Zubin Thakkar: a journey from UW to the peak of music

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Prisha Skukla & Avnash Sidhu 

Zubin Thakkar is a wonderful example of how academics are not the sole measure of success when embarking on a career after university.

After completing a degree in Systems Design Engineering at UW, Thakkar became a platinum-selling, Billboard charting songwriter, producer, musical director and guitarist.

These achievements are complimented by his collaborations with revered artists such as; TLC, Boyz II Men, Tyler Shaw and Shawn Mendes. 

As an undergrad, Thakkar was an incredibly talented student and an asset in the Faculty of Engineering.

Thakkar demonstrated that one can successfully pursue their passion.

His story is both  inspiring and a positive example for students who are wishing to branch out from their academic fields. 

 During his time at UW, Thakkar was continually juggling school and music—while even having his own band.

He recalls co-op terms as being the most productive in terms of creating music, as during most school semesters, he would always be found studying. 

Even in his co-op term, he managed to remotely relate his work to music.

When he worked with a professor to observe and document  a piano hammer hitting a string, he used this experience to create software that digitally modelled the piano. 

Thakkar is amiable, grounded, and down to earth.

He also recognises the people who have played a role in his journey and is very grateful for all the opportunities that he has received. “Every day you wake up and you’re filled with all sorts of emotions, whether it’s excitement for what you’re doing that day, cause something cool is after your particular show or if it’s a, you know, maybe you’re proud about something that just happened,” Thakkar said. 

It’s clear that Thakkar is immensely grateful to the people that have helped him reach his level of success.

He credited his friend Dan, who recommended him to Shawn Mendes’ team, as this led to a major rise in his career.

Reflecting on the past five years, Thakkar admitted that he is in awe of Shawn’s incredible talent and artistic vision and that he has learned a great deal from him. 

He admires and praises him for believing in him since the very beginning and continuously motivating him to create music. 

Thakkar recalled many childhood memories of visiting the Roger’s Centre with his dad, which allowed him to be washed over with feelings of nostalgia when he had the opportunity to play the venue last month, as Shawn Mendes’ lead guitarist.

He recalls that the evening was surreal and emotional, not only for him, but for the whole band, who all come from the GTA and Kitchener area. 

He also acknowledges how overwhelming it was for them to receive love and support not only from their family and friends but also from a crowd of over 50,000 people. 

For Thakkar, the evening evoked a sense of accomplishment and gratitude, as being on that stage unfolded memories of his entire journey up until then. Thakkar said  that the performance will remain etched on his heart forever.

 Beyond touring and live shows, Thakkar has achieved many notable accomplishments, such as playing at the Grammy’s and Saturday Night Live. 

When it comes to curating the performances for such shows, the team typically attempt to replicate the artists’ vision, in order to create these memorable performances. 

Additionally, they also endeavour to compose every show and broadcast differently, meanwhile attempting to creatively enhance the songs, so that every performance is unique in its own way.

 For Thakkar, many of his proudest accomplishments are not that of high notoriety, but rather his ability to play with some of his inspirations, such as John Mayer, who has influenced him in many ways. Through his description of this occasion, it is clear that Thakkar does not take these events for granted, 

“He’s an absolute legend at this point, you know, and to me as well as the guitar player, but like I love his music, and it means a lot to me. So, to get, to actually play with them was, uh, it was an incredible experience,” he said.

Having pursued music professionally for more than 10 years now, Thakkar feels that the zeal, enthusiasm, and artistic hunger to get better and work harder is stronger than ever. 

He does not believe in resting on his past accomplishments, as one of the things that have stayed with him from his time at the university is to constantly work hard and push himself out of his comfort zone.  

Thakkar said  a successful musician today must  have the ability to continually reinvent yourself and be able to do a little bit of everything.

This reflects in his own journey as he started off his career following pop-rock and punk music, followed by country music and eventually transitioning into a guitarist. 

Thakkar was able to cultivate a whole new vocabulary of his own, through adaptability and figuring out how to employ his skillset within a different genre. He said this assisted him in expanding his creativity as an artist.

What really fuels him is the time spent with his family. For him, the trickiest part about the job is the ability to strike a balance between spending time with his family and the travelling and long hours. 

Even while on tour, he makes sure to put his kids to bed via FaceTime and spend time with them in any way possible.

He credits his wife to be incredibly strong, understanding, supportive, and being the rock of the family. 

Lastly, when asked to give any advice to students who are looking to branch out or pursue their passion, he says that many of his friends did not go down conventional paths, but rather branched out in different fields ranging from academics to research to the corporate world. 

“Don’t give up if you love something, yeah, you have to work tirelessly at it, but if you stick it out for long enough, there is definitely a good chance,” Thakkar said. “But you know, something can come of it, just have persistence and the confidence to keep moving forward.”

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