Do you dream about joining the K-pop or J-pop industry? Well, Producer Steven Lee gives BTSCelebs a glimpse inside the recording studio!
You love to sing the songs, now find out how your favorite hit tracks are made. Discover the semi-hidden world of the Asian music industry thru one of the industry’s finest.
1 – BTSCelebs: How did you get your start in the music industry?
Steven Lee: I started playing piano when I was 5, and was in a punk rock band in high school playing guitars. Music always has been part of my life. When I was 17, I entered “Star Search” audition in Los Angeles and won as a Music Producer. Then I started to work in legendary Studio56 in Hollywood where Elvis Presley to Christina Aguilera recorded their hit albums.
2 – What are the steps in creating a hit song?
When I write a song, I write melody first and then track comes after most of time. I don’t mean that backing track is less important…but I believe a good melody lives forever. That is why many artists remake(cover) songs from the past by using the same melody more often than backing track because it is what listeners remember.
I always had a small recorder with me since I was in high school, so I can record melodic ideas immediately whenever it comes to my mind. Then I go back to the studio to start writing music with a basic instrument such as a piano or a guitar first. My method in creating music is, I build a strong foundation first with a catchy “hook” and then I start to build backing track.
3 – How many people are involved in the process of creating one song? What are their roles?
Most of time, I pretty much do everything by myself from writing, composing to mixing for a demo. There are many important people involved in final products which people listen to (CD, DVD, Radio, TV). It’s important to have the best result with professional recording engineers, mix engineers, mastering engineers, vocal directors, artist managers, and sometimes many session players (A full orchestra, Guitarist, Bassist, Drummer, etc)
4 – How long does it take to compose and complete an entire album?
I always wish there is more time to complete an album. In reality, most of major signed artists are very busy with full schedule. They don’t only work for the album, but also many other activities such as: TV shows, concerts, CMs, promotions, etc. Therefore, the actual time they can spend for the recording is very limited. In this case, I have to follow the artists and record company’s schedule.
For example, I had to finish SS501’s “De5tination” album within 10 days from all of recordings to final CD mastering. During this time, I lived in the studio working 24/7 drinking energy drinks with only couple hours of sleep. It was challenging but I enjoyed it a lot! I think the longest time I had for an album was Kim Hyun Joong’s 1st album “Break Down” I spent one full year to finish this album, plus, I also finished half of his next album “Lucky” at the same time.
5 – With the recent global phenomena of K-pop, what are the odds of an foreigner getting their song material on a K-pop album?
Last year, I traveled to England and Santorini Island in Greece for a Songwriting Camp and met many talented European songwriters and producers. While I was working there, I was surprised that many of them were already working in K-Pop/J-Pop market, or were trying to get in to Asian music market. I personally think recent global phenomena of K-pop brought a lot of foreigners to try to get into Asia and it made competitions higher, but I think it’s good. Record companies and publishers can have more great songs from around the world, and these songs could destroy the cultural gap between western and eastern music scene. For example, recently, 2NE1’s show at Kodak Theater in Los Angeles was completely sold out, and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” now got over 181 million views on youtube. This is something that I could never expect before.
6 – What is the first feeling you have when you hear your song on the radio? **
I feel very blessed! In fact, TV and radio are only sources where I listen to my songs because I usually don’t play my songs myself after they’re released. It’s probably because I’ve been listening to them over and over many times during the sessions of recording and monitoring. (haha)
7 – Who do you want to write music for the most? **
I’m trying very hard to write songs for more artists in the US. I’m pretty sure most of the songwriters/producers in the world are the same.
8 – What is your favorite time of day or night to compose? **
I’m totally a night owl. All of my musician friends work at night. haha
9 – What is in your CD player right now? **
Let me check…. It’s a new CD with unreleased new demo songs. As I mentioned above, Ialways try to listen to them as many times as I can and fix until it achieves perfect sound.
10 – If you could take any Kpop act and make them famous worldwide, who would it be and why? **
The first Kpop band that crossed my mind was Big Bang, but they’re already famous worldwide. They always have their K-Pop elements in their music which gives more originality, but still keep new fresh sound. Big Bang’s music video production is amazing and I think they have such a great choreography.