Meet indie’s leading exporter, marketer and believer

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Meet indie’s leading exporter, marketer and believer


Bernie Cho Provided by DFSB Kollective

Interview with Bernie Cho, president and strategic planning director of DFSB Kollective and Seoulsonic

Q. What motivated you to start Seoulsonic and launch these North American tours for Korean indie musicians?

A. I worked at MTV Korea for close to 10 years, and while I was there I saw a lot of industry outsiders looking into Korea’s music scene and its digital music industry in particular. I knew that a lot of Korean artists wanted to go overseas, but they didn’t know how. And so I decided to dedicate the company to finding the most direct route possible. Rather than wait around for government assistance or corporate sponsorship, our company decided to bite the bullet and commit to sending some of the best and brightest Korean live acts to these conferences and festivals. These tours are not meant to be cash machines. We see it as an investment and more and more, it’s starting to pay off in different ways.

What is your take on the whole K-pop and Hallyu phenomenon? Do you think it is overblown or manufactured by Korean entertainment companies?

K-pop is at an interesting tipping point where I hope it becomes known for its diversity and dynamism, more than a stereotype. There is always this fear that K-pop can be stereotyped to this teen idol dance music. I think when you talk about the Korean Wave, there is so much more room. If anything, the success of different artists provides more opportunities for other artists. Knowing that this is the trend at the moment, it only makes business sense, not just on a creative level, to bring these indie acts abroad.

On the Seoulsonic tours, how well do you think these Korean indie groups did overall?

There is a high premium on live music at these events and Korea has one of the best live laboratories in the world, Hongdae. These indie bands, week in and week out, playing in front of five, 50, 500 people, those hard hours and hard work really pay off when they take their sound abroad.

Why do you think there is such sudden interest globally in K-pop and Korean culture in general?

At the moment, made in Korea has this aura. So whether it’s consumer electronics to cuisine, there’s this kind of hip, hype factor that spills over to films, TV dramas and music. And a lot of marketing and promotional expertise that Koreans have acquired over the years in exporting their consumer goods, a lot of that knowhow is also now being applied to pop culture goods.

Why North America? Why not take these bands to countries in Asia or in Europe?

North America is the biggest music market in the world. I benchmarked what the Japanese, Australian, Spanish and Taiwanese were doing with their bands when they go to these North American festivals. These countries were investing in their music. Instead of doing one off performances at a venue, what I noticed was that with government assistance, not only one band, but a handful of bands from these different countries would play a national showcase at these festivals. And then in between them, in their downtime, they would play at different cities in the U.S. I got a lot of inspiration from that because it makes it worthwhile for these bands to not only play different venues and cities but experience the whole diversity of what is America.
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