(Original Photo By: Vito Fun)
Sometimes it’s the easiest things and the simplest decisions that can take us the farthest in life. In the crazy world of being a musician, working hard and staying humble can be a great formula to attain sustained success. Nothing is guaranteed in this industry, but you have to go for it otherwise you’ll just be left wondering. That’s what happened with Tim Wu, better known as producer/DJ, Elephante. In fact, his stage name is a reference to the phrase “elephant in the room.” Although he graduated from Harvard, Tim knew all along that he wanted to make music.
“When I was a kid I wanted to be a rock star so I guess this is close enough. I wanted to make music at a young age, but growing up as an Asian lad, you don’t really think of being a musician as a realistic career, right? It’s something I always wanted to do and I loved making music. I was writing music since middle school, but it always felt like a pipe dream. I try to remind myself everyday that I actually get to do what I was dreaming of when I was a kid…how many people are that lucky?
My parents were super supportive, but it was also a life they didn’t really know or understand. They weren’t disappointed in me, just mostly worried because it doesn’t really work out for that many people. They’re right, but I think they also knew how unhappy I’d be and that I could never really forgive myself if I didn’t give it a shot. They were like, hey go for it, and when it doesn’t work you can always go back to med school.”
Tim’s passion for music persisted throughout college. However, he did what the vast majority of us do right after college and went for a conventional job. Again, like so many out there Tim knew that he would not be happy in that setting. He would move out to Los Angeles to pursue his music dream, however, Elephante wasn’t born right away. Tim focused more on being a singer/songwriter before gradually switching over to electronic production.
“I was making music during college; I was in bands, but I didn’t really know how to make it. I graduated, and was like, well I don’t have any money so I probably have to get a job, a reasonable thing to do. It was a good job, I was just really unhappy there. I tried to make it work, but I think deep down inside of me there was something telling me I would never be happy if I continued with it and the only thing that would make me happy is music. The elephant in the room was that deep down I wanted to be an artist. It’s about embracing that feeling and becoming the elephant in the room, becoming the Elephante.”
With time and a ton of practice under his belt, Tim is now confident in his abilities as an artist and producer, and is never afraid to try something new. However, that wasn’t always the case, as he would experience small bouts of depression when his earlier tracks didn’t live up to his lofty expectations. With time, Tim came to realize that he was growing as an artist with each track, even if they didn’t break him through to the masses, he was still growing. That’s something every artist should strive for, and something he heard from other artists themselves.
“It still happens, but particularly at the beginning of my career when I was still trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, and figuring out my sound. You put your heart and soul into a song or remix, and then you put it out and think this is the best thing that I could possibly ever do. If this isn’t the song that blows me up, then I’m never going to be able to do it. Then you put it out and no one cares and no one listens, and then you’re like well, fuck. You become depressed for the next few days and then realize you have to try again. I went through that cycle. I was putting out a remix every three weeks for two-and-a-half years, went through that cycle over and over and over again.
Having a short-term memory and knowing that you’re getting better really helped. I’ve found that persistence is a more important quality to the artists that have found success than talent. No one starts off really good at anything. All the artists that I know and respect who have made careers for themselves have been like, yeah man, I sounded terrible and all my stuff sucked for so long. Every day it got a little better and eventually it got good. So much of your career is fighting through self-doubt and just finding a way to not get discouraged.”
Tim also has some advice for those trying to find their sound, something he said he feels is the hardest thing to do as an artist. It’s not an overnight process…there will be lots of mistakes and frustration. Mastery of a craft is something that’s accumulated over time. Tim says he’s adjusted his production style over the years and learned not to be so overbearing on himself.
“Finding your sound is the most difficult thing, I don’t really know how it happens…you have to just keep trying until something works and you start figuring out things that you like, all of it adds up. I was the kind of person that would spend hours and hours and hours on one sound that might be in the song for a half-second. Over time I’ve tried to work more quickly, move on instead of grinding at the same thing, but some artists work differently. Some can spit out a song in a few hours and it’s great. Others will spend years on every track, it’s finding what works for you.”
Tim has embraced the elephant in the room over the years, and therefore he has a pretty even keel to him. You’d never know if there was something he truly feared. Tim pointed that a fear most every artist has is losing their fans, knowing that the ride could end at any moment. However, it’s a fear that one can do nothing to stave off other than keeping on. This is where the hard work and humility comes in. The artist owes everything to their fans, but the artist must still please themselves first. It’s quite a conundrum.
“There are a lot of fears as an artist. I think mostly centered around hoping people continue to like my music, right? It’s hard because as an artist you owe everything to your fans, but at the same time you have to make music that moves you. It’s this weird dynamic because every time I try to make something that I think other people will like, it never really turns out as well. It doesn’t have that spark behind it. It’s always scary trying out new things and hoping people like it, and going out on the road and playing different kinds of music. I don’t know if other artists feel this way, but a lot of it’s feeling like this could end at any time. You gotta keep doing your best and hope that people keep listening.”
For Elephante, this whole thing truly is driven by a love for music. Tim pointed out the impact music can have on people, the way it energizes and unites people. He just wants to contribute to that feeling of overall happiness. We all have the music that resonated with us when we were a kid…maybe you remember your first CD too? Maybe your dad showed you cassettes and vinyl? Few things impact humans quite like it. Tim’s just really happy to be a part of this.
“Everyday I still get really excited whenever I hear a song I love…I just try to make music that will make other people feel the way my favorite songs made me feel when I was a kid. I remember having a CD player (this will date me) and just playing the same two songs over and over again. Or putting on a song in my basement and playing guitar and trying to figure out the riff for hours and hours…just listening to certain songs and crying. For example, I was in an Uber the other day and the driver was playing ‘The Eminem Show’ and ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ came on, and I still knew most of the words. I haven’t listened to this album in like 10 years, but it had such an impact on me and resonates so deeply with me that I still know the words. Music is one of the reasons that makes me alive. I just want to hopefully create something that can do the same thing for other people.”