How I Became A Korean Pop Star

By Musician, Jim Wolf

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I don’t believe in luck. Or at least, I’ve never believed I was lucky. I’ve always believed that hard work and good intention would come back full circle if I stayed focused. And I’ve always said that each of the decisions we make – even the little ones – affect our world in big ways, even if we don’t realize it.

Where am I going with this?  As an artist, I have put out 5 albums and, like any artist releasing their heart and soul (especially independently), I’ve gone through the ocean swirl of emotions all artists do when putting their craft out there:

  • Is this really my best work?
  • Is it good enough?
  • Have I done enough to promote this?
  • Do I have enough money behind it?
  • Who’s my target market?

I’m here to tell you a little story about the market that found me.

For more than a decade, I’ve kept busy writing, recording, promoting my work as best I could, independently touring the U.S., and trying like crazy to get some licensing deals. Every year was the same: blood, sweat, and tears leading to a little taste of success, but nothing was breaking. Music was both was my greatest pleasure and my biggest pain. For every hour I spent writing, I spent another asking myself why I wasn’t seeing any results. Sure, a good deal would come through every now and then, and yes – every time I played a show I’d meet some amazing fans, but what was I missing? Why couldn’t I create a stronger presence for myself?

And then, something I never expected to happen, happened. During all of the time I was feverishly working to promote myself in the U.S., I didn’t realize I had a song climbing the charts in South Korea. Yep, the nice Korea. A song I released on a short EP in 2012 had unbeknownst to me hit #29 on the Korean Pop chart, and had even landed at #44 on an Asia-wide pop chart. I had outperformed Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, Adele, and Beyonce for weeks. I was unknowingly so successful that reality shows were placing my song in season finales, and famous Korean couples were using my song in their wedding videos.

How did this happen? To this day, despite the efforts of my new entertainment lawyers and my global distribution team, I can’t trace back to that exact moment that it all happened. But it did. And it’s opened up doors for me across all of Asia, the Middle East and beyond. I had never considered trying to reach a market overseas when I hadn’t found my moment here at home. But without even trying, the overseas market found me.

The song that hit was something that was a total departure for me: it was pop, it was romantic, it was optimistic. Not my usual forte. But I loved it. And I was proud of it: it’s simple lines, memorable melody. I knew there was something to it. Years passed and I played it to lukewarm rooms, but I never gave up on it. And, apparently, neither did Korea.

Now, I’m not saying to go write a pop song or that South Korea is the market for you. There’s no magic doorway from the U.S. to Asia where all of us struggling singer-songwriters can pass through and make it big. But what I am saying is: don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t lose focus on your goals. Keep doing what you’re doing, keep striving to improve on your craft, take chances with your art and it will – eventually – pay off in some way. People will spend a lot of time telling you you’re doing it wrong. Don’t listen to them. Hell, don’t even listen to me. Listen to yourself, and your heart, because this is the only way that you will be happy with your life, and your music.

When you make the decision to be in the arts, you are in it for the long haul. While the world sensationalizes “overnight success” stories through reality talent shows and “YouTube sensations” – the truth is most of these performers have been years in the making before ever getting on screen. Sure, we all know the one guy who had it easy: who’s parent’s Black Card bought him studio time and now he’s playing every city in the country. Sure, having money and instant fame is nice; but not having things handed to you builds character, and gives you the perspective to write better songs, and makes you appreciate the moment so much more when success does come knocking on your door.

And who knows? Maybe that knock will come from a place you least expect it.

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