Who are you?
My name is Taku Hirano, and I am a touring/session percussionist, producer, composer, recording artist and remixer. Originally from Japan, but raised between California and Hong Kong, thus a 3rd Culture kid. In hindsight, this has greatly enhanced my experience as an artist, and has likely made it easy to learn and incorporate various styles of music.
What do you do?
I tour and record with various name artists as a percussionists. I also produce and remix music, including composing music cues for various shows and trailers for the CW Network, and through my production team Tao Of Sound (we have done remixes for everyone from Kanye West to New Age music artists Kitaro, and provided music for sound libraries). I perform solo “Live Remix” shows, employing traditional world percussion instruments and the latest music technology.
How did you get into this? Who or what was your inspiration?
As far as solo shows, it was a natural progression. When working as a sideman for major world tours, I am called to back artists performing on a multitude of instruments that span tribal West African drums to programming and triggering samples on electronic pads using the latest music production and DJ software. I have collaborated in the past with DJ’s, where I have drummed along with them in live sets. It just made sense that with my production background, I could do both simultaneously and realize my own musical vision, and take the listeners on a journey.
What made you move to New York after attending college at Berklee?
I moved to LA after Berklee actually, and the bulk of my “sideman” work is still based out of there. I have lived in NYC for the last 7 years (due to a family move), and since then my solo projects, composing/production for tv, and “talks” based on my varied career (as a guest at NYU, Loyola University, and as an artist in residence at Berklee College of Music) has taken off.
Do you get nervous before a performance or a competition? If so, how do you combat that?
As a sideman, no. As a solo artist, I definitely get a little nervous, mainly because there is a lot of preparation involved on a technical level for everything to go smoothly. As a performer, I do trust my abilities and ability to “pivot” and improvise, so any anxiety is really based in making sure I am prepared and that things I want to execute technically go smoothly.
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
I am a proponent of the 10,000 hour rule. There is no substitute for firsthand experience. It is natural to be nervous, but you have to go out there and just do it. The more you perform, the more experience you gain, and through that self-assuredness and self-confidence.
How often and for how long do you practice?
During my formative years, I practiced many hours a day. As a percussionist, I have to have a command over many varied instruments, and that takes time. A few years ago, I did a tour on Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson IMMORTAL” world tour. On that tour, I was surrounded by the best acrobats, aerialists, and dancers from around the world. They consider everything from practicing to working out as “training.” Through that, I have changed my way of thinking; anything that enhances my performance, from drum practice to programming to reading music software manuals to yoga is all now part of my “training.”
How do you balance your music with other obligations?
Balance for all modern artists is a constant struggle. Sometimes, with such a busy schedule, time has to be scheduled just like any other appointment, in order to find time to create.
What is your ideal setting to perform?
For solo shows, I have been fortunate to play in some very intimate environments with a great vibe (such as my series of shows at Soho House and Ludlow House—see below for link to performances). I find that I am able to connect with medium to smaller audiences (unlike the arena tours I do backing major artists). In my shows, I take time to talk and even explain what I am doing – as many people are not familiar with the various instruments I am playing or the cutting edge music technology I am employing. (ex- One of the electronic instruments I play incorporates an infrared beam. I can wave my hand in the air over it and a sound is triggered. Without explaining that, the audience would simply assume the sound was part of the track I am playing to. The reaction to pointing that out is always a huge hit!)
What instruments do you typically travel with? What is your go-to instrument?
My go-to instrument that is in almost every single set-up is the conga. I usually have 2-3 conga drums, and have studied the instrument extensively with master drummers from Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as studies in Havana at the Cuban national school of the arts through an exchange program.