Like to know how SM Entertainment's internal system works? You're in luck. Here's an interview with one of the producers who work at the entertainment agency.
Q: Does the CEO, Lee SooMan, have the final say in what songs will be used and which one will go to a specific artist?
A: SM Entertainment receives around 100 songs a week on average from songwriters. Producers and executives give scores to each of these demos. After the executives finish a meeting discussing the concept and types of songs for an upcoming release, Lee SooMan handpicks the songs in the final decision-making stage. A lot of things are discussed mainly between Lee SooMan and the executive that is primarily in charge of choosing songs. From lyrics and the way instrumentation is expressed in a track. For example, the guitar riff we hear on 'Twinkle' took one month to finalize with countless emails going back and forth between Lee SooMan and the music executive. Even the smallest details of things are taken into account such as the inhaling and exhaling sounds of vocals. It's almost impossible to be that thorough but because SM Entertainment has done it's best to make sure there aren't any loose ends, it has been able to come as far as it has now.
Q: Is there a system in how idol groups are made? How are the members put together?
A: We tend to mix idols that are completely different from each other. One idol will be the visual, one will be the MC, one will be the dancer, and another will be the singer since the popularity of individual idols will always be changing time after time. Odd numbers are the best for idol groups. We also take into account of how the idols will stand or sit during interviews, and their formation for choreography. The size of their faces is also an important factor we take into account when deciding all of this.
Q: What are the background and profile like for the idols SM chooses?
A: Up until now, we've selected a lot of idols that come from either a very humble background or financially difficult one. However, recently, we switched to preferring idols coming from middle-class backgrounds. But the selection of idols isn't entirely based on one type of background or profile. Everyone is given just as much an equal chance. And in terms of how an idol looks, all we can say is that it is possible to alter a face, but height is always a problem. Training periods have changed as well. In the past, 1 - 2 years was enough but these days, idol trainees usually spend around 4-5 years receiving training and instruction. And they also have to finish basic education classes as well since we have to ensure that they receive proper schooling during their training period. Even if they fail, they'll still be able to attend school and get a degree. The competition is fierce and only the smart ones stay alive.
Q: What happens to the idol trainees that fail to make a breakthrough?
A: There are countless idol trainees at SM Entertainment but only around two groups debut in a year. If they fail to make a breakthrough, it's actually difficult for both the company and the idols. We have no choice but to stop them from leaving the company since we've made an investment in them. The sad reality is that there is no guarantee of success and whatever happens after is pretty much the final result.
Q: What's something that you feel sympathy for when looking at these idols who struggle to make a breakthrough?
A: It's hard to watch them try and adjust to a normal life. The reason is because they are constantly bombarded with manipulative people in the entertainment industry. Since they are idols, they have no experience nor the opportunity to do things themselves. And by that I mean practical things in life. That is why they are usually easily manipulated and taken advantage of.
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