Arguably, Andrew Huang could well be one of the most eclectic and prolific musical artists out there right now. His near monthly releases range deftly from hip-hop, pop, electronic, rock, classical and all points in between. Even when you look at the Toronto-based artist’s latest release, Lip Bomb, that variety exists: while it is a wall-to-wall rap album, it pulls elements from countless other genres along the way.
Huang, a wholly independent artist, has had an active online presence for the bulk of his career and was generous enough to take time to talk with us about his experiences.
Easy questions out of the way first, how did you get started in music and who have been your biggest influences along the way?
I’ve just been drawn to music my whole life. I’d pick up anything I could to make sounds with, whether it was my dad’s guitar or an old tape recorder or some pots and pans. My parents put me in piano lessons at age four. In high school it really became a full-blown obsession and I’d spend most of my lunch breaks and spare periods either jamming on instruments in the music room or at home making beats.
It’s hard for me to answer a question about biggest influences. I just kind of devour all music in my path. By fifteen I was listening to everything, ranging from Beethoven to Britney to Wu-Tang to Radiohead to NOFX to Autechre to Miles Davis.
One of the most obvious things about you is the diverse number of genres you work in and, likewise, the number of instruments you play. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of being so eclectic? Have you ever felt the push or need to focus more on a single genre?
I feel that push all the time and it’s something I’m trying to streamline this year. I know I’m alienating people left and right by switching gears so often. The one advantage to being so diverse is in the realm of commercial music – I can get a job scoring a short film, or doing sound design for a video game, or making beats for car companies, whatever’s out there that needs music attached to it.
Before YouTube you had the original Songs To Wear Pants To website, where did the idea to take song challenges/requests come from?
In those earlier days of the internet, I was seeing websites like Exploding Dog and Eric Conveys An Emotion that brought this new connectivity we all had to a different level. They were interacting with people in a whole new way and I thought that was something I could do with music.
What initially sparked you to start shifting things over to YouTube as a platform?
YouTube comes with a lot of benefits – there is already a community there, it is a medium that is easy to share and consume, you can monetize video playbacks, the fact that it’s one of the largest search engines in the world means new people can stumble upon your work in a way that’s not really there with a lot of other platforms. I was realizing these things one by one as I started using YouTube, though it was early 2011 before I really decided it would be my main focus.
Do you handle the video elements all yourself as well? Was that an existing interest that you had outside of music?
I do most of the videos myself. There are some bigger ones where I’ve had a friend help shoot or edit, but for the most part it’s just me. I guess it was an interest insofar as I’m interested in anything creative, and I have a lot of fun with it, but it’s not something I’d be pursuing if YouTube wasn’t working out.
YouTube thrives when things go viral, and in your case the biggest video coming from your channel so far was Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing On Rainbows. How big of an impact did that have on your channel’s overall viewership and subscriptions? Are you tired of the song yet?
It’s a blessing and a curse. I don’t want to sound ungrateful; that song is the only reason why I have the audience that I have. It accounts for about a quarter of my total video views. A lot of people find me through it. But it’s an awful first impression of me, and it’s frustrating to have a joke that I threw together in half an hour become exponentially more successful than anything else I’ve ever worked on. But there’s no use in playing the comparison game and I’m quite happy with what I’m working on these days and how it’s being received.
On kind of the flip-side of that, did you have a song/video that you wanted or expected to perform stronger that didn’t quite get there?
I’d obviously love for any of my work to perform better but I don’t go into any of it with expectations. It’s an unpredictable platform. And a certain point, you’re dealing with numbers that are just incomprehensible. You know, 80,000 views vs. 800,000 views – that’s a factor of ten, but I don’t think it would make anyone feel ten times more successful or fulfilled.
How important is interacting with your fan-base to you? How important do you see it being for independent artists in general?
I think it varies from artist to artist. You have to do what’s natural for you and I think inauthenticity can often be spotted. Being able to say thank you to my audience, and hearing what they think about and feel through my music, and being able to involve them on certain projects, all of that has been really meaningful to me – but it’s not something that I think about as “important,” like a hierarchy of priorities… it’s just what happens.
Between fan interaction not only on YouTube but other social media sites, etc. How do you balance that side of your work with the actual music creation? How much time would you say you spend on each?
I don’t know if I could ever say. It varies a lot depending on what else is going on in my life, with friends and family and feelings. But every spare moment goes to music, and it’s been that way since I was a teenager.
With music services like iTunes, Bandcamp, etc. out there now, and tools like social media, do you feel that the playing field has levelled out more for independent artists? Is it easier or more difficult now to get noticed/heard?
There has never been a better time to be an independent musician. Some of the tools out there are just phenomenal. There’s a lot more noise to rise above, but it’s better than not having the option to rise at all.
You’ve also employed a subscription service through your Suture Sound website which is quite unique for a recording artist. Where did that idea come from? Are you finding it a successful avenue? Do you feel that the volume of work that you produce each year helps draw fans to subscribe?
I don’t even remember where this idea came from. I’ve been doing it for a few years. And actually, I recently discovered that Prince has done something similar. I think for me it came out of knowing that I’m too prolific for a lot of people to keep up with, and having a mailing list where you could sign up to get all my work would make it easier. Certainly it would be pointless if I were the kind of artist that only releases ten new songs every three years. It’s one of many income streams for me, they all kind of supplement each other.
What is the next release we can look forward to from you?
It’s gonna be a summer of pop for me. Gunnarolla and I are working on new material for our electro-pop project, Dreamz. The next solo record I’m dropping is a little EP called Youth Mouth, which will be out in June.
After that I’m still figuring out whether all the songs I’m wrapping up right now would be better as a couple of big albums or a continuous stream of singles for a few months. It’s gonna be good either way.
Andrew Huang’s music definitely has something for everyone and I highly recommend giving it a listen. His new EP Youth Mouth drops June 25th.