Ever wondered what it’s like to make it as a musician in Taiwan? We recently interviewed Taiwanese-American music artist, Rayray 劉軒蓁, (Pinyin: Liu Xuan Zhen), who is recognized by many as a star contestant in Super Star Avenue (超級星光大道), Season 2. Rayray is currently in the process of recording her first solo album!
We had a chance to catch up with Rayray to learn more about her musical beginnings. Rayray also shared a first-person perspective into what the music industry in Taiwan is like, and what kind of attitude it takes to make it.
Hi Rayray! Thanks for doing this! First, could you give us and our readers a bit of your background?
Hello I’m Rayray (劉軒蓁) – a Taiwanese singer/songwriter/performer from Seattle. I was originally going into UW med school before I put together a little concert of my own to fundraise for the Tsunami in 2005. That’s when I decided to make a wild run for my childhood passion after graduating college – becoming a singer and songwriter in Taiwan, creating music that strokes the soul. I was part of the show Super Star Ave (超級星光大道) Season 2, and have been working in this industry ever since. I’m currently working on my first album.
What was your experience like growing up in the United States? When did you know you had to pursue music?
Growing up, I’ve always known I’d do something related to music in my life, whether it’d be as a side job, hobby, or developing a career out of it. It’s a lifestyle to me – it’s weird to live without it. My mom took me to piano lessons when I was 4 years old, then later on my teacher thought I had the qualities of a performer, and suggested that I start vocal training. That’s when I was exposed to tons of Broadway musicals and traditional opera. Don’t think I’ve gone a single day without singing since then. At the age of 14, I moved to Seattle and started high school there, then moved on to UW to study pre-med. Moving there with my dad was a big decision for our family – my dad and I didn’t know a word of English… haha! But I didn’t want my mom to worry about me, so I toughened up, made a list of goals I wanted to achieve for every school year, and focused on the goals. Fitting in, making friends, and learning to speak English just kind of came along as I started throwing myself into fun stuff like the school choir, jazz choir, and jazz band. By the time I graduated I was the choir President and a cheerleader (don’t judge). I’d say those are some of the best memories back in high school.
What is the music industry in Taiwan like, especially for someone from abroad going to Taiwan? Was this a tough transition for you?
Well, I think the Taiwanese indie industry is definitely growing stronger over the years, and is still expanding and pooling more and more raw talent to form a new force. Pioneers like former indie artists Crowd Lu and William Wei, they are the perfect examples of indie-gone-mainstream success. The general audience is learning that independent and self-funded bands can also produce great songs of studio quality. I think that’s why over the past decade, more blooming indie bands are discovered, promoted, and given opportunities. You can easily find venues and live houses in Taiwan that have full schedules of performances week-on-end. I’ve performed at most of the live houses and music cafes in Taipei – Riverside Live House, The Wall, A House, Revolver, to name a few. And most of them provide decent to professionally instrumented sound systems. I was born and raised in Taiwan, and spent the first 14 years of my life here. I didn’t feel it was that much of a transition for me since I’ve always stayed tune with Mando Pop even while attending school in the States. I find the audience in Taiwan very versatile and welcoming!
Where do you see the future of Chinese music headed?
Mmm… I can’t really make a prediction, but I would love to hear more fusion styles. They’re so fun and groovy to listen to. Indie music is blooming all over the place in thanks of the Internet, smart phones/gadgets, and fast computers. Now that we can easily use the Internet to promote music, and perform our songs live in concerts, it has become a trend for fans to see artists in concerts instead of on TV. I really look forward to the new technology that makes concerts fun to watch and makes fans satisfied.
Do you have any words of advice for anyone else who may be in a similar position as when you started who wishes to embark on a music career?
Six years ago, I came to Taiwan bearing the mentality that as long as you can sing and write, you’d be set as an artist. After finishing Season 2 of Super Star Avenue (超級星光大道), I came to the realization that I needed to take the songwriting up a notch to generate a solid foundation that my music and performance can grow on, as well as promoting myself via any kind of channel possible. Having talent is one thing, but in order to stand out, you need to have a unique style and image. It’s almost like you need to be your own manager and stylist to begin with. It’s much harder nowadays.
Any amazing stories that you’d like to share about your performances? For example, moments that made you feel like, “WOW.”
Yes, I have the perfect story to tell. Earlier this year during one of my mini-concerts, I decided to tell the story behind a song I wrote when I was 17. After I described how I met this guy in Taipei during summer vacation (I think I mentioned his name too), one of the girls from the audience, who flew in from Shanghai to watch me, shyly asked me if this guy was tall, a break dancer, and gave a name I was all too familiar with. As the audience started to realize what’s going on, my head was buzzing and stomach churning – this girl went to college (and was friends) with my first crush! The story didn’t end here. She immediately went to his Facebook and got in contact with him during the remainder of the concert, which I nearly couldn’t finish. The next day, the guy, whom I haven’t seen or talked to for 10 years, messaged me. He said he’s doing well in LA now, still trying to find where his passion lies, and he felt honoured that he was in my first song ever written. Until this day, I still couldn’t write him back. I don’t know if it’s because it was too perfect of a summer for a 17-year-old, or that we simply solely live in each other’s memories now. Memories may fade, but the music from the precious times will always pique our senses to remember what we felt at those times.
Any advice for future, passionate musicians?
I have to admit, this industry is very tough and competitive. I get feelings like I’m not good enough, underrated, or treated unfairly sometimes. Being an indie artist, songwriter, and performer is as if you need to fight battles for yourself constantly! However, I have met some of the most talented, interesting, and hardworking people in this industry among all people I know. Being able to work with them, create magic with them, and simply just chill with them makes you want to progress and be better. I know, the better I get, the closer I am to my ultimate goal: touching the deepest corners of people’s hearts. Art comforts the disturbed, and disturbs the comfortable. Whenever I get frustrated, I always remember:
Focus on the good.
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*This is an abridged interview originally done for AX3 Battery. You can read the original, here.