Tina playing Cello

Cellist Tina Guo has established herself at a young age as one of the most in-demand and leading voices of her instrument. From collaborating with Hans Zimmer on some of his most iconic movie scores and recording award-winning video game soundtracks to performing as a soloist with renowned symphony orchestras and directing her own music videos with her unique brand of experimental compositions, Guo has a passion for broadening the horizons of the cello. We sat down with Tina to learn about her unique career and her relationship with musical creativity.

Tina in Black & White

What interests you most as a musician and cellist?

I am excited and fascinated by new experiences, people and things that are full of passion and fury. I’m interested in learning new ways of doing things, new activities and types of music. The constantly evolving energies around me are what make me feel alive and grow.

Who and what are your biggest inspirations or influences on the way you approach the cello?

I don’t like to think of myself as a “cellist” because all music is music, and all instruments are tools to express emotion through music—no matter the genre. That being said, Jacqueline du Pre was my hero growing up and is still my classical cello hero. The passion with which she played was unmatched. My biggest musical influences today are the artists I love to listen to, like Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Apocalyptica and System of a Down.

What were your first professional opportunities as a musician? How did this impact your development?

My very first public concerts were when I was nine years old, a year and a half after I started playing the cello. I had won a competition and part of the prize was getting to perform as a soloist with an orchestra. This amazing luck and opportunity to perform publicly at a young age helped me to develop my abilities as a performer.

I still remember how deathly nervous I was to play the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto and how my hands were completely covered in sweat! I always say that repetition is the only way to become comfortable with something and it took many years of repeated performances to get over that fear!

Tina Candid

What interests you most as a musician and cellist?

I am excited and fascinated by new experiences, people and things that are full of passion and fury. I’m interested in learning new ways of doing things, new activities and types of music. The constantly evolving energies around me are what make me feel alive and grow.

What are some challenges you’ve faced and overcome in your career?

It has taken me until age 35 to truly not care what random people and their negative opinions have to say. I spent so many years caring deeply about every person’s thoughts, even though I knew logically that it didn’t make sense. As any person that puts his or her self out there as an artist or as an open and vulnerable human being, you will encounter the occasional hater here or there. But you can free yourself by understanding how much frustration, sadness and emptiness that negative people carry inside. You have to ignore their opinions and realize they are just lost souls who should receive our sympathy.

Another challenge has been finding my path in the business aspects of my career through trial and error. As I mentioned about stage fright, doing something over and over will eventually lead to comfort and perhaps mastery in any area—including self-management and business negotiations.

Tina playing stringed instrument

Your music videos feature really stunning wardrobe and elaborate set designs. What inspires you visually?

Thank you! I love art directing, styling, makeup and everything visual. Everything I see and experience in the world—whether it’s in nature, in movies or in other artists’ music videos—are all sources of inspiration. I especially love sci-fi movies and I tend to get excited about everything in general, so I try to keep my eyes open to all things and find inspiration.

You’ve pushed the boundaries of the cello by embracing the electric cello and effects pedals in addition to your success on the traditional cello. What inspired you to explore this more experimental approach? What are your favorite effects to use with cello?

I wanted to be a metal guitar player but I didn’t know how to play the guitar! So I tried to figure out how to make those sounds on the cello instead. So I started to process my cello through guitar pedals. That opens up a whole new world of sounds, it’s like an endless amount of experimentation! I have some standard sounds that I’ve dialed in, but for every track I work on, I usually adjust the tone and effects so they are always liquid and changing to the fit the particular song.

Tina posing with her cello

Modern technology has enabled musicians to work remotely on studio recordings together. How do you approach this kind of collaboration? How does it differ from recording in the studio together?

I love technology! I’ve been recording from my home studio more and more over the past decade. It really started when I was touring with Cirque du Soleil from 2010 to 2013. I brought a remote recording setup with me so I could still maintain my session clients while on the road. By the time 2020 rolled around, I was already doing 95% of my recording work from home. I love it, and as long as there’s clear communication, the process is super efficient and saves a lot of time. There are some instances where it’s absolutely necessary to be in the studio together. Sometimes a client has very specific ideas and it’s impossible to explain without being together, but that is a very rare situation.

In the past year since the pandemic began, I’ve completed three albums, including one of original music with Frank Klepacki who is an amazing video game composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who plays drums for my solo concerts. Even though we both live in Vegas, we wrote and recorded an entire album of original material remotely and the process was extremely efficient and seamless. I’m grateful for how technological advances have made the creative process so much easier.

Tina live on stage
Tina live on stage

How do your musical ideas evolve? What happens between the initial idea for a project and the finished product?

Most of my compositions are written or inspired through stream-of-consciousness. Usually, an almost fully formed piece or melody will come to me randomly. When this happens, I frantically sing the idea in a voice memo so I won’t forget, and later I’ll go into the studio to develop the idea. I can also force myself to compose music through sheer determination, but I prefer to let life occurrences and emotions inspire a sudden musical idea.

What’s your home studio setup like? How has it evolved over your career?

I’m a big believer in minimalism and not trying to make up for what’s missing in your fingers with a bunch of expensive gear. Having great tools is a privilege, but you have to work with what you have! For ten years, all I had was an $80 interface and a $350 microphone I got on sale from Sam Ash. I recorded on hundreds of projects, including high-budget motion pictures using this equipment with no problems. I only recently upgraded my interface, monitors and microphone, but I still record in Logic. The evolution has been very slow, but I love my setup!

Tina with her Cello

How do you find the next gig? Do you let the work come to you, or do you actively seek out projects you’re interested in working on?

When I first started out in 2004, it was during my freshman year at USC. Aside from studying classical cello, I would find gigs through Craigslist—I loved Craigslist! Now, I’m extremely lucky to have inquiries come in directly to me and I don’t actively seek out work. Once in a while if I get super inspired by another musician, I may suggest a jam or collaboration of some kind just for fun. But as far as commercial projects or work, I let that come in and follow up from there.

What kind of advice or inspiration would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in music? Can be cello-related or general.

Educate yourself! It’s so important to learn as much as you can about every aspect of music including business and technology in order to be self-sufficient. We spend so much of our lives learning our craft, but to make it in the music business—and business is the key word—it’s so important to understand and master the basics of business. No one will care more about you and your art than yourself. It’s important to feel informed, powerful and secure in your own understanding of things outside of just singing or playing your instrument.

I would recommend thinking outside the box and search for opportunities to partner with companies that believes in what you’re doing. I was fortunate enough to partner with Ritz-Carlton and through that collaboration I got to visit and share my music in some amazing locations and connect artistically with different cultures.

Tina posing with her Cello

Would you like to share anything about any recent or upcoming projects you’re excited about?

I recently finished recording for the soundtracks of DUNE, Top Gun, SpongeBob 2 and some other TV/Film/Video Game projects that I can’t discuss openly yet. I can’t wait for all these to be released! My new solo album DIES IRAE is also completed and we are now in the phase of finalizing album artwork and planning music videos with the release scheduled for Summer/Fall 2021. I’m super excited about the amazing surprise guest artist that will be featured on one of the tracks too. It’s my very first song release that will feature a singer, and it’s someone I have been a huge fan of for many years so it’s hard to wait to announce—but I’m geeking out!

H4n Pro

Lastly, what Zoom products do you use? How does Zoom help you achieve your goals?

I have used Zoom products for so many years and love them! I currently use the H4N Pro to record band rehearsals and capture ideas quickly on the road. I also use it to record audio for tutorials and videos that I make on my YouTube channels.

Check Out Tina's Website Here!