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Rising Stars: Meet Kelvin Yuen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelvin Yuen.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?

I came from a working-class family where you were never told that you can have a career as a composer. No one in my family works in the realm of creative art, let alone music. Working as a “professional” professional such as engineer, accountant, lawyer, or doctor is always considered the rightful career path in Hong Kong’s educational culture. Even though I knew my passion in music, I followed most teenagers’ path of picking a rather stable career. I worked three years as a graduate civil engineer in an engineering design consultant company building gigantic tunnel underneath one of the busiest areas in Hong Kong. Looking back, there might be moment when I found a sense of accomplishment after I finished a difficult engineering calculation task. But as days went by, I knew that the job nature never allowed me to fully express my creative voice.

The door of film scoring and music composition didn’t open up until the age of 20. I started learning cello and piano since 10. Classical music constituted a big part of my early age as I was listening to them every day. Any kind of bombastic, lush, or provocative pieces by composers like Shostakovich, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak were my favorite. I was not a prodigy nor a highly skilled virtuoso player, yet I enjoyed every moment I got to perform. During college, I was in a band doing covers on pop songs and busking on the street. That was the time I learnt all kinds of topics related to modern music production such as composing in DAW, recording techniques and mixing. What’s more, my buddy used to work at a local movie theatre where we used to get free movie tickets and popcorns. The more kinds of film I watched, the more I was amazed by the power of cinematic storytelling. There was a “clicking moment” when I realized the potential of working in a career of film scoring. The impact of the combined force of music and picture is simply unimaginable. I was deeply fascinated by the idea of demonstrating your creativity by creating unique and aesthetically satisfying art.

Switching career was never an easy choice, especially when you have already spent 4 years in college studying and 3 years working in another industry. I am glad that I didn’t gave up building my portfolio and applying for music grad school even being rejected the first time. Receiving the acceptance offer from NYU was the moment that I knew the beginning of a new chapter in my career and my life. And I am happy that I have not felt regretful since the day I made the choice.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?

As I mentioned, the decision to jump out of a comfort zone is never easy. It always goes down to whether you are being your true self. There has been moment when I felt mentally exhausted with what I cannot achieve. It turns out everything will find a way out as long as you don’t give up and stay optimistic. The same mentality applies when I am composing music. Whether I don’t find the right harmony for a love scene or none of the instrumentation works for a character with multi-folded personalities. There’re always these creative blocks which make me think my skills are worthless with a big slam on my confidence. Yet, I always find the little music pieces I wrote under frustrating times were the best in quality. The key behind this might be the extra effort I put into when overcoming my writing blocks.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?

I am a composer and music editor. My expertise lies in scoring for film, documentary, or any kind of visual media. The role is to compose or edit music that pairs seamlessly with pictures. Over the past few years, I have collaborated with incredible talents/artists including film director, journalist, photographer, singer-songwriter, game developer, choreographer, animator and much more. I draw inspiration from stories and visuals and translate abstract ideas into musical sound. I am responsible for overseeing the creative, aesthetic, technical, and logistical aspects of a score. I, in essence, “guide” the music from its composition to the final mix. Also, scoring has always been an essential part of the storytelling process. It can control emotion, establish the story’s tone, and captivate the audience. As a result, creating a wholesome cinematic experience. 

Another important aspect of my role is to help achieving the vision of the project creators. Scoring always belongs to a part of a collaborative art. And within this collaborative environment, it is always essential to know what the creator trying to express or what message do they want to convey.  Music is a unique subject which everyone listens and feels differently. Simply describing music with words would sometimes be impossible. We always try to talk about what “feeling” you want from a scene rather than what “music” you want. It is then our job to convey these intangible and delicate emotions with our music writing.

I am glad that I can work on some interesting and heartwarming stories. “Eagles Rest in LiangShan” was one of the short documentary films I worked on last year in 2021. Inspired by Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality, a young man returned to coach the kids in his city of Liangshan, where basketball was so popular with the Yi minority that the center of town was not a park but a basketball court. When composing the music for the film, I got to watch the footages over and over. At certain point, I felt like I was walking into those kids’ personal life. It was a unique and grateful feeling that I was helping to tell their stories to the world. Another narrative short film I worked on called “Yokelan, 66” features an old lady trying to find her romance at her late stage of life. Every cast in the film was first time actresses/actors who were in their 60s. The director had a vision of using a tango music piece at the end of the story to convey the message of every elderly deserved to live a blissful life. I was grateful that my music can be part of the storytelling process of these meaningful stories. I am hoping to continue this journey to inspire the many after.

Is there a quality that you most attribute to your success?

The road to success is never crowded since there’s few people who persevere. Living in the modern days, people always want to see immediate result. When things are not going well, people tend to switch up their goal as the modern society gives them plenty options to choose from. Looking back on my career, I am glad that I never gave up on my passion in music. Even when I was working as a civil engineer, I kept myself “hungry and foolish” for all the knowledge in music production. I spent my leisure time studying through all the online tutorial videos and soundtrack albums in Spotify.

Some say having a career related to your hobby would be not ideal since your “hobby” essentially become “work”, which comes with responsibility and stress. I think this is just an excuse for those who do not dare to step out of their comfort zone. And obviously, thoughts alone won’t get you to the goal line, you’ll need to do the work necessary to reach your objective. For my case, I did whatever I can to find the right turning point in my career. And sometimes when you fail, consider it as a good life lesson and do your best to find out what you can do better next time. The best is always yet to come. Also, be kind and respectful to everything and everyone! It usually treats you back well in another form.

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