There’s so much that would lead us to believe that, because of the academic rigor of many students in Beijing’s high schools, they would have little or no time to just bang on some drums or jam with friends after school. While it’s true that students are very busy, this luckily isn’t the case. Mike Qian from Beanstalk International Bilingual School (BIBS) was a prime example of this and he helped us to realize that Beijing has a bright future when it comes to cultivating the next generation of musical minds. Here’s his story, along with some advice for any young music lovers out there thinking about starting to create or perform music.
What got you started making music?
I got into music when I started listening to hip-hop in Grade 3. This eventually led me into trying to make beats for hip-hop in grade 8. That’s when I started making music with software like Garage Band, and I felt like there was a lot more to this. So I went online and did some research and got Logic Pro, which was my first actual DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), and that led to acquiring even more gear and software and getting into hip-hop sampling with vinyl and learning synthesis. I’ve been making a lot of different kinds of music. I also play drums for a death metal band called Shadows Down.
How has living in Beijing influenced your music, especially in terms of this direction you’ve gone in with hip-hop and metal?
These are both kinds of alternative music that I play. Even though there has been more interest recently in hip-hop in China, there’s still not a lot of people, so it’s a small community. You can know everybody, no matter how famous they are or how good they are, you can get their WeChat and get friendly and learn from each other.
How did your band meet?
I was playing drums for a talent show at school, and I met David who wanted to do some metal stuff, and he approached me. He also had a friend that played guitar. So we had two guitarists and one drummer, and then we found a keyboardist and bass player. We were super bad at the beginning, but we continued practicing and started getting more technical, slowly moving into prog metal.
What’s your process of making a hip-hop song?
It starts with samples. When I find a sample, I try to do the drums first, and then I try to fit the sample in. The next thing I like to do is make a full section with everything that can be thrown in there, like drums, bass, synthesizers, and few effects, then I’ll try to thin it down. Then I’ll have a full, thin, more thin, and super thin set of tracks to create a lot of different sections that I’ll then arrange into a track.
How do you usually search for your sounds?
I sample from my records. I have some jazz and experimental LPs I’ve been collecting. Two years ago I went to Amoeba Records in LA and bought all of their cheapest stuff. In addition to sampling, I also search online for drum samples and loops. Mainly though, I prefer sampling from vinyl because I like the jazz feel more than the store-bought online quality.
What are you listening to now?
Currently, I don’t really like popular hip-hop that much, except for Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Logic. When I listen to hip-hop, I listen to the music and the lyrics, and the lyrics nowadays for popular hip-hop aren’t that good for me. These artists I mentioned have something to say with their lyrics, and I like their beats more.
What advice do you have for other young people wanting to get into music?
Just get into it no matter what gear you have. If you want to make beats, you can use Garage Band or an iPad, just start making stuff and then once you realize that you’ve broken the boundaries of your hardware get something new if you can afford it. If you can’t, then also recognize that limitations inspire creativity.
This article appeared on p31 of beijingkids June 2018 issue
Photo: Courtesy of Mike Qian