CANNES, France (AFP) — It's people who power music in Asia, where digital downloads are king and superstars are groomed for global stardom. And a major force behind this movement is South Korean media mogul JY Park.
"We don't make music, we make stars," Park told AFP in an interview during the four-day MIDEM music trade show in this French Riviera town that closed Wednesday.
Born Park Jin-Young, the singer-songwriter and founder of JYP Entertainment, a major Korean pop label, is one of Asia's most successful artist-entrepreneurs.
He has already created megastar Rain, Joon Park and new pop sensations, the Wonder Girls, and is training a hand-picked group of highly talented youngsters to become the big names of the future in Asia and beyond.
A major performer in his own right with 31 number one albums in Korea and 20 in Asia, Park was forced to change direction when high broad-band penetration led to the arrival of digital downloads.
That led to the rapid collapse of the physical CD market in Korea and Park had to react swiftly to survive.
His response was to turn to human talent.
"The fact that we need a star will never change therefore my safest bet was human beings."
He's never looked back since and firmly believes the CD will disappear completely from other markets within the next five years because of their inconvenience.
Park's music empire spins cash without selling records, something most music companies attending MIDEM were desperate to learn more about.
And Park was very open when he told a packed conference that he aims to make 50 percent of his artists' earnings from advertising endorsements and another 50 percent from films, TV and music downloads.
Inspired by Motown Records and Berry Gordy's pioneering approach to nurturing and molding talented musicians, Park also doesn't believe a star can be born overnight. He can spend up to seven years preparing his multi-talented youngsters for their artistic debuts.
"It's weird, because Motown is American, and American companies aren't doing it," he said at MIDEM during his first trip to Europe.
To help him build up a pool of highly trained artists, he has opened academies in Beijing, Seoul and New York, which coach around 100 selected youngsters after school hours with Park's company covering all the costs.
This approach contrasts with the wave of hugely popular reality TV shows such as Pop Idol and Star Academy that aim to turn out music sensations in the space of a short but intense few months of training.
Rain, for example, caught Park's eye when he won the Korean version of Pop Idol. But he disappeared from the public eye straight after winning while Park spent five years homing her singing, acting, dancing and language skills.
All the students have to work at learning at least two languages and preferably three: Mandarin, Korean and English. And as well as being musically talented, they must be attractive and self-disciplined. Less than 80 percent make the grade.
A major slice of Park's revenue comes from advertising endorsements with major brands such as Samsung or Baskins-Robbins ice cream. "Endorsements are one of my biggest sources of revenue, that plus digital downloads, merchandising and TV shows."
TV is his next big target with his goal to break into the United States. Talks have begun with major youth TV channels such as Disney, Nickelodeon and ABC.
One show is to feature his up-and-coming five-strong girl band, the Wonder Girls, on the model of Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night", which played up the personalities of the band members bringing them closer to their fans.
Another TV series in the pipeline will star two of his protegees who will play Asian superstars discovering cultural differences in the United States.
Park is the first Asian producer to crossover into the US and produce for top artists there that include Will Smith and Cassie.
His goal, he says, is "to be the only entertainment company that launches stars in the East and the West".
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