From Bieber to EXO, K-pop producer builds hit factory

October 24, 2014
Joombas Music Group CEO Shin Hyuk (Courtesy of Joombas)

Joombas Music Group CEO Shin Hyuk (Courtesy of Joombas)

By Tae Hong

There’s no “maybe” when it comes to Joombas Music Group CEO Shin Hyuk — K-pop lovers have absolutely heard this producer’s work.

He’s made a home out of a cozy fourth-floor office on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, where visitors are greeted by three walls of framed records.

EXO’s “Growl.” SHINee’s “Dream Girl.” VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll,” “G.R.8.U.,” “Eternity.” Teen Top’s “Supa Luv.”

All are hits produced under 29-year-old Shin, whose work in the past three years reached millions worldwide and who now looks to release his own artists under the label in Korea next year.

It’s one thing — an admittedly easier thing, he says — to crank out lollipop-sweet K-pop tune after tune, but he’s after a bigger picture.

Shin wants a hand in advancing the genre beyond its ever-growing army of boy bands and girl groups, to further its musical diversity and elevate its quality to stand head-to-head with foreign pop.

“‘Growl’ was a new kind of sound to Korea,” Shin says. “It was a modern sound and a challenge. Of course, SM had a hand in packaging it nicely, but the fact that a song like that reached No. 1 in Korea — in many ways, it came close to the vision I wanted in terms of advancing K-pop with high-quality music.”

EXO’s “Growl” propelled the idol group to super-stardom and the group’s first album, “XOXO,” to become the first K-pop record to reach one million sales in 12 years.

With Joombas headquarters in Seoul, Shin and his team are in the midst of preparations to launch their own stars, including a male solo artist whom he says will introduce a young, urban scene to K-pop.

It’s worth noting that he’s no stranger to being on the other side of the process. Shin debuted as a solo ballad singer, albeit a short-lived one, in 2004.

While mentions of his past singing career may draw a cringe from him, his first (and only) album, “Soar,” carried nine self-written tracks and was in many ways his first step onto the professional stage as a singer-songwriter.

Shin’s journey with music started when he was a child, when Korean pop was less than a blip on the global radar.

His father, a piano salesman at Korean musical instrument giant Samick, sealed his young son’s fate when he handed him a toy keyboard for the first time.

“While having fun playing with the keyboard, writing songs just came naturally,” he said.

By age 14, Shin was set on a big dream: Become the first Korean to produce a Billboard-charting song.

That same dream took him all the way to Berklee College of Music following his singing stint. He enrolled as a voice major but spent his weekdays writing songs and weekends going out to try and sell them.

Three and a half years, a partnership with songwriter Sean Hamilton called “A-Rex” and hundreds of songs later, Justin Bieber took A-Rex’s “One Less Lonely Girl” and sang it to a No. 16 debut on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009.

K-pop was far from Shin’s plans as he began producing work with Epic Records’ L.A. Reid. Shin was headed toward a career producing for the American market.

But plans can fall through, as A-Rex eventually did, and Shin found himself at a low point when a private message from management for then-rookie K-pop group Teen Top came flying his way on Korean social networking blog Cyworld.

The gist of the message was this: Teen Top likes practicing to “One Less Lonely Girl,” and it turns out you’re Korean. Would you like to work with us?

It was the beginning of Shin’s entrance into the genre. His work with Teen Top led to a relationship with K-pop giant SM Entertainment after one of its employees heard the band recording “Supa Luv” and took interest in his sound.

“As I worked on Teen Top, I got the feeling that K-pop was fun,” Shin says. “I grew up in Korea for 20 years. I understand both the Korean sentiment and the American sentiment, so people would tell me my sound was fresh.”

After Psy’s “Gangnam Style” blew up in 2012, Shin discovered he’d become a part of one of the fastest-moving, fastest-growing genres in the world.

“That a song sung in Korean made it to No. 2 on the Billboard chart — that’s honestly not a possible thing,” Shin says. “When I saw that, I felt the importance of good content, and I felt that the world had really become one.”

What’s important now is for people to recognize that Psy isn’t all there is to K-pop, he says. Shin regularly works with foreign staff and producers to bring their music style diversity to Korea.

“It’s my role to collaborate with them and to turn that work into a part of Korean culture,” he says. “That’s what I do now.”

From 2011 to 2014, Joombas produced a string of hits that contributed to the ballooning Hallyu craze around the globe, its songs carried by EXO, FIESTAR, Girls’ Generation, Teen Top, TVXQ, SHINee, VIXX, 100% and f(x).

“There’s nothing that I enjoy more than music,” Shin says. “The happiest thing is that, for me, my work is the same as my hobby.”

Although Shin hasn’t completely closed the door on American music, his focus has naturally shifted to the Asian market, for which he stresses the need for advancement and quality.

His schedule even without Joombas’ plans for next year — projects with Korean vocalists John Park and Son Seung-yeon, producing for new idol groups including YG Entertainment’s upcoming Chinese Korean boy band UNIQ — indicates that his K-pop philosophy is working.

“There’s a lot of eyes on K-pop right now,” he says. “I want to take the things I learn locally [in America] and use it to help the K-pop market grow in size.”



  1. Rimsha London

    October 25, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    EXO are amazing I love them ad support them forever! They may be going though tough times but they don’t give up hope!!♥

  2. Katherine Wright

    October 25, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Wow…This man is….inspiring. I nearly cried reading this article for some reason. Maybe because his dream has taken a reality that he loves so much, and that just makes me happy, not only for him, but for the kpop genre to have an amazing man like him on their side!!!

  3. 신보은

    October 25, 2014 at 7:28 PM

    Honestly… wow. This man’s really incredible. As a girl who’s Korean by heritage but American by citizenship, as well as someone who’s immensely interested in the music industry, I feel really inspired. I love American music and Korean music equally and to see someone who’s pretty much closed the bridge between the two… that’s just really special. 신혁 화이팅! ㅎㅎㅎ