As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic. Even as society reopens, virtual concerts and social-media outreach programs are a phenomenon that have kept performers in the public sphere, since concerts, festivals, and other large gatherings remain largely restricted.
Acoustic and electric cellist, composer, and entrepreneur Tina Guo enjoys a varied career, spanning genre, medium, and performance experience. Classically trained, Guo has performed throughout the world on her acoustic cello but is perhaps better known for her work in movie and video-game soundtrack recording and dramatic performances on her electric cello in arena-tour productions of Hans Zimmer Live and Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson “The Immortal” world tour. Guo is also an entrepreneur who has forged partnerships with brands like Bentley Motors and the Ritz-Carlton, and offers financial- and career-planning consultations to fellow musicians.
Where are you quarantined?
In lovely Las Vegas, Nevada! Here I am in my pizza pajamas, with my babies Pizza and Bagel, in my home studio!
Tell us about your daily routine while quarantined?
My routine is actually exactly the same as before, as I was already working 100% remotely, when not performing live from my home studio. I wake up and, if I’m good, exercise first thing in my home gym, then calendar block out my day while drinking a lot of coffee! Then, it’s a combination of online meetings, recording sessions for soundtrack projects, working on my own albums, practicing, and working with my consultation clients. I also just completed a negotiation course through Harvard Business School Online, which was a lot of fun and a great learning experience!
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
For me, as I already worked in this way, I’ve actually loved the experience. I had a lot of travel and live performances scheduled for this year and to be completely honest, when everything was postponed, I felt relief, as last year I was gone for eight months. It has been an amazing opportunity to stay home, connect with my husband and puppies, finish three album projects, and get a lot of work done.
What are you thoughts about how the pandemic has changed the string world, now and in the future?
Personally, I think we only fast-tracked what was already happening—a shift to the digital world with tech advancements that make it possible to live anywhere in the world, while we work and grow. Most of my clients were hiring me remotely already, but I think for those who did not work remotely prior, this new way of operating has now become accepted and embraced.
How are you staying connected with your audience and/or students during the quarantine?
Although I was always live streaming prior to coronavirus, I started a new series called #MetalMonday, where I play a piece every Monday on YouTube—but it really has been the same. I always posted multiple times a day on all my social-media channels, since I love to share daily updates on my music and my life, so that hasn’t really changed. For work, I’ve been very lucky to continue recording—actually with an increase on that side, as not all session musicians have a home-recording setup. I’ve done a few giveaways, trying to help fellow musicians get their own studios put together, with microphones and other gear, and really hope that this time has encouraged musicians to learn to engineer, produce, and learn self sufficiency.
How have you selected your internet programming?
I usually just choose whatever I’d like to force myself to practice or work on for each live-stream. But as far as daily posts, I just post whatever comes to mind. I think that being real and doing whatever is natural and authentic always has the best results and responses.
What is the response like?
Great! My numbers have grown steadily, and I also started doing branded partnership posts on my Instagram, which is a new development. Companies will send me free products and pay me to post about them—more influencer-type marketing, which I never did before outside of anything directly music related.
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
Social media is the real world, and especially now when everyone is online—it is the place to grow, connect, discover new things, and stay in touch with old and new contacts. My entire career has been built online, starting with my first music videos on YouTube kicking off many opportunities for me over a decade ago. The reach potential online far outweighs anything in person—one video can reach a billion people, as opposed to live concerts where the biggest outdoor festivals are still limited to about 100K. It really is amazing, and best of all, accessible and free to everyone!
What have you learned about your audience?
They are wonderful people who appreciate feeling connected and knowing the artists and people they follow as real human beings.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
Great! I love it, and love the real-time feedback. In a real concert, people aren’t usually yelling out commentary as you play, so it’s a lot of fun for me to see real-time comments and feedback, and to be able to talk with them directly after the performance. I’ve also done Q&A sessions just chatting, and it really is nice to be in touch.
Is this something you will continue even as venues reopen?
Yes, same as before. The fans online are the same ones who will come to the live concerts.
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
Content and consistency are key. If your social-media pages are not filled with your music, your passion, and your product, it’s hard to expect people to become interested in you. It doesn’t always have to be 100% music related. Also, don’t be afraid to share things about yourself. Long-lasting, devoted fans have built an emotional relationship with you. An emotional relationship can only be built by sharing your true self. Music is the baring of our souls, so it’s truly no different than a musical post—the end result is the same, to connect with others.
What are your goals going forward as performance venues reopen?
I’d love to keep growing and making music and I’m excited to get back on the road in, I’m guessing, at least a year or so. But I’m very happy to have the time at home to work on my own musical projects and soundtrack and recording projects.
How will you continue going forward as a player? Will the quarantine or limitations of the virus change your path?
No, [the time in quarantine] has actually been very helpful to my career and growth. My solo album was started two years ago, and I only finished it in the past three months, along with two other brand-new albums, due to all the time at home. I was traveling and performing too much in previous years to really be able to focus on recording. I think the best thing to do is always look for opportunity, and focus on what you can control, not on the things outside of your control. I love the advancements in connectivity and technology, and am looking forward to seeing how things evolve from here!
What projects are you working on?
I’ve completed recording for four feature films and two Netflix films, three album projects for other artists and bands, and am about to release three new albums, all done during quarantine: a winter album (Sony, 2020), an album of extreme-music for licensing as a composer (2020), and a solo album (Sony, 2021). I can’t say what the movies are right now before they are released, but on two of them, I replaced the entire cello and viola orchestra sections with multi-tracked overdubs.
I am shooting a new music video in Los Angeles next week for a song from the holiday album releasing this winter, plus a live-stream concert and two days in the studio finalizing my solo album. I’m also doing a live-stream concert to benefit OKM Music, a festival where I was supposed to perform this summer, but which was shifted to 2021. The concert will stream from an awesome warehouse in Las Vegas, where we’ll set up a stage and a multi-camera shoot for the most complex live-stream concert yet, as everything else I’ve done so far has been from my living room, with my phone!
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
The way we think shapes our reality.