Songwriter weaves thread of K-pop hits

November 4, 2013

K-pop songwriter ‘Sinsadong Tiger’ finds breakthrough with collected ideas

Lee Ho-yang plays a keyboard in this photo provided by him. Having made his debut in 2005, the 31-year-old earned massive fame with a string of hit songs, including T-ara’s “Roly-Poly,” “Bo Peep Bo Peep” and Jewelry’s “One More Time” among many others.

Lee Ho-yang plays a keyboard. Having made his debut in 2005, the 31-year-old earned massive fame with a string of hit songs, including T-ara’s “Roly-Poly,” “Bo Peep Bo Peep” and Jewelry’s “One More Time,” among many others. (Courtesy of Lee Ho-yang)

By Park Si-soo

Two hands are not enough to count the K-pop stars he has worked with; T-ara, 4minute, Beast and counting. Same goes for the smash hits he has produced.

As a result, he has earned the nickname “Midas touch,” forcing his clients to put their names on a long waiting list to receive his high-priced care. His fame seems unlikely to dim for a while since his ability to write music and know trends remains intact.

Taking advantage of the K-pop boom overseas and his fame, the star songwriter is looking to expand his business into overseas markets, especially into China.

“I’ve sold 15 songs so far this year and seven songs were hits, which means the success of my song is estimated at 50 percent or so,” said Lee Ho-yang, better known as “Sinsadong Tiger,” his pseudonym, in a recent interview with The Korea Times at his office in Seoul’s Sinsa-dong, home to several major incubators of K-pop singers such as SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. “It’s likely that I will sell four more songs by the end of the year.”

Unlike many other songwriters, Lee said he doesn’t keep his unreleased songs.

“I discard unsold songs because they are mostly trendy music that is only marketable during a specific period of time. I do not create noble music, but pop music.”

The musician, who turned 31 and willingly portrayed himself as a workaholic sleeping only three or four hours a day, said he would like to work with Ke$ha, a Billboard award-winning American pop idol. “Her voice and feeling are really my favorite,” he said beaming.

During the 80-minute interview, Lee proved that he is different from what he called “ordinary” K-pop composers in many aspects, especially in the way of doing work.

“If they write songs relying heavily on their instant feeling and inspiration, I rely more on SWOT analysis and my own idea database,” he said, referring to a strategy-making method used widely in the business world. “They are really helpful in making new songs as well as mapping out marketing strategies for my clients.”

Asked why he adopted the logical approach to deal with creative songwriting work, he said, “It’s simply because my musical creativity and inspiration have a limited lifespan for sure.” He went on, “I wear casually and frequently go to entertainment hot spots such as Hongdae and play with trend-sensitive young people and monitor them in a bid to catch up with the latest trend in music and its consumption. I try hard in order not to fall behind in the race, but it’s doubtful how long I will be able to maintain the status quo in fiercer competition with younger and more talented songwriters. So I decided to introduce such a logical and systematic method to keep my business afloat in case of declining musical creativity and inspiration.”

Music to listen or watch

Lee said he divides contemporary K-pop into two categories — music to listen to and to watch — and he seems to be talented in the latter.

“Gone are the days when a good song simply leads to a jackpot,” he said. “Music is consumed through various channels such as TV, radio, YouTube or Internet websites, and I need to understand consumers and their demand to ensure the success of my products. In this regard, the very first step of my work is setting the identity of a song I’m going to write. The decision is also very crucial in making marketing and sales plans.”

Music to listen to, he said, normally refers to slow-tempo love songs with carefully-written lyrics, which listeners feel tempted to listen to carefully and sing at “noraebang,” the Korean name for karaoke.

Music to watch is normally characterized by upbeat tempos, outlandish costumes, and flamboyant choreographed dance moves, which people prefer to watch on TV or YouTube, rather than listening carefully to.

“I think I’m more talented with music to watch,” he said. “I once wanted to become a dancing singer. Perhaps that’s why I still have some sort of attachment to fast and visible music.” He expressed a rosy view on the future of the global K-pop boom, saying its fan base is “not small and feeble.” But he noted that K-pop musicians will find their fan base shrinking once they lose their “musical identity.”

“K-pop’s popularity was driven by flamboyant dance moves and hook-heavy songs,” he said. “I believe the K-pop boom will continue to grow, or at least persist, as long as they (singers) hold up the two elements. If they make a departure to conduct musical experiments, I can’t tell what their future will be.”

Who is Lee Ho-yang?

Born in 1983 in Gwangyang, North Jeolla Province, Lee moved to Seoul after finishing second year in high school there.

During high school, he tried several times to make a debut as a dancing singer but failed. After graduating from Posung High School in Seoul, he started working as a professional songwriter. His first song released in 2005 was “Man and Woman,” a dance song for the Jadu. He earned fame with a series of hit songs, including T-ara’s “Roly-Poly,” “Bo Peep Bo Peep” and Jewelry’s “One More Time” among others.

He is said to make many billions of won in copyright fees a year, whose exact amount is unknown. “Yes. I earn a lot (of money),” Lee admitted. “But I spend the most part of it drawing a clear picture of my future.” He currently runs three companies — an entertainment agency, music label and music production firm — taking care of nearly 20 employees.

His pseudonym “Sinsadong Tiger” is a combination of his favorite Internet game ID (Tiger) and the name of the area he lives in.

Asked about his philosophy of life, he instantly answered, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” highlighting his consistent endeavor for self-innovation. “Songwriting is my hobby.”

One Comment

  1. Jamie Peters

    November 8, 2013 at 10:39 AM

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