Many people struggle to find good ideas—to find that perfect ‘riff’ for their song, or that clever ‘hook’ to reel in their readers. For Toronto-based Andrew Huang, a prolific new media artist known for YouTube sensations like ‘99 Red Balloons – played with red balloons,’ the challenge is just the opposite—he has far too many ideas to sift through.
Andrew is best known for his ‘Song Challenge’ YouTube series where fans dare him to take on eclectic feats of musicianship, such as creating a rhythm with sounds generated from wheel parts or a rap in five languages. With 50 requests coming in a day, plus lots of sound samples to collect and organize, Andrew needs a way to stay focused and productive. For this, he relies on Evernote.
Andrew’s gone from building an online audience from behind a computer back in 2004 to performing in front of live audiences in cities like London, San Francisco, Sydney, Berlin, and Hong Kong. We caught up with Andrew just as he’s preparing to embark on his 2016 tour to find out more about his work and how he uses Evernote.
How did you first hear about Evernote and why did you decide to try it out?
I remember the exact day. My friend Paul Chin came over to record a verse and he had his lyrics typed up in Evernote. As soon as I learned that Evernote syncs all your notes between devices, I was a fan.
Can you share a time when the ability to sync your notes between multi-devices was particularly useful?
For my Hits of 2015 video, I had to record a ton of different sounds from multiple locations for six different songs. I used Evernote (and some intense color coding) on my laptop, my phone, and my tablet. As I went about collecting sounds into Evernote, I was able to keep track of them and jot down plans for these sounds.
Who were the most influential musicians and artists in your life?
I was introduced to a huge range of music through my family, friends, and school. Rather than being drawn to any particular genre, I was fascinated by everything I heard and was always on the lookout for something new and foreign to me—a fascination that continues to this day.
I think I’ve been most influenced by artists who push musical boundaries, artists like Miles Davis, Prince, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Kanye West, The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, and Frank Zappa.
Novelists and poets sometimes get ‘writer’s block.’ Do you ever get ‘composer’s block’?
I tend to have the opposite problem—too much inspiration and too many ideas. What I find most challenging is the ability to hone in on that one thing I need to focus on. I think that having too many ideas is both a blessing and curse. On the one hand, it’s great that I get to work on so many different types of projects. On the other hand, I struggle with focus—when I’m bored of mixing my rap album, I’m tempted to go and write a song on the ukulele or work on a classical strings arrangement.
With so many song challenges submitted to you by fans, how do you choose which one to work on?
My number one constraint is time. The pile of ideas grows much faster than I can produce content. I have suggestions from years ago that I hope to get to one day. I attempt to find a good balance between projects that I’m excited about and ones that I’ve been slowly been chipping away at over long periods of time.
I especially love your song and video inspired by poem #44 of E.E. Cummings’ 73 Poems. I’d love to hear more about the process behind writing it.
The E.E. Cummings song challenge was very much about being true to the poem—to the feelings each word and each line evoked in me. I attempted to augment those feelings with an appropriate melody, which led to some unorthodox chord progressions and timing.
What are some of your favorite ways to use Evernote for your personal life?
I track my exercise metrics, maintain a rather haphazard journaling habit, and also keep some very handy lists—grocery staples, yearly goals, things I might want to buy eventually, and the best songs to sing at karaoke.