Breaking Abroad: How Korean Indie Could Break the United States

I’ve been long thinking about how Korean indie, Korean rock, and Korean rap could break into the United States. Considering the styles of music, the differences in culture, and even the dollar to won conversion; I came up with a lot of ideas that could potentially bring in a new wave of fans and music into the United States.

Consider the state of music right now. It’s all pop, rock, and rap. These acts are mainly long-standing having made their mark early or piggy-backing older trends and becoming big stars.

But that is dealing with pop music. Look at the attempts of BoA, Se7en, and the Wonder Girls. Not entirely failures, but they couldn’t be considering successes. BoA and Se7en were dealing with music that were popular when they were being composed and trained for.

Once they debuted, their music was behind the times. The Wonder Girls had a bit of a better idea by being attached to the Jonas Brothers, but their solo tour was too Korean for American fans. It worked because so many people who went to the shows were already fans. Even so, when I saw them in San Francisco, 2PM minus Taecyeon were more impressive.

In terms of these Korean bands breaking and making an impact in the United States; the first thing to do is blast away expectations of playing huge concerts. I don’t even think a huge national tour could bring in the numbers or justify spending thousands of dollars of labels in hopes of breaking even. What Korean labels need to do is make music more accessible for listeners in the United States.

What’s the easiest way?

Domestic releases of albums. While many people enjoy digital formats (myself included), I enjoy having the actual CDs of bands I genuinely love. Donawhale, Han Heejeong, The Ratios, and Rimi are some that I was able to get through my Mom who visited Korea.

I wouldn’t order these CDs online partially because it takes so long for albums to arrive through international mail, combined with the possibility that the merchandise might be broken when it arrives, there is little that can be done at that point.

Send it back?

Wait another couple weeks?

That’s just too long.

At the same time, I’m not suggesting to labels to create Korean and English language versions of their albums. Just being able to have domestic availability is key.

My idea is very based on the idea that labels are dedicated to supporting their artists and getting as much attention as possible. To do this, it would be a label collective of as many labels would be willing to join. Band together, as it were, to get CDs from Korea to the United States.

Disregarding creating a center for distribution, it would be a small group of dedicated fans who would create their own old school mail-order business that would be partially supported by these labels.

Each label would sent CDs to the United States, the US-based group would run their own mail-order business utilizing an English website with hubs for all the labels involved. Using paypal or some other payment system, the group would facilitate the spread of Korean music in the United States.

The labels would be paid to recoup their shipping and production costs, and the US group could make a small stipend for what they did. In the beginning it could potentially be the smallest amount, but with support of the community that exists in the United States, this plan could grow into something huge.

With this kind of product pushing, then tours become much more viable considering the financial costs.

Smaller runs in the beginning covering the West Coast. Possibly Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are three big stops that bands could perform at, playing anywhere possible, but college campuses might be the easiest way in.

Along with these tours, the merchandise is already in the United States and getting merch to sell at shows is much easier.

The true danger in the beginning is just getting bands and labels to attempt this experiment. I think there is huge potential for Korean groups to become much more of a presence in the independent realm.

Korea is an impressive country with music that expands and evolves at a staggering rate. Who wouldn’t want to see Guckkasten, Donawhale, Apollo 18, and Ninaian on the same bill in the United States?

The borders are falling when it comes to music, and the strength of the won to the dollar is a difficult thing, but given a couple of years, Korean independent music could have a strong grasp on the ears of America. Look at Japanese bands who have popularity here, if Japan can do it, so can Korea.

I think the risk is worth the pay off.