How would you describe yourself as a musician?
I am a multi-hyphenate, professional musician. I wear many different musical hats–I am a music arranger, a composer, an orchestrator, a studio and touring pianist and keyboardist, music director, string arranger, backing vocalist, string contractor, music educator, and social media specialist for musicians.
What keyboards do you play and do you have a favorite?
I have a couple Nord Keyboards and a couple Korg keyboards I use regularly. I love playing keyboards with fully-weighted keys as I consider myself to be a pianist first and keyboardist second, so the vast majority of my keyboards are fully weighted. I am currently on Nord’s official endorser artist roster and my favorite keyboard that I own is probably my Nord Electro 5HP 73, as that’s the one I’ve used (sometimes in tandem with a midi controller) for the vast majority of my hired gun tours and one-offs and so have made many great memories with that specific keyboard. I’ve used it to perform live with artists including Kings Elliot, Chon, Until the Ribbon Breaks, Circa Survive, Anthony Green, Naia Izumi, Mothé, and more. While it is not one of my go-to rigs, I also actually adore my tiny Casio toy keyboard. While it does not have weighted keys and has the tiniest range, it is a fun, extremely portable option to use “on the go” for impromptu, vertical-format videos.
Apart from the keyboard, do you play any other instruments?
I am a pianist first and foremost and that is the only instrument I can fluidly express my thoughts in real time, so I usually only ever tell people I play piano / keyboard. I sometimes dabble on flute and violin in my spare time when I want to shift musical gears—I would consider myself to be an amateur on both of those instruments; I feel more comfortable on flute than violin, just because my intonation on violin can be iffy often. I even got to play flute live for an Anthony Green show, recorded some flute on one of my Polyphia covers, and have recorded flute for an Eric Bazilian + Danny Black track (unreleased) and hope to keep practicing on it in my spare time to sharpen those flute skills. This said, if I want pro-level flute playing on something, I’ll always hire a flautist friend to record instead–I am a big fan of Kathleen Kenny’s flute skills, so she is my go-to flautist if I need one remotely.
We were first in touch in 2016 ; what have been the main milestones in your career since then?
In 2016 I was not quite sure what path I wanted my music career to take; I had just started composing by ear and spent the majority of my time teaching piano and music theory, playing weddings and holding down a solo piano residency at Balboa Bay Resort, and making instrumental piano and string cover medleys videos in my spare time. One of those videos led an artist I covered—Circa Survive—to reach out to me and take me on my first tour ever in November 2017, as a keyboardist, string arranger, and string contractor. Some other milestones include performing on The Ellen Show backing Bebe Rexha on piano for her performance of “You Can’t Stop the Girl” (2019), doing a holiday tour with Chon (music directing / playing keys / string arranging / string contracting / conducting / singing backing vocals, 2018), releasing a Splice beat pack with KSHMR (Chords of KSHMR, 2019), releasing a collaborative album with Anthony Green (“Would You Still Be With Strings”, 2019), writing and recording piano for Polyphia’s track “Playing God (Acoustic)” (2022), going on my first US/CAN stadium tour playing keyboard for Kings Elliot (opening for Macklemore and Imagine Dragons, 2022), performing for the World Expo in Dubai, UAE backing Naia Izumi (2021), and starting my own duo project with Jessica Burdeaux called GRP and playing our first show in 2022 (ongoing).
Tell me about the tour you are currently (were) on: how did it come about and how is it going (how did it go)?
I’m sorry for the delay in my answers! I’m now home and off tour, but last year was on a 6.5 week, US/CAN, stadium tour playing keyboard and running triggers for Kings Elliot, opening for Macklemore and Imagine Dragons. Her music director was looking for female keyboardists based in LA and I submitted myself (CV, performance highlight video reel, and bio) for that gig. Fast forward through a handful of rounds of emails, texts, phone and zoom interviews, and I was cramming practice material and memorizing eight Kings Elliot songs and packing for 6.5 weeks on the road. The tour was an absolute whirlwind but was an absolute dream. Our camp was small–comprised of only four people: Kings Elliot (artist), Jeremiah (playback tech), Emmy (tour manager), and myself (keyboards / triggers) and it was wonderful having a small, highly-professional team for my first stadium run. Performing for such large crowds was nothing short of exhilarating and I definitely experienced a bit of post-tour depression (that many musicians face) after returning home.
What are the best and worst things about touring (if any “worst” things exist)?
Personally, the best things about touring include getting to see and explore cities I have not previously visited (such as Dubai, Atlanta, Toronto) and getting to experience one of the most surreal feelings in life, which is the excitement and adrenaline of performing on stage for an audience–there truly is nothing like it. On my last tour, the largest crowd we had was a little over 50,000 people (Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas) and the beauty of being able to perform on a stage that large is almost indescribable; I have so much gratitude for that experience. I also got to perform at the famed Fenway Park and a handful of other massive athletic stadiums and arenas that I’ve only ever seen on TV before (Rogers Centre, T-Mobile Center, Banc of California Stadium etc.) and it’s incredibly cool to experience playing those gigantic venues and also experience what it’s like to be backstage at those large venues and getting to take a golf cart around to catering and back etc. :)
To me, the worst thing about touring is just having to be away from home and my husband and dogs for such an extended amount of time (usually over a month). I absolutely love being home and having access to all of its comforts. I miss my bed and I miss not living out of a suitcase. I miss spending a ton of time with my favorite person who understands me and helps me better deal with many of my insecurities and my chronic anxiety. Some tours I’ve had the luxury of having my own room, and the others I’ve had to share with a female musician, but generally, there is not much privacy on the road, and I also certainly miss having more privacy when I am on tour.
What is your favorite venue so far?
My favorite venue probably has to be a tie between Allegiant Stadium and Snapdragon Stadium, simply due to my memories of each of those performances. Playing Allegiant Stadium with Kings Elliot (opening for Macklemore and Imagine Dragons) was an absolutely magical experience because the audience there during our opening set was the largest crowd for which I have ever performed (50,000+). Playing Snapdragon Stadium was equally as magical because it was a an experience shared with two of my best friends (Miren Edelstein and Anna Sentina) with whom I played the national anthem for a NWSL-record-breaking, sold out crowd of 32,000 as the inaugural home game at Snapdragon for the San Diego Wave FC; also, one of my good friends from college, Alex Morgan, plays for the San Diego Wave and it was goosebump-inducing to be on the pitch with her, while performing with my anthem trio, sharing a little in that experience of admiring the crowd and fanfare, while supporting Alex and her team.
You switched from a non-music career to a music career: what advice would you give anyone thinking of doing the same?
Music is a business. If you are not ready to tackle the business aspects of a music career, you are not ready to make the leap; make sure you are mentally prepared. However, if you have appropriately planned for the fact that you will be a small business as a musician, then I say give it your all and do not get deterred by all the “No”s you will likely hear throughout your career. I had zero connections to anyone in the music industry when I started–I had no family nor friends in music and had to build my network on my own; so I believe that if I can do it, anyone who really is determined to have a music career, and is strategic about it, can also have a music career. Also, there’s no shame in having a part-time or full-time job while pursuing a music career. Having the financial stability of another job (whether music related or not) is very reassuring and does not make you any “lesser than” any other musician. I personally love meeting other musicians who have other professional interests outside of music, as a career in entertainment law is still enticing to me.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan on focusing more on building my own brand and focusing more on writing and recording my original music moving forward. I have been focused on studio and touring work for other artists for quite some time, and while I plan on continuing doing studio work (I do find that incredibly fulfilling as well), I also want to prioritize writing my own music and making a name for myself as a composer–both as a solo artist and in my band, grp. I hope to then tour my own music someday.
Do you plan to release any more albums?
Absolutely, I definitely plan on releasing more original albums as both a solo artist and with my band. I am also thinking about starting other original projects as well, that I have been ruminating on for a minute, and would hope to release albums for those projects at some point as well.
What musician from the past would you most like to meet?
If I had to choose one musician from the past to meet, it would likely be Chopin, as he probably is my favorite classical composer (with Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Debussy, and Mendelssohn coming in close behind). Frederic Chopin wrote such stunning pieces for piano that transcend time and place and I wish I could just pick his brain and learn about his composing process.
What do you do to develop your knowledge of music?
I love surrounding myself with people who I consider to be better musicians or more knowledgeable musicians than myself–this includes speaking with experienced pianists such as Victoria Theodore and Frank Martin… as well as following YouTubers such as Nahre Sol and Jordan Rudess. I also just really love learning by taking on new gigs with other musicians in genres I didn’t grow up listening to or playing (such as R&B or funk etc.). I learned so much when analyzing/transcribing and then arranging all the piano and string parts for the Chon tour; I also learned a ton while learning the music of Naia Izumi and Keiynan Lonsdale, both of whom have some R&B influences–Chon, Keiynan, and Naia are phenomenal musicians who have made me a better musicians. The way I see it, the more diverse the artists I get to work with, the more I learn. I also have to credit a lot of my knowledge base to random things I learn from my main music mentor, Dr. Mark Nelson. Dr. Nelson was my orchestra conductor in high school and has been such a generous source of knowledge, encouragement, and inspiration to me since transitioning to a music career. Anyone who gets to spend time with him will immediately understand what an honor it is to learn from him and his vast musical knowledge and experiences; I am eternally indebted to him and hope to always be an informal student of his.
Social media links
Links to Summer Swee Singh’s website, social media, and press can be found here: https://linktr.ee/summersweesingh