Northeastern artist wins GRAMMY U


Artistic life is often marked by caveats and interruptions, with an uncertain mix of luck and circumstance that often, in the end, reads like fate.

So far, Kai Tsao’s musical journey has been much the same, and the Northeast fourth-year student is off to an award-winning start. Arriving at Northeastern in 2018 as a business major, the singer-songwriter flipped the script and dove headfirst into music, honing his skills and eventually learning how to digitally produce his own songs.

“I was basically hopping around studios on campus, just recording and mixing,” says Tsao, head of recording for Northeastern’s. Green line recordings. “I was doing that for eight to 12 hours a day sometimes.”

What followed, over several COVID-disrupted years, was a series of album projects, each following a specific emotional theme (“Love, fear, guilt and desire,” he says). One of his songs, “MUCH2HIGH”, was selected for a GRAMMY U award—university-level recognition given to college-level students pursuing a career in music by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Tsao, who now majors in music, says the award came “very unexpectedly”. He remembers representatives from GRAMMY U coming to Northeastern’s campus in Boston during his freshman year, but he never followed up with them. Because all of their events took place in New York, Tsao says, he focused his attention more on his music and less on professional networking.

So when it came time to submit work to the GRAMMY U program, it only took Tsao a few minutes to download and attach “MUCH2HIGH” to the email and submit. Two months later, he learned that his song had been selected as a winning music video and was headed for the Grammy Awards.

Northeastern student Kai Tsao received a GRAMMY U for his music. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

For someone who avoids attention and “undersells” himself, Tsao says the price was deeply rewarding.

“It was a larger than life moment for me,” Tsao says. “It was one of the first times I felt like my art was being recognized professionally.”

The GRAMMY U event took place in the run up to the awards ceremony on April 1 and included a master class by filmmaker and music video director Hannah Lux Daviswho has worked with megastars like Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Katy Perry, among others.

“It was really interesting and it was cool to meet the other winners,” Tsao said.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tsao was trained in piano and music theory from an early age. In the late 1990s, his parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, where he discovered Taiwanese “soft rock pop”, a genre that would have a lasting influence on him and which he describes as his own “intuition”. artistic.

But the pressure to succeed—a burden many Asian Americans face due to generational expectations – coupled with feelings of alienation, he gave up the piano around the age of 16 while in high school, only to return to it as a way to channel those same anxieties into expression creative.

Today, having trained in audio engineering, Tsao is a sound artist who also understands the world of digital sound better than many of his peers. This dual expertise, he says, has shaped his art, as well as his approach to sound.

As a result, Tsao says he tries to create “madly digital” songs.

I want it to sound like you had no idea how I did it,” he says, adding that his songs are often “extremely layered, complex, convoluted.”

“But I want to retain that very organic soul of the actual instrumentation,” Tsao says. “Even though I am an electronic and digital producer, the fundamental elements of the songs I write are always the piano, the guitar.”

Tsao hopes to continue making music and helping other artists through her studio work after she graduates.

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