With already a decade and a half under his belt of producing, mixing, performing and songwriting, Kiyanu Kim is a driven music creator. This guitar-slinging New Yorker is building a name for himself as a writer, collaborator and musician, and gradually accruing a reputation for relaxed collaboration and a style of playing that is distinctive, but that lends itself to a variety of musical genres.
He’s graced the stages of venues like Madison Square Garden, and played large events including the GRAMMY Awards and the 2015 Sochi Olympics. Offstage, Kim has mixed and produced for a list of distinguished names and has contributed music to over 30 different television programs. Having worked with luminaries like Ben Jelen, Gala, Gwen Stefani, Lamont Dozier and others, he’s steadily proving himself to be versatile musical accomplice, while honing his own songwriting abilities, his most notable achievement in that arena thus far being the co-writing of Miley Cyrus’ hit, “Wrecking Ball.”
BMI recently caught up with Kiyanu Kim to discuss his inspirations and his aspirations.
As a producer, mixer, songwriter and guitarist who has worked with a wide array of artists, how do you strike the balance of retaining a sound and approach that remains distinctively your own?
I don’t think too much of it, actually, but simply, I just try to capture an essential emotion, mood, in my music with few simple ideas. Growing up, I was a huge Pink Floyd and Beatles fan; the ethereality of records like Dark Side Of the Moon or Abbey Road, say, has been a good friend.
Tell us the story behind ‘Wrecking Ball,’ the Miley Cyrus hit you co-wrote. How did it come to be?
Interestingly, what became the musical underpinning for the chorus of “Wrecking Ball,” as recorded by Miley Cyrus, was co-written by myself and the songwriter MoZella, in a writing session we did in my studio a couple of years before the Cyrus single was released. That material turned out to be perfect for the power-ballad type of song that MoZella and the other writers were putting together for the Bangerz project.
You’ve had success with your music featured in film and television. What’s the difference in the process between songwriting and creating music for film and television? How did you get involved in scoring?
Both are interesting in a different ways. Songwriting is personal; it arrives, and it can take you anywhere. With scoring, it’s up to you – to me – to take someone else’s story to a prescribed place. During my college years at NYU, many of my friends studied film, and I got interested in scoring through some of their projects. Later on, the composer I was sharing a recording studio with in Chelsea introduced me to some of his clients, and I started getting work.
You’re also an in-demand guitarist, having toured with Gwen Stefani, among others. Tell us about being on stage versus behind the scenes, creating music – what’s more organic for you?
Being on stage is spontaneous and unpredictable, you’re just waiting for a disaster to happen! You’re interacting with strangers through sound in a unique moment in time, and I love that. Behind the scenes, you have more space, and a menu of resources at your disposal. In this context, you have unlimited access to yourself. They’re both fun, but being on stage feels a little more like home. I’ve been performing since I was ten for a reason, it’s the natural habitat for a musician. Balance the two, never lose your passion, and you’re halfway there.
In terms of your own music, are there certain songwriters that have had a profound effect on you? Was there a single song that convinced you that you wanted to make music for a living?
When I was in high school, I listened to a lot of Paul Simon, Jim Croce and James Taylor. In addition to being superlative songwriters, they’re also excellent guitar players – maybe that’s why I was even more drawn to them? The song that made me want to write, to be a musician, was “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It’s profound, powerful, one of the best songs ever written.
What’s up next for you?
I just produced Lone Star, my first country record for singer-songwriter Zandi Holup, and I really enjoyed it. It was all done in my beloved New York (not in Nashville!) with local musicians, and I’m very proud of it. But mainly, I’m writing a load of material for my new catalogue. I’m also planning to make another trip to L.A. next month to write with some new people, a rolling stone gathers no moss, and all that…
How has BMI helped your career?
Charlie Feldman and BMI have been extremely supportive. Through them, I’ve worked with some great artists, such as Lamont Dozier and Kara DioGuardi – writers of today’s biggest hits. They also have been very supportive of the artists that I work with, and that means a lot. I feel very fortunate to be a part of BMI and I can’t thank them enough.