K-pop, don't stop!
Sora Kim, August 2013

Whether you like the music or not, the recent pop music explosion from South Korea is a force to be reckoned with. To many people, K-Pop equals the artist PSY and his monster hit Gagnam Style, but there are many, many other K-Pop artists and producers whose music is a tremendous success not only in South Korea but also in Japan, Europe and the US. One of the more succesful songwriters and producers within K-Pop is Hwang Hyun, who also happens to be a Softube endorser. Here's what he has to tell us.

Hello Hwang Hyun, please introduce yourself to our readers!
I am mostly a K-Pop songwriter, and I occasionally work in the J-Pop (Japanese pop) scene too. Until 2012, I used to use the name YellowRubato in Japan, but now it's all Hwang Hyun. I majored in classical music composition at college. I worked as an assistant film music composer but realized that popular music is more suitable for me. Apart from composing music for other artists, I am also myself part of a two-man band called My Afternoon. We work in a home recording studio and our music genre is soft pop. Two singles and an album have been officially released in Korea and we often do live shows.

What makes people like a song is not the balance of the mix but the song's message.

What artists have you been working with?
I think the biggest hits I've been involved in are Snowy Wish and Vitamin by Girl's Generation, Is It OK? by f(x), With by Kara, How Are You? by TVXQ and also Japanese artist Misia with Life In Harmony—produced by David Foster.

How tightly are songwriting and mixing connected to you? Do you pre mix while songwriting and adjust as work progresses?
I used to think that song writing and mixing should be completely separate processes, but I've changed my mind a bit on that. Now I write songs keeping in mind that the more melodic a song is, the more delicate the mix balance has to be. I've come to even look upon things like the velocity a certain chord is played with as a part of the mix. So I do quite some pre mixing during the sketching and songwriting stages.

Please describe your songwriting process!
The first thing that I bear in mind is expression of emotions. Therefore, I write music based on what I want to express in the song and conveying the emotions I feel to the listener. Of course, things might change as work progresses but the change won't be completely off course from the initial idea.

I love the FET Compressor because it's so fast. I even like it on my master buss.

How do you organize your mix work? Do have a set work order you tend to use?
I want people to hear the song, so the lead vocal is my first priority. The vocal gets carefully edited before I begin. Since I'm a composer, I feel that mixing can be divided into two parts. First, the demo mix is done at my studio. The other is the actual mix done with the mixing engineer. In both cases, selecting which version is the final mix is the most difficult moment. In my experience, what makes people like a song is not the balance of the mix but the song's message. So I always try to keep this in mind.

Between composing and mixing, which do you find more fun?
In a way, I don't think I'm done writing the song before the recording has been mastered! So I enjoy both ... or find them both equally agonizing.

What is your favorite Softube plug-ins and how do you use them?
I use FET Compressor, Trident A-Range, and TSAR-1 Reverb on almost every project. I also like the Bass Amp Room. I often record the bass by a DI:ing it through a microphone preamp and then an outboard compressor for stability. Then I re-run it through Softube's Bass Amp Room to adjust the tone. I love the FET Compressor because it's so fast. I even like it on my master buss.

I majored in classical music composition at college.

What do think are the common mistakes that inexperienced artists do?
I think many people I see often trust the presets too much. Presets can be a good place to start, but they're not suitable for every case. But if you are inexperienced and insecure about mixing, you tend to trust the presets more than your ears. Especially in the vocal processing, there are a lot of variables. I actually find that presets for western singers almost never are right for Asians.

© 2013 Sora Kim
missdorat@gmail.com, South Korean freelance writer.