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Conversations with Mark Zhu

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mark Zhu.

Mark Zhu

Hi Mark, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Growing up as a second-generation Chinese American, I faced challenges communicating my thoughts and feelings due to cultural and generational barriers. I naturally sought forms of expression like art and music to cope.

My parents signed me up for drawing classes and piano lessons when I was a child; however, my true artistic journey began during my middle school years when I discovered my love of singing and composing piano scores (thanks to various anime soundtracks and the mesmerizing music of Steven Universe). I initially dreamt of attending art school to pursue graphic design and animation; however, my path took an unexpected turn when I became obsessed with K-pop and set my sights on becoming a performer.

I took my first steps toward my idea of “stardom” by joining my school’s a cappella group in eighth grade. One day, we were rehearsing “Believer” by Imagine Dragons in front of our classmates during lunch. I had a solo, and the applause and cheers that followed made me feel truly seen. This marked the turning point where I realized my calling was in music.

As I continued through high school, I explored various avenues of creativity. A newfound love for poetry and creative writing emerged during my ninth-grade English class. Then, the unexpected circumstances of the pandemic in 2020 led me to connect my lyrics with melodies. This fusion of words and music became my gateway to songwriting and music production.

While my journey began with an edgy style inspired by artists like Billie Eilish, I evolved and embraced genres such as R&B and hip-hop as I delved into the works of Conan Gray, Jeremy Zucker, Eric Nam, and Keshi. After releasing a few songs, I realized I needed ways to promote my music and build a fanbase. Naturally, I engaged with familiar platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube to share my music and connect with a growing community. It turned out that putting out my own music meant starting my own business, so I deepened my commitment to a career in music—a decision I will never regret.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Absolutely not. My journey has been full of challenges and adversity. While I’ve found immense joy and fulfillment in pursuing an artistic career, I can’t deny that there have been bumps along the road that have shaped me into the artist I am today.

One of the significant struggles I faced was overcoming the cultural and generational barriers within my community. As a second-generation Chinese American, I had to navigate the stigma around mental health and find ways to communicate my emotions and aspirations effectively. This often meant breaking out of my comfort zone and pushing against societal norms, which was both daunting and empowering.

And like any artist, I faced moments of creative block. I felt stuck in my artistic journey at times, struggling to find my unique voice and style amidst a sea of influences. Overcoming this required me to keep trying new things and take occasional breaks from music to gather fresh experiences before using them to fuel my next project.

Then came the pandemic, which brought its own set of challenges. Adapting to virtual platforms and a new mode of creative collaboration demanded flexibility and adaptability. Plus, the absence of in-person interactions meant using social media platforms to connect with my audience and fellow artists was becoming a more integral piece of my work.

Although I dream of being a full-time recording and touring artist, I know a music career can be volatile, especially for underground artists. At the time of writing this, I’m heading into my first year of college at the University of Michigan. I’ve always been passionate about engineering and computing, so I’m deciding to pursue a related degree, which means I’ll need to make important decisions and compromises while balancing school and music in the following years. Despite these challenges, my passion for music has kept me moving forward, and I am grateful for the journey that has led me to where I stand today.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I craft narratives through a fusion of music, lyrics, and visuals, creating an immersive experience that embodies emotions and stories. I’ve found that stacking my skills on top of each other to produce this type of multi-media art allows me to bring stories to life.

Similarly, I love to blend genres, weaving together pop, R&B, and hip-hop to create a sound that is uniquely my own. From introspective ballads to energetic anthems, my songwriting has grown tremendously after blending genres.

It takes a lot of guts to put out vulnerable music, so I’m most proud of my commitment to authenticity. Plus, the most rewarding thing about making music is hearing people say my music has helped them get through hard times, so I believe in sharing personal moments to create a genuine connection with my listeners.

In essence, my work is a testament to the power of artistic expression to bridge gaps, evoke emotions, and spark conversations. I strive to create a haven where people from all walks of life can find solace, inspiration, and a sense of belonging. It is this blend of authenticity, cultural depth, and interactivity that shapes my artistry and sets me on a distinct path in the world of music.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts, blogs or other resources you think our readers should check out?
Whenever I’m stuck on a rhyme, I use a rhyming dictionary like to help me make my lyrics cohesive and catchy.

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Mark Zhu

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