David Kim ’20 uses his innate creativity to mix, record, and produce music. As a popular recording engineer at Defiant Studios in Richmond, Virginia, Kim helps musicians bring a dream and a song from idea to reality.

“I’m a firm believer in fate,” said Kim. “That doesn’t mean it just happens, you have to put actions forward to make things happen. I’m where I’m supposed to be. ”

He said his professional path became clear when he attended his first open studio hours held by Virginia Tech Digging in the Crates in the University Libraries. There, the second-year business major was introduced to Craig Arthur, head of University Libraries’ foundational instruction and community engagement, and Freddy Paige, a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Both are faculty leaders in the Virginia Tech Digging in the Crates program.

“This meeting changed my life,” said Kim. “Craig and Freddy were and are very influential in how I move in life.  

“The values and perspectives they hold are ones I carry to this day," Kim said. "I'm a firm believer in mentors. Sometimes in life you find those people who were meant to mold you and guide you closer to full maturity. It's important to seek those people, listen, and then observe them.”  

Curtis McCoullough, currently the studio manager at Defiant Studios, has become a mentor to Kim in his professional life. “Curt has really shown me what it means to be a leader and a teacher to others,” said Kim.

During Kim’s time as a student and outside of open studio hours, he became a regular in the University Libraries Media Design Studios experimenting with Pro Tools, a music production software and industry standard. Neal Henshaw, former University Libraries’ instructional designer and educational technology consultant who oversaw the library’s Media Design Studios, gave Kim the permission to learn and experiment with the recording equipment in the space after hours. 

“Oftentimes you find people who will make progress harder for you, but Neal was the opposite of that," Kim said. "I remember my first real experience working in Media Design Studio B was helping former Virginia Tech student Malik White record and mix his mixtape. Neal was very open and helpful with giving us the tools and space to get that project done.” 

His extensive interest and time in Media Design Studio B prompted a suggestion by Arthur to apply for a job at the Media Design Studios. Kim got the job and began in Media Design Studio A, lending equipment to faculty and students, and then eventually worked primarily in Media Design Studio B. 

“Working in Studio B, allowed me to be more focused on what I wanted to do. I was working with and recording audio and music. I was helping people,” said Kim. “For me, as a creative, I can understand how frustrating it is to not be able to bring ideas to fruition and hitting a wall. I was able to help.”

Kim remembered one particular student poet. “She had been writing poetry and music for some time, but never really recorded herself,” said Kim. “She came to Studio B one day, we did the recording and I played it back for her. She cried. Seeing that reaction showed me firsthand what my work could do for others.” 

Eventually students began coming to him to help record their music. “Studio B really is a great resource that everyone should know about. We recorded two EPs for Virginia Tech junior DeRay Manning in that space, giving someone who has a musical gift like DeRay a space like Studio B is something to be proud of,” Kim said.

This was training for his future, even though Kim didn’t realize it at the time.

“The job I have now is similar to the job I had in Studio B,” said Kim. “People book appointments and reach out to me for help with their audio projects. It’s one of the reasons why Defiant Studios hired me. They were impressed with my experience working for the library, my involvement with Digging in the Crates, and leading open studio hours every Friday.”

Now, instead of clients coming from across campus, they come from across the East Coast.

“I have a client that’s a music manager from Staten Island, New York,” added Kim. “He brings his artists to me to record and is very hands-on, which has been a good learning experience. I have set availability and clients book me. Some weeks I have one or two recordings and other weeks I’m booked solid.” 

In addition to being one of Defiant Studios’ recording engineers, he also became its intern supervisor. “We recently brought on our first group of interns for 2021. Virginia Tech Digging in the Crates taught me that you have to pass on what you know to the next person,” added Kim. “Something Freddy once said was ‘you teach me and I teach you.’ I find that concept to be incredibly important, especially for the position I'm in.”  

For Kim, this is only the beginning. “I like to get things done and check things off my list. Sometimes I see life like a video game where you go through the checkpoints and on to the next one,” said Kim. “Eventually I am going to be a CEO because of my ability to see the bigger picture, plus I enjoy leading large groups and executing goals. Being able to lead and help people be better versions of themselves is something I take great enjoyment and pride in. While my title or role will change, I will always be involved in music.”

Written by Ann Brown