Singer and songwriter Tyson Yoshi took an unconventional path to success, and he’s determined to help others do the same. He talks to #legend about his inspirations, motivations and making music on his own terms
Tyson Yoshi may very well represent the future of Hong Kong’s music industry – especially if he has anything to say about it. Forgoing the chance to sign with a producer, the proudly independent artist burst on the scene with his 2019 hit Christy after it was discovered and shared by Taiwanese singer Ocean Ou.
The 27-year-old, who was born in Hong Kong and attended boarding school in the UK, is now one of the best-known hip-hop and R&B artists in Hong Kong as well as Taiwan. Besides writing, composing and performing, Yoshi is hoping to show established and emerging artists that they don’t have to follow the traditional path or use traditional methods to find success – and that the music industry would be all the better for it.
In the last few years, you’ve developed a strong fan base in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. How did you first enter the Taiwanese market?
I was first discovered because of YouTube and the Internet. After starting to work alone, I wrote my song called Christy. At that time, I was part of a Facebook group with people from Taiwan who would post their musical creations. After writing Christy, I posted it on that group and one day Ocean Ou shared it. From then onwards, people started discovering my music and within a short period of time, Christy had over 1 million views. At the same time, my follower count increased by over 10,000, most of whom were from Taiwan. This is how I initially started off my musical career in Taiwan.
Are there any differences between performing in Hong Kong and Taiwan? Do you have a preference?
My Taiwanese fans are a lot calmer during my performances. Since I’m not from Taiwan, during my concerts, I have to encourage interaction with them since they tend to appreciate the music only. On the other hand, the fans here in Hong Kong treat me like a friend, which is more enjoyable for me personally since the atmosphere is a lot more relaxed. However, performing in Taiwan is a really good training ground for my career.
What about the size of the audiences in Hong Kong and Taiwan?
If not for the pandemic, the audience size would not have varied much. However, not counting the performances I did at various schools, the audience size could have been around 1,000 in a club venue since the clubs in Taiwan are very big.
Do you prefer performing in clubs or schools?
Personally, I prefer performing in schools since I’m able to captivate new fans who haven’t heard of me before. So far, I’ve performed at three schools and just when I had decided to increase the number of school performances, I had to return to Hong Kong due to the onset of the pandemic.
You were mainly focused on composing songs in Mandarin during the start of your musical career. Why was that?
I find it really difficult to write in Cantonese. While Canto-rap is really good, when it comes to R&B music, it’s not particularly popular. If you change the tone of a Cantonese word to match the beat, it usually sounds very odd. I wanted to find a middle ground. Since there are only four notes in Mandarin, any note or pronunciation used is fine. So, I decided to start composing in Mandarin and English.
Why did you decide to write R&B music instead of pop?
When I was in England for boarding school, I had a friend who kept finding type beats and practicing freestyle raps, and he asked me, “Why don’t you try it out too?” When I did, my freestyling was more melodic than his. That’s when I decided that my style was more suited towards R&B. Besides, the R&B barriers were easier to enter; I can just search for type beats on the Internet.
The R&B and hip-hop song structure is really easy: first one hook, first two hooks and you’re done. There’s no pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, verse one or two. In hip-hop, verse one and verse two don’t have to be the same but in pop songs, the verses have to be similar with different lyrics. With R&B, I would just go on YouTube and try different types of beats. If it works, I would buy the beat.
In your opinion, is there a difference in composing pop lyrics compared to hip-hop and R&B?
Not really. When it comes to composing music, one should focus on writing what they want to say. People may think that my music is not considered hip-hop since my songs are not about guns, drugs, girls or flexing. I tried to do that but I literally couldn’t produce anything worthy. [laughs] The reason why I couldn’t bring myself to write such songs is because I’m not that kind of person. My approach to songwriting is that it must be related to me – it has to be the truth, my truth.
Akon has been one of your biggest inspirations to enter the hip-hop and R&B scene. What exactly was it that inspired you?
The fact that when you listen to his songs on repeat, you will never get bored of them. This really motivated me to write songs like his, where my listeners would never get bored of the same song no matter how many times they would listen to it. Although the melody has to be simple and memorable, they’re a lot more challenging to write compared to more complicated melodies.
Apart from R&B and hip-hop, have you ever ventured into other music genres?
Yes, my song In My Dream is pop-punk. I was inspired by Machine Gun Kelly’s comeback – you would expect his songs to be more rap but instead, they explored pop-punk. It took me by surprise but, at the same time, inspired me to compose a similar song in the genre.
When you were in the UK, you were exposed to many more kinds of music. Do you think that the Hong Kong music market is a lot narrower than expected?
Yes. A lot of Hong Kong music is dictated by the people who are aware of the formula to writing successful music and don’t want to stray from it so that they can mint money at a faster pace. If these artists release a hit song, they would just write and release that single’s version 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, each sounding so similar. As a result, the whole music industry will soon be flooded with such commercialised songs, restricting the audience’s exposure to these songs, ultimately limiting their music taste.
It’s a vicious cycle – before the Internet, people could only rely on the TV or radio to discover songs, which was quite a passive habit. Even after the Internet has started allowing people to publish music on their own platforms, DJs still only play the songs that the majority likes. This has caused the market to become very monotonous.
There’s a saying that music reflects culture. What kind of culture do you think is reflected in Hong Kong’s music?
In my opinion, Hong Kong’s music reflects how our society values business and money dearly. While an artist may be popular in Hong Kong, the song itself does not have to be good. Adding to that, when it’s on the Internet, you’re competing against musicians across the whole world, not just local artists. From the perspective of a music composer, your song can be competitive on a global scale but nobody may be willing to help simply because you’re not popular.
What do you plan to contribute to this market?
I just want to keep doing what I do. Even if someone told me to write a song about fish balls because that’s what society would want, it’s just not what I want to do. I always remind myself that I want to continue writing music without letting other factors get in the way. Even though my other songs may not be as popular as Christy, I’ll still continue with the mindset I have regarding composing music and I really think that other musicians should aim to be like that as well.
Is there anything else music-related that you’d like to try?
I want to produce music or collaborate with other artists. I feel like, currently, I’m very simple because I just follow the music trend. Why is it that Hong Kong artists are still sticking with the traditional way of producing music? Since I’ve made a lot more connections, I want to try and convince bigger artists to let me and my team use new ways of [creating] music to increase their influential ability.
Is there anything specific you would change when it comes to Hong Kong’s music industry?
I want to influence the people who want to get into music and let them know that they don’t have to go the traditional route of becoming an artist, that they don’t need to sign themselves with a music producer who will control their growth. You can grow on your own, save money to buy equipment. By these means, you can go a long way and achieve the same level as other traditional and popular artists.
You can just do just about everything from your own room. I have never been in a proper recording studio. Even while working with the Taiwanese team, I simply recorded in my room, sent it across and let them handle the rest. The advancement in technology has eradicated the need to stick to the traditional way. In my opinion, it’s all about the amount of time you spend on your work, not the amount of money you put in. I’m not implying that the traditional methods to reach success are unfavourable, but if you genuinely like what you’re doing, there’s always a different, more unique way to approach it.
Who is your #legend?
Avril Lavigne. When I was young, I used to hate learning English! The only time I was able to properly learn English was during my time at boarding school in England when I was forced to learn it. Despite my lacking language skills, I used to listen to English songs and thought that they were good without feeling the need to understand them. I started listening to Avril Lavigne religiously when her CD Girlfriend was released – she was the first English-speaking, pop-punk artist who exposed me to an entirely new genre of music that I would credit for who I am as an artist now.
Creative concept and production / #legend
Photographer / John Gregory
Photo assistant / Tyler Yeung
Set designer / Jan Li
Videographer / Louis Lo
Fashion Stylist / Daniel Cheung
Makeup stylist / Tong Ming
Hair stylist / Jim Tse
Text / Kamakshi Gupta, Alex Loong and Monique So