Nuggets from K-Pop for any musician

The music industry consists of many moving parts with varying levels of importance. I do however, often feel that the marketing aspect within this industry gets left behind in the planning phase, which isn’t beneficial for the artist or their project. When I first took an interest into Korean Pop music (popularly known as K-Pop), one of the initial things that caught my attention was their precision in the execution of their marketing strategy. In the K-Pop world, they refer to new projects as comebacks. This means that every time an artist releases an EP or an album it’s called a “comeback”. With this, they are literally re-introducing you, as the artist, to the audience even though you have been around and the audiences are familiar with you. It also gives room for the audience to understand that the artist has evolved and that the upcoming project may be different from past projects; thus effectively tapping into the audiences’ attention and sparking their sense of curiosity and excitement. Agencies like SM Entertainment invest in expanding their artists’ reach and growing a sustainable fanbase. To date, SM Entertainment has facilitated nine successful comebacks, including those of renowned K-Pop acts NCT127, ONEW, KEY, KAI, NCT DoJaeJung, and aespa, with more still in the pipeline.

If you are familiar with the K-Pop world, you will know that the names mentioned above are prominent in the space – I found it intriguing that they could all be managed by one house and get almost equal attention regardless of their industry standing or experience. Their process comprises of five steps which I was tempted to term as ‘the 5 tools of K-pop’ but talked myself out of it because these tools can actually work for any genre.

The K-Pop approach is such that they start off with the release of a (1) “schedule” – This consists of the release date of the album or EP as well as the dates of when the various teasers will be published leading up to the album release.

Next, the (2) “concept is released. This is inclusive of teaser images, which are essentially the album cover and some other accompanying photos that were taken of the artist in preparation for the comeback. Through this, they give the audience a layout and the feel of the pending project as well as the different themes incorporated within the project. This is where you will notice their attention to detail that’s evident in the styling of the artist and the environment in which the photos are taken. The concept also differentiates one era from the next. 

Next up they drop the (3) “album details”. K-Pop albums are very different to traditional albums in that the album pack does not only consist of the actual CD, but also has various other inclusions such as posters, stickers, photocards and photobooks. A single album will have different versions consisting of the different concepts that were teased in the teaser images prior and that only goes further in prompting consumers to buy and collect these albums. There is a lot of buzz and excitement when it comes to album packs, people are out to buy and preorder these albums and they often sell out even before the album is released. What’s important to note here is that the focus isn’t on the CD itself but rather on the images and other inclusions within the various album versions. This is also why there is a booming secondary market for these albums. Now I must confess that my Korean is limited to, Aanyeong, yet I’m invested in the album collection for reasons that are still unknown to me.

Thereafter, they will release a (4) sample, which in most instances, consists of a highlight medley, which is a short video, that plays little snippets of each song on the project and this is usually where you, as the consumer, can guess if you will like the project or not because you now have got the sound of the project. Following the highlight medley, the music video teaser will be released and this is usually the day before the official album release.

ONEW Circle Highligh Medley

Finally, the album is released and this is where constant (5) “engagement”, also known as promotion, comes into play. The artists will participate in a variety of shows, release music videos, performance videos and dance practice videos, which continues to feed people’s curiosity and excitement whilst keeping the conversation around the project going. For their singles they’ll then constantly promote those live on music shows and other variety shows. Although the promotion period lasts for about 4 weeks at most, the snowball effect of all these efforts is seen for months post the project release.

For a long while I have been of the view that more needs to be done to promote music in SA. The intention is that when you put music out you want someone to hear it. In actual fact you want as many people as possible to hear it and that will not happen by chance, it requires planning and resources. Fortunately, with the introduction of social media, there are many avenues that one can explore to get their music to the people. It is delightful to see more and more artists have great promotions for their projects. One such example is Sjava with the release of Isibuko that had a social media build-up pre-release that continued post release along with radio tours and live shows. Some may say “Yoh we are seeing them everywhere, he is over advertising, we are tired – now he’s with Big Zulu as Insizwa Zezwe”. But that’s the thing, not seeing them enough is a problem in an industry where artists are dependent on people coming to your show. You need to be everywhere, you need to be memorable, and that’s exactly what they are doing. 

A more recent example is Bongeziwe Mabandla’s amaXesha. From the announcement of his album to the timing of the single(s) release, Colors feature to the behind-the-scenes snippets shared on social media. It builds a sense of inclusion and community. As people we want to feel connected and included and when an artist brings us into their confidence in this manner, it waters our relationship with them.

So if you are a new or even a seasoned artist, invest in your PR and marketing, engage with your current audience and explore new audiences. Many opportunities lie on the other side of exposure.