The Underscore: Behind the custom music of ESPN
This month, on The Underscore, we are celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with Clayton William. Clayton William is a Chinese-American composer who has worked on some great projects for the ESPN in-house production music library. Here’s an inside look at Clayton’s journey in the music industry.
Tell us a bit about where you are from, your musical background, and what kind of music you make?
I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley. I grew up during the Hyphy movement and was heavily influenced by artists like E40, Too Short, and Tupac and listened to bands like Metallica, Green Day, and Santana who also recorded in the Bay Area.
Being influenced by so many different styles of music, I found myself making a wide range of music from hip-hop to reggaetón, moombahton, dancehall, EDM, and alternative pop music.
Has your ethnic and/or cultural background influenced your music in any way? If so, how?
My mother is from Hong Kong, China and she moved to Hawaii and then California in her teens. She loved Motown music and Hawaiian music, and I think that is where I get my musical and soulful chops. Asian Americans were not necessarily the face to the musical genres I was working in, however I found that because of my upbringing I was able to bring different musical flavors to the artists I was working with.
How important is/was ethnic and cultural representation in the music space while you were growing up as an aspiring musician? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
When I was growing up, there weren’t any Asian faces in mainstream music that I knew of. It wasn’t until Far East Movement and Bruno Mars broke out that I finally saw an AAPI face in American mainstream music. I always felt like I didn't belong. In hip hop, I wasn’t black enough, in EDM music, I was too hip hop, and in Reggaetón music, I didn’t speak Spanish, but I loved making the music. For some reason, deep down, I felt like my niche could be to combine all the genres and, somehow, the color or race lines wouldn’t matter.
Then at the end of 2019, I had my first song hit the Billboard charts with a ratchet west coast RnB song, “Whistle” by Jonn Hart ft. Too Short & Julez Santana (Produced by Clayton William) on EMPIRE records. The single was worked on by a Filipino record promoter, Brian Samson, and once the song charted I realized race & ethnicity didn’t matter: I had the sauce the whole time . I recognized that my whole life I was seeking outside validation instead of realizing the greatness that God had given me. It was at that moment that race and ethnicity didn’t have anything to do with my individual talent, and what had gotten me here was my hard work ethic and my ability to connect with people of all races and ethnicities. Later that year I had my second project hit the Top Hip-Hop Billboard Chart working on E40’s album “Practice Makes Paper.”
Something I know now that I wish I knew then was that your self-worth comes from your internal values and growth and in entertainment, we have tendencies to seek outside validation to feel confident in our art. However, no matter your taste in music or art, there is an audience for everything. The morals that my mother and father taught me is what made me a good and talented person, not the color of our skin or the fact that we ate rice at every meal!
Any advice for any young aspiring musicians/composers?
Be diligent, work hard, and have faith in what you’re doing. It takes time to get good, so if you love it, work at it, and anything is possible.
What projects have you worked on with ESPN and which one was your favorite?
I’ve gotten to work on a few ESPN beat catalogues and have had some songs played during the NBA Playoffs and Finals! It is an amazing feeling to hear your song come on with millions of people watching!
Tell us about the creative process of one of the projects you have done for us? What were your inspiration points?
My creative process is to dive into the feelings of the vibes I’m going to create. Emotion and sound choices for me work hand in hand and my drum choices depend on the genre of music I’m aiming for!
Were there any challenges when making this disc and are you happy with the results?
The only challenge is time . With enough time I can create any masterpiece!
Are you a sports fan? Which team(s)?
I am a huge Bay Area sports fan! The San Francisco Giants, 49ers, Golden State Warriors, and the San Jose Sharks are my favorite teams!
What do you have on the docket these days?
I have Releases coming out every week this year working with a roster of artists on EMPIRE recordings!
Where can we find you?
Big thanks to Clayton for sharing his story as an Asian-American growing up making music. Music knows no bounds! If you liked what you read, come back next month for another edition of ESPN: The Underscore.