Taylor Davis doesn’t play the violin for her 2 million YouTube subscribers. She performs for them. She serenades, inspires and elevates them with a skill that is gentle in melody and giant in composition imagination. A self-admitted “proud nerd,” she’s best known for her original compositions and unique arrangements related to gaming, anime, and iconic film soundtracks.
But what Taylor’s millions of fans admire most is her transparency as an artist, inviting viewers to witness the woman behind the computer screen who, surprisingly, didn’t think she’d ever have a career in music! Find out why as this Musicnotes Signature Artist talks with us about her new Christmas album just released on November 3rd, the inspiration behind her growing success, and the advice she’d give to beginner musicians.
For those who may not know, your career title of choice wasn’t necessarily “Violinist.” You had a music minor in college, but you wanted to be a Composer, correct?
I actually didn’t intend to have any sort of career in music at all while I was attending college; I just minored in violin performance for a scholarship. I had always been told that it was nearly impossible to have a career as a musician, so I always figured that I would have some sort of career in business instead.
Right before I graduated from college I started to get really sad because I didn’t know how I was going to keep music in my life, so that’s when I started researching other types of careers in music. I had written a few of my own compositions at that point and really loved composing, so I was more interested in trying to build up my skills as a composer at that time than trying to make something work with the violin. I was able to contact a few really nice composers in the industry that gave me some advice, but it was ultimately a little discouraging since they all said that I needed to be living in California to find opportunities, and at that time I was committed to living in Michigan since my boyfriend at the time (now husband) wasn’t able to find work in California.
I started my YouTube channel almost as a reaction to the disappointment of not being able to move to California because I just wanted to be doing something with music. I honestly couldn’t be happier with how things worked out and I’m actually so glad that I wasn’t able to move to California at that time in my life because I may have never started my YouTube channel!
And I did eventually get to try out living in California for a while and now compose a lot of my own music. It just happened a bit later than I had originally planned!
You have your Taylor Davis YouTube channel, which has exceeded 2 million subscribers! But you also have a Taylor Davis – Behind the Strings channel, as well. What has it been like sharing with your fans all these intimate behind-the-scenes moments?
I really enjoy it, but I have to admit it’s sometimes tough for me to open up! I feel very close with my fans, and I’m so blessed to have such a supportive and positive group of people to share my music with, but I’m normally pretty introverted, so it’s tough for me to sometimes share those types of personal moments. Even though it can be tough to motivate myself to film a behind the scenes or vlog video, whenever I post one of those and then start interacting with my fans about it, I’m always glad that I did it. It’s the same thing with live stream videos; I’m always a little nervous at first but generally end up really enjoying the experience.
I think my fans really appreciate seeing more of that personal side, too, so I’m always trying to push myself to do more of that, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. One of my goals for 2018 is to post more of those types of videos and also to do more live stream videos!
How has your relationship with your family influenced or inspired your music career?
I have an amazingly supportive family and definitely wouldn’t be where I am in life without them. My parents are 2 of the most loving, supportive and generous people I know and always helped my brother and I pursue the paths we were called to.
I was working a full time day job when I was posting my early videos on YouTube. At that time I wasn’t making any money from my YouTube channel because I couldn’t monetize cover songs at that point, but my channel was steadily growing and I had an idea for a business plan that could eventually turn into something if it worked out, so I decided to quit my day job and make my first album, Gaming Fantasy, to see if anyone was willing to financially support what I was doing. Even though I created all the arrangements and orchestrations myself, it was still expensive to get all the equipment I needed to create everything and also just incredibly time consuming to learn how to produce an entire album by myself.
My parents let my husband and I live at their house rent free for a while so we didn’t have to worry so much about the financial burden if things didn’t work out, but thankfully things did work out and we eventually moved out on our own haha! My parents and my husband (who has been my best friend since I was 14 years old) have given me so much confidence in myself and helped me become the person I am.
You’ve released 8 albums since 2012, with your release Odyssey in 2016 being all your own original compositions. Your newest Christmas release makes it 9 albums now! Do you have an idea of how many albums you hope to release throughout your career?
I honestly haven’t ever thought about that number! I would just love to continue making music as long as my fans are interested in listening, so if that means another 10, 20, or even more albums then I’m totally up for it!
We are excited for your new Christmas album release, Songs of Christmas! In 2012, you released An Enchanted Christmas, so was it planned from the start to have a follow-up Christmas release? With so many great holiday classics to choose from, how did you decide on the arrangements you wanted featured on this new album?
Thank you, I’m so excited to have the new Christmas album out now! When I released An Enchanted Christmas in 2012, I always thought that I’d want to do a follow up album at some point because there are so many wonderful Christmas songs out there to choose from.
The new album, Songs of Christmas, is a lot different from my last one because it’s mostly all violin and piano as opposed to full orchestration, and it was an entirely collaborative album with my good friend, Lara de Wit, who arranged and plays piano on the album. It’s always tough putting together a track list with so many great songs to choose from, so we went with a mixture of our own personal favorites and classics that we felt we could arrange well for our instruments.
You’ve collaborated with a few other musicians on pieces or albums before, including Twitch star Lara de Wit (lara6683) on your Christmas album. What do you enjoy most about collaborating with fellow YouTube and internet musicians?
Using the internet to collaborate is so wonderful because you’re not restricted by your physical location so you can work with people all around the world. I’ve collaborated more with Lara than anyone else and she lives all the way in Australia! It’s great when we have the opportunity to actually get together in person to work on something, but because we live so far away from each other, it doesn’t happen too often so we’ve figured out a pretty efficient system for remote recording.
When we work together, we do the arranging, recording and production ourselves, and since we both use the same software program, Logic Pro X, we’re able to just send files back and forth on Dropbox and put together albums and singles remotely that way, so it still works out despite the distance!
Your music videos tell the visual stories of your arrangements so well. Walk us through your planning process. When you learn or compose a song, do you already have an idea in mind on how you want the video to represent the arrangement?
Thank you! It totally depends on the song or video and what kind of budget I’m working with. A lot of the time with my original songs we’ll conceptualize video ideas that match the music after I’ve written the song, which is really fun because we can be totally creative when we’re brainstorming ideas.
A lot of the time with the cover songs we’ll conceptualize what we could do with a video first, like with my Star Wars Medley for example. My good friend, Landon Donoho, directed, filmed and edited that video, and we had discussed a general light side vs. dark side theme for the video before I even started on the arrangement, so then I purposely arranged that medley as a musical duel with the different themes so it would work with what we planned for the video.
You started playing violin when you were eight-years-old. Seeing your success as a musician so far, what is one piece of advice you’d give to little eight-year-old Taylor just starting out?
Wow, that’s a good question! I think most importantly, just stay true to yourself and the type of music that you’re passionate about. The reason that I perform so much music from video games, anime, and film is because I myself have always been a huge nerd and it’s the type of music I feel most connected with, and I think my audience really can feel that when watching and listening. I went through a lot of bullying when I was younger, especially for my nerdy interests, and there were a lot of times when I would try to hide that part of myself to avoid the negative attention it sometimes brought to me.
And now, it’s the complete opposite since I’m constantly sharing my love for that type of content through my music and videos. If I wasn’t comfortable sharing that side of myself now, I probably wouldn’t have this career that I love, so it’s just funny how it all works out.
There are always going to be people who try to put you down, but if you can just move past that and stay true to what you really enjoy doing you’ll be a much happier person!
What other tips/advice would you give to aspiring string players and arrangers?
I think if you have aspirations to have any sort of career as an independent musician, whether it’s as an artist or in arranging, production or composing, it’s so incredibly important to learn as much about the business aspect of what you want to do as possible.
You could be the most talented person out there but if you don’t have a plan for how you can share what you’re doing with the world and turn it into something that can support you financially, you’re not going to have a sustainable career. It’s certainly not the most fun or glamorous part of working as a musician, but knowing how to turn your art into a business is essential to having a career in this industry.
You’ve mastered the violin, and you’re experienced in playing the piano. What other talents, musical or otherwise, can you share with us that people may not be aware of?
I don’t know if many people are aware that I also create the backtracks and do the production work for a lot of my music. I started out producing everything on my own for my first few albums, then I hired it out to a producer for a while, but for the last few years I went back to doing it all myself because I really love producing the music as well as just recording it on my violin.
For my last original album, Odyssey, I did all of the composing, production and mixing by myself from my home studio and I really loved that experience. I think it could be nice to collaborate if you worked with people who you trusted and could really connect with, but for me it felt a lot more personal working by myself so that’s the direction I think I’ll continue in with my future original work.
We can’t wait to see more amazing music, videos, and behind-the-scenes from Signature Artist, Taylor Davis. And don’t forget! You can find her sheet music exclusively at Musicnotes.