“I have a lot of ideas and have just had to accept that I won’t be able to get to a lot of them,” says Andrew Huang when picking through his restless urge to pursue new creative projects.
As a creative, Andrew might be one of music’s most energetic and inescapable, with ideas for content, music-making tools and new songs almost pouring out of him. So far over his career, he’s released more than 40 albums, countless videos and amassed a hefty social media following with more than two million YouTube subscribers. He’s among a handful of musicians to wield such a sizeable influence yet operate independently, almost outside of the mainstream industry.
Speaking from his Toronto studio, Andrew describes how “stumbling upon a compelling concept” for online content has helped build such a huge audience. “I found that if you recreate a popular piece of music using something that is not an instrument, it’s strange to look at, fun and people want to watch it,” he says.
“This trifecta - something is novel, trending and hopefully sounds unexpectedly good - that was the first video format that felt like a hit.”
A hit his YouTube content was, and continues to be. Now, Andrew is able to pick and choose the kind of video he wants to make - and his subscriber base is more than willing to come along for the ride.
“There have been so many different types of videos I’ve tried over the years,” he states. “Now, I’ve found what I enjoy, but it was a very gradual journey of exploring what works online.”
Andrew’s first musical explorations began via low-key experiments with recording sounds and bouncing them between two tapes. As he grew older, he became increasingly excited by music of all shapes and sizes, and started trying to recreate what he’d toyed with on tapes via computers and more advanced technologies.
“I’ve always found myself drawn to the studio side of music-making in every band I’ve been in,” he says. “I’m interested in all aspects of music, I love to write, love to play but there is something really special about bringing it all together in a recording.”
His first forays into content creation came during the early days of the internet in the 2000s. He began putting up eBay auctions for his musical skills where winners would receive a song specifically written for them.
“I would get people bidding who thought a song would be a great gift for someone,” says Andrew. “I turned it into a business and set up a website where people could commission me. It was fun, the web was relatively new. I was experimenting with this idea that we’re all instantly connected and if someone from somewhere could send me an idea, I could make a song about it that day.”
In a perhaps more innocent world, before words like ‘content’ or ‘viral’ were commonplace, Andrew’s business skyrocketed. When YouTube landed, he started experimenting with video, which prompted a shift in direction. Initially, his audience came through the website, garnering a few thousand hits a day but this changed when social media appeared.
“It made more sense to have a presence on these platforms where suddenly everybody was talking,” he states. “This meant YouTube became the main destination. I found myself thinking I was late to this game but it turned out that I was early.”
Andrew’s approach to developing his music has been through what he self-effacingly describes as “being my chaotic self”. A mix of releasing original artist material, making videos and working for clients led to substantial growth in the number of people wanting to hear his music.
“It wasn’t until 2014 that I decided to be intentional,” he says. “I was surprised by how far it had gone with me just flailing around. Then the next year I decided to focus on YouTube and post two videos every week and my subscriber base grew by nearly 1 million subscribers. That was the starting point for what most people would know me for today.”
With such a strict schedule, consistency and time management have been two key priorities and challenges for developing content. Andrew put together a huge spreadsheet in a bid to cram his ideas into a map for his creativity.
“It became very exhausting, particularly as my ideas became more ambitious, and I wanted to increase my production values,” he says. “Even with being able to hire help here and there, I am still a finite resource. The battle to strike a good balance between everything is ongoing.”
Andrew’s video content has flitted between various forms and styles. A uniting driver has been making fun and engaging content capable of keeping his audience guessing. Some have focused on exploring unusual instrumentation, others provide deep dives into new pieces of technology.
“I sometimes get the chance to create a full educational video which I really love,” he says. “I have one about the harmonic series, the fundamentals of music theory, modular synthesis. I feel like I know how to condense a lot of information into an easily digestible form - but don’t get round to them as often as I’d like to.”
His take on Nena's 99 Red Balloons is an early video where Andrew covered a popular song using everyday items. The initial concept for this came when he was on the road and looking for a more creative way to promote the tour.
“I had the idea while travelling as I could easily get my hands on balloons and decided to give it a try with all the sounds I could create,” he says. “It became one of my best performing videos ever.”
“At the end, there’s still a section where I say how I’ll be touring German cities in a few weeks time. I thought the tour would be the video’s goal to get more people out to the shows but it’s since had millions of views - that format became a staple on my channel.”
Andrew is immersed in music technology, not only offering courses on production but using his videos to interrogate the seemingly endless conveyor belt of innovation the music world has to grapple with. Artificial intelligence is among the tech to rise to prominence in recent years and is something he views as having the potential to open up hitherto untapped creative areas.
“I’ve been interested in this concept of voice swapping,” Andrew says. “It raises lots of questions, of course, I’ve seen people discussing how it can be done ethically to ensure the original owner of the voice receives royalties - but it is interesting to me as someone who writes in a lot of different genres.”
In this scenario, rather than sourcing the perfect collaborator for a certain sound or style, it might be simpler to do the performance himself working with AI. But will this have the potential to really replace humans in the process of writing and production?
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“Every new tech development arrives with a mixture of wonder and fear,” he says. “But I’m optimistic we’ll always hold onto our humanity to work with whatever we create.”
Modular synthesis is another area of excitement and, as Andrew says, this world enables anyone with disruptive notions to have the potential to create serious change.
“There are all these boutique makers with their own brilliant ideas who don’t need to worry about developing all the components of a synthesiser or a studio,” he explains. “They can focus on their speciality, perhaps sound spatialisation or wavetable synthesis - I find it very exciting.”
With such a passion for music technology, product development was an obvious route to explore. Flip Sampler and Transit - an app sampler and new plug-in developed with Baby Audio respectively - are two of the most recent pieces Andrew has helped create.
“Flip Sampler came about as I was always finding sounds that I wanted to incorporate into my productions - and there wasn’t a tool that made this easy,” he says. “I would get a phone recording, then I would have to transfer this to my computer, it became a headache that I never dealt with - and I never used these sounds.”
Transit’s idea stemmed from automations for creating song transitions. He found that he would be repeating many of the same things across different projects. This plug-in was designed to enhance this aspect of his workflow by enabling him to do this all in one place rather than relying on a multitude of software.
“I reached out to Baby Audio as they make some of my favourite plugins,” he says. “It was serendipity - they were already thinking about these plugin collabs, I was on their list so it was a beautiful bit of luck. We worked on it for a year and a half and by the end of it, realised we had created a really useful, flexible tool.”
Amid the myriad pieces of gear in Andrew’s studio, the Franklin Audio SS6 is an unassuming little box that he singles out as a favourite. Billed as “the world’s only 6 stereo/12 mono input switcher and DI”, it’s not something that many champion but is a vital part of his creative process.
“It’s a quick expander for your audio interface or wherever you route different signals,” he says. “I find it a great help, I have a robust audio interface but I like to keep things ready to go.”
The SS6’s role is to act as a smooth catalyst in the studio to help Andrew find ideas quicker. It allows him to keep his gear connected so he’s ready whenever inspiration strikes.
“I have a few of my workhorse synths plugged into it and I leave a couple of channels free as I might pull something out for a project or specific sound,” he says. “This switcher has been great to stop me from messing about too much or having to constantly reach behind to plug something into the back of the interface.”
Andrew’s array of experiences in technology, across many different formats and platforms means he is also well-placed to share advice. With an almost endless amount of tools at his fingertips, he cites establishing goals as an important way forward.
“You might just want to enjoy your hobby of making some weird sounds for a few hours - or it might be about getting the perfect drum sound for a new release. Knowing what you’re in it for and what you are working towards will help. That’s the biggest thing. When I talk to people who are earlier on in their journey, not knowing this can lead to some confusion.”
Having aims - such as growing a YouTube channel or releasing an album by this date - and breaking them down into more manageable steps has helped him keep his eyes on the prize. With a future schedule that is as full as his past with projects - how does Andrew keep going at such a pace? Curiosity follows his every move and seems to sustain his energies when it comes to ideas.
“I don’t have too many creative problems,” he says on beating blocks. “I might get stuck on a certain thing but there are many other avenues for me to explore. I’m lucky that my audience tolerates a wide range of things from me. If I was only working on a jazz-rock fusion album and I was stuck there, unable to offer anything else, maybe that would be challenging.”
Even experiencing hearing loss hasn’t stopped him in his tracks. It’s an issue that has of course had some effect on him as a music-maker and producer, with additional support sometimes needed to finish music. But it’s something he’s turned into a positive.
“It’s been interesting as if I want to make something to release, then I have to make it sound worse for myself,” he says. “When I make music for myself, I add extra bass and treble so I can enjoy it. There has been a silver lining to this - it can sometimes be hard to know if you're creating for public consumption or just for yourself. This predicament has forced me to address this earlier in the creative process than I otherwise might have to.”
Courses, content, and original music all add to Andrew's ever-growing family of projects, alongside (of course) more gear - a new guitar pedal with Endorphin.es is due for release this month. For lesser mortals, it could make for a dizzying and chaotic schedule, but Andrew sees the colossal length of his to-do list as a mighty good thing. The more he achieves, the larger his ambitions seem to grow.
“The fact I have so many things I can bounce around between has always been an asset,“ he tells us. “There’s always somewhere where my creative juices will flow.”