We had the good fortune of connecting with Mark Zhu and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Mark, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Growing up as a second-generation Chinese American, I found it daunting to communicate my feelings verbally, as mental health was stigmatized in my community. Linguistic, cultural, and generational barriers didn’t make it any easier for me to get my thoughts across to my family. Plus, I struggled to fit in, so I masked my opinions and avoided speaking up. Since talking didn’t always do my thoughts justice, I adopted art and music as alternative forms of communication and expression. From painting sadness on canvases to writing songs about letting go of relationships, I’ve allowed art and music to build a gateway into my mind.

I began singing and composing piano scores in middle school, having been inspired by various anime soundtracks and the amazing music from Steven Universe. At the time, I wanted to go to art school to pursue graphic design and animation, but I soon became obsessed with BTS and wanted to become a K-Pop star. I even adopted a mid-part and learned Korean, which was a testament to my desperation. Determined to become a performer, I joined my school’s a cappella group in eighth grade, which gave me performance opportunities and a chance to develop my voice. One day, our group was rehearsing on the cafeteria stage while other students were eating lunch, and I had a solo for “Believer” by Imagine Dragons. After we got off stage, everyone started chanting my name, and I felt seen for the first time. That was the moment I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in music.

In high school, I got into poetry and creative writing during my ninth-grade English class. During the pandemic in 2020, I finally put lyrics and music together. I fell in love with songwriting and music production, and my desire to pursue music grew. I had played clarinet since fifth grade and got pretty good at it; however, I decided to quit in 10th grade (when school was online) since I needed to prioritize my own music (though I picked up guitar in 10th grade, so it balances out lol).

One of my first inspirations for songwriting was Billie Eilish, as I adopted her edgy style and breathy vocals. As I listened to more artists like Conan Gray, Jeremy Zucker, Eric Nam, and Keshi, my style grew, and I stepped into more genres like R&B and hip-hop. I also began creating video content for Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, using these platforms to promote my music, build a fan base, and network with other people in the industry. And as I met more people online, I also began collaborating with local and global artists, which has been a blast. I’m really grateful that my experience as someone who was often misunderstood catalyzed a journey, in which I get to tell stories through art and music. I hope I can create a space where other young people can resonate with me.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Something special about my music is that I get to control the entire creative process, including writing, recording, producing, mixing, and mastering. On the business side. of things, I design all my album covers, logos, and merch; design and launch websites; create short and long-form video content for social media; direct and edit music videos; write scripts, press releases, and biographies; and manage music distribution and publicity. Since I have so much creative control, every aspect of my music is authentic and stems from my identity. However, this approach is not without its challenges. I think my unwillingness to ask for help as a kid in fear of being judged made me adopt a mindset with which I blindly believe everything is DIY, which has been rewarding but exhausting. Despite my determination to do everything myself, I’ve come to realize that there are times when I need to ask for help. Growing up, I was afraid to ask for help since I feared judgment, but I’ve learned that seeking support is a sign of strength—not weakness.

As a full-time student and artist, I often feel overwhelmed by the many demands of my time. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the future and what I need to accomplish. However, I’ve learned that being present and enjoying the journey is just as important as reaching my goals. One lesson I learned is to live in and enjoy the present. When I first began making music, I was so concerned with going viral early (which was based on the notion that an artist’s career peaks in their 20s). That meant that after reaching a goal, I would immediately be working toward the next one, which would postpone my happiness indefinitely. I learned that enjoying the process of my craft leaves me more content than relying on accomplishing goals for happiness. After realizing that I had control over what brings me joy, I then recognized that it’s important to take responsibility for everything within my reach, like who I take advice from and how I let others’ opinions affect me.

One thing that keeps me motivated is the excitement of showing people my new music. I’m particularly excited about my latest release, “you should know” (out on Feb. 24), which features some unique sounds and lyrics that are especially meaningful to me. The song is about struggling to let go of a long-distance relationship that ended amicably. I love using sounds of random objects in my beats, so, for this song, I sampled a voicemail beep for a lead synth, which comes in during the second verse, adding to the song’s nostalgic vibe. I think “you should know” is one of the most sentimental songs I’ve created so far and the most creative in terms of lyrics and production. You can listen to it at https://markzhuofficial.com/.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First, I want to give a shoutout to my family: my mom, dad, and older brother. I grew up in a musical family (my dad and brother both play the saxophone, and my mom sings), and I’m grateful to have been immersed in music from a young age. Aside from the occasional nudge to become an electrical engineer (haha), my family has always supported me through my journey as an artist.

Next, I want to give a shoutout to the Neutral Zone, a nonprofit, “youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership, and the exchange of ideas.” I’ve attended Neutral Zone’s songwriting, audio techniques, music industry, and music production programs, which have helped me immensely as an artist. Two amazing mentors and friends I’ve met there are Nadim Azzam and Elliott Sabbagh. Nadim Azzam (a singer, rapper, music producer, and songwriter) is a super inspiring and down-to-earth guy, and he taught me how to write better songs, develop music promotion plans, and navigate the music industry and life in general. Elliott Sabbagh (an audio engineer and DJ who has worked with BBC and HBO and has performed with A$AP Rocky and Machine Gun Kelly) is a super chill and funny dude, and he taught me the fundamentals of mixing and mastering. I love these guys so much for their awesome personalities and for how much they’ve guided me in my career.

One more person I want to shout out is my piano teacher, Mrs. Hsiu-Hui Peng Chen. Mrs. Chen taught me piano since I was seven and kindled my interest in piano (and eventually composition and production). We’ve worked on repertoire for numerous competitions, and I’ve performed at Carnegie Hall three times during my time learning with her. I value how Mrs. Chen sparks interest in her students instead of blasting them with music theory at a young age. She’s taught me a lot about living a meaningful and musical life, and I’m forever grateful for her guidance.

Website: https://markzhuofficial.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/markzhuofficial/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/markzhu

Other: Stream my music on Spotify! https://open.spotify.com/artist/417Kwpe3MrcVfIApqAlixL?si=hf5vKyp6RhmNnd2vaY-lzA

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