Epik High’s Tablo Talks About Misconceptions Of Korean Music Industry As A “Factory” + Working With BTS’ Suga
Tablo and Suga collaborated on two songs this year: the chart-topping hit “Song Request” by Lee Sora featuring Suga that was composed by Tablo and DEE.P with lyrics by Tablo and Suga, and the track “Eternal Sunshine” that Tablo and Suga co-produced with El Capitxn for Epik High’s March album “sleepless in __________.” Suga is a longtime fan of Epik High and has named their song “Fly” as one of the reasons he became a rapper.
While going through direct messages from fans in the latest episode of “The Tablo Podcast,” Tablo said that he got a lot of questions about what it was like to work with Suga. Tablo replied that working with Suga is “like working with any other artist who is very talented and passionate.” He went on to say that they vibe very well music-wise, which made it a simple process. “I think we finished the song in a matter of days, but the actual creation part didn’t take a few hours even,” said Tablo.
He went on to say that both “Song Request” and “Eternal Sunshine” worked out very quickly, and that “Eternal Sunshine” was the song that took the shortest amount of time from inception to execution among all the tracks on their album. “I think there are certain artists where that happens,” he said. “There are certain artists that are great to work with but the process is longer because you have to get a lot of different tangents on the same page. So yeah, it was pretty awesome.”
Tablo went on to address a question from a fan who wanted tips on what path to take to get their foot in the door of the Korean music industry as an artist, producer, or engineer. The fan expressed their thoughts that the industry is very corporate and doesn’t offer many opportunities for those not taking the route of becoming a trainee at a company.
Tablo agreed that it’s a corporate system but added, “It’s super corporate not just in Korea but everywhere.”
“Judging from the many interviews I’ve done with foreign press, I really do not like or appreciate that they try to pigeonhole K-pop and the Korean music industry as this super factory-like corporate machine,” he said. “Because where the hell do you think we got that from? That’s been around for a very, very long time and it happens everywhere else too.”
“Also, I don’t like how they only focus on a few specific cases where that happens and make it seem like every single part of this scene here is like that,” he continued.
He countered this portrayal by saying, “I think we have possibly the most interesting independent scene anywhere in the world. The music scene here—from live concerts to clubs to just people performing on the streets, the different genres we have, the different messages, the different crews—everything is very, very vibrant and alive.”
Tablo went on to say that even within the companies that are described as “factory-like,” he knows many artists who are very independent and creative. “Even if there are certain things that they have to do to—like choreography and stuff like that—certain things that they have to do, they still have enough room to write songs and be creative.”
He explained that he wanted to talk about this because there’s a common misconception that the Korean industry is somehow more corporate than others, when in reality any money-making industry has a corporate structure and is aiming to make profits.
“If you want to be a producer or engineer in this kind of climate, there definitely are more opportunities than just being a trainee or doing the company route,” said Tablo. He went on to say that he’d taken the independent route because he’d had no choice, as the big labels weren’t interested in hip hop at the time and told him flat out that his music wouldn’t become big.
He said that he’d gone on to join a small label with only two or three employees, and went through hardships. Without social media, it was much harder for artists to get the word out about their music at the time. “You just have to work at it, you just have to try,” said Tablo. He shared that there are now many more tools available such as YouTube and social media, and he said that he uses them now a lot too because it’s the only way to get his word and his music across to fans.
While suggesting that aspiring producers make use of social media, he also warned against DMing everybody and encouraged them to remember that they’re not entitled to having other people listen to their music.
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“The Tablo Podcast” releases new episodes every Thursday via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more.