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ArmenՅԱՆs: Vahagn Stepanyan on facing ‘numerous setbacks,’ working with Armenian artists, becoming Grammy voting member

12:08, September 12

By Syune Arakelyan

A composer, music producer, and Grammy voting member... We can talk long about the successes of Armenian compatriot Vahagn Stepanyan, who lives in the USA, adding to the list the names of the artists with whom the Armenian composer was lucky enough to collaborate, including Nathan East, Eric Marienthal, Eric Moore, Henrik Linder, and many others.

Vahagn Stepanyan became the first Armenian independent artist who won a place on Billboard's hit parade. His CD "A New Chapter" ranked 5th in the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. Recently, Vahagn won also in the Hollywood Independent Music Awards.

Read about this and more in STYLE's column ArmenՅԱՆs/Armenian. 

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Vahagn, congratulations on winning in Hollywood Independent Music Awards. What were your initial expectations?

Thank you so much for the congratulations. Winning at the Hollywood Independent Music Awards was truly an incredible experience. To be honest, I never believed in awards; I thought they were corrupted. However, when I first learned about the nomination, I was both honored and excited. And I was so thrilled that I end up submitting my music to over 20 awards shows, and in the past few months I already won 15 of them. It's always a great feeling to have your work recognized internationally, especially in such a competitive and prestigious industry. My initial expectations were mainly centered around hoping to have my music appreciated by a broader audience and industry professionals. To be very honest, in my heart, I felt that I was going to win that night. I usually don't like losing. After winning, my feeling was a mix of joy, gratitude, and a sense of accomplishment. All the hard work, dedication, and passion I've put into my music over the years felt validated. It's inspiring to see that the music I create has resonated with people and has been acknowledged by the Hollywood Independent Music Awards. Ultimately, this experience has motivated me to continue pushing my creative boundaries and striving for excellence in my music. I'm deeply thankful for the support of my fans, friends, and family, as well as the entire team that contributed to my success in this endeavor. I believe the best is yet to come!

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What do rewards, on the whole, mean to you? Do they motivate you?

In terms of motivation, yes, rewards can be a powerful motivator for me. But even if there is no any rewards and I know my goal, I just keep pushing it until I get to win what I want. Knowing that there's a potential reward waiting at the end of a challenging task or project can be a strong driving force to push through difficulties and maintain focus. However, I also believe that while rewards are motivating, they should not be the sole driving factor. My personal passion to music plays an equally important role.

Let's go back and recall your path to the international music industry. What was the most successful moment for you that led you to where you are now?

Reflecting on my path to the international music world, I must say it's been a challenging yet rewarding journey. If we were to pinpoint the pivotal moment that set me on the path to where I am today, it would have to be the period when I faced numerous setbacks working with local artists in Armenia. This time of hardship, where I often went unpaid for my efforts, served as a turning point in my career. Ironically, these difficulties proved to be a blessing in disguise. They pushed me to reevaluate my aspirations and make the bold decision to transition to the international stage. It was a leap of faith, leaving behind the familiar but often unfulfilling work with local artists, to seek opportunities on a global scale.

In hindsight, this was the moment when my journey truly began to gain momentum. It was a challenging experience that taught me resilience and the importance of setting my sights higher. I am grateful for the adversity I faced during that period, as it ultimately led me to where I am today in the international music world. Looking ahead, I am excited to continue my artistic endeavors and share my music with a global audience, all thanks to the lessons I learned during that challenging time in Armenia.

You have collaborated with a number of recognized musicians. What was your first collaboration? And what's the most memorable one for you?

My first Collaboration was in 2014 on my “Give More” music video with Anthony
Crawford, Felipe Praino, and Note Weerachat. When it comes to singling out the most memorable collaboration, it's a challenge to answer. Each artist I've had the privilege to work with has brought a unique experience to my musical journey. It's difficult for me to rank or separate them, as every collaboration holds a special place in my heart. I firmly believe in collaborating only when there's hard work, dedication, and appreciation for the music and the artists involved. Therefore, I can honestly say that all of the artists I've worked with have been my favorites in their own right. All of my collaborations have played a significant role in shaping my musical path, and I look forward to many more inspiring collaborations in the future.

How did your childhood pass here, in Yerevan?  

My childhood in Yerevan can be split into two phases: before 13 and from 13 to 20. I started writing songs at very early age, but during my teenage years, I developed a deep passion for jazz, gospel, and pop music, with a dream of working alongside legendary artists in these genres.

Despite rejections and doubts about my talent, I was determined to prove myself. I saved money to buy CDs of the musicians I admired, learning and honing my skills independently. This period was not easy for me. But today, I'm honored to say I've achieved many of those dreams and continue to create new ones in the world of music.

When did you move to LA?

My journey collaborating with world-renowned musicians began approximately ten years ago when I was based in Armenia. However, after owning the best acoustically-built recording studio in Armenia, I felt I need a new chapter in my life. That was late 2021 when I decided to move to Los Angeles, California.

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How has your life changed after you moved to the US?

When you work with professional and passionate musicians, it’s a different feeling that you have to feel it by your own. It’s like breathing a fresh air. It's not just about making music; it's about the energy and inspiration that flows when you work alongside individuals who are truly passionate about their craft. Of course, like any creative endeavor, it can be challenging. Sometimes, it's emotionally and physically draining, especially when you're working to gain respect for your own musical tastes and preferences. However, what sets the US apart is the openness and diversity of its music community. Here, people value individuality and appreciate different musical perspectives. When I'm recognized and valued for my unique contributions, I feel a profound sense of validation and fulfillment.

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You're one of the voting members for Grammy. How did your collaboration with the music awards begin?

I’m an active Grammy voting member since 2015. Since 2022, I also become Grammy mentor. It started when my debut album “Moonlight” was submitted to the Grammy’s in 2015.

How often do you visit Yerevan? When was the last time you were here?

I haven't visited Yerevan in nearly two years since I moved to Los Angeles. Due to my busy schedule, I believe that it will be another two years before I can plan a visit to Yerevan.

What's your advice to young Armenian musicians? How can they reach to the international level?

Never give up, work hard, believe in yourself, invest in you, and always stay humble.

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