The life of a musician is an uncertain one, filled with emotional and financial peaks and valleys. Some days, the hours spent on a single track more than pay off, and other days, a flop casts a bleak outlook. But the life of a musician is also an incredibly fulfilling one. The days where a soundtrack comes together in a beautiful result are far greater than the financial risks.
“You could say my pursuit is happiness, and money doesn’t help with that.” Those are the words of Fredrik (Fredde) Larsson, better known by his alias FreddeGredde on YouTube. For the past decade, Fredrik has amassed a fanbase 200,000 strong with his music, and some of his most popular work has earned millions of views.
What kind of songs does Fredrik play? His musical projects fall under one of two categories: medleys/remixes, and original songs. On the same YouTube page that you’ll find a rendition of a dozen or so famous Disney tunes, you’ll also find links to one of the three full-fledged albums he’s produced.
Fredrik’s most popular works are his video game renditions and medleys. Whether it’s a full recreation of the opening Wind Waker theme, a collection of songs from Mega Man 9, or a medley of every mainline Super Mario game, Fredrik has a deep well of video game passion and experience to draw from.
Recently, we reached out to Fredrik to discuss his musical career, and we quickly found out that he’s a very transparent, raw, and interesting person to converse with. We learned everything from his history, to his process, to his plans for the future. An entire book could be written about Fredrik, but for the sake of time, we had to condense it down to an article; we hope you’ll join us for the ride.
It Begins in Sweden
Gävle: the 13th-most populated city in Sweden. It’s the home of the Yule Goat, a massive straw goat that’s assembled in December each year and consequently burned down. It was also Fredrik Larsson’s home, and where he first set out on his musical path.
As a child, the two things that would most directly influence Fredrik’s life — music and video games — were already coming into play. He recalls playing Nintendo classics like Super Mario World and Ocarina of Time. But at the same time, he was developing his abilities as a musician.
“It’s hard to say when I started playing,” Fredrik recollects on his site’s FAQ:
“I’ve never taken lessons or anything, so I’ve gradually become better and better since I was young. We had a piano in our house at some point, and I got my first guitar when I was 14 years old. So, [I’ve been playing] at least ten years, for both.”
The practice was a natural pre-cursor to his very first 2008 YouTube upload: Für Elise on Guitar. As the title might lead you to think, this video was an acoustic rendition of Beethoven’s classic symphony. It’s a beautiful piece, and as he retroactively states in the description, he played it to fill a void on YouTube. “Back when I made this video, there was no full version of Für Elise on guitar here on YouTube! So, I decided to learn it and record it to fill the gap.” As of writing, the video has nearly three million views.
Fredrik quickly pivoted from slow, melodic, classical music to something a little louder. His Mega Man 9 Rock Medley showed his recent audience that he could play effectively in more than one genre. This contrast is something that would show through his work for the rest of his musical career. Plus, it was the first of many video game and movie-inspired songs to come.
It was in Wind Waker Unplugged where Fredrik’s talents as a multi-faceted musician really began to shine. In the rendition of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s main theme, he uses guitar, recorder, accordion, pan flute, djembe, glasses of water, a tin lid, and multiple recordings of his own voice. Quite the repertoire of instruments! He would use this multi-instrument approach in many of his later cover videos.
Fredrik had his own original ideas for music as well, which you can find interspersed throughout his channel. The first of these was his rock/alternative love song Beside Me, which he recorded alongside drummer Louis Abramson.
To Fredrik, music creation is a process that began a long, long time ago: “Often, I
use short ideas I recorded when I was like, 17 years old,” he told Culture of Gaming:
“I feel like things I used to do were so quirky and different, and [like to] write new
song[s] around them. So many of the songs on my albums have taken more than
10 years to make in that sense.”
Even when you boil down the tangible amount of work that goes into each song, it’s no simple process:
“I first spend one to three days to compose and record a first demo. This is the most fun part. Then I spend a week or four to polish, change things up, figure out how to make it better.
When I’m satisfied, it might take a week or two to improve the lyrics, because I always record gibberish lyrics for my first demos. When that’s done, I re-record the final version, which might take a day or three.”
Over the years, the repertoire of songs on the FreddeGredde channel grew and grew, gaining more subscribers and views into the early 2010s, despite the many styles, genres, and cinematic approaches that Fredrik attempted. Video game and TV covers like The Video Game Rock Medley, The TV Theme Medley, and The Cartoon Medley raked in millions and millions of hits. Meanwhile, he continued his creative lyrical inspiration with original songs like the Twilight-inspired Vampire Bride, the song of longing Is it All Right?, and the self-reflection piece Utopia.
Fredrik found avenues to incorporate non-musical content into his channel. A couple of his best songs are accompanied by powerful, story-telling animations, created by animator Will Wright (no relation to the SimCity developer). One of these songs was Keepers of the Sky, a touching story of a girl and her rescued dragon, made even more powerful by Wright’s animation.
Fredrik has nothing but good things to say about Wright:
“Will is very efficient and always does a great job, so with The Keepers of the Sky, I had [his] animation in mind already when I was composing the songs. Then I described my vision, and we agreed on a storyboard/animatic. I’m super happy with [that video], and his ability to connect the tone, style and timing with the music!”
“[For Keepers of the Sky], I wanted to make something Disney-ish, fantasy/medieval-sounding. Lyrics are certainly my weakness, but people like dragons, and I wanted some kind of positive message. Like, how unknown or scary looking things aren’t necessarily as bad as we might think. It’s a generic idea, sure, but I think we still need to keep pushing that idea to people, kids especially.”
Perhaps the thing that’s most reflective of Fredrik’s musical inspiration is the meaning behind 2011’s Thirteen Eight, the very first album he produced. 13/8 is a time signature, meaning that there are 13 beats for every measure. This is highly unusual — many, many songwriters stick to the easier, safer 4/4 signature (which means 4 beats to the measure; think rock or pop music), or possibly 3/4 (used in waltz), 2/4 (used in march), or 5/4 (used in jazz). But writing in 13/8 for a number of his debut album’s songs was a way for Fredrik to break free from tradition:
“This was important to me, because most music is so very limited in creativity and outside-the-box thinking. […] I wanted to show that this is something that exists in music, even though few non-musicians will ever notice it.”
Music creation can wear anyone down to the core. It involves composing, writing, recording, editing, mixing — sometimes redoing the entire process from scratch. It can take months and months, just for a single song, and even more time for an album of 13 songs. It’s enough to bring anyone to a breaking point; Fredrik’s breaking point came in 2012.
After a successful 4 years on YouTube, Fredrik began to feel increasingly distant from his own music, like he wasn’t making it for himself anymore. “I couldn’t force myself to make music just for the audience anymore, rather than music I personally enjoyed. I had a musical identity crisis and started [to hate] all music, plain and simply.”
Understandably, creating music from a place of hate and unfulfillment is extremely difficult – sometimes impossible. So, Fredrik spent time away from YouTube to recuperate his ideas and see where life would take him next. Turns out, life would take him straight back to music, but this time he wasn’t doing it for anyone else.
After a year on hiatus, Fredrik regained his determination for music, and set to work on Brighter Skies, his second album. It was a complete structural departure from Thirteen Eight. He avoided using traditional structure, time signatures, and chord progressions. “For me personally, this is what I wanted to accomplish when it comes to music, and it’s the music project I’m the
most proud of.”
But creative fulfillment and success are far from equivalent — Brighter Skies failed, Fredrik told us, partially because of a lack of marketing, and partially because of a lack of appreciation from his YouTube audience. “It made me finally understand just how big the difference is between my own vision of what music should be, and the mainstream/regular music lover’s.”
After his return album flopped, the doldrums of creative boredom set in again. Fredrik couldn’t bring himself to create another piece of music after he had just finished the best work of his career. He needed a long vacation, so in 2014, he took one.
Fredrik sold nearly everything he had, packed up what was left, and took a long, long trip. Where did he go? It might be more appropriate to ask where he didn’t go. Over the course of two years, he passed through nearly two dozen countries, stopping at all the highlights to appreciate the many, many cultures of the world. He took strolls through the streets of old Jerusalem, rowed the flooded avenues of Venice, and ventured inside the adobe buildings of Morocco. But all that was still in Europe; Fredrik wanted a drastic change of pace. So he flew to the other side of the world, quite literally.
Fredrik’s journey through South America saw him in more than a dozen countries. He climbed the ancient ruins of Macchu Pichu in Peru, saw the cascading Iguazu Falls in Brazil, and went paragliding in Argentina. Then he took a northbound jaunt, passing through Central America to visit Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
Finally, his worldwide tour came full-circle, and he returned to Europe to tour the cultures of Germany, Hungary, and Spain, before returning to Sweden for a bit. That didn’t last long though; Fredrik decided Sweden, for as long as he lived there, was not the country for him. “I wanted a country that’s warm all year around.” So he took one last trip, permanently, to the Philippines, where he now lives.
Fredrik’s two-year world tour had rejuvenated his spirit and creative inspiration to pursue music once more. In 2016, he took a deep breath, and stepped back onto his metaphorical YouTube stage.
In 2016, Fredrik broke his long YouTube absence with The Movie Medley, a witty, lyrical compilation of themes from movies like Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Jaws. After that, he compiled what he says might be his favorite medley, The Disney Medley. In this piano/guitar collection, FreddeGredde blended together songs from over 50 years of Disney films, from Pinocchio to Mulan.
For Fredrik, the process of compiling various songs into a medley is a technical, yet enjoyable one.
“Making the songs in a medley flow is my very favorite aspect of making these videos. It’s not just about “feeling” though. After I’ve chosen all the songs I want to include, I use a metronome to find out their BPM (beats per minute) and put them into groups. Then I figure out the keys/chords, and further divide the songs into ones that match.”
Failure and Success
Fredrik’s newfound motivation drove him to create his third and most recent album, Eyes on The Edge, which, as he describes it, was a “more pop-y and accessible than ever before, but hopefully with something for everyone to enjoy”. He went all in, marketing his new album with full music videos (like Unraveled Lies) and animations (like Keepers of The Sky). Finally, the moment of his new album’s release: May 16, 2017. He had poured all his time and resources into this third album. Did it sell well? To put it bluntly: no, it didn’t.
“By the time of the release, my audience had left completely, and it failed even harder than my Brighter Skies album. It makes sense of course, because when you barely release any video at all in 5 years, people will move on. But it was still very disappointing. I realized that my ‘career’ was completely over.”
That failure was a huge blow to Fredrik. In a desperate 2017 blog post, he wrote “This is clearly not working out!” It was a difficult thing to keep his head high after such a blow, but there was one thing keeping him going: an anniversary.
“I realized that it had been 10 years since my Wind Waker Unplugged (video), which was really the start of everything. I had not made video game music in many, many years […] I actually got excited about making one last medley in that style, but with all the editing/mixing experience I had gained throughout the years. [So] I made the Superb Mario Medley.”
Fredrik claims that he’s only proficient in two instruments: piano and guitar. But watch The Superb Mario Medley just once, and you might disagree. He fiddles with everything from ocarina, to violin, to cello, to xylophone, to even a Labo piano to get the right “feel” for the song. In fact, Fredrik wasn’t familiar with these instruments, but he wasn’t afraid to learn and experiment to get everything just right.
Fredrik recounts his time playing around with the violin for the medley:
“Adding something new to the mix is crucial for me, in order to keep things interesting. I spent 3 weeks to learn [violin], and then decided ‘nah, this doesn’t sound nearly good enough.’ So, I gave up. Then a month later, I picked it up again, and suddenly felt that as long as it doesn’t have any solo part, it does the job okay.”
The Superb Mario Medley sits at nearly 3 million views at the time of writing. It was the end of a cycle; just as he found success on YouTube with a gaming medley over a decade ago, so he returned to success through a gaming medley.
Fredrik says that the medley felt like “the end of a movie, a final victory that showed that I was still capable of creating something that moved people.”
In the same way that video games have inspired many of Fredrik’s medleys, so have they inspired his difficult process for music creation. One of Fredrik’s favorite games is Celeste, a challenging side-scrolling platformer, and he likes to use that game as an example for his work:
“I see recording as playing a challenging video game, like, getting through a really hard Celeste stage with the golden strawberry (meaning you can’t make a single mistake). It’s rarely frustrating, because I just get into this zone where it’s okay to play again and again and slowly get closer and closer to the finish-line.”
Seemingly, that finish-line might never come — Fredrik is conflicted on what he should create next:
“To be honest, it’s already getting ‘old’ to make the same game medleys again and again, but with different franchises. I wish I was the type who could just stick with what people love, and enjoy repeating myself, but I need some new hook to make it interesting. And right now, I don’t know what that would be.
As for my next album, I honestly think there won’t be one. The more I think about it, the more I feel that Brighter Skies is what I wanted to ‘say’ musically, and I don’t know what a fourth album would actually accomplish.”
For the time being, Fredrik is content enough to be living in the Philippines. His early years in Sweden gave Fredrik a disdain for cold, bitter weather. The sunny, tropical heat of the islands has served for a wonderful change of setting. “When I can simply step into my flipflops and go out to face the warm sun, […] it just brings a smile to my face every time.”
For more personal updates on the FreddeGredde channel and musical work, you can read directly from Fredrik Larsson’s own writings at freddegredde.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and of course YouTube.
For everything else in the video-game world, stay tuned to Culture of Gaming.