Make it your own. I wish I knew earlier in my music career that I had the freedom to change things up and redefine them on my own terms. In the example of learning Classical piano, I followed every rule set by the industry, judges, and teachers. Eventually, I got bored and tired of it. I wish I was brave enough to decide how I wanted to play piano and what type of music I wanted to play.
As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ting Lin.
Ting Lin is a multilingual, multitalented artist with international music influences. With lyrics that are inspired by the complexities of life, to melodies that pull on your heartstrings, and sounds that blur the lines of genre; singer, songwriter, pianist, and performer, Ting Lin, create music that encourages reflection and inspires action.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
It’s a long story! I was born by the ocean and palm trees in the tropical city of Zhanjiang, Canton Province, Southern China in 1990. I was an only child. Around four years old, my parents decided to fully immerse me in the performing arts. I was on my Kindergarten’s dance team while learning Classical piano and Ballet after class. I was always practicing, rehearsing, and performing. Aside from that, I loved singing. I took over the microphone at every family karaoke session, singing words that I didn’t even know the meaning to. All of that continued after we moved to a bigger and more urban city, Guangzhou. I spent the first half of my elementary schooling in a private boarding school in the suburbs. I spent weekdays in the school, living in dormitories with other children, managing my class schedules, and learning to be independent. That was a very interesting experience and definitely helped shape who I am today. For the second half, I was in a public school located in the center of the city. It was then that I took a special interest in English, studied it really hard during and after school. It’s as if I knew I might find it useful one day! I continued to participate in extracurricular activities, like singing in a choir, competing in a literature recitation competition, and even tried out for a talent scout program! Soon after I graduated elementary school, I had the opportunity to immigrate to America because of my mother. In 2003, I flew across the Pacific Ocean by myself, arriving in San Francisco in my all-jean ensemble and two suitcases that were bigger than me. I was excited, hopeful, and overwhelmed by the fresh air and beautiful sight of this new land. It’s amazing though how fast I got used to it all. I started middle school in an ESL(English Second Language) class, then swiftly moved onto Regular and then Honors class. I also loved exploring the unique city where the best Chinatown was located, bringing certain comfort and familiarity. Then we decided to move to Santa Monica, Los Angeles because of my stepfather. We fell in love with the city instantly due to its similarity to our hometown. I went to an amazingly diverse high school blocks away from the beach. I continued with the extracurricular activities, such as. taking vocal lessons and partaking in Associated Student Body leadership tasks. After high school, I decided to major in Fashion Design in college for all four years. Eager to explore the fashion industry, I decided to move across the coasts to New York right after graduation. While there, I got to learn different aspects of the Fashion world and also picked Music back up. After a few years of hustle and bustle, I decided to move to the capital of the country, Washington D.C. for a change of pace and be the center of where everything happens.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Music was my first love. Throughout the years, even if it was in the background, it was always there. Being a musician feels like a calling that I can’t ignore. Whether I am playing piano, or singing, or dancing, music is the connecting force of everything that I do and who I am. I have wanted to become a superstar since I was a child. I loved the attention, applause, compliments, admiration that I have gotten through the audience. I looked up to celebrities and entertainers because I wanted to be one of them. But as I matured and circumstances changed, I realized that dream was flawed. Fame and limelight aside, I care about expression and creation. I care about people, cultures, and social issues around us. I care about contributing to the industry and the world positively. So that’s why I have chosen to be an independent musician. One that writes music from her heart. One that sings about experiences that others can relate to. And one that performs to help others heal and inspire them to take action. I want to be the right kind of superstar!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?
I think the most interesting and important story about my music career was when I decided to “quit” piano. When I started high school in LA, I was still the kid that came home immediately after school and practiced piano for a couple of hours every day. And at this point, that instrument has been a part of my life for a decade. I started to get bored and tired of it. I felt left out when I couldn’t join my friends to hang out after school nor on the weekends. And I felt like I was missing out on the “American” way of life. So one day, I told my mother and stepfather that I didn’t want to play piano anymore. My mother was furious of course. She has invested a decade of time, effort, money, and hope into this instrument for me and I was just going to throw it all away. My stepfather, being that he is American, sided with my decision. This event caused a lot of drama between my mother and I even to this day. Aside from her hopes and dreams for me being crushed, I think she fears most that I will become someone who just “gives up” easily and is unable to commit fully to achieving success. I totally see her point of view now and wished I could have handled this better before. But I was at a teenage crossroad between Chinese vs. American culture, Old vs. New, Obedience vs. Rebellion, and I picked a side. I am proud that I was able to listen to my own guts and speak up for myself even at such a young age. I don’t think a decade of effort was wasted because the piano has helped me build a strong music foundation and I still remember how to play. And I do see the value of committing to something to achieve true success. But that something has to feel right to me, not because someone told me so or that society approves of it.
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
The path to success is not always straightforward. You might start out on a path, then take a break from the path, then come back, or start on a totally different one, and it’s totally ok as long as you are following your heart. There is no perfectly smooth path to success. And your path is totally unique to you. Your experiences, struggles, triumphs, lessons are totally different from others and you should be proud of all of them. Celebrate the small steps because they combined will lead to the big milestone. Every task that is done well, every recognition, every win is a move forward. Just be patient and keep working hard at what you believe in and you will get there! For all the independent creatives, please don’t forget that you are also brands and business owners. While you are honing your crafts, you also have to develop business acumen and professional skills if you want to succeed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
I really like the quote: “Life without passion is a life not worth living.” Not sure who said it, but whoever did must have lived a great life! To me, passion means excitement, purpose, gratitude, energy, and warmth. I mean what is a life without those elements? That passion can be for your career, interest, romantic partner, friends, family, objects, nature, or life itself. As long as you have it, then you are living. And I’m glad I have it! Passion makes me feel like a human with a purpose rather than a robot that goes through daily motion. Passion keeps my creative juices flowing even when I am tired and bored. Passion keeps me up at night thinking about big ideas. Passion makes me want to give love to the world and make a difference.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mother of course! She is an independent and forward thinker, dream chaser, hard worker, and ambitious entrepreneur. Sometimes I feel like a mini version of her. She has been an amazing role model for how I live my life. The fact that she came to the land of her dreams and started a new life encouraged me to move from city to city and coast to coast to find a better life. The fact that she brought me to America and changed my fate reminded me to always be of service to others and make a difference in the world. The fact that she has created her own businesses and careers inspired me to do the same. She has been my guide through the ups and downs. She celebrated my wins and supported me through the challenges. She was always ready to provide advice, information, and help whenever I needed it. She might not have agreed with every decision I made, but she stood by me regardless. Like the time when I “quit” piano, or the time when I decided to choose “Fashion Design” as my college major, or the time that I moved to New York without a plan. She has always emphasized that I learn from my mistakes and use those lessons to better myself.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
There are a couple of things I am accomplishing through my music. I am highlighting social causes that require attention and need action. I wrote a song about climate change which is a pretty familiar topic by now. I talked about how humans have been taking advantage of mother nature and “she” is now fighting back, urging all of us to start protecting the planet. I wrote another about mental health, specifically the importance of self-love. I want everyone to accept and be proud of who they are regardless of what society tells them. I also wrote about my immigration journey during the #StopAAPIHate movement, hoping to connect with my community and those who have left their homelands. I wanted to acknowledge what they have done for themselves and their loved ones, encourage them to keep going and reaffirm that they belong here just as much as everyone else. I will continue to write music about things that matter. I am promoting cultural representation. I write in different languages and styles to share the beauty of those cultures with the audience. I want to represent my community in the music industry and make sure that their voices are heard. I also want to encourage others from my community to pursue music and other types of creative arts as their careers. I am challenging the music industry in my own way. As this industry is interconnected with so many other industries, it has the power to lead change. I am breaking the genre boundaries by writing music in all different categories and sometimes fusing them together. I hope that I can inspire other musicians to do the same so that the industry is made up of a variety of sounds, not just a cookie-cutter one. I am steering away from writing only about topics that sell, like “love” or “romance”, to write about different aspects of life that should be addressed, like “how technology has taken over our lives” or “being grateful for everything that we have”. I want to help change the impossible standards that are set for musicians in terms of appearance, skills, and commitment by presenting myself in a different light. I create my own style, sound, and path in music. I am honest, authentic, and imperfectly me. I hope other musicians can do the same and just let their music speak for itself. I truly believe music and activism work hand in hand.
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
I have always been a loud and opinionated kid, even when I was in China. I would walk up to an adult who is twice my height and ten times my age to tell him to put out his cigarette in my house because I didn’t like it. I was not afraid to speak my mind and stand my ground. Because my parents and family accepted and even sometimes were proud of who I was, I have just always been that way. After I immigrated to America, that part of me has amplified. I have learned, heard, and seen more about the world. And as I have grown up, my own experiences, struggles, lessons, as well as from those around me have helped shape who I am. I feel like I can’t help but be an activist. I have to speak up for those who are voiceless. I have to take a stand for those who are helpless. I might not be the kind that marches on the streets and protests outright, but I best believe I am channeling all that through my music and other creative outlets. I am writing it, singing it, and expressing it in my own way. I truly believe in the power of the individual and that everyone has a responsibility to better this world.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I don’t recall it being a single moment. I think it’s been a journey of learning about myself, others, and the world that has led me to pursue activism through art. I want my art to make an impact and leave a legacy. I want it to make people pause, reflect, think, and do. I want it to make everyone feel positive, belonged, and loved. I want it to reveal society for what it is.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Many have reached out to me about how certain songs that I wrote have affected them. Some have made them feel better about their day, or stirred up a lot of emotions and memories, or got them dancing, or inspired them to make some changes in their lives. Whatever the case, my heart is warm knowing that my music has made a difference for someone. I think as a musician and artist, I have to keep doing what I do because I can be helping someone who I don’t know or even hear from.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Individuals can contribute to my artistic activism effort by supporting me as an artist, spreading the messages from my music, and taking action to better the communities around them. Society can support my effort by turning my messages into movements and encouraging communities to step up. The government can support my effort by implementing laws, programs, and initiatives that address the issues that are brought up in my music.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Make it your own. I wish I knew earlier in my music career that I had the freedom to change things up and redefine them on my own terms. In the example of learning Classical piano, I followed every rule set by the industry, judges, and teachers. Eventually, I got bored and tired of it. I wish I was brave enough to decide how I wanted to play piano and what type of music I wanted to play.
2. Stop worrying. I have always worried about things. I worry if my song will sound good, or a music video will be how I envisioned it, or if the performance will be smooth. I have learned that no matter how much I worry, it will be what it will be. As long as I have done my best, there is nothing that worrying can add to.
3. Be present. I have always been someone that looked forward to the future. I was always thinking about the next single, video, show, or collaboration. I sometimes forgot to enjoy the process of creating and promoting the current ones. There is nothing wrong with chasing after goals and elevating your career, but just remember to seize and treasure every moment of the journey.\
4. Community over competition. I started my career in piano competitions. I remember feeling miserable at those events because of the pressure and expectations to win. As I grew older, I realized that winning a competition doesn’t always mean you are the best, it just means someone thinks you are good. And there are a lot of people who are good at the same thing. We don’t have to prove we are the best in order to pursue our music. We can actually help each other in our respective journeys. We can collaborate and elevate the music that we are making. We can make room for one another because there is enough room for all of us. No one can succeed on their own without a community of support.
5. Define your own success. I thought fame, money, and power were the definitions of success. And if you didn’t have any of these, then you weren’t successful. That’s why I admired all the superstars and wanted to become one of them. Then I realized they were not all happy and things were not as they seemed. Throughout the years, I have evolved in how I view success. I think it is something that is personal and subjective. I think it doesn’t have to be related to your career. I think it can be very simple.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It will be a creative movement where we bring out the creatives from everyone! I believe the need to express, connect, and innovate is in every human. Some of us just have more practice than others. Being creative means that you are open to new ideas from others, or want to find a different solution to a problem, or challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. It’s a way of life from how you work to how you maintain relationships. I think a lot of problems in the world can be solved by a little creative thinking. And that we will all get along better!
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Shakira! I have admired her as an entertainer and person since I came to America. She is multitalented, authentic, positive, and personable. She has an international appeal as well as an influence with her community. She cares about the world and does her part to better it. Her music always makes me want to sing and dance along. She is everything that I aim to be as an entertainer! I almost met her backstage at the Capital One Arena venue in DC during her last concert tour. But I believe a proper lunch will happen in the near future!
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!