Morgan O’Brien, Technical Project Manager and Musician

My name is Morgan O’Brien and I’m a Technical Project Manager at McAfee. I specialise in Natural Language Processing technology. This basically means I’m a PM, but I’m an engineer too – I spend as much time on code-type things as I do on managing projects. I’ve always wanted to work with technology. When I got the opportunity to work at Microsoft in the late 90s, I realised that I liked that environment. There was a lot of freedom to evolve skills and learn new things from talented people. Later, in Symantec, many of my projects were multimedia-based and the focus was on the importance of language, which eventually led me to work with Machine Translation.

I started learning music and dance quite early in life. My mother is a passionate Irish Dancer and teacher. Music was always promoted in our household: I played the accordion, my sister played the harp, and we both learned the piano. I probably did something music and dance related every day up until I was 15 or 16. I didn’t really like it that much – it was exam driven, lots of pressure, and I wasn’t fond of the music I was playing. But then, many years later, I ended up living with Kieran Coleman (aka Nodman) who is a complete music loon (and he’s musically infectious). Rather than playing jigs, reels, and ballads that I had learned, we started to do Rock, Pop, Computer Game Soundtracks, whatever. It was a laugh on the accordion and double bass! Once I got back into music, I started to focus on the type of music I always loved: Electronic, House, Trance, Dance, and Techno.

My favourite instrument alternates a lot depending on mood, but it’s probably the bass. Feeling the groove of the song is selfishly a better experience when playing, but it’s also a responsibility towards the rest of the band and audience. I should also give an honorable mention to the microKorg. Sometimes synths don’t get recognition specifically, but it’s great fun to play with good control over modulations and other things. My main genre is House Music. I like creating unique sounds and harmonies, as well as warm pads and wooshes in tracks that can lift the emotion in a room (and, of course, a thumping beat). I want to get people dancing. Performing with House Music is a bigger fuss though. There’s a lot to juggle, and technology issues that can get in the way. It gives me anxiety with the amount that can go wrong. It’s not a fun setup. So, I’d have to say I prefer Funk and Rock for live gigs. It’s more rewarding – you turn up with your guitar or keyboard and just play.

The way I compose my songs is different every time. Some tracks are all about the bass, some tracks are really grown from messing with a new patch on the microKorg or something. Different approaches keep it fresh and allow the tunes to be quite different from each other. Not that this is a perfect plan. Sometimes, I don’t finish tracks. Actually, it’s the one skill I’ve really had to come to terms with. You always want to finish a track when you start it. Sometimes you lose the path, or you fail to feel it anymore, or suddenly think it’s crap. I was lucky enough to talk to Paul Hartnoll of Orbital once and, as you can imagine, I was full of questions. Knowing when to stop is really what I took as the best piece of advice from that conversation. You can always go back to a track, shred out the good parts and use them elsewhere. But don’t keep banging your head against a wall if you’ve hit one. Move on.

I also work as a music producer with Mobri Music. Mobri Music is really like an incubator for other things. It’s a chance to engage with fans and work on several projects that might not have names yet. Nodman, Derek Keenan, Greg Scully, DisWeiD and others are part of that. Ableton Live is the hub where we produce our music (I’m still using Ableton 8). There are always many creative projects going on and opportunities to be involved with great musicians.

Regarding my favourite song with Mobri Music, I tend to usually like the latest song the most, which is “Crystal”. It’s dancey, uplifting, and puts me in a good mood – I can’t wait to perform it live. But, I do also love “A Bump In The Low Range”. I go back and listen to it, and I remember how much fun it was writing the tune. It just wrote and recorded itself in one sitting. The solo intuitively came out on one take. Most tunes are a lot tougher to finish off!

I’m working on the broader live rig for next year. I’ve been in writing-mode mostly the last few years and working on kinks in the setup. Greg and I did a few gigs with the “full” setup of gear, and we learned a lot about what is working and not working with the technology. So, we now plan to relaunch the live rig and a whole lot of new music. There’s also the album work; I’d be hopeful that we will get it out there in the summer. The first album is nearly there – we’re now looking at mastering and getting the artwork together. It’s an exciting time!

My goal with Mobri Music is to play to bigger audiences. I want people to be entertained. Create an atmosphere. There are few live electronic acts in Ireland doing that well these days. Le Galaxie does it so well, there are others in techno like Jamie Behan (Bastardo Electrico), and some great house DJs. But the time of the DJ has passed. Once, DJ’s ruled the house, but when I look around Cork, I don’t see the number of clubs that were there 20 years ago. There’s much more live music. People can access all the latest tunes themselves with online music. Live music is a better experience and worth going out for. House music is a vibe and the sound for a good night dancing; that is what Mobri Music is really about — bringing that 90s club scene back with live music and modern sounds.

I see huge similarities between my time with Mobri Music and my Project Manager job at McAfee. Firstly, there’s a great music community in McAfee in Cork, and the company fully supports it. We have a room in work with a full drum kit, amps, pianos, mics, guitars, and PA. Various groups get together to do gigs for charity, so you get to play with all sorts of talented people. And you get influences from those gigs that carry over into Mobri projects. Also, some tasks in music production (things like backups, tracking tasks, having to do a process on many files) take an annoyingly long time to do. All this can be smoothed out by some agile process planning and engineering tools know-how. I use Kanban boards, Affinity Diagrams, equations, and .bat files regularly when making music. It’s allowed me to get things done in parallel more, which is a real timesaver.

I definitely think music is a benefit to technological careers. Everyone I know that can play music is amazing at their job. Most of them started music young, and they pick up at that early age an ability to learn, practice, and put in long-term work towards a goal. Learning a song is about breaking it down into smaller parts, and fixing one thing at a time. That type of problem-solving approach is how every daunting task can be tackled and stands well as a foundation skill to many.

I have a few pieces of advice to aspiring musicians and music producers:

  1. If you just want to produce music and put it online, consider where your fans are and how to get to them.
  2. If you want to get out there and play music live in the future, make sure you support the hell out of your local music scene. Get to know people, take in influences, do collaborations. Learn.
  3. Most of all, make sure you’re having fun doing it.


Be sure to check out the Mobri Music website through the following link:

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