Kollaboration D.C.’s Brian Bui, singer-songwriter
I’m a singer-songwriter, 21 years-old, half-Vietnamese and half-Chinese, I go to George Mason University in D.C. I’m studying marketing and hopefully I can work in the music industry somehow through marketing. If I’m not an artist, then I would want to be behind the scenes.
How’d you hear about Kollaboration?
I followed it for a few years, my sister told me about it, and I knew this girl named Alice Park who auditioned and got pretty far, and so I just heard it through friends. This (year) just so happened to come up and one of my friends told me, “The deadline is in like three days, you need to apply!” So I just went for it.
What does it mean that you’ve gotten this far?
It means a lot because I’m mainly doing this for the experience. I actually never thought of myself winning… I mean, I want to win. But the main point of it for me is the experience, meeting new people, and getting to know a lot more other Asian American artists who are in this industry and want to pursue this as their passion. Hopefully through this I could maybe work with people who do music production, or collab with them. But winning, ultimately, would be great.
How did you get into music?
I always had an affinity towards music from a young age, and then I started doing chorus in elementary school and all up until the end of high school. It didn’t really hit me until seventh grade (and) I started getting recognized for singing. As a middle schooler, a high school teachers asked me to be in the high school musical Les Miserables. I played Garvoche, and then from that I gained more confidence in singing. Then, at the end of eighth grade, I was following Melissa Polinar on YouTube and I really got inspired by her, so I started to pick it up and see where it took me.
What’s the best way to describe your style?
This isn’t really a genre, singer-songwriter. I’m kind of Ed Sheeran-esque, it’s more of like pop with jazz influenced vocals. I do both (original songs and covers), and at STAR I’ll probably do one original and one cover. I’m still working on what I should do, I’m not sure if I should repeat what I’ve already done for Kollaboration or steer away from that.
How do you incorporate your influences in your sound?
I follow a lot of their guitars styles, you can see a lot of Ed Sheeran, Tori Kelly, Melissa Polinar, they are only just a guitar and a voice. I look to that for influence. As for melodies, I usually go for a really easy flow— when I just play something and whatever comes to mind, I’ll sing it. I don’t think of a concept before I do it, that’s just the general feeling that I have, it’s like a real-time kind of feeling.
Why do you think representation in the arts is important?
I think it’s important because it showcases a lot of the diversity in our nation, and the world especially. In the U.S. Asian American minorities are the fastest rising group, so it makes sense for them to get showcased. It’s getting more prevalent in TV, but it’s not really hitting he music scene as much.
How do you feel since there aren’t a lot of Asian singers in the mainstream?
There’s not many Asian singers at all, it makes me kind of sad. The entertainment business mainly focuses on white, and black and Latinos, and don’t really focus on the Asian population because it’s not “popular.” You don’t see us as often in media, so we’re not going to be shown, they’re not going to put effort into promoting these new artists. I think it’s just sad, so hopefully through non-profits like Kollaboration there’s more of an opportunity to show what we can do.
Do you think it would be easier for Asian Americans who are getting started to do it independently or through the traditional route?
I think now, even though it’s been progressive through the entertainment business, I think it would be better to be independent. Also going through an agent and the industry, they want you to write about certain things. You’re not a creative as you can be. Like I said before, the music industry looks for a specific look or voice, and Asian Americans aren’t really sought after. I think doing your independent thing, growing a following, is a lot better.
Do you have advice for people who want to get started but are too scared?
Even if you don’t think you’re going to make it, determination is probably the number one thing that you have to think about. There have been doubts in my music career, and I thought as an Asian American, I wouldn’t be able to to showcase my talent. Because you don’t see people who are in the media who are like that. But you grow a following by yourself and just keep doing what you’re doing. You just have to do what you love and hopefully people will recognize your talent.