Exclusive Artist Diary with .. JENNY HYUN - Aug 6, 2007
“The production company told my publicist to teach me how to be more ‘flirtatious’ at parties so as to get more attention from important people,”...so confesses Jenny Hyun, accounting for just how difficult - even dangerous - it is for a female artist to progress in the music industry on her own.
22-year-old Hyun, who started out at 13 recording her songs at home and posting them on her website, and forged her first industry contacts via HitQuarters, now co-owns her own talent management company, and works with producers Jean T. Na (The Pussycat Dolls, The Tyra Banks Show), Needlz (50 Cent, Talib Kweli), and publicist Lizzie Grubman (P. Diddy, Britney Spears).
Her against-all-odds story provides invaluable insights and advice for any aspiring artist - starting with a warning - never sign a contract without a lawyer!
By Jenny Hyun
When people think of a pop music singer, the first thing that may come to
mind is ‘teenybopper’ and ‘gimmick’. Some may believe that a pop singer
doesn't qualify as a true artist because they haven't put the blood, sweat
and tears into their music like a struggling, underground band would.
Some may believe that pop singers start their career as overnight superstars, not knowing the meaning of rejection and hard work.
All of that is simply not true.
My name is Jenny, I am an Asian-American pop/R&B singer and songwriter born in Los Angeles, CA, and now living in NYC. I have written and recorded around 35 songs and have worked with numerous producers including Jean T. Na (The Pussycat Dolls, The Tyra Banks Show) and Needlz (50 Cent, Talib Kweli).
I have worked with the industry-respected vocal coach, Don Lawrence (Christina Aguilera, Mick Jagger) and publicist, Lizzie Grubman (P. Diddy, Britney Spears). I've performed in New York City to Los Angeles, CA and all the way to Honolulu, Hawaii. I've had appearances on MTV and recently won first place in a singing competition for American Idol Underground.
At 22, I feel like this music industry has mentally matured me far beyond my age. Although it seems just like yesterday that I was 13 and recording acapella singing clips on Sound Recorder and posting them on my personal website.
Photo: Rob Klein
Back then, I never looked at music as a career goal, it was an escape from the many issues I was facing with my family, friends and school. My way of dealing with depression was creating my own world on the internet, which was all about my biggest and only passion at the time, music.
I prefer to not go into detail, but as life became more unbearable, I became even more motivated to pursue my dream of becoming a singer. At the age of 15, I recorded a homemade demo and used contacts from HitQuarters to send out over 70 press kits to record companies and managements all over the country.
A few called back with interest, but the fact that I was living in Virginia discouraged them from following up on me.
My personal life began crumbling all around me, and before I knew it, my
mother made plans to move to Korea to be with my estranged father and
started the process of enrolling me into a boarding school in Virginia.
What happened next was either a complete fluke or written in the stars... I
guess it depends on how you look at it.
Literally days before my mother was going to be on a one-way flight to
Korea, we received a call from a production company in Los Angeles, that
had received my demo and was extremely interested in working with me.
After many persuasive conversations with the production company, my mother made the decision to move out to Los Angeles so I could officially start my singing career.
By this time, my mother had filed for bankruptcy and there was no job waiting for her on the other side of the country, but despite the odds against us, we packed our lives up into our car and drove cross country from Virginia to California.
Almost as soon as we arrived in California, I began working with the production company. I was recording songs and working with famed choreographer, Shane Sparks (‘So You Think You Can Dance?’).
But just as quickly as it started, everything fell apart, because the company would not commit to me financially and was draining my mother's already strained finances. We were forced to cut off ties with them.
So I was back where I started, but fortunately, living in a city with much more opportunities. I went to auditions and meetings with various music companies, but like most aspiring artists, I was rejected time and time again.
Then one day, a music producer named Jean T. Na who had contacted me while I was still in Virginia, contacted me again and as fate would have it, we were living in the same city and creatively clicked immediately. Since then, we have collaborated on over 20 songs.
Right before my 17th birthday, a fan e-mailed me about a management company looking for new talent, so I submitted my material to them and to my surprise, they were interested!
It wasn't long before I signed a contract with them, without a lawyer, and they had me travelling back and forth to New York City. A year later, I signed with a production company, again, sans lawyer. These decisions will prove to be very hard lessons I learned about the music business.
Right off the bat, I felt that something was wrong about my manager. Starting on the first day I arrived in New York City, he had me going into VIP rooms at night clubs and drinking alcohol – when I was still only 17 years old.
He would leave me at recording studios by myself with producers who had bad intentions and didn't think twice about how I would get home late at night by myself in the biggest city in the world. He even went as far as asking me ‘how far I've gone’ sexually, totally breaking the boundaries of a manager-artist relationship.
It reached a point where even the production company told my publicist to teach me how to be more ‘flirtatious’ at parties so as to get more attention from important people. Both companies even tried to interfere with my personal relationship because it was ‘bad for my image’.
A falling-out was inevitable, and with the help of my current fiancé and partner in our music and entertainment company, A&J Entertainment, (and with the help of Selverne, Mandelbaum & Mintz, LLP - thank God for them!) I became free of all ties with both my old manager and production company in 2005.
I am blessed to be able to have a happy ending to my story. Most artists are not so lucky. I am presently working with great producers, lawyers and industry people whom I trust and look forward to building long, and prosperous business relationships with. For the first time, I feel in control of my own destiny and that is absolutely priceless.
I can't lie and say that these experiences haven't negatively impacted me in a tremendous way. As an artist trying to make it, it's easy to be swayed by a business person's trustworthy facade, especially when you're hungry to make it with no money.
That's why it's important to invest into an entertainment lawyer before signing any contracts. If you don't have the finances to do that, then borrow it or don't sign anything until you do! It's like jumping into the deep end of the pool head first without knowing how to swim. No matter what, you WILL drown.
There is no one way to become successful in the music industry, especially nowadays with the internet becoming one of the best vehicles to get exposure and get discovered. But as long as music continues to be a business, hiring an entertainment lawyer to look over contracts is a must.
Of course, there are many other important factors in being a mainstream
Be realistic - Are you talented or unique enough to compete in this demanding industry? If not, what are you willing to do to make yourself stand out from the rest?
A person who can look at themselves objectively and be realistic about their chances will probably get further faster in this business, as an artist or otherwise. Not to mention save a lot of time and money.
Be persistent - A lot of artists are ultra sensitive, that's why they're creative in the first place, and rejection may thus be harder for them to handle. If you know deep down you have what it takes, don't give up! Rejection is a part of this business, no matter how talented you are.
Be genuine with yourself – ask yourself, why do you want to make it? If it's purely for fame, fortune or to rub it in someone's face, you will have a rocky road ahead of you. The only way to keep your head on straight in this business is if you absolutely love what you do, and even then it's difficult.
Stay positive - This business can turn even the most spiritual person into a cynic. It's important to stay positive through everything, not only for the sake of your well-being, but also because when you're negative, there is an energy you transmit that will only bring more negativity and misfortunes into your life. I would have fallen into that trap, and many other traps, if I didn't have the next important factor:
Have at least one person in your life that's looking out for you and loves you. I know this isn't something that can be controlled, but if you are struggling with loneliness or there is no one lovingly supporting you, you may want to think twice before pursuing any type of career that puts you in the spotlight.
True friends and lovers are rarely found in the entertainment industry, and if you come into this business alone, you may find yourself becoming even more isolated and lonely. It's no secret, just look at the state of most celebrities today.
It's hard enough dealing with the lions and hyenas of the industry when you're in a pack, but alone, it's almost impossible to survive - especially if you're a female.
Writing this has been therapeutic for me. I shed a few tears, and some memories I would like to forget were brought back to life, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and even the worst events have led me to the most beautiful point in my life, so I can't say I regret anything.
I hope readers walk away from this with more drive to go after their dreams and more hope that the difficult times may really be a way to prepare you for wonderful things to come. Success is not necessarily selling millions of records or winning a Grammy.
To me, success is being able to do what you're passionate about without losing yourself in the corruption and greed of not just the music industry, but the world at large.
Artists interested in contributing to HitQuarters future chapters of Artist Diary are welcome to get in touch through our contact page
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