Meet pro songwriter David Choi, Bowie mash-up contest winner
Songwriter David Choi’s tax return is more interesting than yours.
How do you describe what you do musically?
For my job? I’d call myself a songwriter/producer. I don’t really do the artist thing outside of YouTube or MySpace.
So you’re a professional songwriter? That’s what you’d put on your tax return?
Yeah. It’s kind of weird calling myself a professional songwriter because anybody can write songs. But I am with a publishing company called Warner Chappell Music. And being with a company makes you a professional, I guess. [Laughs]
How did you decide to become a songwriter?
It started in high school. When I was 16, I was in history class, and I heard someone pop in a CD of a song they wrote. It was an electronic/techno kind of song. I heard it, and I was like, “Wow. You wrote it.” I didn’t even know you could do such a thing—write a song. I grew up playing violin and piano. I didn’t really enjoy it. I went home that night, and I started working on my first instrumental piece, and that’s where it all started.
So before that, music was a chore?
Totally. It was a forced thing, and I did not like it. But then it was a whole new world for me—something that you create. There’s total freedom in what you can do. I found that to be pretty amazing. That’s what drew me in. I’m kind of a control freak, so it fulfilled that for me. When it’s a job, you’ve got to do it whether you want to or not, but when inspiration hits—I think that’s when the best songs come out.
Where did you go from there?
It was funny. Within a three-month period, I won two contests, which kind of helped the idea of pursuing this songwriting thing. It helped in terms of picking my career. I won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for Teens. The theme was “The American Dream.” There were a bunch of celebrity judges, including Usher. Then three months later, I won a David Bowie contest in which you made a mash-up of two of his songs. [Choi combined "She’ll Drive the Big Car” and "Shake It” to form "Big Shaken Car.”] It was sponsored by Audi. I won that, too. It was pretty cool.
When you entered the mash-up contest, were you already making mash-ups?
I was in that experimental stage with every kind of music when I was starting off: “I want to make a rock song, an electronic song . . .”—this and that. The mash-up thing sounded cool and like a challenge. The prize was a car.
Have you continued making mash-ups?
From time to time, I do that for fun. It’s something a lot different than songwriting. It requires a different part of your brain. It’s a challenge. I like musical challenges.
What’s the process for creating mash-ups?
When I made the David Bowie one, I used a free program. That was all I could afford. There are a couple of ways you can go about it. In that contest, they gave you the full tracks—MP3s of the songs you could use with nothing stripped down. It was a normal MP3. You had to manipulate it, cut frequencies out, and try to make it sound cool. For some other mash-ups, you can get the a cappellas and put them on a track that you make. You have the full track, or you have just the vocals, or just the music.
You’re working for a publishing company. How does someone become a staff songwriter?
I was writing and doing all of that and trying to turn it into a job, and I submitted my music to ASCAP, the performance-rights organization. They were accepting submissions for a workshop program they had. They selected 15 people. It lasted a couple of months. At the end, I was called into the office and played some music, and the rest is history.
Do you have to be able to write any kind of song that’s asked for, or are you specialized by what kinds of songs you write?
Nobody can do everything great. The publisher knows what your strengths and weaknesses are before they sign you. You don’t really see hip-hop people in Nashville.
What do you specialize in?
I call myself a pop writer. It’s very broad. You’ve got your pop country, your singer/songwriter, your Disney pop. All of that together is kind of what I do.