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Meet Justin Klunk

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Klunk.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Justin. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was first introduced to the saxophone right before I entered middle school. I wanted to join the school band after they had done a performance at my elementary school, only because the band does an annual trip to an amusement park. After convincing my parents to let me join, they suggested I take up the saxophone since they were classic rock fans.

They were constantly playing music with iconic horn lines and saxophone solos in our household. I didn’t really know what the instrument was, but I was game to try it since I had been taking piano lessons from a young age and wasn’t entirely motivated to practice that instrument.

Long story short, I fell in love with the instrument and found myself practicing on my own. Eighth grade was the important year though. I had joined GRAMMY Nominated Jazz Pianist David Benoit’s Asian American Youth Orchestra and that sparked my interest in pursuing music professionally. David invited me to sit in with his band at one of his own shows, and it was one of the best nights of my life. At the end of the night, he gave me a little cash for my time and it was the first time the question “you can make a living from this?” popped into my head. Flash forward some years later, I went through many music programs that helped shape me into the musician that I am today! I had attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), the GRAMMY in the Schools GRAMMY Camp, and went on to study Popular Music Performance at USC.

When I graduated, I really had no idea what to expect. I went to countless auditions the following couple of months with little to no luck. In July of 2013 though, a music director contacted me and was looking for a saxophonist to be a part of a young pop artist’s first tour. That artist was Ariana Grande before she had released any music. I went on that tour and learned so much from the band and crew. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to continue working as a professional saxophonist for other artists and recording projects including Saint Motel, Lindsey Stirling, Leon Bridges, David Foster, Modern Family, and many others.

In addition to the side-musician work, I’ve released a couple EP’s under my own artistry, as well as started a band/duo with an extremely talented songwriter from USC called RAINNE. After completing our first US tour In 2019, RAINNE got to open for Taylor Swift, Lizzo, the Jonas Brothers, and Billie Eilish at the Hollywood Bowl for We Can Survive. It was truly a night to remember and reminded me why we do what we do as performers. Being able to pour your guts out into songs for people and see their moods lift up is what keeps us going! I’m just thankful to be able to say I do music for a living and can’t wait to see where it all goes next.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I think one of the toughest parts about music is discovering your “voice” in it all. I’ve always personally struggled to feel comfortable with my own sound. I’ve always loved pop and rock music growing up, and it was reflected in my personal sound. With a lot of saxophonists, there is a stigma to become a great jazz soloist while you’re studying. While I did study jazz in high school and college, I never made that my primary focus and you can sometimes feel hints of judgment being pointed your way. Granted, it was only a few peers, but it can mess with you. I just kept my head up and focused working on what I needed to work on. I’m finally at a point where I personally feel 100% comfortable with how I approach the instrument and the music I want to play and write. And to anyone (on any instrument) struggling with this, I’d say just do your thing. Obviously, focus on refining what you do. Always aim for a professional level and quality to what you do and don’t compromise that! But whatever the sound that you hear for yourself is usually the right call!

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
A lot of what I do revolve around my instrument. The great part is that the job is constantly evolving and scenarios are always changing. As a side musician, I will go from playing pop concerts with singers to alt-rock shows with bands to saxophone and DJ duet gigs. It’s constantly keeping me on my toes and learning everyday. I’m personally known to have a very contemporary pop saxophone sound and blending it with electronic effects. I run my saxophone through a pedal board that I love to bring back to my band RAINNE and solo project. It allows me to shape my sound in ways that I find original. I try to become an asset to any team, band, or artist that I perform with, rather than just be like “any other saxophonist”.

I’ve also just loved dabbling with other instruments. I returned to piano in college and have added it to my arsenal of instruments that I play at shows just because someone had asked if I can play it. I’ve also picked up the bass, and while I don’t perform on it professionally, it does help broaden my perspective on music and hear things from another angle.

I think what I’m most proud of is just continuing to do what I love. Music can be an intimidating career path for many, but I’ve always believed that if you work hard and you’re a nice person, good things will happen!

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I think luck is a big part of any business. However, I firmly believe that anyone can help form their own luck.

To me, this is done by doing the hard work, putting yourself in situations where you can grow, and simply making as many friends as you can. A lot of the work I do is referral based. Someone I had worked with, or someone that has heard me, may think I’m a good fit for another project. And it also works the other way around! I will always refer or work with someone that I’ve seen or if a close friend recommends them.

The other thing about setting up your own luck is giving your 100% on every job or project. There are much higher profile performance opportunities that I’ve received because the musical director or artist had seen me perform on a video clip from some obscure performance. That obscure performance could be some dive bar in LA that many musicians may not take seriously, but because I still gave it my all, the band or artist was impressed. You may get a lucky opportunity that you’re not aware of because of a past performance you had done and gave it you’re all!

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Image Credit:
Abel Rodriguez, Anna Lee Media

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