Student Brief: It’s Creative Time for Risheng Li

by Agnes Bao

If you know about perfect pitch, then you certainly know how rare it is. Researchers estimate that one person in every 10,000 has perfect pitch. MSU student Risheng Li is the one of 10,000.

People who have perfect pitch are able to identify and re-create a given musical note without an external reference tone.

Li has used this talent – which he did not know is unusual – to pave his own path, livestreaming jazz piano improvisation and piano covers of contemporary songs on Bilibili, which is a Chinese version of YouTube.

“I wasn’t aware it’s a rare trait until I became a streamer and noticed not many people have it,” says Li. “I only had four or five live viewers when I started livestreaming. It has taken long time for me to catch audiences’ attention and to increase subscribers.”

Due to his unique and creative style, Li now has over 57,000 subscribers and was hand-picked by Bilibili as its professional streamer.

Risheng Li, an MSU advertising management student, livestreams jazz piano improvisation on Bilibili, a Chinese version of YouTube.

Asked about the key to success, Li attributes it to his major, advertising management.

Li says he learned channel management and promotion strategy from courses like Media Sales and Media Planning. “The classes taught me the importance of positive relationships with customers,” says Li. “The customer is like my subscribers, my fans.”

Keeping those management strategies in mind, Li always cares about his live viewers, treating them like friends. Li welcomes every live viewer to request that he cover any song. He never disappoints his fans, of course, as he once livestreamed for over seven hours to meet everyone’s requests.

Risheng Li performs for the Welcome Culture Celebration organized by MSUwe54 – a registered Chinese student organization at MSU – on Sept. 7, 2018, at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing, Michigan.

Sometimes, as Li looks back to the day when he was just few years old, he says he would have dreamed to not be a pianist. “I hated playing the piano when I was a kid,” says Li. “I clearly remembered I was holding on to my mum’s legs and crying when I just finished the Grade 2 Piano Exam.”

He eventually gave up playing the piano from first grade until third grade, when he met a great teacher who was warm, enthusiastic and caring.

However, Li’s interest and talent in jazz improvisation wasn’t fully developed until he discovered Marasy, a Japanese pianist who produces piano covers on YouTube with over 1 million subscribers.

“The first time I watched Marasy’s YouTube videos in high school, I felt the power of the improvisation,” says Li. “I was almost screaming, ‘That’s awesome! What a wonderful feeling! I wish I could be as cool as him!’”

Influenced by Marasy, Li started to self-study jazz piano improvisation. He began and ended his day with his hands on the keyboard. He started to run his own Bilibili channel and produced his first piano cover, even though the views were low.

“I started running my Bilibili channel and streaming for fun,” says Li. “I didn’t really care about the number of views.”

By August 2018 – just a few years later – one of his piano covers has reached 280,000 views.

Risheng Li’s most popular piano cover with over 280,000 views on Bilibili. Click the picture to watch his excellent performance.

While most of the live viewers appreciate Li’s performance, Li gets criticism as well.

“Some people just don’t understand and don’t like my jazz improvisation. They think the songs I play are out of tune,” says Li. “The style of jazz piano is kind of out of tune as it has rough harmonies. But it’s purposely detuned, not out of tune.”

The criticism never hurts Li. Instead, he addresses the musical diversity in redefining a song.

“Lyrical music not only has smooth melody with perfect tune,” says Li. “There are diverse ways to redefine a song, including using the technique of jazz.”

To deliver the idea of musical diversity, in December 2017, Li and four musicians formed “Hot Water Without Ice,” the first Chinese band at MSU. As you might expect, he is a keyboard player in the band.

Band “Hot Water Without Ice.” From left to right: Risheng Li, keyboardist; A Zuo, bassist; Mao Zi, lead singer; Kairui Li, drummer; Jinfeng Lu, guitarist; and Huabin Zhou, guitarist.

As a senior, Li is ready to graduate but not ready to embrace streaming as his full-time job. “I don’t want to make money from what I love,” says Li. “If I do, I might not enjoy it anymore.”

Link to Risheng Li’s Bilibili Channel: https://space.bilibili.com/751216/#/