Justin Yeo ’22 crafts film score-inspired theme for KDFC

Justin Yeo
KDFC Dusk Justin Yeo KDFC Dusk by Justin Yeo.

The 2020 KDFC Sound Logo Competition winner live recorded his pieces pre-pandemic.

Justin Yeo (BM ’22) is the 2020 winner of the KDFC Sound Logo Competition, a project where San Francisco Conservatory of Music Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) students create the audio equivalent of a visual logo for San Francisco’s premier classical music radio station using its existing theme. These up to 15-second musical cues are positioned at the beginning or end of promotional announcements and featured heavily on the KDFC website for a year. Yeo’s film-inspired sound logo interpretations will have two years of air play since the pandemic prevented a 2021 competition.

What’s more, the interstitials will be the first KDFC Sound Logo Competition tunes to be broadcast from the station’s new on-air studio at SFCM’s Ute and William K Bowes, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. KDFC is scheduled to move into the Bowes Center later this spring.

Now a junior focusing on media composition, Yeo recalls his excitement upon reviewing KDFC’s creative brief and the list of instruments to be used in the logo variations that year.

“The brief said they had to evoke the KDFC logo, be a celebration of classical music, and a very strong hat tip to the orchestra,” says Yeo. “We were focused on composing for string quartet and woodwind quintet, with a French horn.”

The French horn was key for Yeo: “It’s a great instrument. The color is way more soaring and melodic and can be used for many other things besides just the texture I really wanted to bring that out in the composition. It also allowed me to make the [variations] more ‘John Williams-y.”

Yeo decided to study composition because he loved film scores. While growing up in Singapore, he surrounded himself with sweeping orchestral scores from classic Hollywood films like Casablanca or Gone with the Wind. He also became inspired by the music of Gustav Holst who influenced cinema’s greatest composers (like Williams).

When working on the KDFC sound logo variations, Yeo noticed that none of the previous winners or submissions offered a true nod to film music. He thought this might set him apart. Ultimately, he created six, film-inspired variations.

“One of the pieces is called ‘Winter,’ while another is called ‘Cabin’,” says Yeo. “I was inspired by the mountains and images of Canada or the colder parts of America, so I wanted to evoke a lot of winter films I’ve seen or something and also something like Josh Rubinstein’s score for Jeremiah Johnson. A lot of it was very pastoral, very American—Copland-esque.”

Yeo won the competition, receiving a $1,000 prize on behalf of the Northern California Chapter of InspirASIAN, a non-profit, educational organization focused on representing Asian and Pacific Islanders employed by AT&T Inc. He was also awarded a professional quality microphone from sE Electronics.

Perhaps the greatest prize was a live recording session—held weeks before lockdown—where Yeo got to hear his sound logos performed by his fellow SFCM students.

Yeo is the fifth winner of this competition, joining previous recipients Alton Sato ’21, Danielle Ferrari ’20, Kevin Becker ’19, and Jana Ma ’19, winner of the inaugural sound logo competition in 2016. Ma has since made a name for herself as an up-and-coming producer and musical artist JVNA.

The KDFC Sound Logo Competition is one of many projects where TAC students get to create relevant and polished works for their portfolios and gain the confidence and collaborative work experience to move into exciting professional careers.

Yeo is on his way to one such career in the future. As for right now, he continues working on his craft and building his portfolio at SFCM with cinematic, professional projects.

Listen to Justin Yeo’s and previous winners' sound logo variations on Soundcloud and learn more about the Technology and Applied Composition program.