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

It’s been more than 3 decades since Soo-man Lee founded SM Entertainment, one of the Korean music companies known for bringing K-pop to the world.

Entertainment company, originally founded as SM Studio in 1989, became one of the first to initiate the global Hallyu wave – also known as the Korean wave.

But Lee’s music wasn’t always based on Korean pop music.

“I became a singer when I was 19. Even though I was famous, I realized that the audience was really quiet when I sang because I sang folk songs,” he told CNBC. Chery Kang in an interview for The CNBC Conversation.

SM Entertainment’s Soo-man Lee (fourth from right) poses for a photo with K-pop group SuperM.

Gabriel Olsen | Getty Images Entertainment | beautiful pictures

“But when foreign bands come [South Korea to] performing, they took over the stage completely and the fans went wild. When I went to see the concert, it seemed that the fans were more enthusiastic than mine,” said Lee, the company’s founding chairman.

A vision for K-pop was born

Lee said that was when he started thinking about bringing Korean pop music to the world.

“When I studied in America, I learned a lot and thought it would be great to promote Korean songs and singers abroad. It was the beginning. [of SM Entertainment].”

Over the years, the 70-year-old has developed a system he calls “cultural technology” — through which he systematically recruits and nurtures talent from selection, training, production, export and manage.

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

Why is the Korean wave better than BTS or Blackpink?

“There’s a guidebook on ‘cultural technology’ written somewhere in my office,” he says, explaining that it combines both culture and technology in a “formulated” way. reasonable”.

“The manual will allow staff to learn and transfer ‘know-how’ from there. Since I’m an engineer, it has to be understood logically. It gives the formulas,” Lee said, adding that he has Master’s degree. in computer engineering.

“So I can say I’m more of an engineer than an artist.”

We need to be that world class, and we’re focusing on what’s missing and what we can make a difference…

Sooman Lee

Founder of SM Entertainment

Even as SM Entertainment’s music continues to go global, Lee says it’s important to continuously innovate and stay ahead of the competition in the music industry.

“We need to get to that world-class level, and we’re focusing on what’s missing and what we can make a difference” to other genres of music, he said. with CNBC.

Lee works with producers and musicians from the UK and US on accompaniment, track tracks, kick drums and bass, which he adapts to Korean and Asian culture. ASIAN.

On the importance of China’s influence in the K-pop industry, Lee acknowledged that money will have a “strong influence”, but said he remains confident that creativity that comes from production will have a big impact. “infinite value”.

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

Chung Sung Jun | Getty Images Entertainment | beautiful pictures

Lee said mental health remains the focus of his company.

“‘Be humble, kind and loving’ is what we teach our talents and people in SM… Things are much better now and global management companies are trying Try to learn about that.”

Lee also said his company is “connecting them with counselors and doctors so they can get help at any time. We may not have the economies of scale like CNBC, but we’ve learned.” get that these things are important.”

The future of K-pop

On the future of K-pop, “I think inverse that people are talking about these days is the future,” Lee said.

SM Entertainment has established a metaverse world called SM cultural universeand debuted for the first time metaverse girl band, Aespa in 2020. The team consists of four real-life members – Karina, Winter, Ning Ning and Giselle – and their respective virtual partners.

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

Alexi Rosenfeld | Getty Images Entertainment | beautiful pictures

“SM Entertainment is building ‘Play-2-Create’… people can explore their creative side and create in the metaverse. They’ll realize, ‘Oh, I can be creative. I have I can make music. I can make dance moves. I can make clothes. I can style artists.'”

To realize the concept of “Play-2-Create”, the company has cooperated with metaverse companies such as Sandbox this early year.

Players can create NFTs and games around “K content” in SMTOWN LAND, a virtual land in The Sandbox under SM Entertainment. NFT is a non-fungible token that is a unique digital asset, such as artwork and sports trading cards, stored using blockchain technology.

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

“You can’t create a genre by copying K-pop. People will consider it K-pop. Now, you need to show it in the metaverse.”

If you don’t look at yourself in the mirror, you won’t know what you look like when you dance, even if you dance really hard…

Sooman Lee

Founder of SM Entertainment

“I think we just need to let the fans be the producer and the consumer at the same time. Let them be creative… Young people will be very happy with the creation and will eventually make a mass of it. great content and intellectual property.”

For those who aspire to be K-pop artists one day, Lee has this advice: “Self-assessment is very important.”

“If you don’t look at yourself in the mirror, you won’t know what you look like when you dance, even if you danced so hard… That’s when you can see and feel what you don’t do well. , that’s when you learn.”

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