‘Korean agencies need to adopt US business style’

By Hong Dam-young
  • Published : Sept 26, 2017 - 18:12
  • Updated : Sept 27, 2017 - 11:15

When in the United States, do as the Americans do: James Minor, a music manager of the South by Southwest festival, believes that Korean agencies should adjust to how the local people do business in order to succeed in the US terrain. 

Having served as a general manager of the Austin-based international music festival for six years, Minor said there are major differences between the business styles of Korea and the US, with the key for those Korean agencies’ success in the US being “overcoming that gap.”

James Minor, a music director of South by Southwest festival, speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Tuesday at MU:CON, an annual international music fair being held in Seoul from Tuesday to Thursday. (The Korea Creative Content Agency)

“Unlike what many think, K-pop is not crossing the mainstream. While there are major K-pop fan bases spread across the country, the music is not played on commercial radio,” Minor told The Korea Herald in Seoul on Tuesday ahead of the annual three-day MU:CON global music conference and showcase.

Minor pinpointed that the biggest barrier for the K-pop agencies hitting the US is that they pursue a different business style that doesn’t fit in the US system.

“Compared to the US management agencies, Asian agencies, including Korea, create something like a 360 deal, where they sign with an artist and make money by engaging in every area, including marketing, promotion and touring,” Minor said.

“But generally in the US, when you sign to a record label, that artist will sign to a separate booking agent and management agency. All these entities are separate, making sure that booking agent and record label are doing their jobs, what they’re supposed to do.”

What was absent from the Korean agencies was that mechanism of “checks and balances,” according to Minor, noting that most Korean agencies work primarily in-house, acting as their artists’ record label, producer and tour manager.

Minor went onto cite financial constraints as one of the Korean agencies’ biggest barriers. In order to be successful in the US, artists just have to hit the road and tour every state, he said. But the problem was that when K-pop groups come to the US, they usually visit only big cities with large Asian communities, like Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago.

“I honestly think that they don’t really have to come to the US, as those acts are already really large in Korea or Asia. The amount of effort and money they have to puts in the US, it’s huge.”

Although K-pop isn’t part of the mainstream in the US music industry, Minor believed in the power of K-pop that has been breaking into the US music scene, fueled by a growing number of fans in the country.

“There’s still room for more growth, of course. ... Jay Park has signed with a big name US hip-hop label recently. But maybe they have to kind of strip things back, like, do you really need five makeup people on tour? I don’t think any K-pop agency has done a good job at that yet,” he added.

Hosted by the Korea Creative Content Agency, the sixth’s annual MU:CON kicked off in Sangam-dong, western Seoul, on Tuesday, with the aim to expand the reach of Korean music abroad and bring together industry professionals. 

Held under the slogan “Seoul, Asia Music City,” the three-day event consists of a showcase of musicians, a conference and biz-matching sessions for music industry professionals, inviting 64 musical acts around the world to perform at the festival. Among the Korean musicians to be showcased are YB, Kiha & The Faces, Monni, MC Sniper, Yi Sung-yol, Junggigo, Kong Minzy and N.Flying.

The Tuesday event included a press conference for Grammy-winning producer Fernando Garibay, who collaborated with Korean R&B singer Crush, and rappers Dok2 and The Quiett of hip-hop label Illionaire Records. They will unveil their collaborations with the Wu-Tang Clan during their performance at the international music fair on Wednesday, while Crush and Garibay will hold joint performances on Thursday.

By Hong Dam-young (