Singer/music producer Nia Yang came to Musicians Institute after she already finished a degree in her native China. She wanted to truly follow her dreams of being a music producer and music artist, so enrolling in the Independent Artist Program was her next, and most important, step in her career.
Since graduating from MI, Nia has returned to work in China. On February 1, 2021, Nia released a new single, which you can listen to on Spotify. She sat down with us via Zoom to chat about her journey before MI, the classes that impacted her the most, and what she has to say to young musicians who are just figuring out what kind of music artist they want to be.
On her early journey in music:
I started thinking about the concept of being an artist ever since I was a little kid. My parents would play a lot of music at home, but they’re not musicians–they are a doctor and engineer…They enrolled me everywhere to develop my sense of arts. [Once I got older] they didn’t allow me to go into art schools because…they believed that music could not make you money…I was very angry.
I studied a Bachelor in Advertising and Production in Shanghai University. On the first day of classes, you needed to introduce yourself, so I went on stage and told them, “I’m sorry I’m not here for myself, I am here for my parents. I want to do music,” and then I left!
On how she learned about Musicians Institute:
I did some research and I asked some friends in the industry in China and they told me about Berklee and Musicians Institute. I also asked one of my music production mentors in Shanghai and he produced Tanya (Chua) and he recommended me MI, because he knew what I had been through. He asked me before I applied to MI and Berklee, “What do you think about music production? Why do you want to do this?” He said, I think MI is more your school because you’re thinking about the industry [as a whole.]
He said Los Angeles and MI was the best option because they’re really good at contemporary music and production…and their studios are really good! Their equipment, the genres, the music styles…it was my vibe. I am something between classic and contemporary music and MI was my first option.
On her favorite class at MI:
What makes MI unique is the acceptance…I felt so free there. In China, we don’t have many contemporary styles that can really prove our contemporary artists and industry. We don’t have those roots, like of pop…There was an impressive lesson at MI called Artist Identity in IAP (Independent Artist Program.) That lesson made me realize deep inside what influenced an artist, like culture, not just techniques, practice, etc. It just opened my mind!
At the first lesson in the class, I remember the instructor gave us homework to do an influence tree, and then I found people around me…There were a lot [of students] from the States and European countries, from the U.K., and we studied together…They can just find those artists in their country that are doing things, but I found it so hard for me to find good influence in China. I would feel so bad about that! I finally find that my influences are…Radiohead, Japanese, British cultures but nothing from native Chinese cultures.
On why she went back to China after graduation:
That class just made me think and motivated me to become a good producer because I want to bring those tools and build good production and improve Chinese people’s sense of music. So I thought, “I have to study hard, and dig into more so I can go back and help the industry and help students.” That’s the reason why I didn’t stay in the United States. I was already offered an opportunity to work at a studio as an assistant, but I still chose to go back because I wanted to try my hardest in China…I wanted to be a good music producer and instructor there. I am teaching now, combining some systems from MI and also my own thought.
On MI’s well-rounded approach to the industry:
There are also cool lessons in IAP called Project Advising. It offered students every genre, every instrument. I think I learned everything there! That’s what I learned at MI. I found myself and learned how to find myself and I’m teaching people here in China how to find themselves and their voice.
In Project Advising, those lessons taught me how to understand my style and also understand each different musicians and different producers, mixing engineers, even music business.
They even have a music business slot for us to sign up…Then you’ve got Open Counseling. The instructors were so accepting and so nice and we can talk about our project, ask questions, and we can jam together! You can jam with a master and improve so much.
On the benefit of MI’s Live Performance Workshops (LPW):
I learned a lot of arranging techniques and communication. LPWs contain all the genres and you can choose what you want to explore and your voice, not a curriculum that tells you what to do. It’s beyond all the basic elements and terminology.
[LPWs] make you feel so much freedom in studying! It’s like a treasure of MI. You have an audience, instructors and musicians play with you, it’s a whole world! You can listen to other people like in the real world but it’s all in school. That class was perfect.
On how she got her first jobs after graduating:
I got all these good elements…I absorbed them all from MI. I just felt so powerful, I was like a magician…If I can mention one of the coolest things, it would be the Marvel and the Disney scoring (for anniversary video.) That also leads to the advantage of MI. It’s not JUST a contemporary music school, it is a whole universe of the music industry. I studied film scoring at MI and that class is extra credit…After I graduated, I worked as a professional scoring producer as well.
Last year, they came to me again for another Disney anniversary video because we worked really well together on the Marvel video.
I can do this because of MI! Because of the teachers there taught me how to produce like a pro, and how to do all these things in the industry, the communications, and I feel so grateful when I talk about this. I just feel so proud of myself and so proud of being a student at MI.
On her memorable experiences in her career so far:
I did a lot of TV shows, like Super Band, Singer, and I arranged, produced for some major artists. I also signed with Universal Music Publishing and with Elec.Girl, which is a very cool label in China. It’s all independent women artists…I have a record deal and a publishing deal. Last year, was a very cool year. I am so grateful. The transition from MI was so short because MI already showed us how to survive in the real world. It was only about 4 years and I did great as a producer…I am starting my new career direction next year which is to be a real performing artist.
On the lessons from MI she wants to teach her own students:
That’s always what I’ve learned: Be nice to everyone…The people working there, the door guy…I feel like everyone felt so happy about their job because of music. Sometimes it would make me cry because we can study and feel freedom because of all these people. Some people, in my school now, as an instructor…students would ask me “Nia, why are you doing this? You only get paid this much and you’re so busy…:” This a thing I learned at MI…my instructors, and all the people there, have this vibe. They share, so why wouldn’t I share [my knowledge] with you? I represent all these good elements. It is the reason that I’m here teaching.
On where she sees her career going:
I am still just beginning in music. One of the main things I want to explore, and the reason why I worked so hard and fight with my family, is that I really love musical theatre. And also choreography! I think that’s the next side of the industry I will explore, but everything is connected. I will just keep studying. I think I learned this from MI too. I saw a 60-year-old lady from Japan …She was still attending music school and chasing their dreams. As a musician, I was so touched by those people at MI.
I will keep exploring. Even in music, even in choreography, yoga, meditation…just be curious all the time and stay motivated.