This month we interviewed Sophiya! She’s very versatile; not only a singer, but also a song-writer and recently becoming the co-founder of a music label. We feel that Sophiya has good instinct over the directions she takes, steadily paving a strong foundation and body of work, honing her skills and having the ambition to move forward. You might be as surprised as we were to find out what she was doing before pursuing music! She even co-writes K-pop songs, such as BoA’s recent single ‘One Shot, Two Shot’. We hope you enjoy this interesting interview. A big thank you to her for making time for us and giving such detailed answers.
This is an exciting time for Sophiya, and we think her sound is becoming increasingly slick and nuanced. Certain tracks in particular are top-tier examples of high quality music. She has a strong voice but can also control her vibrato extremely well. Top that all off with a smattering of natural groove and you have an amazing mix of talent within a wonderful singer. That’s why we are backing Sophiya and urge our IMK readers to listen to her music.
Feeline Music is Sophiya and Distract’s new label – we encourage you to keep an eye out for music releases from them!
1. How did you start your career? Can you talk about your background and what spurred you onto taking the path you are walking right now?
So I was actually a contestant on one of those X-Factor type shows in Korea called 위대한 탄생 (Birth of a Great Star), eventually coming second. Before that I’d always loved music and singing but I was working as an accountant in London – about as far away as you can get from the music industry in Korea! The show helped me realise that my passion for singing wouldn’t go away, that people were responding to my voice, and that I now had access to the network I needed to make that leap into the unknown. So I decided this was probably my last chance to go for it and I did!
2. How did you branch out into co-writing songs for other people? What are the main differences between working on music for yourself and others?
After the show where I only sang covers, I realised that I’d never be able to make songs completely on my own if I didn’t have a hand in writing them. I was adamant that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter but unfortunately my writing skills were terrible! Listening back to my old demos makes me cringe so hard. Luckily a songwriting/production team called Iconic Sounds took me in and showed me the ropes. I started writing K-pop, as well as my own music and also met my (former) management company through them.
The main difference with K-pop is that I have to put myself into the head of a girl in her late teens/early 20s. Luckily I have a good imagination along with a few distant memories haha. K-pop also has a very specific sound and image so I do have to tweak my style quite a bit. I have a separate ‘K-pop idol voice’ that I do for demo recordings lol.
3. Who inspires you?
I’m obsessed with Kehlani. She has such a gorgeous voice and a free spirit. She’s not afraid to be herself at all. Ariana Grande and Jhene Aiko are also big influences.
4. What appeals to you most in a song?
As a singer, vocals have always been first and foremost for me. However, as I’ve gained more experience as a songwriter, I’ve started to listen more to the melodies and the instruments, and how they all mesh together. A good melody can leave me in just as much awe as a fantastic vocal performance now.
5. Do you enjoy MV shoots? Roughly how many takes and how much time do you need to dedicate to completing one video? Do you have any input into this part of the process?
I’ve been in a grand total of 3 music videos now, woohoo! It depends on the concept of the video and the director’s style but a shoot will generally take a full day from dawn to early hours of the morning. There will probably be around 4 or 5 different scenes, 2 or 3 angles/shots per scene, and maybe 2 or 3 takes per shot. Although the shooting time isn’t that long, there’s hair/makeup/camera and lighting setup/breakdown/breaks, etc. etc. The day goes by so quickly. It’s a lot of fun though.
I especially enjoyed the ‘Over You’ music video shoot where it looked like I’d murdered an ex, stuffed him in a suitcase, and driven into the countryside to dispose of the body. I got to drive an old school muscle car and discover ‘blood’ on my hand that I hadn’t quite managed to wipe away.
I am allowed some input but I tend to leave it to the director as he/she is the expert and will have a set vision in mind. As long as it fits the song and my personality I’m pretty easygoing and open to suggestions.
6. What important aspects do you feel you are learning with the release of each song?
Even though I’ve had my voice for 30 plus years, I feel like I’m still learning more about it with each new release. I’m a perfectionist so I listen back to my music a lot and think ‘oh I should have sung this better and that better’. But I’m also learning that it’s not so much about vocal or technical ability now, it’s about whether you can convey a certain emotion or feeling to your listeners. If you can draw out a response in your listeners, that’s when you know you’re doing it right.
7. We were impressed that there were Korean and English versions of several songs! Was this your idea? Which language version came first? And do you usually write lyrics in both languages or do you have a preference?
Thank you! I’ve released both Korean and English versions for a few songs now – For The Record, Therapy, and Over You. The vast majority of my songs start off in English since that’s the language I’m most comfortable with and can express myself best in. I feel like the English version always ends up sounding better as well haha. This is why I always want you guys to hear it!
The exception to the rule was Still Loving You and Tell Me Why which were both very Korean-style ballads, so it made more sense to write those in Korean from the start.
8. What is your schedule like during promotional periods for a single? And what about when you aren’t promoting?
I’m not an idol star so I don’t have crazy promotional periods, thank god. Right now, since I’m independent, we’re mostly thinking about online marketing, cover videos, etc. Once the weather gets a bit warmer, I definitely want to start doing some busking too. When I’m not promoting I’m usually getting ready for the next single! Now that I’ve set up my own label, there are much fewer barriers to release so I’m aiming for a new single every 2 or 3 months.
9. What activities (music or non-music related) do you enjoy?
I’ve actually started getting dance lessons! I’m pretty terrible but there’s a certain freedom in just grooving to music – mostly when I’m home alone right now, but in the future, who knows? Maybe you’ll see me doing a dance video at some point (highly doubtful but anything can happen haha). Other than that I’m a bit of a homebody so a lot of my downtime is spent on Netflix and watching cat videos on Reddit 🙂
10. The start of a new label must be very exciting! What kind of goals are you hoping to achieve in the next few years and what type of things do you need to consider for the label during the beginning stages? Is it difficult to stand out from other companies?
It’s very exciting! When I was signed to a management company, every decision had to be discussed and ‘okayed’ by multiple people so things usually took a while to get rolling, and obviously there are always differences in opinion music-wise, direction-wise, etc. It could get pretty frustrating at times. Now that I’m on the other side though, I can appreciate the amount of work that everyone put in and the responsibility of having to make all the decisions, artistic and financial. There is also a ton of admin to be done. You need to be organised, realistic and you need good support, which thankfully I have in my co-CEO.
On the other hand, we’re free to release whatever kind of music we want, and that’s really the main aim here. To produce music that is fundamentally ‘me’, to carve out my own niche and grow as an artist. At the moment, Feeline Music is just a 2-man show with me being the only artist, but hopefully we will continue to grow and maybe even take on other artists in the future. Watch this space!
11. You’ve previously spoken about some of the difficulties in the music industry, including K-pop stars hiding their struggles. Have you experienced anything yourself and how do you motivate yourself to continue?
Since I’m not an idol, I have a lot of downtime where I can wind down and get away from it all if I really need to. I’m not subject to the whims and sometimes craziness of the general public and fans either. Idol stars don’t get that luxury. When I first joined my management company, we were more focused on breaking into the mainstream (termed the ‘major’ market here in Korea). My schedule wasn’t anywhere near as packed as those of idol stars, but I did get a glimpse into their lifestyle and it’s pretty insane.
Extremely early mornings, very late nights, and you have to be ON all the time. You feel like you are constantly being watched, public opinion can turn at the drop of a hat, and netizens can be vicious. I count myself very lucky that I am able to escape when it gets too much, whether it’s chilling with friends or travelling. It helps that I’m happy with whom I am as a person and an artist and hopefully my music speaks for itself. It takes time and soul-searching though.
12. What is your process for writing lyrics? Is if concept first, or do you come up with particular words or phrases you like/want to make use of?
It depends on the song, really. I jot down words and phrases that pop into my head as I’m just walking around or if I feel any type of strong emotion. I’ll keep a big list and refer back to it when I’m writing lyrics. Those initial words and phrases can become the title for my next song or they can end up being benched for a while. Sometimes I’ll come up with a phrase on the spot that just fits the melody perfectly and build the concept around that. It depends a lot on the music. Both the lyrics and concept have to fit the mood of the song so it’s not one size fits all.
For K-pop songs it’s a bit different because the labels generally want a very catchy title or concept. In those cases, I will usually come up with the title first.
13. Do you have a big team around you or do you work as a close knit group? What kinds of transitions have you had to go through in your career so far? Any instances where you had to adapt to a situation in order to succeed?
Right now it’s a very close knit group of people I really trust. My co-CEO and I have tried to surround ourselves with creative people that we can bounce ideas off and be inspired by. It’s been a journey getting to this point. My career has gone through many transitions and my goalposts always seem to be moving. When I came second on the TV show, I thought I had it made. But when I came back to Korea a year later and everyone had moved on, it was a big reality check. It wasn’t enough to just join a label and sing anymore.
So I joined Iconic Sounds as a writer, became a singer-songwriter and found modest success in the mainstream market. But eventually I realised conforming to the mainstream didn’t sit well with me. To me, music has to have integrity. What’s the point in making music that doesn’t reflect who you are? This led to my decision for leaving my previous management and setting up my own label. Perhaps I alienated a lot of the general public by my actions. But ultimately I want to be able to look back and say I’m proud of the music that I made.
But eventually I realised conforming to the mainstream didn’t sit well with me. To me, music has to have integrity. What’s the point in making music that doesn’t reflect who you are?
14. Do you enjoy performing live? What kind of venues do you like?
I do enjoy it. It’s a completely different vibe to recording. In the studio, I have the time to perfect every little detail and it’s very much a one-way process, whereas with an audience it’s about communicating with each other and feeding off each other’s energy. To be honest I haven’t performed at a huge variety of venues but I definitely know that I prefer places where the audience are standing. There’s a much higher chance they’ll be grooving!
15. You’ve teased a collaboration already, but what other things can people look forward to in 2018 from you?
I released a song called FYRE in February so make sure that you go check that one out! It’s more hip- hop/urban than some of the other tracks I’ve put out, and it’s in English. I’ve also featured on a song with TRAX and LIP2SHOT recently for SM Station which is a huge honour. As I said earlier, the aim is to keep releasing new songs every 2 or 3 months so you can look forward to lots more music from me this year. Other than that, I just want to keep performing so make sure you follow me on social media for updates!
(Responses have been partially edited for clarity)
Thanks again to Sophiya for participating in an interview with us! Remember to check out her music and read our recommendations article for some suggestions on where to get started!
Follow Sophiya on social media:
Featured image and in-article images source: © Sophiya. 14.03.2018. All images were provided by the artist for use in this article. All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission.
© Interview with Sophiya. 20.03.2018. Inspire Me Korea.
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