Creative-content agency helps Korean music abroad

by Shawn Despres

Special To The Japan Times

Regardless of whether you are a bigger-name draw or a smaller, emerging band, planning — and more importantly financing — international gigs is no easy task. But since last year, things have gotten a bit easier for Korean acts touring abroad.

In March 2012, the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) began offering financial assistance to musicians for overseas festival appearances. A government-funded organization, KOCCA was formed in 2009 by combining the resources of several groups, including the Korea Broadcasting Institute, the Korean Culture and Content Agency, and the Korea Game Industry, into one association that focused on promoting the country’s cultural industries.

Korean musicians who have been accepted to play at music festivals in other countries can apply to have KOCCA cover their airfare and accommodation for the duration of the event. This sponsorship opportunity is open to artists of all styles and stature.

“We don’t differentiate between K-pop, indie rock and other styles of music. We just think of everything as Korean music,” says Kim Min Seuk, the manager of KOCCA’s music team.

“The Korean music market is very small. In places like Japan, there are more opportunities for musicians to make a career out of playing music in their own country. Korea is not like that. So it’s necessary for Korean musicians to try and find new markets overseas as well.”

According to Kim, both DFSB Kollective — a Seoul-based K-pop creative agency widely involved with exporting Korean digital music worldwide — and the Seoul garage rock band Galaxy Express helped convince KOCCA about the merits of helping acts play concerts abroad.

“Hyundai and Kia are at every major car show in the world. says Bernie Cho, DFSB president. “Samsung and LG are at every major electronics show in the world. Look at the success of Korean cinema. Thanks to government support, Korean films have constantly been screening, competing and even winning at the top international film festivals across the world.

“But what about Korean music? Whenever we attended international showcases, we kept asking and being asked the same question: ‘Why are there no Korean bands here?’ What works for Korean brands should also work for Korean bands.”

Following Cho’s idea, over the past 12 months KOCCA has provided funds for Korean acts to travel to the likes of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival (United States), Canadian Music Week, Music Matters (Singapore), Pop Montreal (Canada) and Midem (France). Performers wishing to receive money from KOCCA submit an application detailing their plans. A committee of local music industry experts, including critics, music-company staff and professors then decide which acts KOCCA will offer support to.

More musicians are hoping to take advantage of this opportunity from KOCCA. With a record number of Korean acts (11) participating in SXSW this coming March, KOCCA has agreed that it will provide travel money to as many as nine of them.

Galaxy Express received funds from KOCCA for their 2012 trip to SXSW, and it will get cash to attend the renowned event again in March. [Full disclosure: I assisted the band with planning their tour dates.]

“Korea has a lot of good bands, but most can’t afford to tour internationally,” says Galaxy Express guitarist Park Jong Hyun. “KOCCA helping bands is a good thing. Giving bands more chances to experience overseas events is going to raise their profiles and help them make better music. These things will improve our music scene.”

As the program moves forward, Kim says its success will be measured by examining what acts have learned from playing abroad, the relationships they have built in overseas markets and the amount of media exposure they receive during tours. From there, KOCCA’s budget for bands will be adjusted accordingly.

Cho is certain of the long-term benefits from KOCCA’s funding for Korean music, and he is hopeful the organization will find more ways to support local talent in the future.

“Whether they be indie, idol or icon acts, the fact the KOCCA is promoting a wide range of music acts from a wide range of music genres worldwide is great for the Korean music industry as a whole,” he says. “It’s a win, win, win across the board.”