David Choi is a Korean American musician who launched his career on YouTube. He landed on YouTube’s homepage in 2006 with “Youtube, A Love Song.” He performed at UF’s Asian Kaleidoscope Month opening ceremony.
What made you decide to pursue music? How did you develop your specific sound?
Growing up I hated music actually until I was 16 years old, sophomore in high school, and I saw this kid make music in the classroom. He brought in a CD and it was like his music and he was like “I made this.” So I went home that day and I wrote my first piano composition and I just kept making music ever since.
I think when it comes to people’s sound it kind of develops over time. It always starts off with – I think a lot of new artists like to draw inspiration from different artists. And then eventually over time they take that sound and they turn it into their own. I guess for me I was always compared to Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Jason Mraz. And I’m cool with that. You know, an artist always needs to be compared to someone. I would just say that as far as my sound it’s acoustic pop singer songwriter and there’s a lot of different variations of that.
What do you draw from when you’re writing music? Are there specific life events or cultural aspects that influence your songs?
The songs that I write are all inspired by life and things that really happened in my life. Things that I think about. You’d be surprised how many songs you can write after a breakup. I would say that culturally speaking, I do get moved by cultural events sometimes and I do write about it. I just don’t know if I’ve ever released anything cultural. But I have written a song recently about global warming. So that was a pretty interesting thing, yeah.
In what ways has your heritage shaped your life and career?
As far as my heritage, I grew up in Orange County, California. So I think… and then my parents are immigrants from Korea. So I think I do have that Korean culture, but I would say for the most part I’m more on the American side. I just started going to Korea back in 2009. And that’s when I discovered my roots and an appreciation for where my parents grew up. But I would say that the topics that I cover in my music – they don’t really have to do with my culture, moreso just life experiences that I think everyone can relate to.
So having been on YouTube for the past several years, how have you witnessed Youtube as platform grow and change and maybe even changes within your audience?
It’s awesome to see, at least for my audience, it’s really cool to see people growing with me. I think the first group of people that started watching in 2006 they now have kids, they have jobs at big companies, you know, they’re starting the next phase of their life. It’s just cool seeing everybody kind of move with you in a way. What was the other part of the question?
Having witnessed that growth, how have you grown with it?
That’s a deep question. Like as a musician I would say that I’ve definitely grown and I’ve also been in a place over the past few years where it’s gotten stale, too, just being a musician. And you know you kind of go through it – I’ve done music for such a long time and you just do whatever you can to stay inspired. But I think now I have a whole new appreciation for music on a deeper more profound level.
Your first hit “Youtube, A Love Song” went viral after you posted it to YouTube. How do you feel about Asian Americans using YouTube as a platform for greater representation in the media?
I think it’s the best platform to do that. It’s free, they don’t charge you for it. If anything they pay you for it, right? I think it’s a great platform. It’s given me a career over the past 10 years. It’s a great place if you want to do the youtube thing I would say that it’s very effective. But Youtube isn’t the only way to start a career. You can go on Spotify, there’s Soundcloud, there’s so many different services now.
So what would you say to aspiring musicians and even to Asian Americans in general?
I think rather than just giving advice to Asian Americans my advice to musicians in general is just to – it’s easy to say “be yourself” because it takes time to learn who you are as a person. But I would just say try to be authentic, if anything. If you feel like as an artist you are confused or you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future write about that, sing about that because that’s the most authentic. I think that’s what resonates with people the most. If you’re in love with someone, write a love song. I think it’s really about being authentic and coming from a place of truth because nowadays people can see through BS. You almost have to be really transparent with your life as an artist.
If you feel like as an artist you are confused or you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future write about that, sing about that because that’s the most authentic.
And so you talked about drawing upon life events for your songs. Can you walk me through your writing process?
I get inspiration in the weirdest places. Sometimes like in the shower, like when I’m on the toilet, or when I’m driving, before I fall asleep. It’s always different sometimes the lyric comes first, sometimes I have a melody idea, sometimes it’s both at the same time. It really depends. That’s the weird thing about inspiration, creativity comes at a weird time. And I just have to record it otherwise you have to wait for it to come back.
Where do you see your music and career going in the future?
It’s hard for me to answer because you can’t see the future. I could hate music next year or in two years and never want to do it again you never know. I mean I don’t think that going to happen, I love music and it’s always been a passion of mine but there are days I don’t want to do it. But most of the time i do. But I don’t have any lofty goals like winning a grammy or having a hit song. I’m very thankful that people still listen to my music and they improve as people by listening or they hear the stories.
Do you see Youtube continuing to be the primary platform where you post your music or will you branch out?
I actually love social media. I mean there are a lot of horrible things about it but there are a lot of good things too. I think it’s the best way to communicate with people and I love Snapchat, Facebook, they all have their own identities. As far as Youtube, I actually haven’t uploaded a video this year but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving Youtube.
What made you produce your own music?
I’m a control freak. I know what I want to hear and how I want to hear it. There can be improvements always but I want things a certain way and I like to have that personal touch.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Interview by Megan Palm. Video by Jessica Lim Liwang and Alexandria Ng. Transcript by Nicole Dan and Maya Punjwani. Photo by Zachariah Chou.