As the famous saying goes, follow your heart. That’s exactly what Nicola Chang is doing. She first studied economics and international relations at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, in the US, until she realised her heart wasn’t in it. Then she switched to pursue her true love – music. Young Post spoke to her about why changing her path was the best decision she made.
Growing up, she always looked up to famous musicians who had never had any formal training. “I was inspired by Thom Yorke from Radiohead, composer Danny Elfman, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and Eric Clapton – just to name a few,” Chang says.
“I was very lucky to have received percussion and piano lessons when I was young, and even luckier to have played in orchestras and ensembles on the side throughout my studies.”
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Her transition from economics to music was gradual, but she made a constant effort to immerse herself in the music industry.
“I started my music career working with music data. I was working at the company The Echo Nest, which powers the recommendations you see on Spotify. Then I designed playlists for casinos in Macau and for telephone companies in Cameroon and Ghana,” says the 24-year-old.
Having recently graduated with a Masters of Music in Composition from King’s College London, Chang says one thing that drove her towards a music career was a video she watched of a British percussion group.
“My percussion teacher showed me the Stomp DVD when I was very young, and I was mesmerised by its energy and rawness. I immediately wrote that down as my life goal on the list stuck on the wall in my room,” says Chang.
Watching the group perform opened her eyes to the wonderful possibilities for musicians.
“I was initially discouraged from pursuing music as a career because I only saw one way to have a career as a musician. It seemed to be a long, daunting and monotonous journey to me at the time,” Chang says.
“Stomp showed me a different avenue that was just as universally welcomed by audiences – I kept this in the back of my head ever since.”
In 2016, she achieved one of her life goals – Chang auditioned for the group and was asked to perform with them in London.
She performed with artists of different backgrounds. “Some were dancers, musicians, or went to drama school. Some didn’t even train in the arts! But they all had a great sense of rhythm and brought a bit of themselves to the show.”
When performing in front of large crowds, Chang says her biggest issue is not facing the audience – but overcoming herself.“
The largest audience has got to be West End Live in Trafalgar Square – more than a few thousand – or the Fifa Awards Ceremony which was televised worldwide,” says Chang. “I do overthink a lot. It took me a while to realise that the more relaxed and comfortable I was, the better and more natural and convincing my performance would be.”
Although Stomp had a great influence on her life, her mum has always been her main source of inspiration and encouragement.
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“She loved to draw from a young age, and she eventually became an architect at a time when female professionals were very rare. She fought really hard and had to overcome many challenges to get to where she is today, and she is still pursuing her career goals. She had always told me to ‘be myself’, which is very encouraging,” Chang says.
Her next goal is to become a film music composer and teacher. “This is another item on my bucket list – right below Stomp,” says Chang.
“I think it’s the power of a memorable tune that draws me to film compositions – the fact that audiences leave a cinema humming a theme song from a movie. I’d like to wind up in Hollywood some day.”
Chang is now a volunteer music educator at two youth centres in London.
“Music is a fantastic avenue for people to express themselves. I wanted to be a music teacher, so I could be a part of someone’s musical journey, too. A lot of teenagers have really blossomed with the right resources and encouragement,” she says.
She advises young musicians, such as those applying for SOTY’s Performing Artist category, to keep taking baby steps – as long as they go in the right direction.
“The jazz legend Miles Davis once said ‘Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself’ – which is true! Be yourself and sound like yourself – stop comparing your own journey with someone else’s and you will be on your way.”