The Korean Entertainment Company Explained ForME

The Korean Pop music industry is an intricate world of groups, members, artists, soloists, and bands. K-Pop Entertainment Companies are the organizations that manage and make this entire world of music possible. From trainees to global idols, major companies support, promote, and produce the excellent music and artists that make up the Korean Pop industry.

Image: @yg_ent_official (IG)

What is a K-Pop Company? 

The basic idea behind a K-Pop Entertainment Company is to train, debut, and support a musician through one company. This company manages the artist, promotes their music, and ensures their success. In the last decade, JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and SM Entertainment have been nicknamed “The Big Three.” While this is a common nickname, some argue that the concept of “The Big Three” is an outdated way to think of the current music industry, but more on that later. Since the 1990s, many other companies have been founded and found massive success. Overall, the K-Pop companies are an essential and influential element of the Korean Pop music world.

What is the difference between a “Recording Label” and an “Entertainment Company?” 

Familiar to international music listeners is the concept of a “Recording Lable.” According to exploration.io.com, “Record labels are companies, large or small, that manufacture, distribute, and promote the recordings of affiliated musicians. Essentially, record labels work to sell the brand of the artist and the products they create.”

Image: @iam_seori (IG)

So while both a Recording Label and an Entertainment Company create and promote music, the difference is how they sign and manage their artists. Entertainment Companies, unlike Recording Labels, often first train their musicians before producing any music and support their artists by managing their dorms and schedules. Furthermore, unlike Recording Labels, Entertainment Companies manage and train other professionals such as producers, composers, dancers, choreographers, actors, and models. 

What is a K-Pop trainee? 

The concept of a K-Pop trainee is a unique and essential element of the Korean Pop music industry. Most trainees get picked in one of three ways:

  1. They pass an audition. Auditions get held both locally and internationally. Auditions are the most common way to become a trainee.
  2. They are spotted by a recruiting staff member or are recommended to the company. Many incredible artists have gotten cast on the street like Jin of BTS.
  3. They win a music competition show. While this is not as common as the first two methods, many famous singers have become trainees through competition shows. Some of the most popular TV competition shows include “K-Pop Star” and “Superstar K,” among others.

After becoming a trainee, these artists usually live in trainee dorms and take classes in Rap, Dance, Singing, and a foreign language like English, Japanese, or Chinese (often all three). Often the trainees are evaluated monthly by the staff of the company. During these monthly evaluations, trainees get given the opportunity to prove their ability, skill, and potential.

How do trainees debut?

Once the company decides that a trainee is ready for stardom, they either debut as a soloist or form a member in a group of other trainees. Often the company will create K-Pop groups through a televised competition show between talented trainees. Some of the most successful of these competitions shows are Belift Lab’s “I-Land” which produced the group Enhypen, JYP Entertainment’s “Stray Kids” which resulted in the group Stray Kids, and YG Entertainment’s “TREASURE BOX” which created the group Treasure. Furthermore, competition shows like “Produce 101,” “Produce 48,” and “Produce X 101,” have created groups with trainees from various companies such as Wanna One and Iz*one. 

Image: @mnetiland (IG)

What are the music differences between companies? 

Once these groups debut, they are supported and aided by the company’s team of artists, composers, songwriters, and producers. As a result, Entertainment companies often have a “common sound.” For example, SM Entertainment artists are known for their bright pop sounds and impactful instrumentals, while YG Entertainment artists are famous for their strong hip-hop influence. However, this “common sound” is arguably becoming less noticeable as artists are writing/producing/ and composing more of their music.

Companies, artists, and fans? 

An advantage to joining a company is the family of artists and fans of the company. For this reason, when a new group debuts from a big company, they have a greater chance of success because they already have the support of experienced producers, artists, and staff. Because many fans expect the specific style, quality, and music of the artists of the major companies, brand new groups can debut with millions of listeners. While these are all huge benefits of joining a major company, many of the most respected groups did not debut with these advantages.

Image: @enhypen (IG)

An Overview of the Major Entertainment Companies:

JYP Entertainment:

 Founded by singer and producer Park Jinyoung (JYP) in 1997, this company has debuted some of the most iconic and talented acts in K-Pop history. Some of the groups created by JYP include Wonder Girls, 2AM, 2PM, Miss A, 15&, GOT7, Day6, TWICE, Stray Kids, and ITZY. Furthermore, JYP has also created international groups such as the Chinese boy group “Boy Story” and the Japanese girl group “NiziU.” 

SM Entertainment: 

This entertainment company got formed by Lee Sooman in 1995. Since the early 1990s, this company has debuted iconic groups. However, SM’s prosperity took off in the early 2000s with hugely successful groups like “H.O.T,” “S.E.S,” “Shinhwa,” “TVSQ,” “Super Junior,” “Girls Generation,” “SHINee,” and “f(x),” among others. SM Entertainment’s success continued to grow in the 2010/the 2020s as they formed beloved superstar groups such as “EXO,” “Red Velvet,” “NCT,” and, most recently, “aespa.”

YG Entertainment: 

The third major company is YG Entertainment. Founded in 1997 by Yang Hyunsuk, YG has produced some of the most popular and well-known Korean artists of all time. In 2006 YG Entertainment debuted the hit group “BIGBANG” and became a household name. Since then, this entertainment company has debuted beloved groups such as “2NE1,” “AKMU,” “WINNER,” “iKON,” “BLACKPINK,” “OffOnOff,” and “TREASURE,” among others. 

Big Hit Entertainment/HYBE: 

Despite not officially being one of the “Big Three” companies, HYBE Entertainment is arguably one of the most influential music organizations in the entire world. Initially known as “Big Hit Entertainment,” this company was founded in 2005 by Bang Sihyuk. In 2021 this company transitioned into its new identity as HYBE Entertainment. According to hybecorp.com, “HYBE innovates the music industry business model under the mission, “We believe in music”. HYBE strive for the world’s best entertainment lifestyle platform company based on music.”

Within HYBE Entertainment exists six independent labels, BIGHIT Music, BELIFT LAB, SOURCE MUSIC, PLEDIS Entertainment, KOZ ENTERTAINMENT, and HYBE LABELS JAPAN. Altogether this company manages thirteen artists which include, BTS, NU’EST, SEVENTEEN, ENHYPEN, Lee Hyun, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, fromis_9, Zico, and Dvwn, among others.

Image: @txt_bighit (IG)
Smaller Entertainment Companies:  

Although major companies have advantages, this is not the only way to debut and work as an artist in the Korean Pop industry. The majority of artists and groups belong to smaller companies. These companies include: 

Woollim Entertainment: 
  • Founded: 2003
  • Artists: Rocket Punch, Golden Child, Lovelyz, and DRIPPIN, among others
GOLDEN CHILD Image: @official_gncd11 (IG)
Cube Entertainment:
PENTAGON Image: @cube_ptg (IG)
Fantagio: 
  • Founded: 2008
  • Artists: ASTRO and Weki Meki, among others
Weki Meki Image: @weki_meki (IG)
Stone Music Entertainment:  
  • Founded: 1994
  • Artists: Everglow, TO1, Iz*one, Eric Nam, Heize, among others 
EVERGLOW Image: @official_everglow (IG)

RBW Entertainment: 
  • Founded: 2010
  • Artists: Mamamoo, ONEUS, Purple Kiss, and ONEWE, among others
MAMAMOO Image: @mamamoo_official (IG)

Play M Entertainment:
  • Founded: 2011
  • Artists: Weeekly, Apink, and Victon, among others
Weeekly Image: @_weeekly (IG)
Starship Entertainment: 
  • Founded: 2008
  • Artists: WJSN, MONSTA X, and Cravity, among others
Cravity Image: @cravity_official (IG)
FNC Entertainment: 
N.Flying Image: @letsroll_nf (IG)
Brand New Music:
  • Founded: 2011
  • Artists: AB6IX and BDC, among others
BDC Image: @bdc.bnm (IG)

This article serves as an overview of the fascinating world of K-Pop entertainment companies. For more on these artists, companies, groups, and music, keep reading here: K-Artists and K-Music

Resources:

  1. hybecorp.com/eng/company/info
  2. exploration.io/what-is-a-record-label/

Eden McLeod

Hi, Eden here! I am the main writer and publisher at ME Asia. I am a professional writer and blogger. I love creating content that can introduce future fans to incredible artists, actors, and musicians from around the globe!

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