Artist Spotlight: Yoo Soo Kim
Before Songfinch was even a company, we were working with Chicago based singer-songwriter, engineer, producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Yoo Soo Kim, on other music projects. One thing that has remained true over all these years, he is one of the most versatile musicians we’ve ever worked with. Whether he’s making a pop rock anthem, using sweeping strings to compose to picture or writing a saxophone-filled love ballad, it’s sure to be a hit.
We sat down with Yoo Soo to chat about his licensing placements, how he got into making music and more.
Hey Yoo Soo, it’s great to be chatting with you. I always start off these convos with asking you to tell the readers a bit about you and what got you into music.
Hey! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Honestly, music was initially mandated to me by my parents. I started piano lessons in 1st grade and started playing viola in 3rd grade.
Growing up as a kid, I hung out with my uncle and cousins often. My uncle is a huge Beatles fan, so he would show me his Beatles anthologies, books, and VHS tapes. I would go to my cousins’ house and watch punk and grunge music videos on MTV.
In 8th grade, I got the internet and downloaded Napster. When I was trying to decide what to download, Green Day, Nirvana, and The Beatles were the first things that came to my mind. At that point, I hadn’t listened to those bands in years. I got those mp3s, started listening, and was immediately blown away by how electric all their music felt.
I asked my dad for a guitar as an 8th grade graduation gift and made a band with my best friends. We did covers, but I had a desire to write original music. So, I wrote songs and arranged it with this midi software called Guitar Pro. I had these demo songs but couldn’t afford to pay for a studio to record my songs. Instead, I asked my aunt for a mixer and mic for my high school graduation gift and started learning to record on my own.
All that time, I kind of assumed that my best friends obsessed about music as much as I did. I eventually realized that…no…it was just me haha. The support from my family and playing with my friends really paved the path to where I am today.
We’ve been working together for many years on your solo music and with your old band, Hemmingbirds. You’ve always been one of my favorite artists to work with because you can do it all from producing, recording, mixing, writing, and anything else one needs to create and release a piece of music. Do you pride yourself on being a one-man-shop where you can handle everything needed yourself without relying on others?
Thanks, man. Yeah definitely. I feel like it’s maybe my greatest strength. I have a strong desire to understand why any music sounds the way it does. From there, it’s a learning process of how to write, record, produce, mix, and master music that sounds like what I hear. I don’t always get close, but I keep trying. The “one-man-shop” ability lets me create and release music quickly and affordably. Without that skillset, I don’t think I’d be doing this for a living.
On the flip side, I feel like a jack of all trades, master of none. Could I be more successful if I just focused on being really good at one or two things? Maybe. Also, because I feel motivated to do every aspect of music, I’m more hesitant to be more collaborative. Ideally, I want to work with people more, but I’m so deeply entrenched in a system where I do everything on my own that it’s sometimes uncomfortable for me to collaborate.
Is there an instrument or two that you would love to learn how to play or master?
Oh man, I’d love to just master any instrument I currently play haha.
But really, if I had to choose, I’d probably want to master playing the piano. I think that ability stretches the “instrument part” of my brain the most and would make me a better musician overall.
If I could learn any instrument, it’d probably be a brass or woodwind instrument. Maybe saxophone or trumpet. I have little understanding of that part of the musical world. Plus, both those instruments sound badass.
When we worked together in the past, we did quite a bit of corporate branding and licensing. What has been your favorite placement you’ve secured and how did it come to be?
Probably a commercial I scored for a 2018 Toyota C-HR. That was pretty wild for me, because it was the first big national commercial that I won. The music had a nice blend of cinematic, rock, hip hop, and vocals, which is all totally up my alley. I recorded the “let’s go places” theme on guitar, and that was cool to play such an iconic theme.
That opportunity happened from a demo I submitted to a music house. There are different factors that come into play when a client decides what music to use for their commercial, some of which is completely out of my hands. For that reason, I usually hold no expectation that my music will get picked, so having my music in that commercial was thrilling.
Whats a brand or product that you’d love to have the theme song for? How about a TV show or movie?
Good question…I guess maybe the NBA or McDonald’s. Only because I love both of those things. Plus, it’d get tons of air play, and they’re both brands who don’t seem to change their music identity basically ever, so I’d be set for a while.
For a TV show, I’m a big sucker for dark or weird comedies. If Barry is looking for a new composer, hit me up. Or anything created by Michael Schur. The Good Place is ending soon, so he’s gotta be jumping onto another project, right?
For movies, any super hero, sci-fi, or fantasy would be pretty rad. Anything that looks super epic and dramatic sounds like it’d be fun to try and score to.
I see you mastered Vinyl For A Cause featuring songs with Jamila Woods and Kevin Coval. First off, I didn’t know you had mastering skills like that, haha. Second, what an awesome project to be a part of. How did that come to be and what did it mean to be part of something supporting such a great Chicago cause?
Haha, thanks dude. Vinyl for a Cause is such a cool organization, and I was fortunate that they thought of me for that project. My good friend Jesse W Johnson is on the team for VFAC. I’ve produced most of his records and did digital masters for his last record. So when VFAC was looking for someone to master those songs, Jesse recommended me.
I think it’s such a fascinating concept. Each artist learns the other artist’s song and covers it. Then sale proceeds go to various charities. Jamila and Kevin are such talented artists. It just felt great overall to help give back to the community and be a part of such cool music.
Learn a bit about Vinyl For A Cause below and hear the songs Yoo Soo mastered by Kevin Coval and Jamila Woods.
Do you have any new projects in the works? What’s next for you?
I’m currently producing a few artists. I just finished a track with Molehill and am working on records with Jesse W Johnson and Hiber. There’s this behemoth of a film I’ve been working on called Ode to Passion. It’s a musical. I’m producing 19 songs and scoring it. That’s been fun. I’ve got some music in a sketch comedy pilot featuring this great comedian, Joe Kwaczala. I also just started a project called To The Lions with some buds from NYC, and we’re planning to put an album out potentially later this year.
I’d really like to start my own band again, though I’ve been saying that for a couple years now. Hopefully once some of these projects wrap up, I’ll take some time to sit down and find my own voice again and release some stuff.
How would you explain your music in three words
If you could collab with any songwriter, producer or artist, who would it be and why?
Man…collaborating is kind of scary for me. If it was with someone I admired, I’d just be anxious the whole time, stressing over what they thought of my ideas.
I guess if it’s anyone, it would maybe be Max Martin. It’d be less collab and more like, dude, tell me everything you know. Let me watch you build a song from scratch. Maybe I can pitch some ideas. Let me be a part of making a pop smash. I think he’s fairly reclusive to the media, so I have no idea what his personality is like. Hopefully he’s nice, haha.
Who are your top 3 favorite musicians right now?
1. Billie Eilish
2. Fleetwood Mac
Anything else that you’d want to let the readers know?
Thanks for taking the time to read through this. You’re wonderful. It’s really a joy to write songs for you. Very few people know this, but the only reason I picked viola is because the orchestra director alphabetically called out everyone’s name asking what instrument they wanted to play. As she went down the list of names, basically everyone picked violin or cello. Since my name starts with ‘y’, I was one of the last people to go. I didn’t want to be like everyone else, so I arbitrarily picked viola. That’s the reason I’ve played that instrument for 24 years. Also, please check out all the aforementioned projects I’m working on. Thanks again.
Below is a song Yoo Soo Kim made for the host of the podcast, Talk Nerdy. She formed a group of science communicators who care deeply about improving science literacy and called them “The Nerd Brigade.” They wanted a “nerdy punk rock vibe” anthem song, so we knew Yoo Soo could whip up the perfect jam for them. Needless to say, he killed it, listen below: