We had the good fortune of connecting with Jesica Yap and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jesica, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Growing up as the youngest of 5 children, my parents were a little over-protective of me, but now that I’m older and have been independent for years, I feel lucky for how much they cared and gave me. But being so protective sometimes felt like the blueprint of my childhood was drawn by them a little too safely. Like there was no opportunity for me to deviate from the path. Because of the predictability and “control” my parents built into me in my early years, as I got older, I became more and more of a rebel. Not as in, a crazy wild child or out-of-control teen or anything; it was more like, I needed to take control of my own destiny and create a new map for myself. A new blueprint. I needed to see more of the world, and go outside the box to see what lurked on the “other side.” My curiosity was untamed, and I longed to experience new and different things. I wanted to take risks in life and not always stay on the safe path. Coming to America to study film scoring was one of the first big risks I ever took, and with that came great fear of the unknown. It was a huge step for me to leave the comfort and predictability of my home town where I grew up. My mother worried about me a lot – about my wellbeing and safety. Because of a bad slipped disc I endured when I was 17 and wasn’t 100% healed when I moved to one of the coldest cities in the US – Boston – she worried that during the frigid winters my pain would flare up. She told me before I left: “What if you move that far to pursue your dreams, but after a few months you’d have to come home because you couldn’t tolerate the pain?” Luckily, I endured it and made it through the bitter winters in Boston to complete my degree. There were definitely some rough times in the US. I constantly feared that I would disappoint my family, and these negative thoughts ate at me every day. Yet I didn’t want to sacrifice or abandon my dreams of being a TV/Film composer and piano teacher (coach). So I gave it my all and figured that if I’ve come this far, I was absolutely willing to go even farther, and was willing to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. For several months after moving to Los Angeles, I lived on credits cards and struggled to make ends meet. The discomfort of the hardship I endured has really taught me how to financially prepare for the future, so the lesson, albeit tough, was really useful. And I hope I’m prepared enough now to never go back to those difficult days, even if those experiences shaped me into the person I am proud to be today. Fast forward to the now, and looking back many years later, I can sleep very well at night knowing that all those tough and stressful times were all worth experiencing. Every difficult step that brought me to today was necessary for me to stand here and say, “I made it. I survived. I persevered!” The sacrifices that I’ve made, and the risks I’ve taken were all worth it, and were stepping stones in my life needed to get to the next phase. Risk can sound daunting, pessimistic and even bleak when we think that the consequence might be a negative one; but for me, risk actually signifies optimism, and the opportunity to take chances, because if we don’t take chances, we can’t grow. Stepping out of our comfort zones each time we start feeling comfortable with where we are in life can actually be something that is quite uncomfortable. Being comfortable can stop us from living our lives passionately, or even challenging ourselves. Risk builds our self-confidence and empowers us to feel stronger and more bold when taking on new endeavors. Gotta level up in life – reach one goal and move onto the next one, and never stop growing. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” I tell myself all the time that I would rather fail than regret not living my life to the fullest, and not trying to aim for the stars and go for my dreams. If someone never faced failure, they probably never did anything daring or adventurous. Of course, as humans, doubt often enters our minds even when deep down we believe in ourselves. That is why surrounding myself with a wonderful support system is imperative in staying sane, and helping to see a new and fresh perspective in my creative process, and to keep myself accountable. “Dare to dream, dare to act” is a sign I have in my bathroom that I see every single day. And it’s a motto by which I live. Having my own business means constantly juggling multiple things, and having to make decisions quickly in order go with the punches of my clients’ needs. I’ve learned to fine-tune my life and make space for the opportunities that align with my life goals. Lots of decisions need to be made daily – some simple, and some really complicated. For those, I have to brainstorm and spend more time addressing them. There are always problems to solve in life, and with patience and practice, most problems can be fixed. I might not always know the outcome of things, but the more experience I have, the better I get at knowing how to handle any situation thrown at me. As a solopreneur, I have a lot of demands that I have to meet all by myself, from administrative duties to the actual creative work (composing, gigging and teaching). I need to find a balance so I can better juggle my various careers and the many tasks I line up for myself. Perhaps it will take a while before I truly am able to find a balance, but I’m learning to embrace these challenges by having a positive mindset when I feel overwhelmed with these expectations of myself. One thing I do know is to always believe in myself and be my own biggest cheerleader. Loving ourselves is the foundation of happiness, and being kind to ourselves also allows us to spread love and happiness to others. Of course family and friends are there to support us along the way, but their advice is not always the best fit for our situations, and only we know what choices lead to what consequences, so ultimately we have to know the best course of action for our lives at any given time. Along the way, there will be many people who’ll judge us or try to squelch our dreams, but believing in myself has given me the positive attitude and confidence needed to achieve my goals and dreams. Being responsible and reliable, learning from my mistakes, and being prudent with what I already have, are the tools I needed to be able to break through the fear and take risks. Taking risks also requires courage, tenacity, and establishing new boundaries. We’ll never know if we can succeed unless we create new boundaries and greater oceans than the ones on which we’re used to sailing. There were many times in my life that I felt like giving up because I was in over my head, but after some time passed, I looked back and saw how far I’ve come in this vast sea of life. This cycle has repeated several times in my life, and each time I advanced a little more, and got closer and closer to my dreams. I believe that adversity and risk are necessary in order to break through the rough times and see the rainbow ahead. Since I moved to Los Angeles, I have been working 7 days a week, and I often find myself struggling to find a balance. I am constantly feeling like I’m being chased by the clock because of all the things I need to tackle on a daily basis. However, I am sort of used to it because growing up my entire week would be filled with activities. If you didn’t find me in school, I was in some other class like arts, sports or dance. I was pretty much studying something 7 days a week. During this lockdown, I found myself working on a long over-due To Do list like cooking, reading books, and watching educational videos and tutorials, or going for an hour-long walk while listening to a podcast. I’d switch back-and-forth between these activities to always stay fresh and focused. It’s been a blessing in disguise to have been required to stay indoors, because when else if not during a quarantine would someone have a greater opportunity to attack their To Do list? I keep a calendar to help me organize my life. Whatever I forget to schedule or set a reminder for will probably not get done. That’s why I make sure I am committed to completing all tasks I have set out to do. I am grateful for the training my mom gave me who herself was a fierce multi-tasker and busy bee. As many Asian parents are, my mom also was a “tiger mom.” She pushed me to do many things and work hard, but somehow almost all of my activities were lots of fun. Some were difficult like my English class, which I ended up quitting, but it was mostly because of the excessive amount of travel for very little payoff, and also, the materials weren’t enticing enough. Learning Chinese was also less interesting than some of my other more dynamic activities, mostly because the books were copied multiple times and were faded and not easy to read. But I pushed through even though I could have been a better student. Even piano, when I was very young, was tough. I almost gave up a few times, but I didn’t, and obviously that was the best decision of my life. These experiences were very important in shaping me, and they have only helped me to appreciate hard work and persistence. Moving to Los Angeles with very little funds, and no guaranteed career (only internships lined up) was the biggest risk I have ever taken. And while in the beginning it often seemed like maybe I made a mistake, or that my career wouldn’t take off fast enough for me to earn a living and survive in such an expensive city, I have zero regrets making these big decisions in my life. Los Angeles is now my home, and I am grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had, and the many wonderful people I’ve met along the way. I have so much more to give, and so many big things ahead of me. I’ll never stop challenging myself and fighting for my dreams to come true. I am humbled and grateful for every good thing that’s happened to me over the years. I’ve paid my dues, and now I’m ready to take on the World.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2014. Since then, I’ve expanded my musical interests and career opportunities. As of today, I proudly wear many hats! When I’m not teaching piano, I compose music for visual arts, or play keyboard/piano for local bands. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one career because I have multiple passions and skills. I was born in Indonesia, a country rich in cultural diversity, where I spent my entire childhood. From a young age, I was exposed to different styles of music, art and dance, and my musical language was shaped through these multi-cultural experiences, which has helped to make me into the person I am today. Growing up, thanks to my parents that adored karaoke nights and the sound of various instruments, music was a part of my everyday life just like it was for my 4 older siblings. I started formal piano lessons at the age of 4, and by the time I was 12, I was regularly playing at our local church, and even wrote my first song within a year of that gig. It was a dream come true to get accepted in Asian World Tour Scholarship in Berklee College of Music. I never even knew a career in film scoring existed until I was in college, but it wasn’t until I saw one of the Jason Bourne movies that I instantly fell in love with the concept of composing for the visual arts. I was so impressed by John Powell’s amazing electronic score — the way it complemented and enhanced the movie with its exotic percussion and mellifluous background string orchestra – that not long after that I declared my major at Berklee in film scoring. Upon graduating from Berklee College of Music, I moved to Los Angeles with an opportunity to intern for two A-list composers: Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions (The Dark Knight Rises, Dunkirk) and Henry Jackman’s Sacred Tiger Music Publishing (Captain America, Big Hero 6). After my internship, I was fortunate to assist at Henry Jackman’s studio, and within just a couple of years, I learned enough from supporting film composers that in 2016 I was ready to dive into my own career as a freelance composer and music producer. In November of 2018, I was ecstatic to win my first award at the HMMA (Hollywood Music in Media Awards) for Best Original Short Film Score for the foreign language short film, “Sigek Cokelat” (A Chocolate Bar). I was blessed to have been able to work with talented local musicians to depict the authenticity and traditional sounds of West Borneo. This award opened another door for me, and in 2019 I won my 2nd HMMA for Best Original Score in a Foreign Short. On March 19, 2020, after several years of a hiatus, I premiered my very first song on my Youtube channel called “Together,” and then shortly after that, my quarantine-inspired song, “Six Feet Apart” premiered. Since English is not my 1st language, the experience was a little daunting (especially that I’m singing in English), but as an artist, I enjoy working outside my comfort zone because you can’t grow if you don’t take chances. I not only enjoy challenging myself, I seek opportunities that are challenging. I absolutely love writing and producing songs, and I feel tremendously proud of and empowered by my songwriting journey. Producing these songs was an absolute confidence-booster! In addition to being a composer and songwriter, somewhere in my 13 years of on-and-off teaching, I found my calling and passion as a piano instructor. Currently, I have around 60 students to whom I teach piano, composition and theory. The finesse and discipline I developed from years of performing at the church and in various bands, and from writing songs and composing music, have all helped me to become a very effective teacher. My students make me so proud, and I am amazed at some of their accomplishments such as performing to a sold-out crowd at world famous venues like Thayer Hall and Carnegie Hall, and winning 1st place at the “Golden Classical Music Awards.” In between teaching and composing, I periodically perform with different bands around the Los Angeles area such as playing keyboard/synth with the indie pop band, Walla. I’m also active with the Indonesian community in LA, and have performed on piano/keyboard with major singers like the Indonesian Idol’s 7th season winner. Every now and then, I lend my skills as a session pianist to other composers for their scoring sessions. Performing live is truly an exhilarating feeling unlike anything else, and as a composer, where I’m often working alone in seclusion, it is a rewarding change of pace. Throughout my career journey, I’ve had many ups and downs. The path has not been an easy one at all, or a straight-forward one, but I believe this can be said about most of us, and our various circumstances in life. The question is: was it worth it? Yes! Definitely! When challenges present themselves in my vocation or in life, I just keep pushing through until I have a breakthrough. You know there’s a saying, “a river cuts through rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” I have been very persistence my whole life, and it has paid off in my career. There are many lessons that I have had to learn throughout my life, and my metamorphosis from college student to responsible adult didn’t happen overnight. One of my philosophies is that we should always prepare and plan. There is always a way to get past a hurdle or fix a problem when we give it enough time, and if we have a thick skin. Nobody achieves success in just one step. We always tend to see the end results for those we admire that have reached the pinnacle of their career, but there are so many steps along the way where failure is inevitable, although we almost never see those tough times of sweat and tears. But all of us, including me, have had so many little bumps along the road to success. I’ve had to pick myself up and dust myself off many times! The path to success is never linear. It’s more of a zig-zag. I want the world to know me for the art I create, and see my tremendous contribution to all those I encounter in my life. I can only hope that my art one day has a ripple effect on humanity.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Day 1 Morning: Blue Jam Café for breakfast, Lake Hollywood Park (hike to Hollywood Sign and or visit the reservoir) and Runyon Canyon Hike. Afternoon: Hard Rock Café for lunch, Madame Tussauds Museum, Walk of Fame, Kodak Theater, Pantages Theater, Capital Records, basically walk along the Hollywood Boulevard and show them the Landmarks Evening: In and Out Burger for dinner and watching movie in Chinese Theater Day 2 Morning: Café Los Feliz for breakfast, Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park and Trails Afternoon: Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles for lunch and visiting LA Zoo Evening : Bossa Nova for dinner and catch a Show at the Hollywood Bowl Day 3 : Morning: The Crêpe Café for breakfast and Universal Studio Tour Afternoon: Jinya Ramen and Warner Bros. Studio Tour, Portos Bakery for snacking and pastry take out Evening: City Walk for dinner and hang out or hunt some great street taco trucks Day 4: Disneyland in Aneheim, California Day 5: Morning: The Bel-Air Restaurant for breakfast, The Getty, Sonny Pictures Studio Tour Afternoon: Eataly in Westfield for lunch, exploring Venice Canals, walking or biking from Venice Beach to Santa Monica Beach and watching the sunset Evening: BOA steak house for dinner, Wanderlust ice cream for dessert, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Day 6: Morning: JiST Café in Little tokyo for Breakfast and Walt Disney Concert Hall Afternoon: Komasa in Little Tokyo and Explore Little Tokyo while you are there Evening: Museum of Contemporary Art, LACMA, Korean BBQ or BCD Tofu Day 7: Morning: The Republique for brunch then head to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens Afternoon: The Rooftop by JG for lunch, Sprinkle ATM cupcakes and stroll around Rodeo Drive Evening: Lawry’s Steak in Beverly Hills and find some live music where you can chat, hang out and relax
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First and foremost, I would like to thank my parents, my siblings and my friends for always supporting me. I am proud to say I have such solid support system in my life. They keep me sane. For all my school teachers, college teachers, piano teachers, basically all my teachers who have taught me lots of valuable knowledge, thank you! Because of you, I am able to apply what I have learned to my life and my music career. The learning continues….. I would like to thank the directors, producers and clients who have trusted me to work on their projects. Thank you for making me part of your team players. Through you I am able to showcase my art and skill of creating and help telling stories through music for the visuals you created. To my friends and clients who have trusted me to play piano/ keyboard for your bands, events and compositions for your film/TV/commercial projects. Thank you! Lots of fun memories made. Being a piano teacher is one of the careers that I am deeply passionate about. I am thankful that I encountered many appreciative parents and students throughout my teaching career who have trusted me with their musical journeys. They inspire me to keep doing what I love; sharing my music knowledge and witnessing them grow musically. I am expressing my gratitude to Hollywood Music In Media Awards (HMMA). It was an honor to be in the HMMA winner lists 2018 and 2019 – 2 years in a row among well respected and talented composers and fellow musicians. The awards mean a lot to me and my composing career. Lastly, I am grateful to have crossed path with many people in my life; friends, acquaintances, past employers, and clients. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am excited for what is to come in life and my musical journey. I am open to collaborating and creating together with more creatives in the future. Shout out to these organizations: The Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL), Alliance for Women Film Composers, and Indonesian Women Alliance. My fav books: Linchpin by Seth Godin, The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey,
Isabella Bodnar, Roland Wiryawan, Julian Chan, Diana Salier, and Ashram Shahrivar