Shining in the shadow of big-name entertainers

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Shining in the shadow of big-name entertainers

“There’s no business like show business” goes the song from the 1946 Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” But not everybody can be a star. Nor does everyone want to be.
Consider Kim Yeong-gyun, Baek Seung-hak and Gwon Jae-ho. Known in local entertainment circles as The Three Musketeers, the trio appear quite content as behind-the-scenes celebrity managers.
Being a talent agent once carried a stigma in Korea. The field had a reputation, accurate or not, for under-the-table deals aimed at boosting a celebrity’s prominence.
Not anymore. Managers are considered professionals nowadays, eager to work hard to do their job right.
Mr. Kim, 29, did not envision himself as a celebrity manager until well after his army duty ended. After studying photography in college, he landed a job writing ad copy. Six years ago, he finally discovered his true talent when the celebrity rock group Jaurim took him on as their manager.
On the other hand, Mr. Baek long harbored a dream of singing classical music. His destiny found him fit for a somewhat different field, when he became the agent for Roller Coaster, another modern rock band.
Mr. Gwon once aspired to roam the seas as a maritime officer, a career track backed by the results of an aptitude test, which found him suited for a career as a soldier or police officer. What’s he doing now?
An affirmed landlubber, he’s busy attending to the needs of the jazz pianist Kim Gwang-min and the up-and-coming pop singer Na Won-ju.
The Three Musketeers work at T-Entertainment for talented musicians, not lip-syncing bubble gum pop stars. Do they mind being far from the spotlight? Not one bit. Two voice support when one describes talent managers as “the flowers of show business.”
But it took time for these flowers to bloom. They all paid their dues early on doing drudge work like chauffeuring singers all over. “Driving a car is the first step to being an apprentice,” Mr. Kim says, smiling.
Mr. Baek, who joined the company in 2002, volunteered to serve as a driver. But when his first paycheck came in, he was shocked at the paltry salary.
“But you know, starting from rock bottom is not so bad, after all,” says Mr. Baek, 28. “It’s the same thing for a low-level clerk trying to make it all the way to the top.”
After musicians and producers have cut a new album, it’s time for managers to shine. Their role is bridging the gap from raw music to listeners’ shopping bags, using a grab bag of publicity strategies.
The key to successful talent management boils down to one word, at least according to Mr. Gwon: patience.
“Above all, managers must know their stars inside out, which is not as easy as it seems,” he says. “Celebrities don’t want to open themselves up, maybe because they’re public figures. First, you should understand the difference between you and your stars.”
It’s not easy, but it pays dividends. “When I see singers on stage doing their best to perform right to attract heartfelt reaction from the audience, all of my stress literally evaporates,” Mr. Gwon says.
But you cannot be too careful before deciding to work as a talent agent. “If you want to be a manager just out of curiosity, you’ll easily get burnt out,” Mr. Kim says. “You should ask yourself again and again if this is the thing you really want to do,”


by Lee Eun-ju
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