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Eric Gao Interview

Updated: May 12



1. What is your name and your profession(s)?

Eric Gao (oksami) music producer + CTO of Kaiber, a video generation startup.


2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship?

I'm Chinese-American, US native. Both parents immigrated from mainland China, from Beijing and Shanghai.


3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry?

My dad is a professional cellist and taught cello and piano while I was growing up. He is somewhat involved in the music industry, but more so in China.


4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies.

Growing up in Arcadia, CA, which was predominantly Asian (~80%), was a unique experience to say the least. There was a cultural equalization among friends, who ate the same things, celebrated similar holidays, and shared the general expectations of traditional Asian academic achievement. The school was highly competitive, driven more by one's peers than their parents, especially in high school.

When I compare my story to that of other AAPIs, I realize how insulated it truly was. I grew up in such cultural homogeneity, bypassing an experience as a minority in many other parts of America. It was difficult to see past this growing up. In retrospect, I feel more appreciative of this. Most of my peers that inspired, challenged, competed with me all shared similar cultural backgrounds. There was never consideration of ethnicity as an variable in what I could or could not do.


5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)?

I feel more "American" than Chinese, though there are undeniable vestiges of being Chinese imparted onto any Chinese-American. I make an effort to speak Mandarin with my parents and extended family, but I see this more as a desire to connect with people rather than my heritage/culture. The time I spend around Chinese culture, particularly in food and gatherings, is really out of interest in the people there rather than a direct celebration of the culture.

I feel quite removed from deeper Chinese traditions, many of which I probably could not even name. The most common events, such as Chinese New Year, were really times for friends and family to get together, much like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It's hard for me to say if there are any traditions I've inherited from Chinese culture at this point.


6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)?

Growing up with music was inevitable, as my dad was a cellist and piano teacher. I learned both instruments but focused more on piano, continuing formal instruction until I was 16. At this stage, my relationship with music was less passionate—it was presented as a format for character building and discipline rather than a creative outlet. I did not develop an interest in composition until around age 16.

I did not major in music in college; instead, I pursued an Electrical Engineering/Computer Science degree at UC Berkeley.

6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now?

The spark of music production first occurred in late high school. It began with playing in bands with friends, where playing piano felt socially lauded rather than being an isolated activity to show off to my parents' friends. An interest in composition also began at that time as I diversified my musical tastes, with artists like Justice, Gorillaz, Nujabes, Muse, and Radiohead inspiring me to wonder how I might produce and create the things I enjoyed so much.

Unsurprisingly, music production is hard, even for someone with significant classical training. Classical music was so different from the other genres I liked, which boasted depth in sound design, grooves, and holistic songwriting. Most attempts at proper music production initially sputtered out in failure, as described by Ira Glass's quote about the gap between one's taste and skill in creative work. I, too, fell into this hole and pushed music back when I first entered college to focus on new interests.

However, music production came back in full force during the summer of my sophomore year. Wrapping up an internship at Facebook, I felt that my next ten years could disappear into mindless engineering work, which wasn't appealing. Incidentally, I was gifted an Ableton Launchpad and started picking up production in Ableton, which I had never used before.

This time, it clicked. A few friends urged me to move forward, and an overinflated ego about my ability to create, spurred by their praise, pushed me to continue. Looking back, I'm deeply grateful for this, as even though I was producing nonsense, it was enough to keep me going. Eventually, you develop enough self-awareness to realize how far you still have to go and hopefully have enough knowledge to figure out how to improve.

Music production consumed most of my last two years at Berkeley. I would rarely attend classes, getting by on an exorbitant amount of approximate knowledge to pass the tests, which made up the majority of the grade. The idea of pursuing music professionally became louder during this time.

My parents have always supported a music career, perhaps unsurprisingly given my dad's background. They even offered to support me if I wanted to go to music school, but I hesitated, finding it difficult to see a path to making a living. It was important to me to maximize doing things I loved, and I didn't want to work in unrelated fields to support a career in the arts, as I had also found interest in computer science.

Presently, I am not really in a professional music career anymore. The irony of chasing this as my dream career led to finding less joy in producing as a job compared to producing for myself. I currently work at the intersection of tech, music, and visuals at Kaiber.

 

7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.

My favorite projects are those I have yet to release, as I always find my more recent work to be the most exciting and interesting, reflecting my continued growth as a producer, musician, and songwriter. These would all be under the moniker "oksami" for the time being.


8. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry or in general?

While I can't deny that there have probably been many subtle ways my journey has been influenced by being an AAPI, I have a hard time pointing to specific examples, interactions, or crossroads where this made a difference for me, either positively or negatively.


9. 9a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why?

I will always give my flowers to Robotaki, whom I first met in 2020 and who greatly inspired a significant amount of upleveling in my own production and quality of work. I feel only qualified to speak about the high-achieving AAPI bubble in which I grew up.

9b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general?

My hope for this community is that we can continue to explore deeper levels of creative work that might not align with the academic traditionalism of our parents and peers.

 

10. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.

Generative Video Research & Animation


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Support Eric Gao a.k.a. oksami online :)

Instagram: @itsoksami

Spotify: oksami


Image courtesy of Eric Gao



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