China’s Answer to ‘Tiny Desk’ Goes to the Homes of Artists

Music agent Christy Wu and producer Leo Zhang created ‘homegrown’ to nurture China’s indie music scene

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8:03 PM HKT, Wed July 5, 2023 2 mins read

On a summer day in 2020, Christy Wu was struck by an idea while biking to work – what if someone went to capture live concerts in the intimate settings of musicians’ homes?

At the time, she had just returned from a two-year stint studying in New York, and, after just two months, had already grown tired of her new corporate job in Beijing.

Her partner Leo Zhang shared her enthusiasm for the idea. Not content with their day jobs, the pair started thinking about it more and more, before finally leaving their full-time positions to pursue their own music brand, homegrown 自家种.

A Stressful Start

For Wu, the project’s initial stages were stressful. Coming from a structured, corporate background, the venture into the unknown felt daunting.

“I knew I’d had a light-bulb moment, but it’s like, how are two fresh graduates going to make thid idea into a real thing?” Wu recalls. “In the beginning, all these doubts and unsolved problems were coming at me...even a simple walk down the street became overwhelming.”

Zhang, meanwhile, was already a music industry professional, and could begin to see the road ahead. The duo sought out musicians who they admired, lugging recording gear around the country while publishing two episodes per month. Zhang handled the audio and music aspects, while Wu took on creative direction, video production, and promotion.

“I think we were lucky enough to head in the right direction,” Wu says with a smile. “The first year was extremely challenging, but we survived and managed to grow. Having the freedom to pursue our passion and support the musicians we admire is genuinely fulfilling.”

As the pair continues to develop homegrown, they also explore their own musical identities. Zhang creates his own music under the moniker Leo1Bee, and has produced for mainstream artists like Bibi Zhou.

While Zhang pursues his own music career, Wu works as his manager, and also as a music influencer on streaming site Bilibili, where she has 175,000 followers.

An Evolving Partnership

Wu and Zhang, who were college acquaintances, didn’t become close until they attended graduate school in the U.S.

Wu studied music business at NYU, while Zhang majored in music production and engineering at Berklee. A shared love for music brought them together, first professionally and then romantically.

The two were both drawn to music as teenagers. Hit programs like NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and the COLORS series were big influences in developing their own approach to homegrown.

“There wasn’t a long-running program like that in China,” the pair told RADII. “Our style is different though – it’s warm, intimate, relaxing, and down-to-earth.”

Filming inside each artist’s home, the performances can’t help but emphasize that sense of intimacy and authenticity. After all, home is where many musicians today write and produce songs.

Visual consistency comes from a signature warm, circular light that the duo uses for its symbolic sun-like quality. And after each session, they take a Polaroid photo, jotting down a few notes on it as a memento.

Improvisation has become an integral part of their shooting process. From borrowing a passerby’s makeup, to quickly cleaning messy apartments before shooting, the two have learned to adapt to the unexpected.

Planting Seeds of Music

Wu and Zhang compare their approach to the process of nurturing a plant – it germinates, blossoms, and then bears fruit. They see homegrown as a way to nurture China’s music scene, and as one reality TV producer once told them, “the show is discovering and sowing seeds of musical talent.”

“Although many of the musicians that we feature are experienced artists, they often struggle with representing themselves online, and generating fan engagement with quality visual materials,” explains Wu. “We hope to fill the gap in China’s music media with homegrown, producing engaging content that encourages musicians to continue their outstanding work.”

Their project has indeed flourished over the past two years, counting up more than fifty episodes, and uncovering a vibrant community of like-minded individuals.

“Discovering this thriving community of shared minds has given us the support to persist with homegrown,” the duo tells RADII. “It takes courage to step away from the proven path, but ultimately, self-reliance is the most dependable source of security.”

Wu and Zhang are still improving and expanding the program. Their most recent venture, the Orchard Concert series, showcases several songs per artist, with more complex live arrangements.

“We want to make it natural, interesting, diverse, and refreshing,” the duo says about the new series.

There are also plans to expand the series with a branch in New York — the first episode will debut this summer.

As Wu and Zhang continue to collaborate with artists, the seeds they’ve planted are beginning to spread, enriching the music landscape in China and beyond.

All images via RADII STUDIOS

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