Q&A with Iltaek Hong: Music Content Specialist for Google Korea

Image courtesy of Iltaek Hong

Iltaek Hong is a music content specialist and a music marketing, strategy, and industry specialist. He studied creative writing at Korea University and had a stint as a lyricist working at YG Entertainment. After the short contract at YG, Hong made the decision to study music business and graduated from the global entertainment and music business master’s degree program at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain, in 2016. Hong has worked with music agencies such as Miles the Agency and Mash Agency, and he currently works for Google Korea as a music content specialist.

Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in global entertainment and music business program at Berklee’s campus in Valencia?

Music business is a perfect match for me. I love music. I always listen to music. I always wanted to work in the music industry. However, I can't play any instruments, and a lyricist’s career was not the right fit for me. Failing to make an official long-term contract with YG Entertainment, I thought about my future and made a list of my dream careers. Two defining words remained: music and business. On the business side, I had experience starting my own company and winning the Governor Prize of Gyeong-do [a province in Korea] at the Social Venture Competition [a competition in Korea where startup companies compete with each other's business models]. So I pursued a music business program because I wanted to learn the professional knowledge needed in order to be a music business professional. When I found Berklee's program, I was surprised by the curriculum: the courses were exactly what I wanted to study.

What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned at Berklee, and what’s your fondest memory of your time at the Valencia campus?

Information about the music industry was the most important thing for me. Before Berklee, my dream was a just that—a dream—and my knowledge was blurry. Music finance, marketing, branding, distribution, law, sponsorship, and so on were really helpful in developing a clear vision of my goals. I also think learning how to make decisions as well as how to concentrate were important lessons for me. Throughout the school year, you gain a lot of knowledge and experience, and try hard to cover everything perfectly. Maybe that’s the right attitude for some, but my opinion is different. I failed some courses because I didn't study hard enough for them. However, I was successful in the classes that I wanted to do well in, and I aimed to get a job in that area, which I did. Rather than being a perfect student, I concentrated on what I really wanted to do and what I was good at because our time is limited. I really think becoming a specialist or an expert in one area is an important key to success.

Hong shot a music video for his original song DnA MV at Berklee Valencia's facilities in Spring 2018:

Can you tell us a little bit about your position for Youtube Music Korea and anything exciting that you are currently working on?

Youtube Music is a growing music service that keeps expanding to other countries. My job as a music content specialist is to program music algorithms and identify and set the trends for personalization and recommendation purposes. I am also helping manage the service and communicating with other teams such as engineers and marketing specialists. Every piece of music contains a different feeling, and even the interpretation of that feeling is different for every person. I believe I can expand listeners' musical experiences and provide specific moods for different situations. A personal advantage is that I can learn about and listen to more and more music; that’s a beautiful journey for me. Additionally, my position as a music content specialist for Youtube Music is really flexible, so I can concentrate on my job every day with fresh vibes and ideas. I also analyze the Korean music industry in order to differentiate Youtube Music Korea from our competitors, and I think about marketing and promotion ideas to introduce our services and expand our market share. For these tasks, I’ve learned that teamwork is crucial in developing and executing ideas.

What things did you learn at Berklee that positioned you for success when you left and got your job?

The most important thing was the friendships I made. Berklee has global students ranging from Asia to Europe. It really is a great opportunity to share and experience music from other cultures. So much music was recommended to me by my colleagues, and it made me expand my musical library. I’m also still in contact with my Berklee friends, and I can get help from those in the global music professional world  when I need it, and vice versa. Networking is a really important thing when you enter the industry. The education I gained about the music industry from my classes was also crucial. Professors were great, and the knowledge is straight from the industry, so it’s so useful. I also learned about challenges and how to overcome them.

One of the things that positioned me for the success I have today was meeting Matthieu Lauriot Prevost, the CEO of Miles the Agency, London, when he did a lecture for the global entertainment and music business students. I decided to contact him after the lecture via LinkedIn. It led to me meeting him in London and asking about job opportunities or projects I could help him with. I made the choice to work for him for free because I thought it would help me develop my career and learn new things. After the project at Miles the Agency, I got another job on a project from the Mash Agency. There, I consulted for Chevrolet as a Korean music industry professional. I don’t think I would have gotten this chance if I didn't have the opportunity to reach out to Matthieu. So, make your own path. Curated lessons are not the whole process for students. Overcoming challenges and paving a unique journey are also things you learn throughout the semester.

Why would you tell other students to come to Berklee’s Valencia campus to study global entertainment and music business?

You’ll get a chance to become a music industry professional. Great courses and knowledgeable teachers will help you. You’ll meet other global music students who could potentially be your future partners in the narrow music industry. You’ll also enjoy beautiful music and campus life in Valencia, which is really a beautiful city. Your life will be richer.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I'm making my own music, too. You can visit my website and my LinkedIn.

Related reading

News Shorts Anže Rozman M.M. ’14
September 7, 2023

From Dinosaur Bones to Emmy Nominations: Anže Rozman M.M. ’14 Crafts Prehistoric Soundscapes with Hans Zimmer

Since joining Hans Zimmer’s Bleeding Fingers Music in 2017, Anže Rozman M.M. ‘14 has become accustomed to high-profile work—but the…

Full Story
News Hillel Teplitzki M.M. ’19: Making Waves in Video Game Composition
August 24, 2023

Hillel Teplitzki M.M. ’19: Making Waves in Video Game Composition

When Hillel Teplitzki M.M. ’19 moved to Los Angeles, he thought he was in the wrong place. “So many people…

Full Story