5 Things to Avoid When Pitching Songs to K-pop Labels
Updated: Jan 10
Pitching is a whole skill itself in any niche of the music industry. If you want to write for K-pop, you will have to learn how this industry works and how it differs from others. There may not be a receipt for getting a K-pop A&R to read your emails or fall in love with your song, but some things can definitely push you closer or farther from a cut.
Here are 5 things you should avoid doing when pitching songs to K-pop labels.
“Not K-pop” song structures
First thing first: is your song K-pop?
K-pop may not be a music genre by its very nature, but it sure has its particular features when it comes to song structure and melodies.
K-pop groups are often made of several members and each one plays a different “role” within the group, such as lead vocalist, rapper, sub rapper etc. A K-pop song should accommodate all of these members and their roles.
As for melodies, K-pop embraces many different styles, but it’s a given that it should embody some sort of variation. Even for songs where there will not be a distribution of lines across different members (for example, songs for K-pop soloists), they must keep the listener entertained and have catchy hooks. If your composition is too linear, it may not be a fit for K-pop.
These are things you can become skilled at by listening to a lot of K-pop and paying attention to how the songs are built. In an interview for SPARWK, Brazilian songwriter Isa Guerra shared that listening to a lot of K-pop helped her get a sense of the kind of songs the industry needs, and it has definitely played a role in how she got her first K-pop cut.
Nayeon’s “POP!” is K-pop in all its glory: it’s built upon one catchy hook but it also has a lot of beat and melody variations, in unexpected and entertaining ways.
Soundcloud offers a good space for artists to host their portfolios and engage a community of like-minded fans and creators. It’s also a great way to measure how many people have ever listened to your songs, and it’s no wonder many songwriters use Soundcloud metrics to figure out whether people have checked their work or not.
But at least in the K-pop industry, checking Soundcloud links is not really a common practice. A&Rs don’t have the time to listen to music in that form as much, and they’re usually looking for cut-tailored songs that fit the K-pop label’s lead rather than personal songwriting portfolios.
That’s not saying that a songwriter could never break out from Soundcloud or that no A&R has ever heard or ever will scout for talent on Soundcloud. But that’s not the rule; if it ever happens, it’s an exception. To increase your chances of getting heard by a K-pop A&R, try attaching song files to your email rather than sending Soundcloud, Youtube or any other streaming links.
Got an idea for a killer chorus? Or maybe a rap verse that would fit a K-pop song perfectly? That’s great, but we wouldn’t recommend you to show this to an A&R before you have a whole song finished (and produced, as we’ll talk about in our next point).
If all you have is an idea or if all you could write is a piece of a song, try developing it into a full composition. That’s important because: (1) an A&R can’t really do anything with a song section alone, let alone an idea; (2) what your song will end up sounding like may be totally different from what you had in mind in the beginning, and that difference can be determinant to decide which K-pop act it will fit best.
You may not need to be able to write an entire song by yourself, but that’s exactly what collaboration is for. Try connecting with other writers and producers before reaching the decision-makers in K-pop labels.
Good songwriting always wins over production, right? In K-pop, not really.
And that’s not because K-pop A&R’s and executives cannot appreciate a good composition: it’s just because the industry doesn’t work like that. There are niches where producers look out for good compositions so they can turn them into great sound recordings, or genres for which a voice+guitar type of demo is more than enough. K-pop is not one of those.
K-pop companies look for fully produced songs so they can have a comprehensive notion of whether it fits their concept briefing or not. In basically all cases, K-pop companies will use the demo’s instrumentals and add the vocals recorded by their K-pop group members. Korean lyricists will write new lyrics for your melodies, although they may or may not use a part of your original lyrics.
So while lyrics go through many changes all the way from the demo until the song's release, the sound is extremely important in a K-pop demo. If your demo doesn’t have professional vocals, is poorly mixed, or if the production is off, it’s very unlikely that it will be even listened to until the end.
Last but not least, pitching is also about knowing who and when to approach. Even if you get a long-wanted contact for an A&R or a relevant person inside a K-pop label, it’s important not to "burn your bridges" with them.
Persistence may be key, but inconvenience may lead to rejection. Don’t flood people's mailboxes or send thousands of follow-ups. The most professional ways to get your songs to reach A&R's is being signed to a publisher that has a good relationship with K-pop labels; or participating in songwriting camps and other events where you can meet people from the K-pop industry.
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What’s the biggest challenge you face in pitching songs to K-pop labels?
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