Six years after our first encounter with YouTube megastar Sam Tsui, and more than three years since we last spoke to him, the singer was back in town for the Hong Kong stop of his Gold Jacket tour. Just minutes before his concert, we sat down with him and did a three-year challenge, asking him the same questions that we did three years ago, and about his life as a YouTuber, as well as advice for newcomers.
In 2016, Tsui was newly married, and had just released a new album, which he co-produced with his long-time collaborator Kurt Schneider. Three years on, while he still kicks over water bottles on stage from time to time, and admits that it’s “very important to plan ahead” when it comes to toilet breaks, the now-30-year-old veteran YouTuber has embarked on a whole new plan to help empower fans and boost their confidence.
“The theme of this show was inspired by my new song Gold Jacket,” says Tsui, “It’s all about finding confidence in yourself – the idea that even if you’re down there’s a magical power to adopting an attitude that you’re amazing, and that you can wear it like a jacket.”
“I want them [fans] to feel that power, and dance like nobody’s watching for the next one and a half hour and live their most expressive lives,” he adds.
Given the recent political unrest in the city, and cancellations of major events such as the annual Clockenflap music festival, Tsui and his team weren’t sure whether his gig would go ahead, until the very last minute.
“Obviously, we’ve been relying on the local promoter for the latest info, but my thing is, if we can do the show, and if it’s safe to do it, we’re definitely doing it,” he says.
This year marked Tsui’s 30th birthday, and he celebrated by taking a walk down his musical memory lane.
“For my 30th birthday, I did a mashup on my channel, a retrospective one. Going back and looking at the top songs from every year since I was born was a really fun exercise,” he says.
He’s certainly come a long way since he first created his YouTube channel back in 2011; he now has a fan base of more than 3 million subscribers and 400 million views on his channel. However, his journey to success wasn’t always easy, given that the concept of being YouTuber was still relatively new when he started.
“In the early days, it was hard to be taken seriously – filming videos and posting them on YouTube was such a novelty thing, so I’m grateful that we persisted and actually turned it into a career, instead of letting it be just a one-off thing,” he explains.
Having gained a huge following on social media platforms, Tsui admits that there’s pressure to flush out new content.
“In my personal life, I’m an open book – I love inviting fans into my life and what I’m doing, but there’s pressure when it comes to the amount to put out, like ‘I need to post a picture on Instagram in two days’,” he explains. “A lot of it it’s just algorithms – if you don’t post in two to three days [you might lose followers].”
Moreover, being a YouTuber can sometimes be an isolating experience, given that the majority of videos are filmed without an audience. However, Tsui says he’s very fortunate to have always had a small team, and collaborated with other artists.
“To a certain extent I suppose [it’s an isolating experience], yes,” he says. “But luckily with music, there are built-in factors such as instrumentalists – it’s never just me working alone.”
Both technology and touring have made collaborating with other artists easier than ever. “Because we share similar experiences with other YouTubers who are my colleagues, we’ve become friends and have collaborated a lot,” Tsui says.
“Recently I’ve collaborated with artists in places I’m visiting, such as Korean and Thai artists,” he adds. “The only thing we haven’t set up yet is with a Canto artist, so I should definitely add that to my to-do list,” he says.
Now that uploading to YouTube can be done by anyone with an internet connection, Tsui thinks the way to stand out from the rest is to be yourself.
“Remember to always celebrate what makes you unique, and do what you actually love to do, especially now there are so many success stories of other YouTubers. It’s easy to want to emulate, like ‘Oh, I have to do exactly this to achieve that,’ he says.
“What audiences love is authenticity. When we watch a cover video, we want to see the artist’s authentic self.”