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Sun Mi Yun’s "I am a K-Pop Idol Planner" (Part 1)




Series of Essays from Professionals about the K-Pop Industry


This series of essays aims to convey the perspectives of K-pop industry professionals on the current ecology of K-pop. Originally published in the newspaper "The JoongAng" in 2022, we have translated these articles into English for our readers. Enjoy these writings, which will provide you with insightful information about K-pop. The author, Ms. Yun Sun Mi, holds all copyright permissions and has authorized us to publish this on our website.


Sun Mi Yun’s "I am a K-Pop Idol Planner" (Part 1)


I work in the entertainment industry, which means I'm an office worker at an entertainment company, not much different from any other office worker. My daily routine involves going to work, attending meetings, feeling proud of both big and small achievements, and of course, sometimes getting disheartened by various failures. I receive a salary for my work, but what sets my job apart is the unique content and environment I deal with. This uniqueness even allowed me the opportunity to publish a book, a dream many people have.


Back in 2008, when I first started in this industry, if you said you worked for an entertainment company (like a record label or celebrity agency), people would often ask, “Whose manager are you?” Nowadays, with the rising status of K-Pop, there's more industrial interest and less prejudice, even among those who aren't necessarily fans of idols. However, back then, there were prejudices and misunderstandings about agencies, perhaps due to a lack of information, and even a tendency to subtly dismiss the work we did. People would often comment when I said I worked in the planning and marketing team of an entertainment company, asking things like, “So, you take care of celebrities?” or “Isn’t celebrity appearances all there is to marketing?”

This subtle disrespect made me want to excel in my job and change the perception of our industry. Above all, I found the work exciting and was ambitious about it. My days were filled with a variety of tasks.


Over time, these prejudices have greatly diminished. Recently, I have been regularly teaching and lecturing as an idol planner and marketer, sharing my knowledge about the industry and its operations. I get requests for special lectures on the K-Pop industry, its roles, and secrets to success from universities and other industries. And now, here I am writing this column... This surely reflects the growing global influence of K-Content. I take great pride in being a part of this industry.


However, even as perceptions change, the entertainment industry remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. Even for those of us who work in it, the diversity of jobs and the different cultures in each company make it hard to succinctly describe what we do. For instance, some companies handle all planning tasks within a planning team, while others might have an A&R (Artist and Repertoire) team take the lead. In some places, A&R includes planning, music, visuals, and production, while in others, these functions are separate. By looking at an agency's organizational structure, you can understand their focus and goals.


There are various types of agencies. In well-established, large agencies, there are surprisingly specialized roles. I have handled various tasks, including utilizing diverse intellectual properties (IP) in A&R, marketing, distribution of music and records, content business, and international operations. Over the past 15 years, I've changed jobs four times, experiencing large, medium, and startup agencies, and I pride myself on having a comprehensive understanding of how the industry works and its recent trends and production systems. However, launching a new idol group at a startup (the 10-member boy group ‘NineI’ debuted on March 30 – much attention, please!) was a completely different experience from that at a large agency. It’s been a series of trial and error, dealing with unpredictable and uncontrollable situations. My role now is to navigate these challenges and achieve the best possible outcomes within these constraints.


Facing new challenges daily, I always think about the stories I want to share. I hope to pass on ways to minimize mistakes and save time for those who aspire to work in the entertainment industry. Also, if I can improve the image of agencies, idols, and K-Pop industry workers even slightly, there’s nothing more I could wish for. Of course, this requires more leaders who can steer companies in a better direction. I hope the day comes soon when our industry is recognized more respectfully.


Sometimes I wonder, “Why should it be me?” But it seems there are few who can speak about the practicalities and the role of middle management in entertainment companies. Moreover, the industry experts are often too busy to discuss these challenging topics, so I think I can be their voice. Moving forward, I aim to honestly share information about almost unknown aspects like how to get a job at an agency, what kind of work you'll do once you're there, and more about this industry and its content.



Author: Sun MI (Irene) Yun


Sun Mi (Irene) Yun is a renowned figure in the K-pop industry, presently leading as the Head of the Music Business Department at Afun Interactive. Her robust career includes pivotal roles at FirstOne Entertainment, FNC, Lazin Korea, Danal Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment, marking her significant contribution to the industry.


As an accomplished author, Yun released "Big Hit Signal" in December 2020, offering a deep dive into the KPOP industry and Korean economics. The success led to a Japanese version and another book, "BIG HIT," in May 2022. Yun's expertise also spans to column writing. Since June 2022, she has been sharing her insights in "I Am an Idol Planner" in JoongAng Ilbo, and a marketing-focused column, "Three Perspectives on NewJeans," launched in October 2022.

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