By Park Jin-hai
EXO, SHINee, Girls Generation, f(x), VIXX, Teen Top and Justin Bieber. Looking at the profile of Shin Hyuk, 28, founder and CEO of Joombas Music Group, one might wonder how this young producer could make his musical mark both in Korea and the U.S. in less than 10 years.
Best known for EXO's "Growl" ― a blend of rap, R&B melody and pop hooks ― written by his team of producers, the Korean producer has much credit for the boy band to gain international fame. The Billboard referred “Growl” as the crown jewel and it sold over a million copies in 2013 alone. His other hits include SHINee's "Dream Girl" and Teen Top's "Supa Love."
"When I produce K-pop, I don’t only focus on the music," he said. "I consider the possibilities of the artist’s choreography and visual concepts. Also, I have to show the artist’s full capabilities within 3 minutes of a TV broadcast, so I focus all my production and vocal production centered around that aspect."
Although Shin is widely known as one of the most sought-after producers in the K-pop industry, his musical talent was first acknowledged in the U.S. Since he left for the U.S. in 2005 to study producing at Berklee College of Music, he has teamed up with American artist Sean Hamilton and spent many years peddling their demos.
"My childhood dream was becoming the first Korean to create songs which enter the Billboard charts, and subsequently, enrolled in Berklee College of Music," he said. “Almost every night when Sean came from his work, we used to make music at my place until dawn,” he recalled.
The duo finally made it big. One of their songs "One Less Lonely Girl" was noticed by a Def Jam Recordings' A&R team and Canadian singer Justin Bieber sang the song which debuted 16th on the US Billboard top 100 chart in 2009. The mid-tempo R&B/Pop single had more than 110,000 downloads in its first week.
"The first k-pop artist I worked with was Teen Top. Their label had heard Justin Bieber's song and asked if could produce for Teen Top. After I had produced 'Supa Luv' for Teen Top, SM Entertainment contacted me and since then, I have been producing heavily in the K-pop market."
He says that K-pop is especially strong in providing quality music videos and diversified concepts through them. "K-pop music tends to spend exorbitant budgets on music videos and tries a differing concept every time. I think that is why it succeeded in securing so many fans overseas through Youtube as well as spreading rapidly throughout the world," he said.
Shin says K-pop has maximized visual effects of music to its advantage. “When the song I wrote comes in the smartly choreographed music videos, I go completely over the top. Compared with the U.S. where a single is promoted for almost six months, K-pop sees a new song every month. So I could check out the audience feedbacks faster, that is another plus point.”
In 2012, he founded a music label Joombas Music Group, headquartered in Hollywood, California. It now has 13 U.S.-based producers working under the label. It is also training singers ahead of their debuts.
As a musician working in the U.S., Shin says he is feeling the direct effect of "Gangnam Style" phenomenon. "Since Psy's global hit song, famous producers and songwriters that had not shown any interest in K-pop before have been contacting me asking if they could work on K-pop projects together."
"When I was invited to VIXX's show held in LA a few months ago, I noticed that 90 percent of the audience was non-Korean, including 40 percent of white Americans. That experience made me realize K-pop's elevated status within the states."
However, he warns of the K-pop saturated local music scenes and their typical music sound. "It is difficult for the public to distinguish who is who now," he said. "Also, I think the music companies are seeking provocative content to stand out rather than great musical content. It is prohibiting growth and the music scene ends up feeling stagnant."
Asked about his future plans, he said that he would like to create music content that is impeccable when compared to music from advanced music markets such as the U.S. or the U.K. “I feel that the current K-pop idol music market has become stagnant. I would like to elevate K-pop’s place in the world music business, by working as a bridge connecting western musicians and K-pop artists.”
well, there must be something to it if white ppl like it, right? lol