There was a time when professional-grade covers and mashups of popular songs dominated the YouTube homepage. Budding musicians showcased their abilities to an easily-accessible audience, giving someone like Sam Tsui a platform to create and perform music. For the season finale of “Character Concerts,” the YouTube trailblazer sat down to discuss his journey of becoming the superstar he is today.
While he’s known for his pop-stylings now, Tsui started off in musical theater, playing the “little kid parts” in The King and I and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as a child, and later performed in productions throughout middle and high school. During his time at Yale University, Tsui, along with friend and frequent collaborator, Kurt Hugo Schneider, took advantage of YouTube’s growing popularity and began uploading videos for the world to see. Soon after, he grew a loyal fanbase and found he could pursue a singing career on YouTube full time after he graduated.
As an independent artist, every decision regarding his career has been up to Tsui. “A lot of my work had to be fully self-motivated,” he revealed. “No one was calling me up and saying ‘you need to work on this today.’ A lot of that is left up to you as an independent artist which can be a lot of pressure.” On top of this, Tsui’s career is dependent on viewership and numbers, which he had to learn to separate from his worth as an artist. “When people get in the weeds about analytics and data,” he said. “I think that can really quash creativity—and if not creativity, joy in what you’re doing.”
But even in the year 2020 when so many musicians were challenged with adapting the way they work, Tsui went a step further with his most ambitious project to date. The “Yearbook” album gave him a deadline on the 20th of every month to put out a new original song, completely written and produced by Tsui during that month. “Having this benchmark every month, having something to come back to and pouring my creativity into this one thing and have that be contributing to a greater project was hugely amazing for me,” he explained.
With his signature sunny disposition, Tsui has proven his ability to continuously find the joys of his work despite any challenges life, or even he himself, throws his way.
Watch Sam Tsui’s full performance and interview above, and make sure to visit his GoFundMe page to help support his work!