This article written after an interview with Nina Lee was edited by Philip Gowman and first published on London Korean Links.
Over the past few years, Happy Robot has become one of the finest indie labels in Korea. Several of their artists made it to the finals of AVIMA 2009 – Jang Sei Yong even won the instrumental category – and with signing both Oh Ji Eun and Tearliner recently, Happy Robot’s stature increased further. To me Nina Lee, the label director of Happy Robot, not only seemed to have one of the best jobs possible, but she also seemed like an awesome person. Wanting to learn more both about Happy Robot and Nina, an e-mail interview later I’ve been able to confirm that both of my assumptions were true.
As a kid, Nina was the keyboardist in a few school bands and wrote some songs herself, but in the end she felt she didn’t have a talent for it and decided to support musicians instead. Starting with a part time job at ALES Music, eventually Happy Robot Records saw the light of the day in July 2003 – with so much lovely music in the world, Happy Robot would bring that good music to the Korean people. After a few years of licensing, Happy Robot got into Korean indie music management in 2006 with EZ Hyoung. Like every artist joining the label since, he writes good songs and performs them well on stage – the two qualities appreciated the most by Happy Robot. Currently Happy Robot Records has a staff of 16 people and manage 7 Korean artists, with 1-2 albums released every month.
“Running a label is very exciting,” enthuses Nina. “I love this job, because I can make my fantasy dream comes true in real world.” Every day she gets to take part in the making of new albums – listening to demos, meeting with musicians, writing contracts, planning releases, controlling design and pressing, and organising promotion. If an artist wants to work with another artist, or just want to listen to some new music, Happy Robot is there to help. When artists are making new songs, the label is there to support them. Though hard and tiring, the work as a label director is a lot of fun.
In the near future, Happy Robot would like to branch out internationally and not just bring music from all over the world to Korea, but Korean music to the rest of the world. Perhaps within the next 2-3 years, Happy Robot could start off in Japan together with a Japanese label. And perhaps next year – if the Korean digital market opens up – music from Happy Robot’s artists could be found on iTunes.
The Korean music industry as a whole is very into digital releases, and Happy Robot is looking in the same direction. There is now a small “new media” division of Happy Robot that handles not only digital music, but also advertising and movie related “sync deals” and other interesting areas of exposure. Unlike a major part of the Korean music industry, however, Nina and Happy Robot recognize that any attempt to control illegal downloading will not make people buy more of their CDs or MP3s. Even if everybody doesn’t buy the music, more people will listen to it and come to like what Happy Robot is doing. True to their own motto, “Happy Life with Music”, the purpose of Happy Robot Records is merely to make the world a better place by bringing people happy music.