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SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man on K-pop future, running business


It has been greater than 3 many years since Soo-man Lee founded SM Entertainment, considered one of South Korea’s music agencies known for bringing K-pop to the world.

The entertainment company, originally founded as SM Studio in 1989, became considered one of the primary to kickstart the worldwide Hallyu wave — higher often called the Korean wave.

But Lee’s music was not all the time based off Korean pop music.

“I became a singer once I was 19. Although I used to be famous, I noticed that the audience was really quiet once I sang because I sang folk songs,” he told CNBC’s Chery Kang in an interview for The CNBC Conversation.

SM Entertainment’s Soo-man Lee (fourth from the proper) posing with K-pop supergroup SuperM.

Gabriel Olsen | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

“But when foreign bands come to [South Korea to] perform, they completely took over the stage and fans went wild. After I went to ascertain out the concert, it appeared like the fans were more enthusiastic than in mine,” said Lee, who’s founding chairman of the corporate.

A vision for K-pop is born

Lee said that is when he began to take into consideration taking South Korea’s pop music to the world.

“As I studied within the U.S., I learned so much and thought it will be nice to advertise Korean songs and singers overseas. That is the beginning [of SM Entertainment].”

Over time, the 70-year-old developed a system he calls “culture technology” — through which he recruited and nurtured talent in a scientific way of casting, training, producing, and management.

The system is behind the song production of SM Entertainment’s K-pop top bands — equivalent to Super Junior, Girls’ Generation and Red Velvet. 

“There’s a written ‘culture technology’ manual somewhere in my office,” he said, explaining that it combines each culture and technology in a “logically formulized” way.

“The manual will allow employees to learn and transfer ‘know-how’ out of it. Because I’m an engineer, it’s to be understood by logic. It lays out formulas,” Lee said, sharing that he has a Master’s degree in computer engineering.

“So, I can say that I’m an engineer fairly than an artiste.”

We should be at that world class level, and we’re specializing in what’s missing and how much distinctions we will make…

Soo-man Lee

Founder, SM Entertainment

Whilst SM Entertainment’s music continues to go global, Lee says it is vital to repeatedly innovate and stay ahead of the competition within the music industry.

“We should be at that world class level, and we’re specializing in what’s missing and how much distinctions we will make” from other genres of music,” he told CNBC.

Lee works with producers and songwriters from the U.K. and U.S. on accompaniments, track songs, kick drum and bass, which he adapts to South Korean and Asian culture.

As for the importance of China’s influence within the K-pop industry, Lee admits that cash could have a “powerful influence,” but said he stays confident creativity that comes from producing could have “infinite value.”

SM Entertainment has represented K-pop artists like boy band Super Junior.

Chung Sung-jun | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

The difficulty of mental health is something that continues to be a spotlight for his company, Lee says.

“‘Be humble, be kind and be the love’ is what we teach our talents and folks in SM … Things are so much higher now and global management corporations are attempting to study it.”

Lee also said his company is “connecting them to counselors and doctors in order that they’ll get help anytime. We may not have the identical economies of scale like CNBC, but we learned this stuff are very essential.”

Way forward for K-pop

As for the long run of K-pop, “I feel the metaverse that everyone seems to be talking about today is the long run,” Lee says.

SM Entertainment established a metaverse world called SM Culture Universe, and launched its first metaverse girl band, Aespa in 2020. The group is made up of 4 real-life members – Karina, Winter, Ning Ning, and Giselle – and their corresponding virtual counterparts.

SM Entertainment established a metaverse world called SM Culture Universe, and launched its first metaverse girl band, Aespa in 2020.

Alexi Rosenfeld | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

“SM Entertainment is constructing ‘Play-2-Create’… people can discover their creative side and create within the metaverse. They are going to realize, ‘Oh, I can create. I could make music. I can create dance moves. I could make clothes. I can style artists.'”

To appreciate the concept of “Play-2-Create,” the corporate partnered with metaverse corporations like The Sandbox earlier this 12 months.

Players can create NFTs and games surrounding “K-content” in SMTOWN LAND, a virtual land in The Sandbox under SM Entertainment. NFTs are non-fungible tokens that are unique digital assets, like artwork and sports trading cards, which are stored using blockchain technology.

Lee believes that any country can create something as successful as K-pop, however the metaverse can be key.

“You can’t create a genre by copying K-pop. Everyone will view it as K-pop. Now, you’ll want to show it within the metaverse.”

Without taking a look at yourself within the mirror, you could have no idea what you’d seem like when dancing, even when you danced really hard…

Soo-man Lee

Founder, SM Entertainment

“I feel we just must let the fans grow to be producers and consumers at the identical time. Allow them to create… Young people could have the large satisfaction of creation and can find yourself creating massive amounts of mental property and content.”

For those aspiring to grow to be K-pop artists some day, Lee has this piece of recommendation: “Self-assessment may be very essential.”

“Without taking a look at yourself within the mirror, you could have no idea what you’d seem like when dancing, even when you danced really hard … It’s when you may see and feel what you do not do well that you just learn.”

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