MU:CON Seoul 2012, the first international music conference in Seoul, South Korea, ended in success despite the fact that hurricane Sandy prevented some U.S. presenters from attending.
The event, held Nov. 1-3, was sponsored by the South Korean government’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Korea Foundation for International culture Exchange and Hanhwa Insurance. It was hosted by the Korean Creative Content Agency, another governmental organization, which has made it its mission to encourage the export of Korean music and K-pop in particular.
With a multitude of speeches, panel discussions, workshops and talks, the conference actively discussed such topics as: PSY’s success in the US, the use of YouTube in breaking artists, the present and future states of the Chinese music industry, and the value of big music fests. Twenty-six presenters shared their views and 880 buyers and sellers from music firms across Asia, and the world, searched out new deals. Three days of musical showcases brought out some10,000 fans.
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With keynote speaker William Derella, the Black Eyed Peas manager, unable to attend because of the Sandy disaster attention was focused on John Hirai, Head of Music, Korea & Japan, at YouTube, who discussed the phenomenon of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” hit video. Hirai noted, “I’ve been in the music industry 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” He added, “I never thought I’d see this kind of impact from an Asian artist.” Hirai identified a few themes he thought were key to the video becoming a success. He emphasized that, with its fun dance, the content was open to everyone and accessible. He also pointed out that the comedic content attracted viewers. On the industry side he noted that PSY had struck strategic partnerships at the right time to boost the video and its overall marketability.
Hirai said that Google analysts have established that at the present viewing rate “Gangnam Style” will overtake Justin Beiber’s “Baby” as the most viewed video on YouTube in under a month. Adding “PSY’s rate of views is unthinkable.” Hirai urged Korean artists to follow in PSY’s footsteps by uploading their music videos to YouTube and using the platform as a means of promotion.
Hirai related that YouTube’s plans in Asia include the streaming of live K-pop, J-pop and Chinese pop performances.
The YouTube rep made some bold claims as well. He stated that overall YouTube views could earn PSY more money that digital download sales. Given that “Gangnam Style” has already sold over 1.65 million digital downloads in the US alone the claim was met with some skepticism. When asked to back up the assertion with some metric or rate of payment for PSY’s YouTube views, Hirai declined.
Ted Chung, manager of the band Far East Movement, senior partner of Stampede Records and president of Doggy Style Records, gave a presentation on how Asian artists can break in the US market. He pointed to language first, saying the songs need to be in English, and the artists need to be able to communicate in English so they can go on American TV shows and connect with their audience.
Chung added and extra element in the artists’ performance may be necessary to overcome the cultural barriers and lack of profile in the US. He too pointed to the popular dance in “Gangnam Style” as one such element.
A panel on “What You Need to Know about K-pop,” which included this reporter, discussed the success of K-pop in the world and how PSY has changed the equation. Benjamin Locoge, Head of Culture at Paris Match, noted that K-pop had taken the mainstream media in France by surprise with its enthusiastic fans and frenzied reception. The female K-pop act Girls’ Generation had to schedule more shows in Paris after the sell-out of the first one nearly caused a riot.
Min Kim, the Director of MU:CON told Billboard that the conference’s strength came both from it as a meeting point for Asia and the PSY phenomenon. “MU:CON was valuable because the three Northeast Asian countries, China, Japan and Korea, could discuss collaborations in the music industry. He added, “Because of the PSY phenomenon, we mainly talked PSY this year. For the next conference, I hope we can discuss issues in the music industry that pertain to all Asian countries.”