Read the first part here.
[Interview] Yang Hyun-suk, CEO of YG Entertainment - Part. 2
Q To satisfy both the public and die-hard fans, don’t you have to control the artists’ output? Isn’t that the way to get support from the mainstream and stay creative at the same time?
Yang: I think I am qualified enough to make comments to my artists about dancing because I trained as a dancer. After Seo Taiji and Boys disbanded, I studied harmony and midi for six months and that’s how I came to compose Jinusean’s “Gasoline”. I soon realized, though, that I’m not so gifted in writing music, so I decided to stop doing that. I’m knowledgeable enough about it to have discussions with my artists thanks to the experience. I can coach them about performing on the stage as I have a lot of experience from my days of Seo Taiji and Boys.
It is true that I dropped many other things, but I could never give up communicating with artists and creating music itself. On top of those, I’m very hands-on about the entire process of managing trainee artists. It’s not just what I love doing, but I know I can do it better than anyone else.
Q I heard you still take part in sound work. You also played a role as a mixing engineer on every YG album, including PSY’s “Gangnam style”.
Yang: A few months ago I was in charge of Epik High’s latest album and modified it three times (Laugh). The most important job I do in the company is judging what sounds good. I keep going until I am 100% satisfied.
“New girl group have both looks and talent”
Q It is your role to decide the color of the YG sound. Tell me about your criteria in judging what’s good and what’s not?
Yang: I have listened to music and made music since I was little, so I know what makes good music. I can’t describe it with words or come up with a formula but there are certainly some criteria. My kind of sound is what the public likes and those tracks that don’t match my taste also failed to be well-received by the public. That’s why I always try to keep up with current global trends.
Q In “Gangnam Style,” things really come alive in the club scene. It’s also seems like a place where PSY might like to hang out at.
Yang: I’ve deejayed at clubs in my spare time and tried to make good music whether I’m listening to music on my small computer speaker or through those huge speakers at a club. I’m continuously doing my best to come up with good sounds whatever my listeners may be using to listen to music. That’s why I keep working with Jason Roberts who is a mixing engineer from my Seotaeji and Boys days. We’ve amassed a lot of insider knowledge together. He mixes a song and then the artist who wrote the song revises it and then I go over it. This is how we try to come up with sounds that are close to the global standard. That’s what we do during the week and we listen to the songs at clubs on weekends.
All these different aspects come together to create good music. These well-balanced sounds also create a great sense of space. If we only focus on the vocal side, we wouldn’t be able to make the whole space come alive. And if the production company isn’t involved in writing songs directly, you couldn’t just make the song better during the mixing process. That is the essence of what YG does.
Q Then what kind of sounds are you interested in nowadays?
Yang: There seems to be no fixed trend with one particular kind of sound. Instead, trends seem to keep changing. Hip-hop was hot at one point and electronica became cool a little later. We tune sounds to fit the characteristic of the genre. They each have sounds that go well with them.
Q There is also a change in the pop music scene, where implicit standards that have never changed. You are currently producing a new girl group when the scene is full of idols. What criteria did you have in mind as you set about creating the group?
Yang: There is no right answer such as “I prefer idols or artists”. I like them both, actually. I like talented idols and I can also proudly introduce artists to the public. However, there is not much demand for idols these days and it’s only natural for generic idols to start disappearing from the scene. Some have said I should make a second Big Bang but I that would be suicidal. How could there be another Big Bang?
So there was only one reason to create this new girl group. It’s because people say YG never consider their trainee’s looks. (laugh) I thought, “Alright then, I’ll make a team with both looks and talent”. I know people would love a group of girls who are gorgeous like other girl groups and also good at rapping and singing. There of course is a certain wave that comes and goes in pop culture and if a wave is strong, it’s hard to make it turn around. We can make the good wave last longer by making good contents thereby gaining our credibility.
Then the trainees should have something that makes them survive in any kind of situation. Like when you judge contestants on SBS “I Like Sundays – KPOP STAR,” do you have some criteria for picking out trainees?
Yang: I didn’t choose them only based on their looks. Amongst good-looking trainees, I picked ones with talent and skills. There is always one aspect I like in all of them. I also have expectations on what they will show me next time I see them. You know, there are some handsome guys but they don’t touch your heart whereas there are some guys who may not be so gorgeous to look at but you find yourself being drawn to them. I guess that’s what people call “charm” or “charisma”. You either have it or you don’t. What’s important is help these charismatic, charming guys improve their skills through effort. That’s where I come into it.
“I’d like to create a band where Teddy plays the bass and G-Dragon plays the guitar”
Q Your role is to make YG artists reach their full potential but isn’t there a considerable business pressure after being a listed corporation? The market demands stable profits all the time.
Yang: Of course we need that aspect for the company as a whole. But the company believes in me and follows me regarding point. We have an absolute criterion, namely we release what we like and what our artists like in any given situation. Most YG artists have been successful because we only did what we did when we were sure about each step. That will never change.
Q So that must mean you turn down projects which you feel you can’t do.
Yang: I never get involved in the writing part of the music. I create the environment for them to work in, find out about what bothers them and just have a word with them if I feel they are being lazy at work. So everyone at YG turn to me as I’m the only one who controls the artists. When things go wrong, they all call me. I get tired to death in those situations. (laugh)
Q YG tends to release albums much later than your initial plans.
Yang: Many people misunderstand that aspect. I may set the overall schedule for albums but it’s the artists who write the music. I inform the artist of the plan and urge him or her to follow it. But it makes no sense to force artists to hurry. For example, when G-Dragon is racking his brain to write music what is the point of forcing him to finish by July 1 just because that is the company’s plan? That’s not how YG does it. We only release the album when the artist says “It’s done.”
Of course I feel anxious when an album is delayed. After we got listed on the stock exchange, we set up an annual plan so we do have a schedule but I don’t see how I can push them when the producer is in agony. That’s why 2NE1 is doing the world tour with only one new song. I’d like to give them enough time to prepare but sometimes things don’t go as you planned. G-Dragon’s new album was also put off for two months so he had only one and a half month’s activities because of the world tour schedule. And I do understand his fans’ disappointment since he only appeared on “Inkigayo.”
Q It looks like artists have their own complaints whereas fans have their own concerns. And it’s your job to listen to both sides.
Yang: It’s very stressful. But I know it’s more stressful for the artists. I don’t grill them every day. They may feel the pressure just by my presence. (laugh) It’s my job to stay up all night with them. And if something big happens, I figure it out. I humor and comfort them. As for G-Dragon’s album, I plan to drop it again since the release date was put off.
Q You’re going to release another record?
Yang: It was our initial plan was to drop a full-track record, not a mini-album. As the release date was put off, we had short time left for promotion. We all felt really bad about this so we`ve decided to release another solo album for G-Dragon and hold a concert next spring. Since Big Bang will be active until February, we are going to reserve G-Dragon enough time to prepare for it. Of course this is our plan as one never knows what may happen. (laugh) Since the schedule got tangled up and we didn’t have enough time for promotional activities, yes, there’ll be a record from G-Dragon and a concert.
We are also recording 2NE1’s new song after begging the producer Teddy (laugh) and the new song will be dropped as a single record first. I really feel bad that they’re doing the world tour with only one new song but that’s beyond my control. It’s the artists, not me who write the music and my job is to create the right environment.
Q You seem to set implicit principles and keep to them. But there must be times when everyone seems to be against what you’re doing. Do you ever feel lonely?
Yang: In times like that, I just keep going instead of feeling lonely. I give it yet another try out of pride because I want to show that I was right. Of course I am wrong sometimes because I am human but I think that very quality is how YG was able to grow like this. Of course it can be lonely but I feel better after we come up with good results. And good results can only come from good principles.
Q You often mention your “implicit principles”. What are your aims?
Yang: I look up to Steve Jobs. I have never read his biography nor am I curious about his life. What I know is that he gave the public something useful, the iPhone. And he changed everything with that single device. I heard that he was kicked out from a company and once he was told his design would be impossible to realize. But he made it possible and I want to do the same thing. It’s not important how big one’s share is in the market. What is important is how we show our stuff to the global music market. People say what percentage of shares I have in YG, but, even though my share value may change, our standard, our principles about what’s right and wrong will never change. It’s about conviction.
Q Sounds like your dream with YG has just begun.
Yang: That’s right. People who are much richer than me told me that I must be happy because I became successful doing what I love. It feels good to hear that. I’m a really happy man. Personally, I want to learn how to drum as a hobby. I did learn it a little when I was in Seotaeji And Boys, I’d like to play the drums in my 50’s and 60’s. I want to form a band where Teddy plays the bass and G-Dragon plays the guitar. I also dream of a project group where we can have fun. Rather than expanding my business, my dream is to make a room to jam in, where my friends and I can play around with instruments and have fun.
Source: Lennon @ KSTAR10/TenAsia