Labeling music: the art of forming a strong identityIt’s an age-old question ― would a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? Or, for the 2006 urbanite, would the same tube of lipstick be as tempting if it weren’t Chanel?
Ask yourself this question. When you go to a record store, on or offline, to buy a CD or MP3 file, how important a factor is the record label in choosing to buy or even listen to the music? Does the label itself get you intrigued about the musician? Or is it the other way around?
In the case of Fluxus Music, founded in April 2001 by Kim Chan, the label serves almost as a brand name. “Record labels in Korea are not as influential on the customer or even on music industry personnel as in other countries like Japan, the United States or England. However, it can be a way to convey what kind of artists the label represents and to differentiate yourself from other labels,” said Mr. Kim.
To promote this “brand image,” Fluxus Music holds annual concerts with the artists it represents. Fluxus’ albums are easily identifiable by an attached cotton tag embroidered with the label’s name. Fluxus also sells mugs and other accessories that bear the label name. On July 14 and 15, Fluxus hosted its “Hot Live and Cool Party at Seoul’s Melon-Ax,” in which musicians Loveholic, Classiquai, My Aunt Mary, Where the Story Ends and Yi Sung-yol performed for about five hours.
As a former bassist with the Korean rock group Buhwal, who gained both commercial and critical success, Mr. Kim sees the importance in maintaining a label image that is in sync with the commercial aspect of the music industry, in addition to retaining a personal, authentic quality in music. “I encourage the musicians on my label to self-produce their albums. Almost all of the artists produced by Fluxus Music write their own songs,” he said.
As a result, Mr. Kim’s company includes musicians with distinctly urban sounds - a tempting mix of lounge, modern rock, folk and pop elements. The artists act as a middle ground between mainstream and underground artists in the Korean music scene. Along with their “self-made musician” image, they also have a media-savvy, commercially open side and many of the artists often participate in creating film and TV soundtracks and also appear on television entertainment shows.
“If the public is aware of the music label ― the musical and commercial direction it strives for ― I think it makes it easier for a label to create its own flavor,” Mr. Kim added.
A brand image also serves as a stepping stone to marketing the artists worldwide. The groups Classiquai and Loveholic have released albums in Japan and China and intend to stretch their global boundaries further this year. “With a stronger brand image, it will be much easier for me,” Mr. Kim said.
Another company that sees a strong label image as a stepping stone toward global marketing is JYP Entertainment.
Compared to newer, comparatively smaller record labels such as Fluxus Music, JYP Entertainment, which produces artists Rain and Noel, is a Goliath among Korean entertainment companies, along with SM Town.
Jimmy Jeong, chief operations manager of the music division at JYP Entertainment, said, “Because the Korean music industry does not have a long history compared to countries like the United States and Britain, its record labels have not had enough time to develop a strong, natural brand image.”
As a part of efforts to position the label as a solid soul and R&B label, its head and founder, the singer/producer J.Y. Park, continuously promotes his name and musical identity in shows such as “Superstar Survival,” a reality show in which he selects future R&B stars.
Mr. Jeong said the Korean music market is currently “on a downward spiral. There is less and less demand for CDs and even MP3s. Because of this outlook, JYP has been targeting the global market for some time now, and starting our efforts 10 years ago.”
He adds, “We aim to be a bridge between Asia and America. In trying to do so, a solid brand image can be quite useful.”
Han Sang-hoon, the operational manager of Moonrise, a record label founded by Kim Min-geu, lead singer of the modern rock band Delispice, agrees that a strong image serves as a plus. He said, “For labels that are not relatively big-scale like Moonrise, a label identity serves as a useful tool.” He said some of the newer bands on his label, such as Jeiju Sonyeon, have benefited from the fact that older, better-known bands such as Delispice are on the same label.
In its annual label concert, Moonrise chooses to introduce new or up-and-coming artists that have just joined or are planning to join the label.
Mr. Han stressed that Moonrise’s main promotional vehicle is concerts. “By putting on concerts in all forms and sizes, we want to reach an audience on a more personal level,” he said, adding, “It is important for a brand to have their own flavor. By presenting this kind of image, the customers will feel a personal attachment to the label.”
by Cho Jae-eun