Episode 169

Andrew Chou ·  Discovering Music in Taiwan

“ It would be a waste to let these talents go to waste and that's why I decided I'm going to just put my effort into music school and do music for a living! ”

Andrew Chou loves music, video games, and crypto. He has written songs for many famous artists and some of his songs have over 10 million views on YouTube.

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Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Bryan Pham: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode on the Asian Hustle Network podcast. Today, we have Andrew Chou. Andrew, welcome to the show. 

[00:00:07] Andrew Chou: Hey, nice to meet you. Thanks for having me. 

[00:00:10] Bryan Pham: Of course, Andrew, this has been months in the making, and I’m excited to have you on the show. Tell us about yourself and your upbringing. 

[00:00:17] Andrew Chou: So I’m Andrew Chou. People know me as Machi Didi, or now as MDD. I came out with my first album in 2003 when I was 13. I was with my group Machi. And so many people know me from that, but since then I’ve continued to be a musician in Taiwan. I’ve done many albums. Right now, I’m really focusing on electronic music. Currently, I am assigned to Sony Music Taiwan.

[00:00:41] Bryan Pham: 2003? That’s a long time. What does that mean? 

[00:00:44] Andrew Chou: I know. 

[00:00:44] Bryan Pham: 18 years? 

[00:00:46] Andrew Chou: It feels like a really long time. Yes. Yes. 

[00:00:48] Bryan Pham: What is it like in the industry for that long, at this moment, right? Knowing that you started about 18 years ago and what has your personal transition been?

[00:00:55] Andrew Chou: A lot of things have changed. A lot of things stay the same. Definitely, the experience is, that I’ve seen a lot. But at the same time, I’ve seen the industry change a lot as well. Although I do have to say that from your perspective as a 13-year-old, you don’t really get the full picture.

[00:01:10] A lot of decisions are probably made by adults that you don’t get to see. So I can’t really say I’m a 20-year vet of the music industry. I don’t think it works exactly like that but it’s close. 

[00:01:21] Bryan Pham: Yes. I mean, hats off to you, right? Because the news industry is very tough, very competitive, and highly saturated, being relevant for 18 years is not an easy task. I want to hear about your creative process as an artist. 

[00:01:33] Andrew Chou: Sure. 

[00:01:34] Bryan Pham: How do you find your inspiration? Do you have any daily routines or things that you practice along the way to help you perfect your abilities? 

[00:01:40] Andrew Chou: I think that when it comes to music, obviously, you need to have the mentality that you want to perfect your craft.

[00:01:48] You want to be the best. You want to do your personal best at whatever you are trying to do, whether that’s going to be singing or songwriting or producing music or playing the guitar or whatever. You got to get as good as you can be, as your natural limit.

[00:02:02] That’s the first thing, obviously. Other than that, like, I think finding inspiration comes and goes. For me, I’d mainly write songs. So what I would do is I just, throughout the day, I’ll record little melodies and stuff that I might have in my head because I personally found that whenever you try to sit down and write a song and just be like, I’m going to write a song right now.

[00:02:24] Like it’s literally impossible. You will just stare at the screen, just like I have no idea what I’m doing for an hour. That doesn’t feel good. So it definitely helps to record your tracks. Just seeing it in the microphone right? A little bit beforehand, and then, when it comes to writing songs, I definitely got to say I used to think that I knew a lot about writing songs. So I’ve been writing songs for so long, but then I realized that I know nothing. The reason why is because one of the most famous tracks that I’ve written, has about 10 million views on YouTube.

[00:02:52] That song, I thought it was so bad. I told the group that I was writing for, and I said, don’t even put my name on it. Don’t even give me credit. I don’t even want the credit as long as I don’t want this all on my resume. That’s how bad I thought it was. That’s how terrible I felt about this song. I feel like this song would ruin my reputation. And then it comes out and it’s the biggest song ever. The opposite happens where I’m like, I just love this song that I make. I’m like, this is my Magnum Opus. This one right here, this is it.

[00:03:20] Then I release it and no one listens to it. Yes. So, I think that when it comes to writing music, a lot of people may feel self-conscious about it. They might think oh, I don’t know my lyrics. Are they embarrassed when people do not like it, or something like that?

[00:03:35] I say, just go for it. If it’s bad, no one is going to listen to it. And if it’s good, then people will listen to it. 

[00:03:41] Bryan Pham: Yes. I like the mentality, just put yourself out there. 

[00:03:43] Andrew Chou: You have got to put yourself out there. Yes. 

[00:03:45] Bryan Pham: That’s a lot. It’s very brave to do something like that.

[00:03:47] Andrew Chou: You have to be.

[00:03:48] Bryan Pham: Yes. I can’t imagine, like for me, I’m comparing in my head, it’s like putting an essay that you put, that you wrote on the internet, right? Yes. For everyone to read, to feel, to criticize whatever it is. It takes a lot and it shows not much character that you have with yourself to be able to put yourself in that position out of curiosity. Like what emotion do you feel when you feel the most inspired?

[00:04:10] Do you feel sadness? Do you feel anger? Do you feel compassion? Do you feel lonely when you find inspiration, what is that one emotion that triggers your creativity when you’re like, okay, I got talent, and right now? 

[00:04:22] Andrew Chou: There’s definitely a drive that you feel that you’re like, I need to write this down because from experience that if you don’t do it now, you will forget, right? Because your ideas are too complicated to hold in your head for more than literally just half an hour, then it’s done, so you got to do that. I have felt like some inspiration during times of like, sad being really sad. Don’t man, I can’t remember what that means in English? Dumb. Sorry, I don’t know what that means. 

[00:04:52] Bryan Pham: Then no, let’s assume you feel really emotional.

[00:04:54] Andrew Chou: You feel very emotional, right? Exactly. When you feel really emotional, you feel, you may have certain ideas and it’s tough because usually, those times are not when you’re at your computer and you’re not there, to sit down and do it. Those are the hardest times because that might be like a break-up or something like that. It can be difficult to channel those emotions into your writing. It can be like I said, just try to record or write down your ideas and then try to recall them to the best of your ability. That definitely gets as if something gets lost in there, but what can you do? 

[00:05:30] Bryan Pham: Yes. Those are really good insights into your routine and your day. Right now, I’m just reading Will Smith’s book and I’m just so I know. 

[00:05:37] Andrew Chou: Oh yes! 

[00:05:37] Bryan Pham: There’s a controversy behind that because.. 

[00:05:40] Andrew Chou: I haven’t heard much about it.

[00:05:42] Bryan Pham: Yes. Controversy because of the whole Oscar thing, that’s the reason why I heard the book. Because people are like, you should read the book, you understand why he did the way he did. 

[00:05:49] In the first half of the book where he talks about his inspiration behind rapping, creating music, and writing it. I find so much parallel to see between your two stories, right? 

[00:05:57] Andrew Chou: Yes! 

[00:05:57] Bryan Pham: Because you have to feel that emotion, you have to feel obsessed about what you do. If you’re not obsessed with what you do, you’re not going to find the passion to do it every day and practice it. It has to be on top of your mind, the first thing you think about every single day. 

[00:06:07] Andrew Chou: Definitely, especially because right now it’s not the best time to be a musician, with COVID and the market. And so there has to be something else besides, I want to get famous or I want to make money. There has to be more motivation than that, especially right now.

[00:06:26] Bryan Pham: Yes, definitely, 100% agree. And that, with that question, I want to hear about the turning point of your career where you’re like, I can do this. I’m going to stay with this for a long time. Things are starting to pop me off. What was the first turning point for you? And what was going through your mind?

[00:06:40] Andrew Chou: I was in college and I was really bored and I was learning. Interesting subjects like sociology and psychology and stuff like that. But I realized that these wouldn’t really translate into any useful skills. So I thought, what am I going to do with my life? Because I didn’t really want to become like a salaried office worker.

[00:07:01] I just felt that wasn’t going to make me happy so I decided to go to music school. The reason I did that was that I felt everyone has their own thing that they’re talented at, right? Like you don’t have to be the smartest person. I’m definitely not the smartest guy, in terms of book smarts, but I do have one special thing and that is a perfect pitch.

[00:07:25] So I thought I should definitely use my talents. It would be a waste. It would be a waste to let these talents go to waste. So that’s why I decided, okay, I’m going to just put my effort into music school and doing music. So I think that everyone should find what they are good at and stick to doing that. 

[00:07:42] Bryan Pham: Yes, that’s really good advice too. And, as you’re progressing into your music career, what was your first viral video? What was your first viral salt that happened? That, that you’re like, dang, this is it. This is going to be like. 

[00:07:55] Andrew Chou: The funny thing is, there’s a funny one that maybe we can put like a link in there.

[00:07:58] I thought it was pretty funny when I was at a show and the MC or the host, he goes, this is Andrew Chou… He speaks with a very Chinese accent and his English is not very good. He goes, “This is Andrew Chou, he’s been raping since he was five.” 

[00:08:14] He meant “rapping”, but that was really funny. So then I found the recording and I turned that into a song because I think at the time, it was pretty popular to turn news and stuff like into little meme tracks where you would like to auto-tune and so I did that and that was really fun.

[00:08:32] That was a really fun one. The funny thing is a lot of people heard that track that usually doesn’t listen to my music and that was a little fun thing. And so I really enjoyed doing those even though it’s not like they are paid or anything, it’s just, it’s fun. It’s fun.

[00:08:45] Then after that, I’ve done a lot of tracks for this comedy group on YouTube called Wacky boys. And a lot of their stuff is really like parody stuff or it’s pretty viral because funny meme stuff is pretty viral. Then one of the things we did was, I went on the rap of China. That was overall. It was like a really bad experience for me because we can get into it. Actually, during the time when it happened, it was big on the news. I actually did a lot of interviews regarding that, which basically they purposely edited my footage to basically make me look really bad, which is really sad because obviously millions of people will see it.

[00:09:29] What they see and they believe it to be real because they’re like, oh, it’s on video. But I think they don’t realize how badly you can really change the narrative just depending on how the thing is edited. And so it is actually completely different. But so we did a little parody of that. Basically, I just acted as myself and we did a parody and it was really viral.

[00:09:52] That one got over a million views. It was very fun. And it was just, I guess I was poking fun of myself. Yes, I think if anyone understands Chinese, you can check that one out, although it’s in Chinese. Maybe the English-speaking audience won’t quite be able to get that one.

[00:10:04] Bryan Pham: Well, have you in their show notes kind of described what happened and like telling us about the situation, that’s crazy right? To hear that, the editing part, without your consent, you don’t know how things work over there, but I mean without consent, to change the narrative completely, that’s not very nice, for sure. 

[00:10:21] Andrew Chou: Oh, definitely not nice, but it’s China. They do what they think, and from their perspective, they want to create the most dramatic show that they can, without any regard for other people. Like they’ll throw you under the bus to make their show more dramatic and get more ratings, I think. And I think my mistake was to go on the show in the first place. So basically they were very nice to me and we had little coffee meetings. They were telling me how great it would be if I went on the show and I already rejected them like three times, but they were very persistent.

[00:10:59] So at the end, I just said, okay, okay, fine. I’ll go. Then, I went, and then that happened. What I should have done should have been smarter and I should have just stuck to my intuition, which is why I rejected the offer three times. After that immediately, they ghosted me and didn’t return any of my messages on my calls.

[00:11:17] So I think that they knew. But that’s how it is. China is very ruthless in terms of, I don’t think, I feel like that would not ever happen in Taiwan. I don’t think so. 

[00:11:29] Bryan Pham: Yes, not to get too political and podcast, but it’s definitely a good insight into how things work overseas because I know things in the industry across every country are quite different.

[00:11:37] And the next question I have is, why did you decide to launch your career in Taiwan versus the U.S or something? 

[00:11:42] Andrew Chou: I felt like it was easier because I had more connections and I just wanted to be myself. I think that as an Asian if you want to do Asian stuff if you’re an Asian in America, you definitely have to play off your Asian culture a bit more. It sucks. Like if you can’t, if you just want to do your own thing, I feel like they are YouTubers, like music YouTubers, who do a pretty good job just being themselves and doing music. So I think that’s actually fine.

[00:12:16] I simply chose Taiwan because I already came out in Taiwan and I just wanted to go ahead and keep doing it. But I feel like if you are in America and you’re doing music, I think that people, in general, would be more inclined to listen to you. If you somehow played off your Asian roots just because, I don’t know, I saw everything, everywhere all the time. Yes, and there were a lot of Asian people in that movie, they did a good job with the whole laundromat and the whole thing, like speaking different languages and stuff. That’s just how it is.

[00:12:54] That’s what people expect so it’s a little easier if you do it that way. I think. 

[00:12:59] Bryan Pham: Yes! That brings up a pretty good point too. I never really thought of it from that angle, because just as Asian American, when I look at these artists, not even at that point, it’s true. There are a lot of angles, I’m Asian American.

[00:13:09] This is my identity. It’s a huge part of their music. It at least incorporates Asian American history in there somehow, which I think is a great thing. For you to bring up saying that you want to be yourself by starting your career in Taiwan, actually makes a lot of sense to me, because no one is in a bad eye that you are Taiwanese in Taiwan.

[00:13:27] It just makes things pull up. 

[00:13:29] Andrew Chou: Yes, I am Asian American and I am very Asian American, actually. But Asian American is basically just Americans, which is fine. But it doesn’t make for the most entertaining culture, like mimes. Black people have a very deep culture with their hip hop so they can do it, like a lot of gangs. They can do a lot of stuff like that. For us, Asian people, like us, we go back to people just expecting oh, you have to go back to doing traditional, wearing cheap houses and stuff, which is weird.

[00:14:01] That’s what they think. Although, as Asian Americans, we’re like whoa, I’d never even seen a cheap, P you know, what’s cheap. How I don’t know, as you look really famous. Just like a parody, right?

[00:14:11] In his interviews, he’s like every Asian American, very normal, but he chose to do a parody because it’s more interesting. It’s more fun. I think that this stereotype, which is a stereotype for a reason, is that Asian Americans study really hard – lawyers, doctors.

[00:14:26] It’s good for society and it’s good in general. Great, in general, but doesn’t make for the most interesting music. 

[00:14:32] Bryan Pham: Yes, I could see the point that you make there. Out of curiosity, what is your schedule like for the next few months? Are you going on any tours? I know that you recently signed with a label.

[00:14:41] Congratulations on that. When you’re signing a label, what kind of things did it plan for you? Did you plan your music, your wardrobe, your lyrics, how does that process work for someone who doesn’t know any? 

[00:14:52] Andrew Chou: It depends. It depends. But it’s not quite, as labels can do stuff for you, but you have got to understand that labels now, maybe 20 years ago have changed a lot in terms of their power just because of social media.

[00:15:06] So I think that, if you’re trying to go the more traditional route, it is hyper-competitive. And so the label really can’t push you as far as they might have used to be able to do. A lot of it is, you’re doing your own social media and stuff, honestly.

[00:15:21] It’s actually a lot more business than you might expect. I write proposals for my music. So if I want to do a project, like I want to do an album and I want to fund it, then I’ll write a proposal. And say, this is my concept. This is my idea. This is how much money I think I’m going to need to do this.

[00:15:44] These are the people that I might need. It’s very business-like. You definitely can’t sit down and think that the label, I’m sorry, there’s a helicopter outside. If you can hear that or not, okay. I don’t think you can rely on a label to take care of you in terms of having your whole creative plan laid out. It’s just not how it works anymore, unfortunately. Especially, nowadays with stuff like NFTs coming out and that is kind of disruptive technology, is not something well. Maybe in America, they’re a bit more forward with it, but in Taiwan, it’s mostly the labels trying to. It’s very monolithic and it moves much more slowly because there’s so much bureaucracy.

[00:16:28] So I think the lucky thing is, I think that they understand that they are getting behind on time. So they do offer a lot more freedom in what you’re allowed to do because they found that a lot of successful artists nowadays are doing their own thing. And so they’re like, oh, okay it works.

[00:16:47] If we just let them do what they want. 

[00:16:50] Bryan Pham: Yes! That’s really good insight too, into the subtle differences between like different industries, especially in Taiwan and like the U.S, for example. Tell us about your day in the life, where you’re going on tours, you’re performing, you’re getting bookings, how does that feel in love for you? Like when you walk into a room, you walk into a nightclub or wherever you are, or a concert and people are there to watch you, what is that feeling like when you’re on stage? 

[00:17:15] Andrew Chou: Sure. I can tell you, but to be fair, right now, because of COVID, everyone’s anti-social. I’ve probably had more shows canceled than I can count.

[00:17:26] It’s right now because of COVID. Even though the COVID restrictions are being lifted, I think people, in general, are still very anti-social, where they would just choose not to go to a crowded venue, having 10-20 people in one square meter or whatever. They just choose not to do that now.

[00:17:47] I know that’s how I feel. But in the past, obviously, performing my music for other people was a great feeling. It’s where all the achievement comes from. Because you finish your own track, you finish your own song. You’re like, oh, it’s great. I enjoy it.

[00:18:00] You probably listened to it like a thousand times. It’s just that you can’t wait to get it out to other audiences and let them hear it. Being able to play my music for other people in front of the crowd and to hear their reactions and see their reactions.

[00:18:13] That’s basically where all the achievement comes from so it’s definitely great. That’s what it’s all about, really. You do get used to it. Now that we don’t have that right now because of COVID I definitely miss it. And to me, it doesn’t really matter if it’s 10 people or a hundred people or a thousand people, because I think that, I just try to get my music out to as many people as I can. Although my music isn’t actually mainstream, I don’t do mainstream music for myself. I do write mainstream music, but it doesn’t have my name on it. It’s ghostwriting. So for my own stuff, I don’t expect it. My goal is, oh, I want to perform in a stadium with 10,000 people. I actually prefer to get to talk to fans personally but I don’t really want to. I don’t feel like it’s not necessary to call people fans or whatever but just being able to talk to people who like my music and talk to them, it’s fun.

[00:19:06] It’s fun. There’s definitely something there that you can’t get from being like a doctor because you help your patients and they’re very grateful to you. For other professions, I don’t think there’s definitely some respect there which people look up to you, especially because, maybe your music helped them.

[00:19:22] At a certain moment because maybe they are feeling down and your music made them happy, so they’re grateful to you for that. So they express that gratitude and that a lot of achievement comes from there. So something that’s where some motivation comes from that you don’t get just from money or fame.

[00:19:39] Bryan Pham: Yes. Those are really good insights too. I personally feel that everything you choose and do in life, it’s difficult somehow, in some way, in some, like the biggest thing is can you find fulfillment from that? Can you find passion from that? And also it comes down to one thing, its impact. Whether you’re a doctor impacting patients on their health or a musician impacting your fans or supporters with their mood or mentality and whatnot. It’s all about making an impact and being purposeful in life is really what I think it is. And Andrew, I’m curious too. How did you come up with M D, right? I’m looking at it the whole time. We are on this recording. I’m just like, I don’t see an A or a C in there from Andrew Chou. How do you come with MD for?

[00:20:22] Andrew Chou: Yes! 

[00:20:23] Machi Didi was my stage name when I first came out. Because I came out with the group, Machi DD means little brother. I was 13, so I was a little kid. So it’s basically like a little kid, not right? But as I got older, people were like, you should change your name. And I was like, oh, I don’t want to change my name because look at Lil Wayne, he’s been a rapper since he was a kid. He is still called Lil Wayne.

[00:20:46] But in the end, I decided to just change to MDD. It’s not that, that’s just what slide did. 

[00:20:51] Bryan Pham: Okay. It’s good to hear the origin story behind that. I guess we have one or two questions left, and the next question is what’s next for you?

[00:20:57] I say the pandemic is over and everything’s wide open again. What is next for you? What is your goal for the next five, too long? Let’s talk about two to 3, 5, and 2?

[00:21:06] Andrew Chou: I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over. I don’t think it will be over anytime soon like the pandemic can be over. But I think people’s mentality may not be over so soon. I hope it will. I honestly hope it will be. I want to put out more music. Get people back into a social mode so they can go out, have drinks with their friends, party, dance, and do all that.

[00:21:28] Have fun again. And I’m just committed to making cool art, although I’m a musician. As a musician nowadays, you still go to do some art stuff. I’m working on an NFT, but not just like a JPEG, not just like one of your run-of-the-mill, scammed JPEG things. I want to make my NFT like something actually cool, something actually a little innovative in there, something I can be proud of. So doing that and then combining that with my new music, so just creating cool art that is going to be different.

[00:22:03] Then what other people have made before and just something I hope that people can appreciate and be like, whoa, this guy makes some cool stuff. 

[00:22:10] Bryan Pham: Yes, I like that perspective too. Just being able to combine and incorporate mainstreams, not mainstream stuff like cooler out the box, self NFTs into your music.

[00:22:21] I think that’s a huge part of being an. Because at the end of the day, I feel like most of the marketing depends on yourself and mostly creativity is on you. No one else can do that for you. 

[00:22:29] Andrew Chou: Definitely.

[00:22:30] Bryan Pham: Yes! Thank you so much for that response, for sure. So Andrew, if you would have a final question, and that final question is, what advice would you give to someone who is just starting a music career in Taiwan, right now? What thing would you advise them to do differently from when you first started? 

[00:22:47] Andrew Chou: If someone’s going to be starting out doing music, I would say, definitely, as I said before, in terms of your skill, be the best version of yourself. Second, you have got to eat, so you have to hustle and approach it like a business.

[00:23:02] If you definitely have to think about what the market wants, in terms of what you want, you should approach it more like a business, as I said. Then differently from what I did, I think those are two good things.

[00:23:13] I can’t really think of anything else. Those are two big important things, right? 

[00:23:17] What do you think? 

[00:23:18] Bryan Pham: Yes, I think those are great. You have to treat it like a business if you want to take it seriously. You can’t just treat it like a hobby because, at the end of the day, you do have got to eat.

[00:23:25] The only way you eat is to hustle. The only way you eat is to practice. 

[00:23:27] Andrew Chou: Yes. 

[00:23:28] Bryan Pham: The only way you eat is to get better at your craft because once you’re number one, you’re undeniably good. No, one’s going to deny you at all at that front stage, at that meal, at that payroll. 

[00:23:37] Andrew Chou: Yes. 

[00:23:38] Bryan Pham: Or whatever it is, so I absolutely agree with your statements.

[00:23:40] Andrew Chou: I think that a person who is going to want to choose to be a musician, now they need to very carefully consider. Don’t try to do it just because it’s fun, because as soon as it becomes professional, it’s not fun anymore. 

[00:23:52] Actually, at least it’s not as much fun. Okay. It’s still fun, not as much fun though.

[00:23:58] You definitely have to work even when you don’t want to. Make sure that’s like something that you’re very committed to doing instead because you have to really think about the reasons why you’re doing it. If that is really your purpose in life to go into being a musician, there are some good things but there are also risks with it too. 

[00:24:19] Bryan Pham: Of course. 

[00:24:20] Yes. I think people should be well aware of the risks and rewards. Higher risk, more reward, but definitely don’t come into being very naive. Know that things may or may not work out, but it largely depends on you and your team, and your own creativity to make things happen, for sure. So Andrew, how can our listeners find out more about you and reach out to you, online? 

[00:24:38] Andrew Chou: Yes, I have an Instagram. I have a YouTube channel, so it’s MDD. Andrew Chou, that is my Instagram. On YouTube, there is also MDD, Andrew Chou. I believe if you search that, you’ll find me. I am on Spotify.

[00:24:51] You can hear my new stuff. If you search MDD. My old stuff, if you type in Machi Didi. So that’s also why I changed my name as well because I wanted to separate my new stuff from my old stuff. I didn’t want the Spotify playlist to keep it going and start playing like stuff from 2003. You can find me there. 

[00:25:11] Bryan Pham: For sure. Conclude all of that in the show notes, along with Andrew’s Bio and headshot as well.

[00:25:15] Andrew Chou: Great. Thank you. Awesome.

[00:25:18] Bryan Pham: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today, Andrew. I really appreciate your story. 

[00:25:21] Andrew Chou: Cool. Thanks, Bryan. Thanks, guys!