Popularity of K-drama soundtracks helps new singers: K-pop producer Seo

In the thriving entertainment industry of South Korea, it is rare for a relatively unknown singer to get an opportunity to record a song for a Korean drama’s original soundtrack (OST). But when it happens, K-pop composer Seo Gi-jun says, music lovers are introduced to newer voices. From singer Punch, whose collaboration Stay With Me with EXO group member Chanyeol went off the charts following the popularity of 2016 blockbuster drama Goblinto artist Gaho, who shot to fame after he sang “Start Over” for Itaewon Class, K-dramas have given new lease to the careers of many musicians.

“There are cases where an OST helped in increasing the popularity of a singer. Goblin helped in the popularity of the song sung by Punch and Chanyeol. Also, Gaho became famous after the success of Itaewon Class,” the South Korean music composer told PTI, through an interpreter, in a group interview.

It is rare that up-and-coming artistes end up being part of an OST since these songs are mostly sung by leading singers, added Seo.

“K-drama OSTs help many relatively unknown singers get popularity. But, you also have to understand that it is hard for many singers who are not famous to get an opportunity to sing a song for an OST. It is very rare because these songs generally go to the singers who are already famous,” he said.

As much as an OST is a subset of a show, it is very much an independent entity and one doesn’t need to be a K-drama fan to enjoy its album. Besides stellar performances by ensemble cast and taut storytelling, superhit K-dramas including Crash Landing On You, Descendants of the Sun, Search: WWW, Hospital Playlist, Something in the Rain, and One Spring Night, owe their popularity to the original songs that drove the plot forward.

A hit OST has a significant impact on the popularity of a Korean drama, admitted Seo, who debuted in 2012 with Japanese singer Koda Kumi’s song “Love Technique”.

“People usually think drama is more important and OSTs follow the popularity of drama. For me, as a composer, an OST is more important,” he added.

What songs are to Indian films, OSTs are to Korean dramas.

“Usually, Korean films don’t have OSTs. They have original sound (background score) but not songs,” said the composer, whose credits include “Last Goodbye” sung by brother-sister duo Akum and Jung In’s “Actually I’m” from 2015’s Korean series Yong-pal.

Seo, who has participated in writing and arranging about 80 songs, said a producer doesn’t know when and where the next job might come from.

“One hard thing about being a composer is that this job doesn’t have any schedule. Usually, customers just demand songs whenever they want. Often, they ask ‘Can you make a song by next week?’ This is a normal practice in Seoul,” he said.

The hard work that goes into creating an OST is just as much as it is for a regular, flashy K-pop song. There are, however, budget constraints.

“(Production of) One song in an OST costs less than a K-pop song. Usually it is 1 million to 1.5 million won (Rs 90,000 approximately), that is if we exclude the money paid to the composer,” he added.

It is interesting how Seo, who didn’t like to study as a child, also teaches music at South Korea’s Baekseok Art University.

“(Growing up), I focused on music and I started my music studies in university and that has been my career till now,” he said.

Seo recently established a company called Gangnam Indie Records and is expanding the scope of music production here in South Korea. Asked what could be his next future project, the musician said, “Maybe, I’ll record another OST next week.”

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