Let’s start with the basics.
#1. It’s huge.
I note that because some people seem to think it’s unpatriotic or racist or something to try to reach out to the U.S. market. It’s not about whether someone loves their country or whether they think that people who look like them somehow aren’t good enough. It’s about money. Musicians need that to eat.
#2. The majority of U.S. music sales are digital
Since Japan is the #2 music market in the world, many Asian musicians and labels focus their selling efforts there and know that market well. But the #1 market in the world is VERY unlike the #2 market in the world. Only 17% of the Japanese music market is digital, compared to 58% of the American music market. Ignoring digital won’t necessarily hurt you in Japan; in the United States, it’s a killer.
That’s not just because often the only alternative offered to digital is a $40 import CD. I simply don’t buy CDs any more, no matter how cheap, and I don’t play the ones I own. Why not? Because I carry around a teeny little device that has more than 500 songs on it. Everything in my house and car is set up so I can just plug this little device in, and I’m golden. If a song isn’t digital, as far as I’m concerned, it might as well not exist, because I will never listen to it.
#3. The digital market in the U.S. is dominated by iTunes.
Yes, still. iTunes accounts for 63% of digital sales; the second runner up is Amazon, with a relatively paltry 22% share. And:
In terms of customers, a commanding eight out of 10 digital music buyers downloaded their albums or tracks from iTunes in the fourth quarter.
So what does this mean for Korean musicians hoping to make some money in the U.S. market?
#1. You need to be on iTunes
I could make a really, really, REALLY long post about all the Korean music that I would like to own, but that I cannot buy because it is not on iTunes (or Amazon–I’ll buy there, but iTunes is where I go first). Old stuff, new stuff–people make videos and spend tons of money marketing music internationally, and then they don’t sell it in a way that Americans can buy it. The purpose of marketing is not to “raise awareness” or “build brand” or anything like that–the purpose of marketing is to sell product. If you convince me with your marvelous marketing that your music is something I really want to have, and then you make it so that I can’t fork over some money for it, you’ve just wasted a whole lot of your time, money, and effort.
#2. You need to be on iTunes right away
Typically when an album is released, there’s a spurt of publicity–even better, people who like your music will follow you on social media specifically to get news of new releases.
What happens if you don’t release the album onto iTunes until months after the release? Well, that just happened with Zion T’s Red Light, and I’ll tell you–I like Zion T, I follow him on Facebook, and there was no news that his album was finally available in a format I was willing to buy. I found that out by accident. (Once again, the time, effort and money of marketing on Facebook? Wasted.)
That is bad, and not only because maybe I wouldn’t have ever bought Red Light. It’s bad because of the way bestseller lists work. Bestseller lists reward a sudden surge in sales. If you have an album that sells OK day in and day out, it will never appear on a bestseller list. What will appear is a song that sells a lot very quickly, even if the steady seller actually sells more units over the entire year. So you don’t want people buying your music whenever they find out it’s available digitally–you want them to all to go buy it on the same day.
Why do you want to be on a bestseller list? It’s great marketing. Payola exists because bestseller lists give musicians such great visibility.
Speaking of bestseller lists….
#3. Classify yourself by music, not language
DO NOT classify your music as K-Pop unless you sound like Super Junior or Girls’ Generation. The non-Koreans who like K-Pop will listen to your rock/hip-hop/folk/whatever and run away. Rock/hip-hop/folk/whatever fans will be more receptive.
#4. Make sure all your songs are linked to your name
If you release this
as Kye Bum Joo, and then release this
as Kye Bum Zu, do you know what iTunes thinks? It thinks you are two different artists. Unless they know Hangul, someone who loves “The Ceiling” will not be able to find “Something Special” by looking up your name. Someone who loves “Something Special” will not be able to find any of your older songs.
You cannot be too careful with this. They seem to have fixed this, but for a while there a search of “CN Blue” on iTunes got you different songs than “CNBlue.”
And if your name is a fairly common word that will turn up a bazillion results–like, say, Loco–you need to make sure iTunes knows that the Loco who did “Take Care” is the same Loco who did “No More.” (I don’t know if Loco has any more songs on iTunes than that–can you guess why?)
#5. Provide translations of song titles
I love Hangul, but my iPod hates it and does not know what to do with it. If I want to be able to find a song, I need a translated title. I can do this myself (yeah Google Translate!), but it’s a lot easier if you do it for me.