Diary of A Young Pro: Chrysanthe Tan
2) Where are you located?
Los Angeles is technically my home base (for now), but since July, I’ve traveled to Prague, Finland, Barcelona, Vienna, and all over California. I have been in several airports, various hotel rooms, many green rooms, and between classes.
3) How long have you been a musician?
Professionally, for about three years, but I’ve been building up toward this since I started violin at age 8. I find that it’s relatively easy to grasp how long it takes to become a doctor (shout-out to my amazing brother who just started med school!), but many musicians have put in triple that time.
4) When you were in school, did you imagine your life the way that it is?
When I was in undergrad, I could barely imagine my life one month in advance, let alone a year or several years ahead, so no. To be honest, I didn’t think I had a very bright future. While I am grateful for the opportunity to have gone to Stanford University, I never felt that I belonged there amongst all the engineers, computer programmers, and pre-meds. I thought my inability to focus on anything but the arts made me a failure, since most of the other musicians at the school ended up smoothly transitioning into seemingly more promising or stable fields. To make matters worse, both external pressures and personal insecurities about pursuing music in the first place diluted my attention, as I tried to fall in love with more “serious” subjects. But the only other things that spoke to me were poetry, theater, and social activism, all of which still made me a “fuzzy,” in Stanford-speak.
5) How has the transition been from student to young professional?
Clumsy and improvisatory. Directly after undergrad, I started an MFA in Creative Writing, chopped off 18 inches of hair, dropped out of school, went through a breakup with my college girlfriend, moved around a lot, started working at a vegan restaurant, took a long break from violin, accidentally started composing music, and questioned what the hell I was doing with my life. I got one of my first real gigs as a violinist through a customer at the vegan restaurant who had seen videos of me performing on YouTube and needed a last minute replacement for a tour. In the music world, a standout performance on a gig is essentially your job application for the next one, and once people recognized what I had to offer, I received increasingly more opportunities. Within a year, I had busied my calendar with music work, quit my job at the restaurant, and started writing and recording what is now the basis of my debut album. I was still a grad school dropout with no formal music degree.
I would be remiss to make it sound this easy and fair. Much like greater society, there are biases in the music industry that preference and exclude various people, especially on the more entertainment-heavy side of things. To be offered certain gigs in the first place can be indicative of a fair amount of privilege or luck— i.e. being the right age, color, gender, look, size, or physical ability for the job. There have absolutely been times when I was either hired or not hired over someone else for reasons independent of playing.
I am now back in school (at California Institute of the Arts) working on my MFA in Music Performance, so I am technically both a young professional and a student. It’s a bit of a juggling act to plan out my absences in accordance with school attendance policies, to Skype with school collaborators while on tour, and to know which gigs to take and which ones to pass when they conflict with important classes, but so far, it has been absolutely worth the lack of sleep. The good thing about deliberately going back to school is that I now find it easier to connect my activities with my goals and growth. I have already experienced a huge surge in my inspiration and output since returning to school.
6) Who have you performed with throughout your career?
I have worked with Ariana Grande, Alicia Keys, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco, OneRepublic, Paul Anka, Frank Ocean, Marc Anthony, Marco Antonio Solís, Cheyenne, Hèléne Segara, Dumbfoundead, and ZZ Ward and have appeared on an episode of 1600 Penn and an entire season of Glee.
7) What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced during these transitional years?
Battling my perfectionism and maintaining my mental health. My life has a tendency to look shiny on the outside, so I think it’s important (for me, at least) to admit that I’ve struggled with my mind. Regular therapy is something I take very seriously. Regular rest is something I need to take more seriously.
8) What is the best advice you have received from a mentor about adulthood and/or careers?
Write things down.
9) What advice would you give a young professional?
I recently worked with someone in London who had won a Grammy and flown her mother to the awards ceremony in the United States. This individual, a highly respected, very sought-after engineer at the top of her field, had given her mother the VIP experience and introduced her to all of her famous artist colleagues and collaborators, yet after the Grammy’s, the mother still ultimately expressed regret that her daughter had chosen a career in music. The point of this story is that you can’t wait for the respect and approval of others. Some people will never get there, for reasons you may not understand. Let go of the expectations of others; whatever you do, do it for yourself.
10) What is next for you and the next 12 months? Do you have any goals you would like to accomplish? How are you going to accomplish them?
In the next 12 months, I will continue to join other artists onstage, on tour, and in the studio, but the biggest plans I have are with my personal creative projects. First up is the completion and release of my first solo album, Stories, which is special not only because I recorded it during an intensely transitional time, but also because my friends, family, and fans funded its post-production via an enormously successful Kickstarter campaign. Thus, what started as an extremely solitary project ended up becoming possible only because of the help of a those who believed in me. I am currently in the design/artwork phase of the album — the final stretch. Once that’s done, it’ll be a short trip to everyone’s mailboxes and music players. The hardest part of this whole thing is and will continue to be approving each step and giving up on the notion of perfection. You can listen to a preview of my album here: http://www.
In addition to Stories, I look forward to further collaborating with choreographers, designers, filmmakers, and other artists. I will also be completing more commissioned composition work, performing more of my own music, and concertizing with some of my favorite chamber music colleagues. As the focus on my personal creative work deepens, I hope to become increasingly selective with my side gigs.
11) What makes you special?
I can make a huge vegan meal almost anywhere, out of seemingly nothing, and for next to nothing. Just ask my bandmates when I’m on tour.