Michael Nguyen is currently in his second year of Bachelor of Music specialising in popular vocal performance at Victoria University. Victoria University is one of Australia’s leading universities for popular music performance. Michael previously did an apprenticeship to become a chef before this major career change to study music. Michael studied singing with Lina for a few months in 2012 in preparation for his 2013 Bachelor of Music audition. When Michael first started singing lessons with Lina, he was already a talented performer and singer, however he lacked solid technical and theoretical foundations. With the limited time we had to prepare for Michael’s audition, Lina trained Michael up on his breathing technique, various vocal exercises and theory. He was a quick learner and was successfully admitted into Bachelor of Music at Victoria University in 2013.
Michael Nguyen’s Interview
Can you tell us a bit about yourself ?
I am a songwriter, musical performer and producer. In the Bachelor of Music at Victoria University, I focused mainly on practical performance skills and jazz based music theory. I have a soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/miku22 where I post originals and electronic music. I have been in two bands – one where I played keys for in highschool called Cheating on Reality, where we participated in Battle of The Bands by Freeza. The second was one this year 2014 called June Flights where we wrote original tunes and I was the backing vocalist and keyboard/synth player.
I was interested in pursuing music as a career because it involved using technical skills as well as having strong connections to utilising creativity, having others watch and listen to the music that I present, because of the potential career paths that branch out, it provides the opportunity to freelance and because I can affect others in a positive way through comminicating musically.
What is your musical style ?
My style is quite broad. I learnt pop tunes in secondary school by ear and through chord charts. Growing older I began to listen to more alternative genres such as progressive rock, jazz, folk, IDM electronic, DNB, metal, soul, rnb. I enjoy singing acoustic style music, I am very much the singer songwriter style of music but I also produce minimalistic electronic tunes too.
How many years did you study music privately before auditioning for bachelor of music? Can you share with us how you prepared for the b.music auditions?
I’ve informally played music since 8th grade in Highschool and casually took private lessons for piano for a short period of 2 months. There was a music subject in highschool which I did and I had studied two years of the VCE music course. After highschool I focused more on singing lessons with various teachers to gain a wide spectrum of knowledge on training. For music auditions, I would record my singing and listen to it over and then try to take notes, I would also perform in front of friends, family, teachers and mentors.
What are the singing exams like at university level? Can you share with us the structure of the exam ?
The exams in 2nd year require ensemble and solo recitals. These are performed in front of the assessors, friends, family’s and guests. Ensemble performances go for around 20 minutes and generally four songs are performed. Solo performance are the same and the students have to choose contrasting pieces that go for 20 minutes in total. Students recieve their exam performance roster in advance.
Who was your singing teacher at Victoria University and and can you tell us a bit about the background of your teacher and how often did you have lessons with him/her?
During studies at Vic Uni I did not have a teacher as part of the course because private lessons were not offerred. Lessons outside of uni curriculum were offered if students paid extra for external lessons outside the curriculum. In my private lessons I learnt breathing and vocal warmups, vocal expression and general techniques to improve my singing.
What subjects did you study during the course ? Which subject was your favourite? What was the most useful thing you learnt (musical knowledge) in your first semester that you would like to share with other aspiring B. music future students.
Some of the subjects I studied were Music Theory, Practical Music, Songwriting, Electronic Production, History of Creative Arts, Arts Grants Applications. In my first semester I enjoyed having a guest speaker come in and give us a lesson on drums in our Practical Music class. there were showcases of different brushes used, there was an explanation of timpani drums, the timing of reggae music which focuses on the offbeat and accenting the 3 count, the different hits on the snare such as the rimshot. Another subject I enjoyed the most was the music production subject which involved highly practical use of music software and coverage of different techniques and styles involved.
What has been your biggest challenge (in surviving the music course and in making it in the music industry ) yet? How did you overcome this?
A difficult challenge at uni for me was being expected to work with a band or an accompanist for my solo recitals. As a musician I always preferred to perform individually with my vocals and the keyboard and that being a part of my comfort zone was something that I had to overcome. Another challenge was to adapt my musical style to suit the requirements of the course. One other challenge that affected me quite strongly was that I had to catch up a lot in music theory classes due to not having much previous theory experience.
What were your contact hours like at uni and how much practise was expected of you? How much practise do you do at the moment ?
Approximately 16 hours of uni. From what I remember we were expected to rehearse 3 – 5 hours a week. I practice vocal scales everyday for 20mins, I also practice on the songs I need to perform for my recital 30 mins approximately.
Do you have stage fright ? How did you overcome this or control this ?
I don’t get stage fright but I do get nervous. I think its important to perform as much you can, do gigs, perform at charities, play in front of family, friends and peers. Some people also turn to using meditation as a relaxation tool, other people go for a run just before they perform. I think deep and slow breathing is one way to help with stage fright alongside many other ways.
What is your musical career goal? What would you need to do in order to achieve this?
I would love to be a professional songwriter, producer and part time musician. Networking with other people is important and being open to new opportunities. I feel that you have to put yourself out there as much as possible through gigging, busking, practising whenever you can and also increasing your knowledge through reading texts and online tutorials, talking to experienced professionals in the music industry. Refreshing on your old skills and learning new skills to enhance your current talent is very important too. If you can find a good mentor or teacher that can help you along the way then they can really aid you in achieving your goals. I definite encourage aspiring performers take music lessons.
Have you auditioned for any reality singing competitions? If so, can you tell us a bit about this.
I auditioned for X Factor once just for fun, I decided to do this on the day the audition began so it was very spontaneous. I didn’t get through though and my critique was that the judge didn’t think I was ready but that I should continue as I was working correctly to achieve my musical goals.
We have students of all ages and levels at LMH. Some students want to continue their music studies at uni level and some students adult students just want a career change from their full time job. What advice and suggestions would you give to our LMH students who want to pursue a career in music successfully whether it be straight after year 12 or a complete career change?
I believe you should do what you are passionate about. For those who want to try music as a change – do it whole heartedly and if you don’t like it then keep on trying to finding what you like. Music is very rewarding and it requires persistence and also you can experience a lot of rejection – this is all character building and helps make one stronger. Practice often, take lessons, ask other music professionals how they achieve success.