Yul Kwon is the hostof the PBS series “America Revealed” and winner of the reality TV show “Survivor: Cook Islands.” He has worked in law, government, business and technology, is the vice chair of the Council of Korean American Leaders and sits on the advisory boards of the Asian American Justice Center, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and NetKAL.
But besides his impressive resume, I find Yul Kwon an interesting role model and thought leader for Asian Americans everywhere because he realizes the importance of the media and how much it influences Asian Americans to be either included as part of the cultural melting pot or marginalized as stereotypes on the fringe.
Here’s his story of how he came to be in a position to be a positive Asian American media role model, happily relinquishing his career as an Ivy League attorney. Will his TV presence make a difference for your kids or mine? I think so. I actually do. On Survivor: Cook Island he was both Asian American, smart, strong, athletically gifted, articulate and charismatic. And he still has a Stanford undergraduate, Yale Law School background both as fall back and to say to the Tiger Moms out there that there are other successful options besides Doctor/Lawyer/Engineer/Accountant. Thank god for that!
He brings up a good point: if we don’t see ourselves portrayed in the media, it marginalizes us as a group. He intends to change that by being a role model for Asian Americans. But to really change how the media portrays Asian Americans, we must be filmmakers, producers, writers, directors, and reality TV stars. Do you agree? Why or why not? Please comment. Yul’s story is below.
“My parents immigrated to the United States fromSouth Korea in 1970 with big dreams, but little money. Since they couldn’t afford to put my brother and me in daycare or preschool, they encouraged us to watch television as a way to learn English. Every morning, my brother and I watched “Sesame Street” on PBS, which taught us how to count and recite the alphabet. Not only did our TV become another caregiver, it became the primary medium through which I learned about the world. It allowed me to see and experience things I’d never seen before. It helped me imagine a better future for me and my family. I studied hard and eventually made my way to Stanford University and then Yale Law School. For a poor kid like me, television helped provide the inspiration and vision I needed to realize the American dream.
But as much as television was a source of empowerment and inspiration, it was also a powerful source of constraint. Television defined the way I saw myself and my relationships with other people, and I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me. Asian-American characters were few and far between, and for lack of better alternatives, my favorite childhood hero was Big Bird. He wasn’t real, of course, but I didn’t care. He was nice, had lots of friends and was yellow – and hence, clearly, Asian.
In the rare instances I did see Asian-Americans actors, they were always portrayed as one-dimensional stereotypes. Women were submissive sexual servants or exotic dragon ladies. Men were inevitably math geeks who couldn’t get a date, or kung fu masters who could kick butt, but couldn’t speak English. In almost every instance, people of Asian descent were depicted as foreigners, not as Americans.
Over time, I internalized those images and grew ashamed of myself and my ethnicity. At school, I would mumble and talk fast because I didn’t think anyone would listen. I had a lisp, which people would sometimes mistake for an accent. I became afraid to speak for fear of being ridiculed. I eventually developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety and paruresis (“shy bladder” syndrome), the symptoms of which arose after I was bullied relentlessly in the bathroom by kids who called me “chink” or “gouk.”
It wasn’t until I became older that I began to address these problems directly, but even so, it took years to develop the self-awareness and confidence I needed to overcome them. As I found the courage to share my experiences with other people, I found that I wasn’t alone, that others had grown up feeling ashamed and ostracized. I came to understand how deeply and pervasively media had shaped the way I and other people in my community understood ourselves, and resolved that if I ever got the chance, I would try to drive meaningful change. ”
Ed Chin is the lone voice out there that also is righteously aggrieved about the discrimination against Asian Americans who apply to elite, private colleges. Yes, these applicants are very qualified and apply in droves, yet should this mean that the bar should be raised for a minority “group?” Here’s one point of view about why this is happening. For more posts on Why You Shouldn’t Identify as Asian When Applying to Elite, Private Colleges or Grad Schools, please go here.
I happen to agree with Ed Chin that Affirmative Action is outdated, that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are very different and should not be lumped together as a group, and that admissions assistance should be doled out by socio-economic status NOT by race. What do you think?
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; 10:12 AM
Asian American applicants to selective colleges appear to be at a disadvantage. Nationally, they have the highest average SAT scores, and yet many African American and Hispanic students with lower scores and grades are accepted to Ivy Leagues schools while high-performing Asian American students are rejected even when their families are similarly poor and undereducated.
My Oct. 12 column (“Should Colleges Have Quotas for Asian Americans?”) discussed this, and I assumed it would attract little comment. Unfairness to that relatively small minority group is almost never mentioned by major news organizations. Outspoken advocates for change, like New Jersey physician Ed Chin who inspired the column, are few in number and mostly ignored.
As Chin noted, the percent of African American and Hispanic students in selective college freshman classes is often higher than the percent of applicants from that group, while the opposite is true of Asian Americans. In 2001, 20.3 percent of applicants to Brown University’s class of 2005 were Asian American, but only 16 percent of the acceptances were. The percent of white applicants and acceptances was about the same, 66 percent, while African Americans comprised 9 percent of the acceptances and only 6 percent of the applicants, and Hispanics had 9 percent of the acceptances and only 7.1 percent of the applicants.But I was wrong. The e-mails poured in, obliging me to share the surprising reaction I received to this overlooked aspect of the affirmative action issue.
Chin is of Chinese descent, and was raised in New York City by low-income, immigrant parents. I thought I would hear from many Asian Americans who supported Chin, while other readers would be skeptical. But I was wrong. Readers of Asian descent were as divided on the issue as everyone else. The clash of race and class, of fairness and equity in this particular debate is so complex that nobody seems to have a predictable reaction, which is fine with me.
Virginia Y. Kim, for instance, is a lawyer in Chicago who grew up in an affluent, suburban Cleveland Korean-American family with what she called “the traditional Asian education ethos.” She said she has heard complaints like Chin’s all her life and her response has always been, “Who said life was fair?”
Huy N. Tran, a San Jose State University student of Vietnamese descent, said he thought it was wrong for Chin to suggest that other cultures do not value education as much as Asian American cultures do. “I have met students of all different cultures who take a full load of classes and work several jobs to pay for their education,” he said.
Anne Soh, a Korean-American Wellesley graduate, said she agreed with Chin that it is theoretically unfair that there is a quota at the top schools that works against Asians. But she said she would not want to attend a college that dispensed with the affirmative action race-balancing policies that Chin and others find so distasteful because part of the learning experience of college is getting to know people from different backgrounds.
On Chin’s side, however, was Arun Mantri, who was born in India and has children at a very selective public school, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. He said it was wrong that high-quality Asian students at that school were being rejected by top colleges. “Their chances would improve dramatically if race was not used as a factor in admissions, perhaps at the cost of the white applicants, something that only a few selective schools have dared to do,” he said.
Also supporting Chin’s argument was a member of one of the minority groups that tends to get more of a break in college admissions than Asian Americans do. Paul Grandpierre described himself as “a first generation Haitian American from a really poor family who managed to graduate law school.” He said he thought affirmative action was better than doing nothing about the “inclination of the human heart to rationalize superficial differences into fundamental differences.” But, he said, “I agree with Mr. Chin that today, affirmative action should focus on the poor and not merely on blacks. . . . I can tell you that from my experience that being poor presented more powerful obstacles to my unlikely ascent than being black.”
Chin also had support from non-Hispanic white readers. Jeff Werthan said it was paternalistic and patronizing for me to suggest that “a hard-working and brilliant Asian student and his or her family . . . should be satisfied with the other admittedly good schools out there if they are otherwise deserving of admission to Harvard or Yale.”
A white reader, who declined to let me use his name because he does not want to offend the university that employs him, said his experience as an admissions officer confirms Chin’s sense of unfairness. “What scares the top colleges is what their campuses might look like, racially speaking” if they followed Chin’s suggestion and rejected middle-class African American and Hispanic students in favor of higher-scoring, low-income Asians. They fear, he said, “the sort of intense heat they’d take for the presumed drop in ‘diversity.'”
Chin’s argument does, however, rest upon sophisticated analysis of test scores and a willingness to emphasize averages, rather than the many individual cases that do not support his point. Many readers saw that as a weakness.
Mike Martin, a research analyst with the Arizona School Boards Association, warned Chin against putting so much weight on test scores in determining who is being discriminated against, particularly when looking at the narrow band at the very top of the SAT scale. “So if you accidentally mismark a question, or misconstrue a question, only one question, you could drop out of the 1600 club,” he said. “In W. Edward Deming’s preaching about corporate management he warned about making decisions based on differences that were within normal variation.”
Michael J. McCabe, whose children have attended the challenging D.C. private school, St. Anselm’s Abbey, noted that white kids are also rejected by selective colleges for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their applications. His older son graduated in the top five of his high school class, had a 1470 SAT, was an Eagle Scout, captain and founder of the school’s Science Bowl team and co-captain of its “It’s Academic” team. Yet he was rejected by Dartmouth, Rice and the University of Virginia. McCabe thinks U-Va. had reached its quota for students from D.C. private schools, not an unreasonable theory given the way such colleges fill their classes.
So now, McCabe said, his son is thriving academically at Carnegie Mellon, but he and his roommate, who is from China, often complain about “the large proportion of Asians in the engineering and computer programs and the limited interaction they have with students of different socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Most of the people who responded to the column appeared sympathetic, however, to Chin’s view that colleges should make less of race in their admissions decisions and look more closely at family income. A student who had overcome difficult circumstances to compile an impressive high school record was likely to appreciate what a great university had to offer.
If the system is to change, and worthy Asian American students are to get what they deserve, they are going to need more advocates than just Ed Chin and the few other civil rights and admissions experts who have raised these issues. Shellye McKinney, a former college admissions officer, said that “affirmative action was created because people fought for it” and those who think it is hurting students of Asian descent are going to have to struggle in the same way to make themselves heard.
As I usually tell Chin when he rails against the American media in general and me in particular for not giving his concerns enough attention, there has to be dramatic evidence of support for his thinking before editors and news directors will get interested. Street demonstrations, boycotts, major conferences, bills in Congress — all those things would help.
The press tends to pay attention to those who are shouting the loudest, and so far the people Chin is trying to help have been very quiet.
This is a great article that sums up the issues that make Affirmative Action outdated.
Asian Americans: Those with Southeast Asian origins tend to be lower income and less educated than their counterparts from South and East Asia, alike. Given this, should a Vietnamese-American college applicant and a Japanese-American college applicant be subject to the same affirmative action policy?
African Americans: Among African Americans, class divides exist between blacks native to the United States and foreign-born blacks, with the latter achieving higher incomes and levels of education than the former.
Is affirmative action reaching the most vulnerable segments of underrepresented groups?
For more posts on Asian Americans, Affirmative Action, and Admissions Policies, please click here.
Affirmative action and minorities are often linked, but are the ethnic groups who need it most reaping its benefits in college admissions? A look at how affirmative action plays out among Asian-American and African-American students suggests maybe not.
The Diversity of Asian America
In the educational realm, colleges and universities often exclude Asian Americans from receiving affirmative action benefits. That’s because the racial group is already highly represented on college campuses nationwide. But a closer look at Asian America reveals distinct class divides among its ethnic groups. For instance, those with Southeast Asian origins tend to be lower income and less educated than their counterparts from South and East Asia, alike. Given this, should a Vietnamese-American college applicant and a Japanese-American college applicant be subject to the same affirmative action policy?
The African American Dilemma
Among African Americans, class divides exist between blacks native to the United States and foreign-born blacks, with the latter achieving higher incomes and levels of education than the former. In fact, the U.S. Census indicates that African immigrants to the U.S. are the most highly educated group of people in the entire country. In America’s most elite colleges and universities, the blacks on campus are often immigrants or the children of immigrants. Does this mean affirmative action is failing to serve the descendants of slaves, the group some scholars argue that it was designed to help?
Who Was Affirmative Action Meant to Serve?
How did affirmative action come about, and who was meant to reap its benefits? In the 1950s, civil rights activists successfully challenged segregation in the education, food and transportation realms, to name a few. Due to the thriving Civil Rights Movement, President John Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925 in 1961. The order made reference to “affirmative action” as a means by which to end discrimination. Affirmative action prioritizes the placement of underrepresented groups in sectors from which they were categorically barred in the past, including the workplace and the academy.
Back then, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans faced a wide range of barriers because of their racial backgrounds-from being forced to live in segregated neighborhoods to being denied adequate medical care and fair access to employment. Because of the pervasive discrimination such groups faced, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was created. It functions, in part, to eliminate employment discrimination. The year after the act passed, President Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, which mandated that federal contractors practice affirmative action to develop diversity in the workplace and end race-based discrimination, among other sorts. By the late 1960s, educational institutions were using affirmative action to diversify the nation’s colleges.
How Deep Are Intra-Racial Divides?
Thanks to affirmative action, college campuses have grown more diverse over the years. But is affirmative action reaching the most vulnerable segments of underrepresented groups? Take Harvard, for example. In recent years, the institution has come under fire because such a large number of black students on campus are either immigrants or immigrants’ children. It’s estimated that two-thirds of students there come from families which hail from the Caribbean or Africa, the New York Times reported. Therefore, blacks who have resided in the country for generations, the ones who endured slavery, segregation and other barriers, aren’t reaping the benefits of affirmative action en masse.
Harvard isn’t the only elite institution to see this trend play out. Inside Higher Ed magazine cited a study published in the Sociology of Education which found that selective colleges enroll just 2.4 percent of native black high school graduates but 9.2 percent of immigrant blacks. Another study cited by Inside Higher Ed, published in The American Journal of Education, found that 27 percent of black students at selective colleges are first- or second-generation immigrants. However, this group makes up only 13 percent of all black people between the ages of 18 and 19 in the United States, leaving little doubt that immigrant blacks are over-represented in elite academic institutions.
A large number of Asian Americans are first- or second-generation immigrants, of course. But even in this population, divides exist among native and foreign-born individuals. According to the 2007 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census, just 15 percent of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have bachelor’s degrees, and just 4 percent have graduate degrees. Meanwhile, 50 percent of Asian Americans overall have bachelor’s degrees and 20 percent have graduate degrees. While Asian Americans generally are highly educated and well represented on the nation’s college campuses, clearly the indigenous segment of this population is being left behind.
What’s the Solution?
Colleges which seek multicultural student bodies must treat African Americans and Asian Americans as diverse groups and not as homogenous entities. Achieving this requires taking into account an applicant’s specific ethnic background when considering students for admission. If not, America’s intra-racial divides will likely soon rival the nation’s inter-racial fissures.
Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits.
In this context, Bohemians can be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.
This use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the 19th century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through free love, frugality, and voluntary poverty.
The term Bohemianism emerged in France in the early 19th century when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class gypsy neighborhoods. Bohémien was a common term for the Romani people of France, who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia.
I had no idea that there was an actual country called Bohemia from which the term Bohemian is derived. In my mind, Bohemian is Haight-Ashbury San Francisco in the 60’s. I’ve had several mom friends recently who described their families as “bohemian.”
And it sounded good. You know, non-rule followers. Independents on many levels. Accountable to no one or sort of like that. And I wanted to try it out. We did have some similarities, after all. We all worked from home and had our own businesses. We were at the same schools.
In my head, I rolled it around: “We’re a Bohemian family too…” And it just didn’t work. Not only did it not roll of the tongue, but the image of an Asian American Bohemian was laughable, ridiculous, and even downright embarrassing.
Is it true that Asian Americans can’t be Bohemian? Even the pop/rock musicians that I’ve tracked down — The Slants and David Choi — exhibit a strong work ethnic that is more Confucianism than Bohemian. There are no Asian American parents that I know of exposingfree love, frugality, and voluntary povertyas a parenting message. Nope, the message that I hear more often is work hard, try harder, be better.
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (Kǒng Fūzǐ, or K’ung-fu-tzu, lit. “Master Kong”, 551–478 BC).
The core of Confucianism is humanism, the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation.
What do you think? Can Asian Americans be Bohemian? Do you know of any? Please share!
My Mom Friend Nathalie gets annoyed when I blog too much on Asian American fashion designers and other frivolous topics. She dragged me and a couple of other friends to a play by Asian American Playwright, Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro who wrote, for the first time, about life where she lives in Harvard Square, Cambridge. Before I Leave You is a bittersweet comedy about relationships, simultaneously both loving and dysfunctional. Interestingly, Alfaro’s play, which is getting a lot of attention, is putting her on the map late in her career: she’s nearly 70-years-old! I find that inspirational!
What are the elements of Before I Leave You without ruining the plot for you?
There’s Tiger dad Koji, who also is a narcissist. The plot turns around his shortcomings as a father, husband, and friend.
Emily is the sweetly vulnerable Caucasian artist wife of Koji. She’s not a Tiger Parent, yet shouldn’t she have some responsibility for the decisions for their only child’s education? She is the mom, after all!
Peter is the boomerang son who’s now just leaving the nest. He has a secret and his job as a bagger at the supermarket is not impressing his father.
Koji’s best friend Jeremy is a Jewish American professor and author. He’s suffering from a decline in health and unrequited love. Or is it? “Uncle Jeremy” is also the father that Peter wished he had.
Jeremy’s sister Trish is living with him temporarily until she finds a new job. She’s Koji’s biggest fan and the comic relief.
The show’s over in Boston, but I wonder if it will start up again someplace else. Stay tuned…
I met Chien-Chi Huang through social media and she reached out to me about Asian women and the Breast Cancer Project. My mother is a breast cancer survivor, so I wanted to post her story in the hope that it raises awareness and helps to prevent it through screening.
My name is Chien-Chi Huang and I was diagnosed with breast cancer just few months after I turned 40. I was shocked when given the bad news because I thought only white women or old women could get breast cancer. I was even more surprised to learn that many Asian American women I knew had breast cancer, but nobody talked about it.
In fact, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Asian American women and the leading cancer cause among Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Korean women. Yet when compared to other racial groups, Asian American women have the lowest screening service utilization rate. Language and cultural barriers often prevent people from seeking proper, timely treatment and support, which have a great impact on the survival outcomes.
Many still suffer in silent, feeling isolated and stigmatized.
Cancer is a subject no one wants to talk about, and it is especially hard for Asian Americans to come forward and speak about it. Therefore, it is even more important for people to see others who beat the disease and hear about the resources available in the community.
I am very grateful as I have the second chance to live a productive life. I believe we could save lives by recruiting and retaining Asian American women for early detection services. As a prevention health worker, I understand that personal stories can be a powerful tool to change people’s perception, attitude and behaviors. My ultimate goal is to empower others to dispel myth, reduce disparities and bring hope to fellow Asian American women by sharing their cancer experience and breast health related information.* With the support from the
Massachusetts Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure ® and the Saffron Circle, I will work with health facilities and community based organizations to conduct culturally appropriate educational workshops in the Asian American communities. The project is also funded in part by a matching grant from Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.
To realize this vision, I need your help to recruit and encourage Asian American women to get involved in the Asian Breast Cancer project’s free workshops.
For the sake of our mothers, daughters and dear friends: please forward this to whoever might be interested in taking part of this effort to raise breast health awareness in the Asian American communities!
I hope you will consider donating your time, talents and resources by contacting me at: abcH2H@gmail.com or (617) 870-4056. Thanks for your attention and I look forward to hearing from you.
Six years ago this time, I just finished my chemo and about to have a mastectomy. My life turned upside down and yet I learned so much about myself and the people around me: I learned that one cannot go on without the support of her family and friends no matter how strong she thinks she is!
I wish to thank you all for helping me during my road to recovery and I hope I can be helpful to the others just like you did for me.
This year I am organizing a team to participate at the Komen Race on Sunday, 10/30 and I hope to raise additional $1,000 in the next 3 days – would you please make a contribution and help promote our cause via your network (please see attached for some info regarding the Asian Breast Cancer Project and a factsheet)?
Facts Asian & Pacific Islander American Women Need to Know About Their Risk
Cancer is the leading cause of death of Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) women in the United States, with breast cancer as the most common.
Cancer deaths are increasing faster among A&PI Americans than any other U.S. ethnic or racial group.
U.S. A&PI rates of invasive breast cancer have increased approximately 1.2 % every year between 1988 and 2005, and have yet to decline.
Although breast mortality rates have declined among every other U.S. racial groups, they have increased among A&PI women.
Among A&PI women, compared to others, breast cancer has been found to show a relatively younger median age at diagnosis and early tumor onset.
Breast cancer rates among U.S. A&PI women are 60% higher than those found in the same women’s A&PI home countries.
Immigrant A&PI women who have been living in the United States for 10 years have an 80% higher risk of developing breast cancer than their newly-arrived A&PI immigrant counterparts.
Despite the misconception that A&PI women don’t get breast cancer, the incidence rate of breast cancer among South Asian women living in the United States—along with 3rd and 4th generation Japanese and Chinese American women—reaches that of U.S. white women.
A&PI American women have very low rates of breast cancer screening, which increases their chances of later stage disease presentation. Multiple studies consistently show that A&PI women over 40 obtain regular mammograms at the lowest rate of any U.S. racial/ethnic group—rates are even lower for low income and recent immigrant women.
David Choi’s single That Girl is Top 40 kind of stuff! Buy it here on iTunes. Expect him to go big! Taylor Swift big! Read his story below that I pulled from his site and note that even (or perhaps the better word is “especially”)Asian American musicians apply a pretty serious work ethic to their craft! That’s the secret to his success and soon-to-happen ascent into megawatt stardom.
Here’s his YouTube exclusive By My Side:
Now that you are hooked on his music, buy his CD!
His album Forever and Ever
His Single, By My Side
Click on image to view more closely at Amazon.
Here’s his story:
My musical story…
Should we start at the beginning? I was born in Anaheim, California, but I actually spent most of my childhood in a city called Garden Grove. Bla bla bla boring…
Let’s skip to elementary school where my actual musical journey begins.
Just like 99% of kids from Korean descent (at least if you were born in the 80′s or 90′s), you were forced to learn at least one of the following instruments – piano, violin, cello, or flute. My weapon of choice was violin and piano. Actually, it wasn’t my choice. It was a choice that my parents made for me, which resulted in me taking private lessons for both instruments every week or I’d suffer a beat down.
My parents owned/own a music store called “Grace Music”. They used to sell all kinds of instruments and had music teachers come in almost everyday to give private lessons. I spent a lot of time there because my parents didn’t have anyone to baby-sit me. I was always surrounded by musical instruments, but I absolutely had no interest in them whatsoever.
My dad (when he was younger) was an aspiring singer/musician in Korea. It probably added on to the reason why I had to take up an instrument.
I remember enjoying violin and piano for a quick minute until I was told to “practice”.
I guess I didn’t realize practicing was something that came with picking up an instrument.
Practicing sucked. It required discipline…a word I did not care for at that age. I was a kid. I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to play with my Ninja Turtles and GI-Joe action figures. I wanted to drink a gallon of Kool-Aid and eat as many chocolate bars as I could. I wanted to play kickball with my friends. I wanted to play with Lego’s all day long.
That’s all I wanted to do….
I’m in 10th grade, the school year is almost finished, and I’m sitting in Mr. Roy’s history class. There’s a kid named Pablo (I think), and he puts a CD into Mr. Roy’s CD player and electronic music starts playing. There are only a few students in the room including me, and I hear Pablo saying, “yeah, I made this music”.
The gears in my mind started grinding and I asked myself, “You can make your own music? Wow, hmmm, wow…I didn’t realize you could do that. I think writing music is something I could do.
*Hums melodies in my head*
See, I’m making melodies in my head right now!”
That was my turning point.
So there it began. The early stages of songwriting.
I went home later that night, and started to fiddle around on my Yamaha EX5 Keyboard, which I asked my dad to bring from the store. (I still use to this day). This was my first taste in composition. As I was messing around on my keyboard, there was a big question I asked myself. “HOW DO I RECORD MY IDEAS?”
I took out the instruction book for my keyboard and didn’t understand a lot of the terms. I was desperate at that very moment to record, but I calmed myself down and I quit for the night. It was too late and I was tired.
Fast forward to August of 2002. By this time, I figured out how to record on my keyboard and learned what “tracks” were. I created a remix of an old Korean traditional folk song called “Arirang” using piano, strings, drums, and bass – sounds that were all built into the keyboard. It definitely had jazzy elements to it. As stated previously, Jazz had a big influence on me and it showed in this crappy remix.
Few days later….
I actually remember sitting down, and being serious about finishing a full instrumental piece. By this time, I already learned how to record into my keyboard by reading the instruction book. I started with a piano sound, and started composing. I took my score-pad out, and started notating each note of the melody and chords up above the melody. This way, I could remember it and see it. Thanks to my classical training, I knew how to do this. I remember the song took me three days to complete.
I named my very first instrumental piece “Lost Memory”. Yes, corny title, but it did suit the feel of the song. After it was composed and recorded into the keyboard, I played it for my dad, and I think I remember him liking it. Didn’t seem like he was blown away or anything. Honestly, I didn’t expect that much of a reaction.
PS. Try typing “Lost Memory” and “David Choi” on Google or Yahoo and you might be able to find it on the Internet
Over the course of a couple weeks as school started, I immediately started on my next song “Good Day”, and then “Beautiful Butterfly”. Once again, both seriously corny titles, but they worked. They were also notated on a score-pad. Next after that was “Rose Petaled Heart” [As I’m writing these titles, I am disgusted], and then some other unnamed song I didn’t complete.
After the pieces were composed, they were all stored inside my keyboard. I couldn’t share them with people or get critiques without having them stand next to my keyboard, so what did I do? I recorded them to cassette tape using a cheap tape recorder and a cheap Radio Shack microphone.
Later, in the middle of the school year (I was in 10th grade; 16 years old), the school district held a “Reflections Contest”. I don’t remember the theme, but it was something I was interested in. I wanted to see if I was good enough to keep pursuing this music thing. So I entered my song “Lost Memory” and to make a long story short, I won for my school division (I think 2 people entered), and I won the City Level but did not move on.
I remember losing to someone who scored a piece for a string quartet. I have to admit that it did make me a little angry because it was something I knew I could have done. It was just a little more time-consuming, but I thought an instrumental pop song would be “cooler” to submit, so I went with that. I did get a certificate and some medals. Whoop de doo.
My first award for music!!
I honestly did not bask in the measly amount of glory that came with the win. It was just enough of a pat on the back to drive me to pursue music a bit harder.
Out of 10th grade….
During 10th grade, the intense computer gaming days were slowly coming to an end, and I started a new obsession with composing music. This was also the time when I had 42k(?), or 56k Internet. I’m not sure which, but I do remember it was free and it took 5 minutes to load a page. I tried convincing my parents with every reason I could think of to upgrade to DSL or Cable Internet, which was actually for gaming purposes. I was sneaky you know!
Definitely wasn’t happening.
Well this music obsession was apparent after I downloaded a free music program called “Acid Pro” off of the website www.acidplanet.com (mainly electronic music based), which is still there to this day (as well as my user account). This program was much like today’s Garage Band, which is based on arranging loops – hearing what you liked in a browser, and pasting them in a sequencer. I was amazed at how easy it was to “create” using pre-existing loops. Of course, the program sat in my computer for a few days because I had no clue on how to use it.
“AHHH, how frustrating? I don’t know how to use it…wah wah wah…”
What did I do like a smart boy?
I learned how to use it.
I learned to use at least the basics. Taught myself enough to be able to paste the loops and create electronic music. It was definitely something completely different from what I was used to doing previously on my EX5 keyboard. It was different because it had cooler sounds, it wasn’t a ghetto keyboard recorder, and it was “almost professional sounding”. I must have “composed” about 10 songs that week. The only negative to this experience I felt at the time, was that it wasn’t “creative” enough. My definition of “creative” was coming up with something original from my own heart and soul. All I was actually doing was pasting loops that someone else had created, which made me feel a little guilty. I admit it was fun, very inspiring, and everything sounded great with so little effort, but I was limited in my creativity because the loops didn’t do what I wanted them to do.
So once again, I did my homework.
I researched on my slow ass 56k Internet like a mad man. I really wanted to learn how to use this program to its fullest capabilities because I wanted to record my own original ideas. From my research, I stumbled upon one website I particularly remember to this day.
It was www.tweakheadz.com. I learned pretty much all the basics of recording through this website. This website had so much great info in layman’s terms (easy words). I remember spending HOURS and HOURS, filling my brain with information. I probably read the entire website at one point. I figured out how to hook up my Yamaha EX5 keyboard into an audio interface, which I asked my parents to purchase for me. I convinced them that this is what I wanted to do and it was something I NEEDED. Of course, I had to remind them of all the awards I won in the previous year.
I’m not quite sure what made them get it for me (maybe it was my birthday), but I eventually got my audio interface (Edirol DA-2496), hooked up my MIDI keyboard, and started recording my own ideas in conjunction with the loops.
There were quite a lot of instrumentals I composed during 10th grade. I didn’t keep very many instrumentals, but one thing was sure.
I knew Acid Pro. I mean really. I MASTERED it.
I learned all the hotkeys and I was extremely efficient at it. I don’t think anyone was as fast as me. Not being able to do something in Acid Pro irritated the hell out of me. Who was to blame for not knowing how to use it? ME!!!!!! I BLAMED ME!!!!! A vicious cycle I tell you. Because of that experience, I’m usually always able to find a solution to most problems in my life.
Another main development in my early stages was my desire to become great at what I was doing. Good wasn’t good enough. I remember sending instrumentals to EVERYONE on my AIM buddy list, asking for opinions and critiques. I bet a lot of them still remember my crappy instrumentals to this day. How else could I have gotten better? I wanted honest truths, and sometimes, I knew I couldn’t get them because they were my friends, but I kept asking anyways.
During all the obsessive work I was putting into becoming the best I could, I started entering even more contests. I remember submitting music at www.broadjam.com, where I was in the top 10, for a remix contest for Madison Park. It was a song called “Who’s Got the Time”. I also won an honorable mention (which I laugh at now because I guess it was a big deal for me back then) for a remix contest held bywww.Alternate-Earth.com. It was an electronic music website which specialized in Break Beats.
That concludes my 10th grade year. I don’t remember much else, but I should probably mention my family moved houses from Garden Grove to Fountain Valley.
Here comes 2003!
I’m an 11th grader at Pacifica High School. The “Reflections” contest didn’t happen that year, but that didn’t stop me from pursuing others. I searched for more contests to even further validate myself if I should be doing music.
I got heavily involved with electronic music in 2003 and was finding my way through it. At this point, I was working on music almost every single day for about at LEAST six hours a day after school. I really wish everyone could experience what I did. Although it wasn’t healthy living at all, it gave me a feeling of fulfillment and purpose. It was a great time and I enjoyed every minute of it.
It literally consumed my life.
I wanted nothing to do with anything else, and it was then, I decided that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I made a vow to myself that I would never get a “real” job. This pressure I put on myself definitely worked. The fear of having to live on the streets!! I’d have to say that was one of the main driving forces in working hard.
Music was really the only thing I seemed to be good at compared to everything else in life. I was never really that great in school. I hated waking up early, I hated homework, and the pressure of tests. I never got used to them. (Does anyone? ha!)
In 2003, I became involved with www.Acidplanet.com (AP), which was/is a great online community for electronic musicians including trance, techno, breakbeat, nu-skool, jungle, etc. They held contests every so often and I did my best to enter every single one. There were always hundreds and hundreds of entries, but that didn’t stop me. A year of crazy obsessions with music production and composing slowly paid off.
I entered a contest for Warner Bros. BWB remix contest on AP and placed 3rd. You could still hear it today on the website. I won some loop packages and the latest copy of Acid Pro. I was happy for even placing in the top three and it made me feel good that I was advancing.
I remember being so sick and tired of the pre-made loops that came with Acid Pro that I connected my Yamaha EX5 keyboard and created my own loops as well as recorded parts directly from my keyboard. The sounds weren’t great, but they were all original parts. That mattered a lot to me.
I also entered a contest held by the “Call to Arts!” expo, which took place at Cal State Fullerton (a state college). I found out about the contest through the Internet. I entered my song “Lost Memory” into the contest and won for the “Creative Visions” category. I went to the school to pick up my prizes (dumb prizes) and some medals.
I was working on my resume.
Another contest I entered that year was for a piano loop company called “Hark Productions”. They wanted people to make “recreations” of their original song – so basically, a remix. Duh. I was a runner-up, which was a little disappointing, but the people who won definitely had better remixes than me.
When I think about why I did these contests back then, it was to prove to everyone – parents, friends, and especially myself that I would be able to become something more than just a quiet, loser kid who plays computer games all day and is unproductive. Since the day music grabbed a hold of me, I never let go, and I wanted to get deeper and deeper into all things musical. Not only did I research ALL over the Internet for music production advice, but even the business side of it. I figured, “Hey, if I’m going to do this professionally, then why not learn about the business side of it too?” So everyday, there were hours and hours dedicated towards all things music.
With the help of my parents, my persistence, and a credit card, I also joined a couple “music communities” like www.tonos.com (which shut down) and www.letstalkmusic.com (inactive) where people discussed, critiqued each other’s music, and just hung out on forums. I made many great friends there and learned a LOT. This was definitely a major shift in my musical journey.
This was when I started writing songs with melody/lyrics…
In the summer of 2003, I started writing songs with a woman named Andrea Crims whom I met through www.tonos.com. She was a great person. What drew me to her was not only her amazing lyrics, but also her sweet heart and mother-like character. She would always send me lyrics to put melody and tracks over. We did around 30 collaborations over the course of a couple of years. It was great practice for me. I also wrote with others on the website and offered my remixing services to them. It was a great community and I was very involved with it.
“Octonosfest” was a little gathering a few people on the “Tonos” website organized. We met at the “Good Earth Café” in Hollywood. Peter Ren, (who ended up marrying Andrea about a year later) and I hit it off pretty well at the get-together. There were about 10 people who attended from rock styled musicians, pop, folk, and everything in between. I was the youngest one there with the average person ranging from early 30’s to maybe late 40’s. I was a bit shy as it was my first encounter of such thing. Not to mention I was just quiet in general. I just wanted to be entrenched with the knowledge of everything musical. That’s why I went. I also wanted to meet people who did the same thing I did. There was a connection there.
After Tonos shut down shortly after my arrival (I didn’t shut it down, I promise!), the community scattered all around the net, but most migrated to www.letstalkmusic.com. Its pretty much dead right now, but it used to thrive until drama came to play, but we won’t get into that here. The collaboration, education, and discussions were very informative, and I continued to work on my craft of writing and producing, as well as a little bit of remixing on the side for fun.
I guess my first musical mentors had to have been Peter and Andrea. They supported me through the tough times when I felt like quitting. They were both very talented people and I really respect and thank them for what they did. I remember sending almost all of my songs to Peter to get them critiqued by him. He gave me valuable advice, as did the people in the community.
Well, back to school as a senior in 2004, the Reflections Contest returned. This year’s theme was ”I’m Really Happy When” so I wrote a song. My very first original song where I did both lyrics and melodies was simply titled, “I’m Really Happy When”. The great thing was, I already had practiced writing melodies over the lyrics Andrea gave me so writing lyrics wasn’t something that was completely foreign to me.
“I’m Really Happy” won the County level, but didn’t go beyond that. I’m pretty sure it was because it wasn’t a classical piece. But it didn’t really matter to me.
Half way into my senior year, I signed up for choir as my other elective on top of orchestra. It was an easy class and I didn’t have to try very hard. I mean…there wasn’t really anything challenging about the class to begin with. I remember the last concert we had, we all sung Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. That was cool.
As school went on, I kept remixing songs on www.acidplanet.com and got better and better, learned new tricks, learned the “Akon Effect” (BEFORE Akon used it, it was known as the “Cher Effect”), entered contests, and continued to write songs. I placed second for the PVDJ/ACIDplanet Mix Contest at www.broadjam.com, where they provided samples, which you then created a song with. I don’t remember what I won. I also won “A New Kind of Blue” remix contest where I remixed the old jazz tune “So What” which can be found on iTunes.
About 2 months before school ended, I entered a contest on www.acidplanet.com called the “David Bowie Mash-up Contest”. Now the awesome thing about this contest was that the grand prize was a CAR. A freaking 2004 Audi TT.
I immediately went to work.
I did 9 Mash-up’s and submitted all of them because I wanted to win. I also knew in the back of my mind that most people did not know how to properly “mash” songs together, so that gave me an advantage. I’ve got to say though; it was still a super long shot because of how many entries there were. Thousands including professional remixers! I wanted the car.
All the mash-ups were submitted, and eventually, one of my mash-ups got chosen to be a finalist where it was entered into a voting process. To make a long story short, I got a call from the contest people congratulating me that David Bowie himself chose me as the winner!
I was super excited and asked if I could take the money instead of a car because I already had a car. They said yes, and I upgraded my studio, and gave the rest to my mother.
A month later, I got a call from USA Weekend Magazine’s Frappa Stout, telling me I won a contest. I didn’t remember entering the contest at all, but after thinking about it for about 10 seconds, I remembered I sent in lyrics to a contest they held in the beginning of the school year. It was about the “American Dream”. Wow! Two huge contests in such a short period of time! I was pretty happy and I felt like my hard work paid off. I met Usher and took a photo with him for the cover of USA Weekend Magazine. I was also interviewed on CNN Headline News (which I totally butchered, which is probably why they didn’t send me to radio stations haha), and appeared for 2 seconds on the NBC Show “American Dreams”. Not to mention a $1,000 dollar treasury bond, which matures in 10 years! (Takes 10 years from the date I got it to reach a max of $1,000 dollars).
Winning all the contests was a confirmation to me that music was my purpose in life. I didn’t see anything else in my future but that. More than the prizes, knowing that I could work hard and have it pay off was the best feeling ever.
During college apps, I was supposed to enroll to Cal State Fullerton. I was actually already accepted before my senior year ended, but I screwed up big time. I was so occupied with music that I forgot to register for the school year! I was two days too late. Goodbye to Cal State Fullerton! Hello community college!
Do you all want to know my GPA in high school? It was a measly 3.2 GPA. Like I said, I hated school. Especially the waking up part – even to this day, I do not enjoy waking up. I will never be a morning person!
2004, the school year ended, they played “Time of Your Life” by Greenday, Vitamin C’s “Graduation”, people cried, screamed, people were happy, people were sad, and I was ready to walk into a new era of life which involved sleeping in until whenever I pleased. But seriously, more than that, I was ready to do this music thing for reals.
Immediately after graduation, I applied for an internship at a studio called Sadder Music* in North Hollywood, which was about an hour drive from my house. I found out about it through a guy named Mark who I met on a web forum, of which I forgot the name.
Sometime in high school, I read that most of the world’s biggest producers and songwriters got their start by interning, so I decided to follow their formula for success. I remember searching hardcore for a month until I found Sadder and I was very happy when I did. I checked out the studio and it was super vibey. The vintage gear, instruments all over the place, and the layout was amazing. The studio was beautifully hand-built and didn’t look like all the other typical studios I’ve seen. I knew Sadder would be more hands on than the other bigger studios I looked at. They had a wood-shop in the back with every tool ever made. They made cabinets and other things for the studio. Connected to the wood-shop was a wallpaper making room with 3 long tables for custom designs. It was their side business.
The first guy I met there was Sag* (one of the owners), who was a bassist in the 90’s for a band called “Hary’s Danish”*. He looked like he came straight out of jail and was ready to pound someone in the face, but he was actually a super friendly guy. He had a large build with black-framed glasses and spoke with a raspy smoker’s voice (although he didn’t smoke at the time). One of the smartest guys I’ve ever met and knew almost everything about vintage gear and technology. I learned a whole lot from him and also gained a lot of musical influences from his iTunes collection (Tom Waits, Motown, Oldies). I definitely rubbed off his musical taste.
The asshole/owner of the studio was Ham* (won’t mention his last name just in case he reads this. If you ARE reading, you’re an asshole). I have to say this though, I liked his blunt attitude sometimes and he was one of the most amazing electric guitarists I’ve ever seen or heard. He came from an Italian family who played old country/blues/folk songs, which is pretty odd if you ask me. He ran the wallpaper company and basically designed and built the studio. He has a great eye for aesthetics.
Then there was Dick* and Dono*. Dick (owner) was also a bassist and had a side job of working on commercials. He’s about 6’3 and has a lazy Australian accent. Walked pretty slow…Ham and Dick were both in a band called “The Sharthogs”…I didn’t really like their music because it was dark and the melodies weren’t that great. The singing was also pretty bad. These guys were all in bands when they were younger, signed numerous major label deals, bla bla bla – the whole cliché. I think Dick was one of the best bassists I’ve ever heard. He played it really musically and smooth. I liked his style. One thing that bugged me about him was that he rarely did any dirty work (more about dirty work later). Dono was the office guy who occasionally played bass on stuff for the boys. He took care of all the money business and I would always see him surf the Internet. He was one of those people who liked giving advice. Most of the time, I have to say it was good advice, but sometimes, it was just too much for me. He’d be a great teacher.
I worked under these guys for three years and for free may I add. Three years of learning. Three years of pain. Three years of torture.
With passive learning, came active work. I was basically treated like a slave at *Sadder. Maybe I’m exaggerating just a fraction of a micron, but I definitely paid my dues in this stupid industry. People think they have it hard at their internships. They all think that doing coffee runs once a week is a pain in the ass. I used to come into the studio from around 12pm to 8pm at night 6 days a week for a year, cleaning dirty piss stained bathrooms, driving to get lunch for the boys, going to Starbucks (which had no parking lot) to buy coffee all on my own tank of gas. Sure they probably gave me a total of 20 bucks throughout the three years I’ve been there for gas, but it wasn’t anything compared to the 100 miles I drove there, and back home to work for them. I remember one instant, I was asked to drive about an hour from my house to pick up some paper for them, then I drove all the way back to the studio which was another hour away. I ended up going through rush hour traffic to get there (LA rush hour sucks!!!!). On top of that, I had to stay until 11pm to help them make freaking WALLPAPER. That’s just one incident. I ruined about 4 pairs of jeans because of how much painting I had to do for these guys. Painting cabinets, painting walls, painting ceilings, painting desks, crawling through air ducts with hidden black widows – the work was endless. Not sure if I was ever thanked for all the work I did. I even did a lot of “ghostwriting” work for them, not full songs with lyrics, but I composed quite a few instrumental tracks for the TV shows they were working on. Did I get paid or get credited? Nope.
* (Some names in this section are fictional)
What made the experience worse for me was that I never said “no” to anything they would ask me to do. In Korean culture, you learn to respect your elders. Usually, they in return have a certain level of respect and courtesy towards you. Not at Sadder. They cursed me out for fun, made some racist jokes from time to time, and I endured the mental abuse. I didn’t want to ever talk back, and my mistake was that I didn’t demand respect. I should have held my ground, but I was just a shy kid who kept everything inside.
Now they sound like evil men from how I’m describing them (they are), but I learned some positive things from them too, besides carpentry, painting and back breaking work. I did a lot of observing and asking questions (of course when the time was right) and I listened to what different pieces of gear did what. I learned about different EQ’s, compressors, limiters, pre-amps, transients, analog tape, Pro-tools, microphones, and instruments. Eventually, they gave me a key to the studio, but I wasn’t always able to use it after they went home because I was too tired.
All kinds of people went in and out of the studio. It wasn’t a corporate studio, so there weren’t any huge acts, but some people I remember were Mike D and Money Mark from the Beastie boys, Chris Cornell, Steve Aoki, John C. Reilly, Greg Upchurch of Puddle of Mudd, Dean Butterworth of Good Charlotte, and Victor Indrizzo who played on many hit songs. I can’t remember any other significant artists. But there have been some great musicians who’ve come by.
The torturous interning went on and on and I was still working on music as usual. I pushed through it all, working hours and hours. I entered a couple songs into a songwriting contest at www.songwriteruniverse.com, which led me to getting a couple songs signed to the owner Dale Kawashima, who used to work at Sony/ATV publishing. He sent a song a song of mine to the A&R guy at Jive Records, David Stamm who was looking over the Backstreet Boys project. I got a call from Dale saying that David loved the song for the BSB but wanted to hear it produced a little differently. Of course, I was very excited about this amazing opportunity and went ahead to produce the song up more “organically” as David asked (A&R people never know what they want). Well after many re-mixes, the opportunity faded away as when a song gets re-worked so many times, it loses it’s magic.
This single incident made me never get excited about things in this industry because it was always so wishy-washy. It was a big bummer and I knew at least I had a contact at Jive records. By the way, the single they chose for the BSB was “Incomplete”. Remember that?
I went through a period after that where I didn’t see any progress in my career as I kept sweeping floors at the studio. I felt extremely frustrated and depressed. I was miserable but was reluctant to intern anywhere else. If I went to another studio, I’d have to start all over again from the bottom and I did not want to do that. I worked way too hard.
One day, I randomly went to www.ascap.com (ASCAP pays songwriters royalties for performances on Radio, TV, Films) where I stumbled upon an opportunity to submit music for the “Lester Sill Workshop” run by Brendan and Judy. This is where I found my biggest break ever.
The Lester Sill workshop was a class that included 15 songwriters and artists who were selected out of hundreds of entries across America. We had a chance to meet and learn from big-time industry professionals, as well as network with our fellow classmates. A couple notable guests that came by were John Shanks and Bob Clearmountain whom I knew of and had a great respect for. I felt very honored to speak with and learn a few things from them. It was a great feeling to be surrounded by truly talented people, and I mean the most talented group of people I’ve met thus far in my “career”. It was something I was not used to being around, and I felt like there was a bond between all of us that we all shared. I still keep in contact with a handful of them to this day. I remember on some workshop days when we would have “listening sessions”, I would always be the first to volunteer to have my song played because I wanted opinions on my songs. I wanted to grow as a songwriter and producer. That was one of my main objectives in life. I knew my songs weren’t always GREAT. I didn’t care about being judged, and knew this was the only way to become better.
Brendan took an interest in me and I felt very fortunate and humbled to have her believe in me. Judy also ran the workshop with her. She made the workshop experience like a musical therapy session. It was pretty interesting…but more on that later. After the eight-week workshop was over, Judy called me to her office at Warner Chappell Music and asked me to play her some more of my music. She listened to some of my songs (including “That Girl”), and offered to sign me to a deal as a staff songwriter. It was the break I was waiting for. The day I could finally call myself a “professional songwriter and producer”. I was a happy camper to be finally signed.
During my first year, I was paired up with many songwriters who were signed as well as unsigned. Judy helped develop my songwriting skills and also in ways other than music. I do have to say she was very nit-picky on lyrics, which I found helpful. It definitely helped me to be aware that songs have to have both great melodies and great lyrics.
She put it this way: A melody is like a woman in a bar that you are instantly attracted to – the part that hooks you. The lyrics are what make you fall in love with that person. That sort of stuck with me throughout the years.
I thought being signed meant that the hard work was done. It definitely was in a way, but I realized after getting signed, you are at the bottom of the food chain. In the amateur world, I was doing fairly well, winning things, getting my name out there, but this new world of professionals was different. It involved a ton of politics, money, and business. I was exposed to the superficial side of the music industry where I found it was a people pleasing business more than just the creative side. I had to remember that I was now writing songs for artists. They had to be tailor made to fit their voice, style, and current life situations. It didn’t matter if I felt inspired or not, I had to write songs. It was a job. I had to make contacts with A&R reps at labels and remember to keep in contact with them. I had to make sure they liked me, so they would listen to my songs for a potential placement. Warner Chappell did not do much as far as placing songs, but they (Judy and some others who worked there) did introduce me to some high players in the business. I found out the business is closed, and it really did have many inner circles that outsiders couldn’t really get into unless brought in by an insider. I was lucky to be in that door. I was lucky to have an industry veteran who everyone in the industry knew and respected. Judy believed in me and wanted to help me succeed.
So fast-forwarding a bit, I’ve written with tons of people, and produced tons of demos. Being a producer, and someone who makes tracks, whenever I wrote a song with someone, I was the one who always did the musical tracks. I did not get paid to do the extra work, and spent hours upon hours, while the other songwriter waited until the demo was finished. I didn’t mind doing the demos. I hated it when some co-writers would complain or not be considerate that I was doing this extra work for free by being too nit-picky. I did the track work (demos) because otherwise, the song would just sit on a hard drive un-produced.
I became jaded with everything I was doing, but continued to press on, develop relationships, and I really tried to enjoy it. I was able to use the studio I interned at to record vocalists and such for my demos at night, which was a great advantage.
Taking meetings with A&R reps at labels and going to industry mixers was a difficult task for me because I was young and wasn’t interested in networking or meeting folks whom I was supposed to impress. I felt a lot of people were superficial and all they wanted was someone to cut their songs. I couldn’t really do it well.
As a side note, I realized that people who were not music tech savvy thought it was impressive whenever they saw a bunch of gear in racks. I mean, it looked good, but it wasn’t necessarily good equipment – just a bunch of crappy gear in racks. I found that one of the purposes of a studio was supposed to be a place where it’s visually impressive and gives off the impression that a great product would come out of it. Quality versus Quantity.
During my 2nd year at Warner, I started posting YouTube videos. I actually started off by posting videos of trips and such just like most people do on YouTube. I also enjoyed watching videos from older YT-ers like lonelygirl15, EmoKid21Ohio, Renetto, and thewinekone. It was a great place to get my mind off things Warner related. I do admit though, that I was a bit addicted to the website. Who doesn’t want to see a cute kitten or someone falling off a chair? Admit it. It’s entertaining.
One day as I was browsing YT, I came across a video of Esmee Denters and was blown away by her talent. I became an instant fan of hers and I decided to make a video response to the song she wrote. After I did the cover, someone did a remix of what I covered! The whole thing was crazy! Insane! This was YouTube – a creative community of sharing music, having fun, and trying new things.
Shortly after the response to her, I decided to post a song I wrote called YouTube (A Love Song) just for fun. I didn’t expect anything, but to give random people who happened to stumble upon it some laughs and giggles. A week passed. Somehow, it got featured on the homepage of YouTube, and I got a call from my friend Ryan at Interscope saying he saw me on the home page. I was like “what are you talking about?”. Then I realized that the video had not only been seen by him, but thousands of people all over the world.
Blogs started writing about me, articles started appearing, and I even was interviewed for Koream Magazine (A Korean American Magazine). Emails started flooding in asking if I had an album, or if I performed live. I didn’t have an album, I didn’t perform live, nor was I interested in pursuing those things since I was already working my way up as a songwriter/producer. Also, since I was signed at the time, I wasn’t able to work on, or release an album without having to go through legal obstacles. My contract stated that whatever I wrote during the 2 years, Warner Chappell would own 50% of the publishing (which was normal) and if I released it, I’d have to pay Warner whenever I made money off those songs and bla bla bla…money/business stuff = boring.
Since the requests for music kept rolling in, and to be honest, I was a bit annoyed, I started putting up older songs that I wrote up on my YouTube page as well as covers. The feedback I was getting was pretty good in general and I found it to be a good tool to get unbiased opinions of my music.
I actually viewed YouTube as something quite funny (and I still do) because it was all so new. I never thought that a shy guy like me would be posting videos of himself for the world to see. It actually never really felt like I was playing in front of a global audience. The whole thing felt surreal like it was some sort of a game. I even got people commenting on my appearances and personality, which I rarely experienced in real life. I found that to be strange and interesting, how a place like this could exist. People commented on why I never smiled and as I always explain, it was because I felt odd smiling to an “audience” that only existed in my room. Staring into a laptop camera and superficially smiling felt funny. After reading the same questions again and again, I took it upon myself not to ever smile again on YouTube. It was no marketing gimmick (which I guess it became to some people) – just plain truth.
While continuing to work for Warner Chappell, I continued posting to YouTube and started to slowly develop a subscriber base. With the constant video uploads, came new opportunities. In 2007, I was asked to speak at the “Imprint Conference”, which was a conference held by “Intertrend” (Ad Agency) about my “YouTube success” along with my soon to be good friend “HappySlip”. The conference went well, and as a side note, that’s where I discovered the Coco Bidet, but more on that later.
I remember at the time, Christine had around 50,000 subscribers and I had 10,000 subscribers. That was large at the time since YouTube was still in its infant stages. We developed an instant bond, both being YouTubers and having much in common. That was the start of our friendship! After the conference, Christine did a meet and greet since she was in town with all her fans. I brought my guitar along (I was supposed to perform a song during the panel) and Christine asked me to go up on stage and perform a couple songs. Now this was something I was extremely nervous about, but I got enough of a push to go up and play a couple songs. I sucked, not to mention, I was sick too with my cough I get 6 months out of the year. After I went up and played horribly, I put it behind me. After the conference, me and Christine decided to work on our first collaboration called “Happyslip Makes David Choi Smile”. It was a ton of fun filled with laughter and smiles – which you were not able to see. I also met her managers at the time that I still work with to this day.
Back to the bidet now. So at the hotel where the conference was being held (in Little Tokyo in Downtown LA), they had a bidet in the bathroom. Now it wasn’t the first time I encountered one, but I never actually tried using it. Well, I decided to try it and it tickled a bit, but I felt clean and I thought to myself, “Hey, I’d really like one of these”. After the conference ended, and I said my goodbyes, I went home and contacted the Coco Bidet Company and asked if they could send me one and in turn, I’d write them a song and make a music video for them. The rest is history.
In the same year, I was asked to speak at another conference called the “TAXI Road Rally” on a publisher/songwriter panel with my publisher at the time Judy in front of about a thousand people. That was a great public speaking experience for me.
2008 was a very big and busy year for me. It started off with me entering a YouTube cover contest held by the band Lifehouse. I basically won a Plasma TV with a home entertainment system, which is still sitting in my garage because we have no room for it here.
Shortly after that, I found out a song I co-wrote, “This is Your Life” with a songwriter, Brodie Stewart got cut by the band “Flipsyde” on Interscope Records! I was super excited when I heard the news because it was my first official cut! A goal of every songwriter achieved! I remember the day I got the phone call. I was in front of my friend Peter’s store driving back home at around 6pm…one of the happiest days of my life. This was awesome news because I also got co-producing credits with Brodie on an album that Akon mostly produced. I actually did the entire instrumental track at home while Brodie recorded vocals with the band up in San Francisco. He sent the vocal files back to me and I edited and mixed everything together. I was actually supposed to get paid for this, but I never did to this day. Where’s mah money?!?!?
Through the 2 years at Warner, I was very close to getting songs cut by various major label artists, particularly Disney artists (they had a huge market at the time, and still do!). By this time, there was some momentum and people in the Disney camp started to recognize me as a writer/producer. I even remember going into some meetings and playing them songs. On a side note, I remember I worked on some drum programming for Jordan Pruitt’s album. Although this was an area I could have pushed myself a little harder into (the networking side), I was tired and jaded of it. I still worked hard though. I always worked hard and gave my best.
The year also brought in opportunities to be in print magazines such as Music Connection Magazine, OC Weekly, and SF Chronicle through my YouTube success. Those were fun.
In middle of 2008, I discovered a song of mine “We’ll Make it Last All Afternoon” was being used in a Global Warming Commercial on a major TV network (MBC) in Korea without my permission. How did I find out? A fellow David Choi listener from Korea wrote on my Facebook wall and notified me! This was a big deal. A national campaign using my song?!?! Without my permission?!?! WTF?!?! My parents called the network and after discussing, supposedly, in Korea, without getting into too much detail, they didn’t need to get permission from the original songwriters and just had to pay a fee to their Performance Rights Society KOMCA. Their industry is corrupt and very much flawed compared to the American industry. They kindly removed the commercial and I’ve yet to see a penny from that incident.
The Genki Spark all ages Asian women’s performance troupe
promotes the voice and visibility of Asian women with their positive attitudes, team spirit, and zest for life while advocating respect for all.
The Genki Spark is an all Asian American female Taiko Performance Troupe. This is what they are all about:
“Launched the summer of 2010 with a workshop hosted by the Asian American women’s organization, ASPIRE, The Genki Spark aims to share the art of Japanese taiko drumming and to promote and support the voice and visibility of Asian Americans.
Working with families, schools, activist organizations, and social and nonprofit groups, The Genki Spark appeals to a broad audience. Through taiko demonstrations; recreational workshops; and presentations on Asian American culture, leadership, and team building, The Genki Spark strives to build community, foster self-confidence, and promote a world where every culture is respected.”
Check them out:
Now recruiting Asian women for our performance troupe.Two month trial period begins November 20th.
I found this bingo card online at here. It struck me as both funny and slightly odd but I am going with it. Maybe someday I would play bingo using Asian American role models. There are other minority group bingo cards available too: African American, Hispanic American, and American Women. View this as a social commentary on minority success, I suppose though I am not sure this card needs to be updated.
What nationality do you think Lisa See is? Would you be shocked if I said she’s Asian American?
I went to Lisa See’s book signing last week with two work friends, Nat and Annie, both Asian. Confession: none of us had read her books but we’ve all heard of them and even were planning to read them someday. We were a tad late so we had to sit in the aisle on stools because the room was chock full of Empty-Nester aged women, some who seemed to have traveled a great distance to see Lisa See. An introduction was made and Lisa See stepped out. We all did a double-take … WTF? Lisa See is not what we expected to see. Described as an Asian American author, she didn’t look Asian at all. Furiously typing into our iPhones, we Googled her nationality. Yes, she is indeed 1/8 Asian (and we calculated: so that means a great-grand parent is Asian), and then, over our initial shock, we settled down to listen to her speak.
She’s fascinating and lovely. And in fact, more Asian than I am though I am 50% Chinese and 50% Chinese (and married to a Korean). She grew up in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. That alone makes her more Chinese than I am. I grew up driving one hour once a month to eat and shop there. (I wonder if we ate at the same restaurants??) She spent 5 years learning and speaking Mandarin. I spent one tortured year studying Chinese from a group of cold calling Tiger Moms and remember nothing.
OK, we’re the same. Lisa claims to retain nothing as well. I don’t believe her. She does speak her family’s dialect which I didn’t catch. I don’t. In fact, I don’t know what dialect my father’s town speaks. She knows an amazing amount of Chinese history. I studied Japanese history in college because it was a shorter period of time.
She may not look Asian but she’s definitely more Asian than I am!
My friend Nat found more fascinating information about Lisa See’s ethnic heritage in this interview: Stuck in the Middle (Time Magazine) by Lisa See
In 1871 my great-grandfather Fong See, an illiterate peasant, left his village in southern China for Sacramento, California, in search of his father, who had disappeared during the building of the transcontinental railroad. At about the same time, Letticie Pruett’s family crossed America in a covered wagon and homesteaded in Oregon. By the late 1890s, after years of manual labor, Fong See owned the Curiosity Bizarre, which manufactured underwear for brothels. Letticie had run away from home and ended up in Sacramento. When no one would hire a single, uneducated woman, she drifted into Chinatown and the Curiosity Bizarre, where she begged Fong See for a job. He hired her, one thing led to another, and they decided to get married.
It was against the law in California and many other states for Chinese and Caucasians to marry. It was also against the law for Chinese to own property in California, and unlawful at the federal level for Chinese to become naturalized citizens. These laws had grown out of the so-called “Driving Out,” when Chinese had literally been driven from Western towns�when they weren’t hung, shot, burned or stabbed by members of the white community, who had no fear of retribution because Chinese could not testify in court against Caucasians. What started as informal harassment was formalized with the Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred the immigration of Chinese laborers and led to even more institutionalized racism.
But with a contract marriage drawn up by a lawyer, my great-grandparents set out to achieve the American Dream. Fong See and Letticie raised five mixed-race children and ran five antique stores in southern California. Fong See became the patriarch of Los Angeles Chinatown. He was the first Chinese in the U.S. to own an automobile and was one of the few Chinese to do business with the white community by selling props to the nascent film industry and antiques to customers like Frank Lloyd Wright. Despite these successes, Fong See’s four sons — all American-born citizens — had to go to Mexico to marry their Caucasian fiances.
Drop down another two generations. I am only one-eighth Chinese, with red hair and freckles. People often ask me where I fit in and how I define myself. My answer has to do with where I grew up and what I saw around me. Fong See had four wives, as Chinese traditional codes dictate for men with great wealth and prowess, so the Chinese side of my family in Los Angeles numbers close to 400, with only a handful that look like me. It’s been 130 years since my great-great-grandfather left China, and we’ve become educated, changed our way of dress and lost our Cantonese. But there’s a deep core that connects to our peasant ancestors.
Many small rituals in my daily life mirror what I experienced as a child. I tell my sons to put only what they’re going to eat on their plates, and I still pick at their discarded chicken bones. When they want comfort food, I cook them rice. (Shortly after going to college, my older son called to announce happily that the girls next door had a rice cooker.) When my younger son boasted that he’d told his chemistry teacher to stop checking her e-mail during class, I made him go back the next day with a gift of a perfect orange and an apology.
I do look different, and nothing will ever change that or people’s reactions. At my baby shower, some friends mistook my father, a professor, for a Chinese waiter. I’ve had Chinese Americans and Chinese-in-China talk about me as though I weren’t there: “I had a cousin from the south who looked like her, but her hair is disgusting.” On book tours, Caucasians will often ask point-blank, “Why would you choose to be Chinese when you have all the privileges of being white?” Given my family and the era in which I grew up, I don’t know that I had a choice.
The last of America’s miscegenation laws were overturned in 1965. Intermarriage is common, and if you walk into a classroom today, it’s impossible to tell a child’s exact race, or what race or ethnicity he or she may identify with. You certainly can’t with my own sons, who are only one-sixteenth Chinese and otherwise Irish, English, Scottish, Spanish, Russian, German, Austrian and Polish. I tell them it’s up to them to choose their own identities just so long as they marry nice Chinese girls. They think I’m kidding. I’m not, really. Who, I wonder, is going to cook them their rice?
The ambiguity in which she grew up — Asian American but looking Caucasian — gives her a unique perspective reflected in her writing:
“At first glance, Lisa See would not seem to be a likely candidate for literary voice of Chinese-American women. With her flaming red hair and freckled complexion, she hardly adheres to any stereotypical conceptions of what an Asian-American woman should look like, however, her familial background has given her roots in Chinese culture that have fueled her eloquent, elegant, and exciting body of work.
See grew up in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles. Although she is only 1/8 Chinese, her upbringing provided her with a powerful connection to that fraction of herself. “I really grew up in this very traditional, old Chinese family,” she revealed in an interview with Barnes & Noble.com. “It was very traditional, but also quite magical in a lot of ways, because I really was in a very different culture then how I looked.”
See’s Chinese background was not the only aspect of her family that affected the course her life has taken. She also comes from a long line of writers and novelists. Her somewhat morose relatives initially led her to believe that writing must be the result of suffering and pain, which turned her off from literary pursuits at first. Ironically, despite her strong family roots, See only decided to try her hand at writing as a means of embarking on a lifestyle without roots. “I knew three things,” See said, “I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase. How am I gonna do it? And I was really thinking about it, and then one morning, I woke up, and it was truly like a light bulb went off — ‘Oh, I could be a writer!’ Many, many years later, here I am, married, I have children, [and] I am a writer.” Barnes and Nobles
Lisa See wasn’t at her book signing to talk about her ethnicity though she did touch upon it. In fact, she had a more interesting story to tell. It seems her oldest son upon graduating from Stanford, no less, was having a meltdown during a family vacation because he felt that his life had peaked. The more she comforted her son, the more depressed she became. When did she have her “moment?” Her family concurred, “Nope, you never had one.” This is despite having published four critically acclaimed novels and birthed AND raised two children!
Her epiphany was that, indeed, she did NOT have her moment and was going to dig deep for her next book. Her friends, agents, publishers, and family all agreed: “No one is going to want to read your new book about a friendship between two women set in China.” But she did not care and forged forward, going to dark and sad places that she had not had the courage to explore before.
The end result of this personal internal journey is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, now out as a movie.
Have you seen the movie? What do you think? Did you read the book? She says the movie is very different than the book with a new modern story of the descendents of Snow Flower and Peony overlaid and woven through the story in her book. A kind of Julie and Julia twist, I suppose.
Her latest book is Dreams of Joy and the reviews are raves:
“One of those hard-to-put down-until-four in-the-morning books . . . With each new novel, Lisa See gets better and better.”—Los Angeles Times
“Once again, See’s research feels impeccable, and she has created an authentic, visually arresting world.”—The Washington Post
“A stunningly researched epic about revolutionary-era China.”—Los Angeles
“See is a gifted historical novelist. She illuminates a turning point in Chinese history when people still remembered the inequities of the feudal caste system, and in some cases embodied them. . . . See is unflinching in her willingness to describe it all.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“See’s fans will be glad to read more about Pearl, May and Joy, and See’s recurring themes of unbreakable family bonds and strong-willed women.”—The Oregonian
p.s. I didn’t realize that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan‘s producers are none other than Asian Trophy Wives Wendi Murdoch and Florance Sloan. I just read a great interview in Harper’s Bazaar here. And by “Asian Trophy Wives,” I mean that in the most flattering way: beautiful, smart and accomplished Asian women seem to be sought after by media moguls these days. I have a post on that here. Wendi Murdoch is mentioned in that article on Asian Trophy Wives though if you read the Harper’s article, she comes across as smart, accomplished and very, very together.
p.p.s Yes, this is the same Wendi Murdoch with the fast reflexes who deflected the shaving cream pie that was aimed for her husband, Rupert Murdoch. She may have clocked the assailant in the process, but, hey, he deserved it! Here’s a slow motion video of her.
Book Suggestions from Readers Along the Lines of Lisa See
Thank you to I Wu from her book suggestions.
Hi Mia-loved JadeLuckClub post on Lisa See! Suggest books:
1. Chinese novel Clear Sky + Serenity about local woman’s extraordinary journey pre-/post-Japan attack on China through Hong Kong, Taiwan to US, touching war, history, women in STEM, career/family balance, child/eldercare, immigration, multicultural themes.
2. How to Break the Glass Ceiling Without a Hammer: Career Strategies for Women Edited by Linda Ellis Eastman
To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.