Tablo’s interview with Magazine B

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Please consider buying Magazine B , you can buy the Issue where Tablo’s interview is in , available  both in English and Korean.
English Issue
Korean Issue

About Magazine B 

B is an ad-less monthly publication that introduces one well-balanced brand unearthed from around the globe in each issue. Between its covers, B not only shares untold stories behind the brand
but also its sentiment and culture that any readers interested in brand marketing and management can leaf through with ease.

About the Apple Music Issue

In this edition, we spotlight Apple Music, the music streaming service launched by Apple in June 2015. It’s a fascinating endeavor – on a micro level a streaming service, and on a macro level a vast ecosystem, depending on how the user views it. And as is clear from its name, Apple Music is about more than harnessing the technology of streaming. Longtime users of Apple’s hardware and services, from the iPod (Apple’s take on portable music players) to iTunes (the company’s platform for purchasing and collecting digital music), will no doubt notice this. On the Apple website, Apple Music is grouped under the “Music” tab of the main menu, along with iTunes and the iPod, as well as music accessories like headphones. On the iPhone, which comes with Apple Music installed as a default application, Apple Music’s display icon is a single musical note rather than the Apple Music logo, and it’s labeled “Music.” And this attention to music runs deeper. According to the numerous books that have been written on Apple, founder Steve Jobs often sought inspiration for the creative process from musicians like the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Such inspiration has infused Apple’s products, services and advertising. If the Apple brand is the company’s hardware, music is its soul.

Tablo’s Opinion 

Q. I understand Epik High is making a new album

Tablo : That’s right . We’re in the third year of working on our ninth album. That’s a relatively long time , considering today’s market trends. In the past, we’ve released two to three albums in a single year. That’s because back then we had so much to say. But after more than a decade of making music, creating an album started to feel like a massive burden . The longer we do it , the harder it seems to get, since we already told so many stories in our past albums. Our ninth album is – how do I put it – something people in their 30s can relate to. The way I see it if hip-hop can be summarized in one word, it’s probably ‘youth’ . With this album, however, although parts of it may reach listeners in their teens or 20s, I think people in their 30s and 40s will find it much more relatable.

Q. What kind of music has Epik High made throughout the years and what kind of music will it make in the future?

Tablo:  We’ve been active since 2000, so that’s 14 years of creating our unique brand of music. To be honest, I’m no longer sure about what labels you can put on us. We started with a simple vision of being a “hip-hop group” , but I later found out that overseas listeners refer to us as “alternative hip-hop”. There are a bunch of other labels as well. So I have no idea what genre we belong to. I think I’ll just go with an elegant description, like we’re a singer-songwriter group that makes the music we want to create in our own way (laughs).

Q. The current music market is surely different from when Epik High debuted

Tablo: When I look at the beginning of my career compared with the present, it’s not just a few things have changed – the whole world has changed completely. They’re no longer around today, but when we debuted, people still released albums on cassette tapes . I think we made cassette tapes up to our fourth album. CD sales also massively affected a group’s popularity . But now, streaming is the mainstream, not CDs

Q.The way that artists distribute their music has also changed immensely. What does it  mean for an artist to ‘release an album’ in today’s market.

Tablo: I think albums are still important. I once read an article that claimed that Steve Jobs and iTunes have destroyed the value of an album.It adopted a very bleak outlook arguing that releasing music in albums is going to become meaningless as streaming services allow people to select titles according to individual preferences, so the act of listening to an entire album from beginning to end will become increasingly rare. To be honest, I couldn’t help but agree at the time. I was part of the generation that grew up listening to albums instead of individual tracks , and concepts like streaming and iTunes were new to me. Now,however, those transformations  are the established norm , and I actually think that the importance of the full album is resurfacing in today’s ‘playlist era’ . To the artist , the track that precedes or follows a song is extremely important. Yet no matter how perfectly you craft an album, it’s impossible to predict how today’s listener will rearrange the tracks. Thus, the album today operates more as an optimised listening sequence recommend by the artist.

Q.  Recently the hip-hop artist Drake released an album titled “More Life” , interestingly enough, he described it not as an album but as a “playlist”

Tablo: Yeah, I think Drake expressed it very aptly. Musicians who have consistently released their art in the album put serious thought into the sequence the sequence of their tracks. For instance , if one track is very heavy in content you could have it preceded by a ‘warm up’ title and follow it with something soothing, like a desert. Epik High is no different when it comes to album sequences, we deliberate, then we deliberate some more. This is the tracklist for our ninth album (points to a list of songs written on two whiteboards). We write them up, consider the order and constantly change it. I think that’s what Drake meant by calling his an album a playlist of songs by one artist. The term ‘mixtape’ has become a common term in the hiphop community, but when I was a kid, a mix tape was something you gave to someone you had a crush on.If you know what I’m talking about, it is proof you are old.(laughs). You’d record a compilation of songs onto an empty tape. Then you’d write the artists  and track names on the cover by hand, and even add some personal decorations. You could say that in the digital era, the mix tape has transformed into the playlist for the listener and into the album for the professional musician.Listeners now purchase individual tracks from iTunes or rearrange songs from albums into personal playlists. That’s how  people listen to music today, and I think it’s time to reconfigure the concept of the album to match the context. Think of it as the artist saying, “This is a playlist that I, the artist, made for you. I hope you will listen to it the way I meant for it to be listened too.”

Q.The digital era has also given rise to a variety of marketing tools, such as Instagram and Facebook. But some critics say the artists now focus too heavily on promotion and marketing instead of on the quality of their music.

Tablo: Honestly speaking, anyone can release an album these days. A 12 year old can record music at home, shoot music videos using a GoPro or a smartphone camera,edit content on a computer and upload it onto soundcloud. In that moment the 12 year old shares his or her music with the rest of the world, who is to say that he or her isn’t a real musician? This also means that there are a lot of musicians out there. Thus, promotion and marketing are unavoidable if you want to stand out from the crowd. On top of that, there are several tools that allow for self promotion, like Instagram and Facebook, which have become a part of our daily lives. Realistically, artists need to think of ways to get their music out to more people and act on their ideas. I don’t know if that’s something to be criticized. Sure, the process may start out as simply trying to reach a wider audience, but it inspires countless innovations.


Q.Would you be more specific as to what you mean by “innovation?”

Tablo: Let’s say you released a track but it’s not attracting enough listeners. You’d be disappointed, right? So, to boost publicity for your next track, let’s say you decide to screen a video on a beam projector in a public space. At that moment, you’re basically experimenting with art installation. Kanye West actually did something similar. But what if there were no need to do so from the beginning? He would never resorted to using a projector.  I think it’s incredibly frustrating for musicians to have no tools of expression other than music. While experimenting with various methods, there comes a moment when you realise that you’re not engaging in a new form of art, of media – that’s innovation no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s a musician, an architect or a partner – in my eyes, they’re all artists.

Q.That reminds me of the opening lyrics of “Born Hater”, a track you released in 2014 with fellow musicians from the same record label. You mention painters like Picasso, Dali and El Greco in succession.

Tablo: I was in no way comparing myself to those masters. (laughs) But you actually chose the apt moment to bring up that track. The fact is, “Born Hater” represented an innovate moment for us. Instead of shooting the video in the traditional horizontal format, we shot it to be viewed on a vertical screen, such as a smartphone. As far as I know, we’re  the first Korean group to produce a music video optimised for a vertical screen. But our record label vehemently opposed it. I think they considered it too much of a technical risk. Back then, you couldn’t view vertically shot videos on full screen using your smartphone.
But a little while later, Youtube started supporting full-screen vertical videos on all platforms, including smartphones.
We started uploading videos on Youtube through our own independent label before Youtube really took off, including personal broadcasts. But looking back now, that became the industry standard within two or three years. I’m not trying to say that we did it first, or that we were ahead of everyone else. I’m just illustrating our interest in new formats and technologies , our willingness to embrace new tools instead of criticising them. Let’s say there’s a completely new and unfamiliar tool on my desk. There’s no way for me to know whether it’s a pencil, a spoon, a knife, or a weapon. I’m the type of person that just picks it up and sees what it does. If I decide it’s dangerous, I let it go, but if I feel that it is useful, I make use of it.

Q.Apple Music is another new tool available these days.

Tablo: My relationship with Apple Music began unexpectedly. In the spring of 2016, Epik High performed at Coachella. Throughout the festival, I kept getting a call from an unknown number, so I didn’t answer it, but then I got a Kakao Talk message . It was from Beats Electronics president Luke Wood himself. Because he’s such an industry giant , I first thought it was some kind of joke, but he insisted on a phone conversation, saying he was interested in Epik High. We ended up visiting the headquarters of Apple Music and Beats by Dre in L.A, where we discussed several things. Another run-in I had with Apple Music was when I did a collaboration with Eric Nam and the American R&B artist Gallant for a track titled ” Cave Me In.” As luck would have it, “Cave Me In” had an exclusive world premiere on Beats 1, Apple Music’s radio station, on January 26. On top of that, the DJ was Zane Lowe, someone I really admire.

Q.So what was your first experience with the Apple Brand?

Tablo:  That’s a while back. I was in elementary school overseas, and my school use Macintosh computers. By the time I was in college, most of the campus computers were iMacs. So if you think about it, my exposure to Apple was something that happened very organically. You could even say it was unavoidable. As a student, I was obsessed with art and literature , so even though my university was close to Silicon valley, I didn’t have much interest in Apple. As far as my writing was concerned, it didn’t matter whether I used an Apple computer or a typewriter. As it turns out, what made me realise that Apple’s reach extended beyond just goods and consumers was the iPod. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was around 2002, when I started getting into music. I remember I wanted one of those white iPods so bad, but couldn’t afford one. I was mesmerized : the ability to carry all those songs in your pocket, the slick Apple design. But more appealing than anything else was that, for the first time in years, listening to music was cool again.
After the CD, for a long time, listening to music was just- how do I put it – an automatic behaviour. In short , there was no romance to it. But then the iPod came along, and for the first time in years, listening to music once again had a romantic appeal. I suppose I could say that I’ve been hooked by the  Apple brand ever since, I actually still have my old iPod.

Q.What do you personally enjoy the most about Apple Music?

Tablo: The playlists. It’s fascinating that they curate playlists for their listeners.  Apple Music’s playlists are different from those offered by other streaming services, Spotify, for instance, simply makes playlists based on user preferences. But Apple offers what feels like “branded playlists.” They also excel in variety. I love listening to playlists. Every so often, I listen to one that feels like the curator put their heart and soul into it. Although most people think of playlists as blithely compiling this and that song, I discovered that some people view it as its own artform, in the same way musicians sequence their albums. When I encounter such a playlist, I become very curious about the curator. When I’m travelling, I often leave my iPod on Beats 1 radio. I particularly enjoy Zane Lowe’s program; not only is he a good DJ, but he’s an excellent interviewer. To be a good DJ, you need to show passion for both the guest and his or her music, and I can feel his passion every time I listen to him. Whenever that happens, I think “I want to keep listening to this guy talk. I want to listen to the music he recommends.”

Q.So do you think that DJ’s can still act as tastemakers today?

I think DJs will always be important. But I don’t really like the word “tastemaker”. Tastes belong to the user , so I think the word “curator” is a better fit. If you think about it , the ability to match someone’s mood with song is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Of all the music in the world, someone selects just the song that I need to hear. Technically, the DJs of the past all acted as curators , and I think we’ll need people to fulfill that role. In the old days, music critics and magazines exercised all the influence, and they, too, were a brand of curators. They told you: “This music is worth investing an hour of your time. Don’t listen to this album; skip it.” Today, I think the playlist has become the ultimate curator. There’s no telling how things will change, but I think the role of the curator will always be valid.

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