Playing it by Ear


When Thurgood Marshall College senior Samuel Lin heard about the Lindsey Stirling cover contest, a nationwide competition that received over 300 entries this year, the deadline to submit a video was less than 48 hours away. So he turned to his producer Jon Lee and Triton TV — UCSD’s student-run film studio — and cranked out a winning submission. Stirling, a professional violinist, announced Lin as the contest winner on YouTube on March 8.

Lin’s music video presents his rendition of a medley of two of Stirling’s original songs, “Crystallize” and “Elements.” The video doesn’t only feature Lin’s performance on five different musical instruments — it also showcases some popular UCSD landmarks. Segments of Lin playing the violin, piano, drums, keyboard and guitar were shot in the Mandeville Center’s Graffiti Hall, outside of Geisel Library and on Library Walk. Additionally, the video features rapper Sam Park and hip hop dancer Sheng Poon, both of whom are also students at UCSD.

“[Jon] ditched work for two straight days,” Lin said. “I didn’t go to class. I didn’t study. I didn’t do my homework. By the time I finished the audio recording, we had less than 24 hours to film and edit. We didn’t have a lot of time to think. We just had to go with our gut.”

Lin called the experience of producing the video in two days an “emotional roller coaster ride.”

“Not going to school, not eating right, not sleeping right — these were big challenges,” Lin said. “There were times when I felt like I wasn’t going to get this video out, and I almost broke down because of the time crunch.”

Lin uploaded the video just six minutes before the submission deadline.

“To be honest, I almost quit,” Lin said. “But we really rushed it, and thankfully, it worked out. We got it in.”

About a week after submitting the video — while taking the Arriba shuttle to campus — Lin was notified about the results. A friend had written on his Facebook wall congratulating him on winning. At first, Lin had discounted the post as a prank, until he saw Stirling’s official announcement for himself.

“I was speechless,” Lin said.

According to Lin, winning the contest has opened many doors for pursuing a musical career due to the publicity that it’s giving him. His video will be featured on Stirling’s YouTube channel, which has nearly two million subscribers. He will also perform with Stirling at one of her concerts in Hollywood this April.

“I’ve been getting a lot of emails from producers who want to work with me and do collaborations,” Lin said. “A bunch of UCSD orgs have been asking me to come out to their events and perform for them. Literally, gigs have been lining up one by one for me.”

Lin said that as a Taiwanese-American, he hopes that this increased exposure will help advocate for Taiwanese artists. But he never would’ve expected a career in music growing up.

“I started playing [music] like every other Asian kid growing up, and I hated it,” Lin said. “My dad taught me violin [when I was 7 or 8 years old]. That was the first instrument I ever learned, and it was tough learning from my father. I never had any days off, because my own personal teacher was two doors down. I hated music all throughout my childhood, and I didn’t really realize that [music] was my passion until college.”

Before then, Lin said that he learned other instruments — piano, drums and guitar — largely to get girls.

“After learning the violin, everything else just came naturally,” Lin said. “I can’t read music, [though]; I just do everything by ear.”

Since leaving his hometown of Cupertino three years ago to attend UCSD in pursuit of degree in communication, Lin has performed at various benefit shows, small concerts, talent shows and club events across campus. He’s scheduled to perform at this year’s Sun God Festival.

A little over a month ago, he created his own YouTube channel that features instrumental covers that he arranges himself and records at Lee’s home studio at La Jolla Crossroads.

“I like to make my own versions and renditions of Top 40 songs, songs on the radio, even Disney,” Lin said. “I like to listen to a lot of different genres and styles of music. I use all these styles and mix them all together into my own style.”

During the first part of his college career, Lin collaborated and made videos with vocalist Lawrence Park, who graduated from UCSD last year. But after struggling for three years to thrive musically, they decided to go their separate ways.

“Our goals are different, because Lawrence is actually turning 26 this year and is already working,” Lin said. “He said he’s passionate about music, but as a 26-year-old, he doesn’t know if it’s realistic to be pursuing music right now. I’m a student still. I’m 21. I have a lot of time to do music right now. As a 21-year-old, I really want to pursue music until I straight up fail.”

However, Lin now finds himself at a crossroads. He’s doing better in the world of business than he had anticipated.

“I actually have a full-time job [at the UBS financial services firm in San Diego] lined up for next year, and I’m even thinking about not taking position to do music,” Lin said. “This is a difficult decision for me. There are two steps I can take: I can pursue music, or I can go work at UBS.”

Though he’s uncertain about his next few moves, Lin said that winning Lindsey Stirling’s contest has made a career in music seem much more plausible and has fueled his musical aspirations.

“I would like to be able to tour one day, even be a music businessperson or a producer,” Lin said. “I would like to make background music for movies, too. Somehow, I really want to mix business and music together in the future. After Jeremy Lin became big, it really inspired me to want to do what I love, because Jeremy Lin had been struggling, and he finally made it big. And, shoot — my last name is Lin as well!”

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