November 2016: Rosendale
In this series, we are catching up with musicians from all over the world to talk about their passion: music!
Rosendale (Brian Wang) is a 26-year-old singer-songwriter from San Francisco, United States. He’s best known for his covers on YouTube, especially his annual a cappella recaps of the hottest songs, featuring various musicians. Currently, Rosendale is working on a 5 song EP which will be released early 2017. We are catching up with him to talk about his music, experiences, and life as a musician.
Give me a little insight of what a typical day in your life looks like
In the morning, I usually start working on songwriting, music production for an upcoming cover on my YouTube channel, or general self-learning (vocal technique training and watching production tutorials). In the afternoon, when my voice is more awake, I will either record vocals, film YouTube videos, work on collaborations, or work on any other projects that come along. The evenings are mostly focused on updating my social media and responding to emails and requests.
Being an independent musician gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, but this involves a lot of planning, business skills, and marketing. How are you keeping your focus on the music when there’s all this other work you have to do?
I think it’s tough, but I guess it’s just part of the whole independent musician experience. It is being able to learn a lot of things on your own. The more you do them, the more you get better at them. Besides being a musician, I’m also a business brand myself. I guess these things are just part of the process. I usually try to balance between responding to emails, Skyping with somebody, and making a new track for an EP or cover. I think a lot of the times it comes hand in hand with each other. So Skyping with you, for example, I would consider it to be part of a whole process and not just a bit on its own.
A record label would take care of the business part of your career but you’re likely to lose a part of your freedom. Would you consider joining a label when you got an offer?
I would definitely consider it, but I would have to look at the terms of the contract carefully to see if it’s beneficial for both parties. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people joining a record label, and they end up being trapped in a contract and they can’t release any new music. They’re basically at a standstill. It’s also important for me that they take care of both the business stuff and also the promotion. They should be able to reach a wider audience than if I were to promote my music on my own.
What music did you listen to growing up?
When I was a kid, I listened just to pop. Later, my friends introduced me to hip hop. Then I moved to China and I lived in Shanghai for two years. Over there, I met a group of Korean friends and they started introducing me to Korean music. When I came back to the United States, I started listening to more alternative and more acoustic music. And now, of course, electronic dance music. That’s probably the music I listen to the most because that’s the music I create as well.
Do you think it’s important for a musician to be interested in different styles and to be able to play in different styles?
The more you know about different genres, the more easily you can feel inspired. You can create something that’s more complex than if you were to listen solely to pop or hip hop. I like how jazz music works; it has very interesting chords and chord progressions. You can bring that over into an EDM song and create something that’s more complex. For example, if you listen to one of Zedd’s songs, you’ll notice that he uses a lot of interesting chord progressions. He changes songs in ways that are very different than what you hear normally. So I think the more you know, the better.
Did you always plan on being a musician?
I always had the thought in the back of my mind that I’d like to pursue music for a living. I started singing when I was a kid and my passion for performing started then. For a while, my parents weren’t very supportive of me becoming a full-time musician. They would rather that I found a different full-time job and worked on music just as a hobby. However, when they saw that I was truly committed to making music and YouTube videos, they slowly came around to the idea.
What is your advice for the musician whose parents aren’t very supportive of the idea of them becoming a full-time musician?
That’s a good question; I feel like I was a little bit more lucky in that sense. I know a lot of people who depend on their parents more than I do, and are still living with them. In that kind of situation, it becomes more crucial that you can convince your parents. I don’t live with my parents anymore, so I kind of get to live my own life. But to people who are still living with their parents, I would say: show them how devoted you are to making things happen instead of wishing for things to happen. If you can only sing, but don’t know how to do anything else, you can start taking piano lessons so that you can play piano and sing. Save money to buy recording equipment or camera equipment so that you can post videos to YouTube. The most important thing is that you take a conscious effort to show them that you’re really passionate about it. I was posting videos to YouTube all the time and, I would just never leave the house; I always stayed home to work on music. They eventually started to notice how passionate I was.
When and how exactly did you decide to make a YouTube channel?
I started making YouTube videos when I was in college, around 2012. I was following a few other musicians on YouTube and thought, “Hey, maybe I could try making some videos too!” So I started off making a few acoustic covers here and there. Later, I started integrating a cappella medleys into my channel.
Do you have some tips for musicians reading this who want to create their own YouTube channel?
I think one of the hardest parts of starting a channel is overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed by all of the technical skills you need to learn. This includes recording, producing, filming, and editing videos. I think a lot of musicians and singers have huge talent, but might still be waiting to be “discovered” or hoping for a producer to come along and help them make music. My main piece of advice for a new Youtuber is to find a way to motivate yourself to learn how to do these things on your own. You will slowly get better and better with practice, and sooner or later you won’t need to rely on others to make music because you can easily do it yourself. For any new musicians, I highly recommend purchasing Logic Pro X and reading/watching some tutorials on how to use it.
How would you describe the music that you make?
For original songwriting, I would describe it as a combination of catchy pop melodies with the intricacies of EDM production. For the cover videos on my YouTube channel, I love making more orchestral and acoustic renditions. In either case, my goal is to evoke some sort of emotional reaction with my music, whether it be happiness, sadness, excitement, or nostalgia.
What is the most important song you wrote emotionally? What’s the story behind it?
One of my favorite songs that I wrote is “Close To You“, a song I worked on in collaboration with two very talented producers, LoaX and Aventry. The lyrics were inspired by the feeling of knowing that you might be in a doomed relationship, but you choose to continue being with that person.
Are you working on new material for your next album? How far along is it?
Yes! I’m currently working on a 5 song EP that is about halfway done. The concept of the EP is to showcase 5 different subgenres of EDM music, featuring my own songwriting and vocals. It’s been very exciting working with a few different producers on every track, and I can’t wait to film videos for them.
How did you come in contact with those producers? Did they reach out to you or do you reach out to them?
Back in 2014, there were a couple of EDM producers that started reaching out to me because they saw my YouTube channel. Sometimes, I stalk producers on Facebook and listen to their music. If I see somebody who I think would be a great project partner, I’ll send them a message. So it’s both ways.
You said that you work with a lot of different producers on your new EP, do you let them produce everything or do you produce some songs by yourself?
For EDM tracks, I usually don’t produce them myself because EDM production isn’t my strong suit. For the EP I am working on right now, I have Skype sessions with the producers to listen to the track together. I’ll ask them to make changes, such as making the kick sound brighter or increasing the volume of a certain synth. I give them feedback in that sense, but I’m not the one doing the actual production work on those tracks.
Are there themes or topics where you want to write about on your next album?
Yes! The EP is centered on themes of love/hate relationships, addiction, sexuality, and comparing and contrasting different societal views, all in terms of my own perspective and experience. I’m hoping that my listeners will be able to relate with some of these concepts.
Take me through your songwriting process
I usually start by listening to an instrumental track with no vocals. I’ll think of a small melodic line that will match the style of the track. The lyrics are usually inspired by whatever I’m feeling at the time, or what I think matches the theme of the track. I like to write about themes from my own experiences, as well as from stories that other people have told me.
Did you follow any kind of training on how to write a song or did you sort it all out by yourself?
I am mostly self-taught. I wish I had taken some songwriting courses when I was still studying at my university. When I was a kid, I was really good at rhyming, but not good at writing lyrics that made any sense or had any deeper meaning to them. I think I got better by doing it over and over again but I would say it’s going to be a work in progress for the rest of my life. I think that you can always get better at songwriting and you never become an expert.
Did you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Yeah, a lot of the time I’ll come up with a good chorus or a good verse, but then I don’t know how to finish. Then the song gets stuck in limbo.
When do you know when a song is ready?
This is a good question! I wonder if a song is ever ready, because I think you can always make tweaks and adjustments to improve it. I remember songs that I have written years ago that I thought were quite good at the time, but listening to them now, I feel like they could be completely revamped.
Being a musician isn’t always easy, which problems do you face on a daily basis?
For me, the main challenges are making money through music and expanding the reach of my music and videos. As many know, it’s quite difficult to earn a living through music. I make money through several different methods which include YouTube ad revenue, sponsored YouTube videos, writing and recording songs for other people, and other projects that may or may not be related to music at all. I actually worked as a tax accountant for 3 years before transitioning into a full-time musician. During this time, I was able to save up some savings as a buffer for the months where I make less money. I’m also always trying to find new ways to get my videos to new audiences to build my following by experimenting with Facebook ads, Google ads, and other forms of self-promotion.
What is your favorite artist/band and why?
I have too many to just choose one! I’ve always been very inspired by electronica artist Imogen Heap, who does a lot of her own songwriting and production. I really appreciate her lyrics, which are complex and have a deeper meaning.
What’s the best concert you have ever seen?
I watched a Jennifer Lopez concert a few years back, and I was impressed by the vocal quality of her live performance as well as her agility and dance technique on stage. She’s released several great pop and dance hits over the years and it’s inspiring to see her maintain her success throughout her career.
What’s the most special experience you ever had with a fan?
I drove through a McDonalds to get a late night snack, and the person working the register recognized me through my videos. We had a fun little chat, even though I was in my pajamas.
What is your biggest achievement in life musically?
Right now, I’m the proudest of the a cappella medley videos on my channel. Two of them have garnered over one million views. It takes a lot of planning to film a video that combines 20 of the year’s best songs in 4 minutes. I’m always so glad when everything comes together at the end. I’ll definitely continue to be making these videos on my channel for many more years to come.
What is something you still want to do musically?
I’d love to work on a music video that implements several elements of hip-hop and contemporary dance. At the moment I’m still taking classes to improve my dancing technique, so making a video like this happen would be very rewarding!
Is there a venue where you still want to perform?
No special venues at the moment!
You have a popular YouTube channel right now, what are the things you’re still hoping to achieve?
Currently, my channel is mostly focused on covers and medleys. I’m planning to release more originals next year to build a stronger personal brand as a musician. Also, I’d love to work on more collaborations with other musicians and YouTubers.
Where do you want to be in five years?
I’d love to be a performing artist and tour around the world to share my music. I’ll likely still be making YouTube videos, so I hope to keep learning new film techniques to create videos with better production quality in that time.
If you had the choice to do a collaboration with any musician, who would it be and why?
I’d love to do a collaboration Sam Tsui or Kurt Hugo Schneider. I’ve followed them for years on YouTube and it would be an amazing experience to combine my own talents with theirs.
How much do you practice?
A few times a week, and more so before performances. For YouTube, most videos are recorded in advance and then filmed afterward. So sometimes you don’t have to practice to the extent that you would for a live performance. However, I still think it’s important to practice so you’ll be ready for any live performance opportunities.
I can imagine people watching you and thinking, I want what he’s doing right now, I want to be a musician. But many people think they’ll never be able to play an instrument because they think that they have no talent. What’s your view on this, do you need to have talent?
I think it’s definitely something you can learn by practicing. The most important things that you need to have are passion and motivation. Otherwise, you’ll get easily discouraged. Anybody can learn how to sing, or how to dance, or how to perform; you just need to practice.
Even with singing? I can imagine learning how to play an instrument, after all the instrument is the thing that makes the sound. Aren’t vocals a little bit harder in that way because it’s going to be your vocal chords that are going to make the sound, or is it the same?
I think this relates to the question of whether or not you are born with a good voice or if you can learn how to achieve a good voice. I don’t really know the answer to that question. It may be easier for some people to pick up good vocal techniques and to sing in a manner that’s similar to pop artists just because of the way their vocal chords are built. I think that you could also improve a lot if you go and get a voice teacher. It may take you longer to get you where you want to be but there’s always the potential for you to get there.
Do you think that a teacher in real life is better than learning from YouTube? Or do you think that YouTube can be as good as a real teacher?
I think it depends on your learning style. I like going through YouTube videos and searching for how to do something. Some people like the experience of working with a teacher who will give them direct feedback in person. When you’re watching a YouTube video, for example, you’re copying what they’re doing and there’s nobody to give you feedback. Right now, I am doing a lot of self-learning. I like to listen to audio books from successful vocal teachers. They talk you through as though they were teaching you in person.
Do you have tips for musicians that they can use when practicing their instrument/vocals?
Yes! I would recommend listening to other musicians and vocal/instrument instructors to start. When I first started singing, I learned by mimicking the sound and techniques of other artists. Slowly, I started developing my own style to my singing. I’d also recommend taking the time to implement best practices in your rehearsal; for example, good breath support and avoiding vocal strain when singing.
How do you prepare yourself for a performance (what’s your routine when you are just about to hit the stage)?
I usually just take a few deep breaths and think about the songs that I will be performing for a few minutes before a show. No special routines!
Are you going on tour? Where can people see you playing live?
Currently, I don’t have any tour plans, but I am working on an EP that will be released early next year. I’ll be scheduling performances as part of the promotion of the release. You can stay updated by following me on my social media!
Get in contact with Rosendale!