, Adventures of,?

The making of my solo album was really a crooked path. As I was working more than full time with other projects during the course of the album production, I really just worked in 30 minutes chunks here and there. Just closing what I was working on, opening a song, bursting the session with ideas for 30 minutes and then going back to what I was working with before.

I think that this approach to production was really crucial to how the album turned out. Everything is just improvised, done once, maybe a few fixes here and there, and then I went on to the next thing. I really resonate with the set and forget philosophy and try to implement it in everything I do.

Almost exactly when all the songs were ready for mixing, I came across Atmos. This album project therefore got to be my pilot project in Dolby Atmos. That being said, I had to learn during the mixing process and all the songs got updated as soon as I learned something new or a new workflow came to be developed. It took almost 1.5 years to finish the mixes as I was constantly trying things and still just working 30 minutes at a time in between other freelance work. Again, I think it was crucial to how it turned out!

There are so many different immersive mixing styles used by engineers. Some are more conservative and use the extra speakers primarily for back-of-the-hall ambience, while others are more experimental and place isolated instruments behind or above the listener. Can you talk about your decision-making process when using the extra channels?

I try to learn from everyone out there, try things, and develop my own approach. I think of the extra channels as the immersive channels, from which the song can breathe and embrace the listener. But, the bulk of the music I still keep in the left, center, and right speakers. I really do not want the format to be annoying, with crazy panning of key instruments disturbing the listener. Rather, I like to use the channels to place the listener in the soundscape.

I often place reverbs and effects somewhere other than the dry source and try to let the music grow over time and go from big to small. Contrast is really key in this format I think. Other than that every production and song has to tell me what to do and help me figure out what the best way is to portray the song in this format.

How do the artists you work with react to hearing their music in surround sound? Do you get special requests from your clientele for immersive mixes?

It’s really interesting when I show an artist their music in Atmos. Most of them feel as if it's what they’ve looked for all this time. The sound field is so natural and immersive. And despite being natural, it is also way more emotionally engaging. A lot of people and artists I’ve played Atmos for have just been speechless listening. It’s really something else.

As the format is still so young, feed-backing on immersive mixes is still not an easy task. The binaural mixes are really close to the balance you get in the speaker mix, but ideally the clients should listen in the studio on the speakers. This is not always possible so most of the time, trust is being put on me to finish the Atmos mixes by myself in the studio.

Although, now with Apple’s Spatial Audio and the trick to listen to the engine through the files app on an iPhone, I think it has become easier to send mixes for feedback (at least so that the artist can know how it will sound on Apple Music).

What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing a career in audio production?

Workflow and QC is key. I’m so happy to have found the brilliant workflow program Soundflow, made by the genius Christian Munk Scheuer, which makes it so much more fun to work with Atmos. I have everything from project preparation to exports automated now so that I do not miss anything and get everything where it needs to be from the start. So, definitely start early on to develop a workflow that lets you focus on the creative parts, not the administrative. Also, go that extra mile to double check a delivery. Being clear with communication and being on time has been very important for me so far

Photo by Mira Aasma

What are your thoughts on Apple and Tidal’s Atmos streaming platforms? Do you see this as ultimately becoming a mainstream success, unlike past attempts to market surround music?

As mentioned earlier, I really think Dolby Atmos is the future of music. I think this because it’s the first time that we as producers and engineers can deliver the information needed for manufacturers to create amazing experiences for the listeners. Before, trying to make bigger and immersive experiences from stereo audio files was just guess work for the manufacturers, with upscaling and fake 3D audio images. Now, with Dolby Atmos, they know the artist's intent and can place the tracks according to the vision from the artist.

That being said, the platforms have done it differently. Tidal took on the Dolby ecosystem and actually uses the format as Dolby intended with the binaural render modes and Dolby's binaural engine. Apple however, took the extra step and made their own engine. This Spatial engine sounds fantastic, but it comes with some consequences.

The Spatial engine overlooks the binaural render modes and goes straight to trying to emulate the speaker mix in a binaural environment. As the most common mixing approach today, “keep it to the walls” has everything anchored to the Atmos virtual rooms walls for phase accuracy. Apple’s Spatial motor does everything it can to make these mixes sound as the music is “as far away as possible,” because that’s how the speaker mix was made. It works fantastic in speakers, but with the HRTF filtering and added room reverb, this “keep it to the walls” approach has to be tweaked to work on Apple Music.

Now, to compensate for Apple Music, I’m adapting my mixes to Spatial audio, and putting things that are intended to be close to the listener, closer to the middle of the Dolby Atmos virtual room. This way the music sounds fantastic on Spatial, but is a little compromised in phase accuracy in speaker playback. I have come to learn where the limits are and how to adapt the mix without ruining the speaker playback, but it is an ever ongoing process.

Any future projects involving immersive audio you can tell us about?

It has been such a great time so far since Apple Music launched their support. I recently finished the Atmos mixes for Smith & Thell’s Acoustic in Isby album and I’m currently working on exciting releases on both my own label and on major labels in Sweden. We are still catching on here in Sweden and hopefully a lot of mixing and Atmos production will be done in the fall. I will continue trying out different approaches to mixing and producing in the format. I really see no limit to what it is capable of and I’m so excited to see what the coming time will mean for the future of music.

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About the Author
Jonathan is an audio engineering enthusiast from New York with a passion for immersive audio, having amassed a formidable collection of multichannel optical discs and quadraphonic vinyl. He earned his undergraduate degree in Television-Radio from Ithaca College and is currently enrolled in a Master’s Program in Audio Technology.