Breaking Into Music & Having Fun Doing It: A Conversation With Ashleigh Chiang (aka @sh)

By Tori Lewis | @victoria_camille5 

Breaking into the industry with her first single release, coming out on November 25, is Ashleigh Chiang, MBET Major at UArts. Her debut single “Don’t Care What We Do” is fully produced by Chiang herself, with vocals by Albert Tang of UArts. 

Growing up and honing her production skills, Chiang is now ready to reveal her music to the public with the sultry, atmospheric, R&B single, “Don’t Care What We Do.” As anticipation grows, curiosities about Ashleigh’s process, inspiration, and setbacks arise. 

Tori Lewis: How did you get into music production?

Ashleigh Chiang: It was a mixture of things. I feel like the biggest gateway into music production for me was dubstep. Which is kind of weird. I used to play a lot of racing games, and the background would be playing a playlist of dubstep music. I was like, “Oh my god, this is so sick.” If you listen to “Animals” by Martin Garrix, everybody knows that song, but it was really popular in 2016. Then I segwayed into dubstep and that led me to looking for videos on YouTube of people creating dubstep. Also Shawn Wasabi, he was really big for electronic music, but all of his work, he did it through a MIDI controller. It was called a MIDI Fighter, filled with a bunch of fun little buttons and I was like, “What does that do?” That literally was the fundamentals of what interested me into making music.

T: What was the first piece of equipment that you got for yourself?

A: I guess, I don’t know, because I bought music equipment for coming [to UArts]. I made all of my original, starter stuff on Garageband on my phone. It would sound kind of shitty but it was a start. I want to say that the phone, like Garageband, was my first purchase for making music. It’s a good starter, it’s got some good sounds, some cool features. Steve Lacy made a lot of his early work on Garageband.

T: How do you go about finding people to collaborate with?

A: My mindset with collaboration is that I like to be friends first. I like to just be friendly, I don’t take it very, very seriously. With Albert Tang, the guy that I’m working with on this single, he was in my class and we were really chill, cool buddies in the classroom. I kind of heard his work, on Spotify or stuff he would show, and I was like, “Maybe I’ll just ask him.” One day after class I was like, “Hey Albert, I got a song, and I think that you would sound great on it. Just come with me to the studio, let’s check it out.” He was like, “Yeah, sure.” 

So we sat in the studio and I just played the track for him and he was like, “Dude, this sounds so good. We need to do this.” And that’s literally how it started. I don’t really have a lot of other songs that I really collaborated with, except for this one other one. But I feel like collaboration in general has just got to be chill. I feel like it’s mostly for fun. 

T: Do you have a memorable moment or story from a collaboration?

A: I like to be as chill as possible. I have a song that’s also coming soon, with Chris Tuck, he also goes by Theo Vegas. He’s a rapper and I have another vocalist on this track, her name is Kaitlyn Oliveri. Originally I wrote this song in the summer, it was just for me. It wasn’t big or anything, I wasn’t thinking of putting anybody on it. Then I sent it to my friend Kaitlyn like, “Hey, what do you think? I have some lyrics, I have the melody down, do you want to try putting your voice on it?” She was like, yeah. Then that was solid, it sounded really good so far but it was only a minute long. Then I showed it to Jimmy Butterfield, another great friend, and he was like, “Dude, you need to put Chris on this.” And I was like okay. Then I sent it to Chris and he said he needed to be on this right now. But that was just from me hanging out with Jimmy and then Jimmy saying you should totally go for that. I wouldn’t call it a happy little accident, but it was just a spur-of-the-moment text. It was at like 12 in the morning, I was just like, “Yo, are you up? You need to listen to this.” And [Chris] came with the best verse, and it just matched the vibe so well. The song is currently being mixed so it will come out later.

T: Is there any specific person you hope to collaborate with in the future?

A: There’s this guy, his name is Serhiy Vereshchak. He’s also an MBET major, he has a song with Albert too, I think it’s called “Used to”. It’s just so good. I feel like his production style really compliments what I want to be like in terms of my own music. It’s kind of like pop-y, R&B, kind of trap influence.

T: How would you describe your music style?

A: I definitely want to fit more into the R&B world. I feel like there are a lot of Asian R&B artists out there, and I definitely want to be included in that. 

T: What does your current production setup look like?

A: I currently have my laptop, she’s the baby, the brain. Then I have a little Scarlett audio interface, I think it’s 2i2. I got a pair of bluetooth monitors but they also connect into the headphone jack, they’re multimedia monitors but they work so well and they sound great. They’re all white too, it’s so pretty I’ll never stop bragging about them. I also have a little MIDI controller, it’s got these drum pads on it. It’s super small, I don’t really use it that much, I just do whatever on my laptop. 

T: What DAW do you use?

A: Ableton. That’s the best one. I mean, that’s just my hot take but Ableton, I feel like, you can make quick beats on and it sounds cool. Most of the stock plugins that it has sound great if you know how to use them. 

T: What is your dream production setup?

A: I would buy Ableton with my own money, because I’m using it through the school right now. I definitely want more actual outside plugins, like Omnisphere, I think that’s what it’s called. It’s like some sort of synth keyboard plugin with a bunch of cool sounds. I remember one time, my professor told me, “There’s no reason why your song right now shouldn’t sound like a The Weeknd song. If you just had more outside plugins and a better compressor, it would be set, it would be gold.” And I was like, “Oh my god, thanks!” But, definitely [I would have] more plugins. I would have better, bigger monitors because multimedia monitors aren’t specifically for music. I don’t care about the interface so much because I’m not really recording too much through that besides vocals. I would get a better guitar, my guitar right now is so shit. It’s a Fender Squier Stratocaster. A regular Fender Telecaster would be like $1,500. My dream guitar is this nice, buttercream American Performer Telecaster. It’s so pretty and the sound that it has is just amazing and perfect for what I want. I would get that and a bigger MIDI controller. 

T: Who do you want your music to resonate with?

A: That’s tough, because I’m mainly producing, so it’s more sounds instead of message. I kind of made the two songs that I’m focusing on right now for myself. Especially with the one I produced during the summer, I actually wrote that after I was in an argument. I was so salty about it so I was like, “Ugh I need to put this out somewhere.” My music should resonate with everyday people. Anybody that feels a certain type of way. Like the song I have with Albert, it’s kind of a sexy song. So if people want to feel sexy then… yeah. Whoever likes it, it’s human emotions that I feel like everybody can relate to essentially. Everybody can resonate with it.

T: Besides music production, what are you interested in?

A: I love cooking. The other day, I made New York Strip Steak, basted with some butter, garlic, and rosemary. Really simple and really classic, medium rare. This was in my dorm. I made some french fries and also garlic-sauteed spinach. Last year I made dumplings, some regular pork dumplings, they came out so good. I really like cooking. My mom always tells me, “I don’t know why you went to music school, you should’ve just went to culinary school.” I worked at an Italian deli for a couple months and it was a lot of fun. I worked a lot on my knife skills and I learned a lot. It’s fun too, but I don’t know if I would do that for the rest of my life. I feel like cooking for myself is more enjoyable. 

T: Where do you want your music to take you in the future?

A: I want my music to take me everywhere. I really want to travel, I want to do touring, I want to work everywhere, I want to meet everybody. I want to learn as much as I can in any place, because originally I was going to go to music school for music production to produce music in South Korea for K-pop. That was the original goal. I wanted to work with K-pop companies, I would love to work with them. I actually did a lot of auditions that asked for music producers, but I just didn’t have the portfolio. So coming [to UArts] really helps me build that portfolio. Also, my sister is a dancer, so she’s been auditioning for SM and YG. She’s 15 and she’s really climbing into that realm, so I’m like, “Hey if you ever score big, let SM know that I’m free.” But that’s just an example, I’m so down to travel anywhere to work on a track with so-and-so and learn. 

T: Are you interested in live performances with music production?

A: Honestly, that’s another question that I have to ask myself. I do play instruments but not good enough to be serious on tour. I would definitely DJ. Originally I wanted my senior project to be shadowing a DJ. That would be so fun. I would totally be down to travel to clubs and perform like that or work with a DJ. But that’s something that I would have to get myself into. But that’s definitely a live performance option for the music that I would be doing. 

T: Any plans for an upcoming album?

A: Over the summer I was looking into writing an album. I wanted it to be called “Champ” because I grew up playing a bunch of sports, and my Aunt and Uncle would always call me Champ. “Yeah, you got it, Champ.” My Grandparents, specifically my Grandpa, he’s always been big on encouraging me. He’d be like, “You’re number 1,” in his broken English. So I envisioned “Champ” and a crown or something. Like a Burger King crown. 

I wanted the album to have a lot of tracks surrounding my own personal experiences. I don’t know what that would look like yet. Originally, I didn’t want to be singing in the album, mainly because I don’t trust my voice like that. But I definitely want to have full executive production of the album and I would like to have my own lyrics in the album. I would definitely have a bunch of vocalists for that, or a rapper or something. 

Although I did have a friend tell me recently that my voice sounds pretty good for rapping. There’s a backstory for that, I took Songwriting 1 last semester. It was a lot of fun, but I was in the worst mindset ever that semester, So the music that I was writing was shit. But during Songwriting I made a rap song, and I didn’t have anybody to call up to do it for me so I rapped it myself. It was giving old, way back Joji, his song called “Thom.” I was really trying to get that sound; “Thom” and “Fuckboy Lullaby” by Louse the Cat. So I played my song and my friend Harley was like, “You really need to bring that back, it sounded pretty good.” And I was like, “You’re lying.” But maybe I’ll be rapping in the future, I don’t know. I can’t really imagine myself doing that, I feel like it’d be really silly. I feel like I’d be made fun of in the rap game. But I used to be really into poetry. I have so many poems scribbled in notebooks until they’re full. So I was basically writing a poem for that song and then I just went out like that. It’s really easy to put out my emotions like that, thinking about rhyme scheme, flow, alliteration, and the energy. It was cool, and I was thinking about doing something like that on this album, but it’s still a process to think about. 

T: Are there any plans for a music video?

A: As of right now, no. Possibly for that song I have with Kaitlyn and Chris though. Only because it’s a really fun song, very summer vibe-y. It can be a really fun, in the park, VHS, type video. I have a full playlist on Spotify of the songs that inspired me to write that song. It’s giving “Feels” by Katy Perry, Big Sean, and Pharrell. I really like that song so it’s that kind of vibe. 

T: When is “Don’t Care What We Do” coming out?

A: So about that, I had a little bit of trouble finding the right person to do the art. I had to choose to partially do it with just me and my team, which is just me and Albert and one other person. Instead of doing art, now it’s going to be more photography based. That’s currently in the works and I also have to contact a distributor because I use a sample in that song. So I have to clear that sample and it’s tough because I don’t know exactly how to go about doing that. I contacted a Professor and I don’t know when that’s going to happen. That kind of set us back a couple weeks and we have to pay to use the sample, obviously. It kind of bummed me out but at the same time, it gives me more space to think about things. Also these are good lessons for the next time that I have to do this. Learning from experience. 

T: Do you think now your second song will be finished before this first song is cleared?

A: Honestly, probably. Which kind of sucks, because I was literally preparing myself for that to be my first song. But I mean, good things come to those who wait, right? I’m just trying to have a positive mindset through everything and it’s been a really long process. Especially because Albert and I have been waiting to release this song for a while now. 

T: How do you usually promote your music?

A: TikTok. I put out maybe two TikToks of me messing around with the song playing in the background. I definitely wanted my friend, who’s kind of TikTok famous, to make an edit. She does edits and stuff, so I was like, “Oh my god, make an edit using this song. It’s kind of sexy sounding, you could definitely do a lot with that.” So I’m going to wait for the sample to clear, and then have a “go” to genuinely use it as a TikTok sound and hope it blows up. That’s the goal now, TikTok is really big for promotion. 

T: Why should people listen to your music?

A: That’s such a good question. I feel like everyone wants to say, “Oh yeah I got good music, I got good beats.” I’m not sure I’m too boastful like that but at the same time my music… I have a really carefree and fun personality and if we’re having a fun time and it sounds cool, hopefully, my music will reflect that. Just the two songs that we’ve mentioned so far, both of them were so fun to make. The recording process was super fun, the people that I worked with were super fun, good people, and I feel like we have good, positive vibes. Not to be like “toxic positivity” but I just want to have a fun time and those songs were really fun to make so the audience will just have fun. 

T: Is there anything else that you want people to know about you?

A: I’m always down to do whatever. People will always be like, “Hey, you wanna do this?” Like yeah! I love to collab, I love to work, I love to just hang out. So many people come and ask me to do this but it just won’t end up happening but, any work, I’d be willing to do. I’ve done mixes for dancers, I will definitely take a look, check it out, make remixes and things. I’m going to be doing music for a concept video for my girlfriend’s Instagram. I’m down to do that kind of work. I do a lot of live sound stuff, I can definitely help with sound for live shows. Just anything, any production, I’m literally down for. Or if you just want to jam, I’m cool with that too, I’ll play guitar. 

Listen to “don’t care what we do (feat. Albert Tang)” now!

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