PSY’s Gangnam Style was a global smash-hit in 2012, but as the introduction to the K-Pop Goes Global session at Midem this afternoon noted, K-Pop music had a fervent and growing fanbase outside Korea even before horse-dancing was all the rage on YouTube.
The panel session explored what’s next for K-Pop, and how international companies can work with the South Korean music industry. The panel comprised Clayton Jin, executive director and president of Billboard Korea; Min Kim, manager of the music team at the Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA); Jonny Noh, CEO of AllKPop.com; and Anthony Zameczkowski, head of music at YouTube Asia Pacific.
Moderator Jasper Donat from the Music Matters industry conference, which organised the panel, kicked things off. “Asia is certainly hot right now,” he said, pointing to Japan, Australia, Indonesia and other markets alongside South Korea. “Asia was already happening when a big fat Korean got on his imaginary horse in the summer,” he said.
“In the last 18 months, K-Pop has exploded around the world. Forget PSY. PSY is not K-Pop, and PSY is not Asia. We’re talking about K-Pop today, not just PSY.”
Over to Zameczkowski, who said that right from YouTube’s launch in South Korea, it had agreements in place with the key labels in South Korea to ensure a full roster of K-Pop music videos.
“Since 2010 they have managed to double their views every year. We started in 2010 with 1bn views, 2011 with 2bn views, and in 2012 5bn views,” he said. “The majority of the views are coming from outside the Korean market. Clearly K-Pop is getting global.”
Jin talked about the natur of K-Pop. “What people think of as K-Pop, it’s usually boy and girl groups, but Korea is the 11th largest music economy in the world, so the music market is very robust, and there are many many genres… But right now for export for international markets, it’s K-Pop – the boy/girl groups – that is doing the best.”
Jin talked about the history of K-Pop, stretching back to the late 1990s with a band called H.O.T. launched by S.M. Entertainment, then solo artist BoA from the same stable. YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment are the other two large talent agencies in South Korea, although Jin said there are plenty of up-and-coming firms training their own artists and finding success.
Noh talked about the evolution of K-Pop, with production values increasing notably over the last 15 years, yet he also suggested that K-Pop acts “still have charm” as an attribute. He also talked about the startling intensity of competition: “At any one time, there are between 50 and 70 groups being created every month, but less than 1% ever release a CD or get on a TV programme.”
The AllKPop site now has 6m monthly readers, said Noh, with Korea providing the smaller part of that audience.
“It’s a very visual form of art, and that plays a big part in the popularity,” he said. “Without the music video, I don’t think Korean music would have got this far. I think the music video has played a great role in making K-Pop a lot more popular.”
Social media has also played a significant role, with artists being made accessible to their fans. “Companies like S.M., JYP and YG are making the most of the digital platform as well as other social networks. hey use pretty much all the functionalities, they are very engaged,” said Zameczkowski.
Jin said the best way for people to get their artist known is to invest in the music then spread over the social networks. “They spend tons of money, tons of time to make these great music videos, and they just put them over the Web, to make them accessible to people,” he said.
What determines success for K-Pop? Zameczkowski said that YouTube’s status as a global platform has helped make K-Pop a success outside South Korea. “They use the platform in a really smart way to reach out to communities around the world. Not only Korean communities or South Asian communiites, but we can start to see real traction now in France and also the US.”
Jim hammered home the point that while PSY “added rocket fuel to the industry”, K-Pop had been doing very well outside Korea already in 2010 and 2011, particularly in other Asian countries like Taiwan and Japan. “PSY is great, he single-handedly was responsible for a billion of those 5bn YouTube views in 2012. However, we don’t want Korean music to be defined by him. He was a unique figure even within the Korean music industry.”
What’s coming next? Noh said that 2013 will be an interesting year: “Especially in the US, Interscope is making a very big push this year for K-Pop,” he said. “Girls Generation are going to make a very heavy push in the US in 2013. They are going to have a pretty good shot.”
Jin talked about industry trends in South Korea, with piracy rampant in the early 2000s, as well as unlicensed streaming music sites. “Nobody actually paid for music,” he said, suggesting that legislation over the past decade has reversed that trend.
“One of the mistakes the Korean government did not make was they started the cost of music a little lower,” he said. “They actually made monthly packages that you could buy – maybe $5 for unlimited streaming. It started at $3, now it’s $5. The government is slowly raising the bar… If they’d said one song for a dollar, I think it would have been a hard sell… The Korean public now, I don’t think they mind paying for music.”
Jin also said K-Pop has “done wonders for Korea” in other ways – for example, associating smartphones with K-Pop artists has helped Samsung hugely increase its business in Japan, a market traditionally dominated by domestic handset-makers.
Jin said that the Korean live market “needs some help… ticket prices are still much lower. In Japan a K-Pop concert, the top ticket might be $300, and the average might be $150. In Korea, maybe an average of $70 or $80. Those are the top acts”.
The conversation moved to technology again, with Zameczkowski saying that YouTube is seeing rocketing viewing of its K-Pop videos on mobile devices, meaning the company is working hard on how to deliver videos to mobile phones, and also how to help those videos make money.
What social services are K-Pop acts using and how? “The Korean artists, depending on the artists’ agencies, various agencies give their artists various degrees of freedom in how they interact with their fans,” said Jin.
“In the Chinese market, if an artist says something politically incorrect on Twitter, they may be banned for life in China… Because of all the political tensions in the region… some artist management companies want to tightly control the type of communication that the artist may have with fans on social. But all the artist management companies have a social team that monitor social 24 hours a day. One thing the fans love about following K-Pop artists is they’re very responsive to their comments.”
Jin noted that South Korea is a hugely wired country, with kids constantly on social platforms like messaging app Kakao, which has 30-40m members, or another messaging app called Line.
The panel talked about how Western concert promoters and companies can work with the Korean management firms, with Donat suggesting they can be difficult to work with.
“I wouldn’t say hey’re hard to work with,” said Jin. “The US management companies and labels negotiate hard. The Korean management firms negotiate hard for their artists as well.” But he admitted that the Korean industry does revolve much more around the management companies much more than around labels. “They want to bargain hard for their artists. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.”