Building a name for himself in the K-pop industry as a songwriter and producer, Isaac Han is a Korean-American multi-hyphenated music producer based in Seoul, South Korea. He has worked alongside some of K-pop’s biggest stars, creating music that tells a story, while building a genuine connection with those around him.
As a child growing up in an Asian household meant learning music through instruments was expected. For Isaac, learning the piano and picking up the cello were the stepping stones into a background of classical music that would eventually become an important part of his musical journey. Isaac’s path towards becoming a music producer was not planned, it was a path that he saw himself taking only after a period of being passionless.
Auditioning and then enrolling in Berklee College of Music, Isaac began to explore himself as a musician. He quickly realized he enjoyed the behind the scene of music rather than the frontlines. “The front of the scene was not really where I wanted to be at school, and I started connecting and networking with a lot of different people, and that’s really how I got my first kind of segway into the K-pop industry. It was through networks and Berkely,” Isaac recounted.
PRODUCING FOR K-POP: SM
Introduced to the K-pop industry at a young age, Isaac was only 20 when he started as a producer in Korea. He always felt that there was something special about the production of the industry. From the way the melodies are written to the building of idol groups, the K-pop industry introduced something different and fresh, and he wanted to explore it for himself.
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“We’re still learning and growing, but you know I just thought there was something special about the way that they execute their productions and there’s a special way that they–I don’t know, there’s a different code you know to production and sound and a different code of deliveries I guess, that Asian people tend to pick up more on and I kinda– I just wanted to explore that more,” the producer expressed.
Continuing, he noted the attraction audiences outside of Asia have towards the industry is not only because of the music but also due to the production of K-pop itself. “Now we’re in a generation where everything is fast-paced and trendy. Everything is a little bit more content, everything is just quicker. I think you know, the audience and the listener want to hear music that’s also fast-paced and evolving all the time, almost trendy.”
A journey that began in 2012, at the time Isaac had the opportunity to work with SM Entertainment, working with groups such as Super Junior, F(x), and Henry, to name a few. Building up his portfolio, he continued to work with other K-pop acts, progressing further as a producer and songwriter while adding to his impressive resume.
BEHIND THE MUSIC: THE STORYTELLER
“My job as a producer, I maximize the best output for the record. Sometimes when it comes to the creative side–cause that was actually my home ground, I always started off as a–before I was even a producer I was always a songwriter at heart,” Isaac gushed. Whether he’s vocal producing records for Jackson’s LMLY or producing for acts like BM (and other artists and K-pop acts), Han is a storyteller by nature and it shows in the songs.
From songwriting to producing, the importance of a record’s story has always been upheld, and for Isaac, the best way to tell this story is through the melodies. “One thing I think I kept really consistent throughout my songwriting career and thus leading into my producing career is I like to focus on the storytelling of the record. And sometimes the best way to get a story across I believe is actually melodically. So I like to focus a lot on the melody first.”
Whether he’s cooking up the beat or spinning ideas in his head, to Han the melody is an integral part of the process–the centerpiece that holds the story together. And with varying ways of creating his music, he believes there’s no one set structure to how it’s done. To him, the most important aspect is the deliverance of the story itself. “The beat itself is great, but I’d say 90% of humans would sing back the melody more than the beat you know, so I’d say I’d like to focus more on the actual writing process and the actual melodic process of a song. Thus like–you know, build off of the melody to create some sort of story. Cause I think that’s really really important.”
FOUNDING 8PEX COMPANY
Aside from producing music, Isaac also serves as the founder and Co-CEO of a music publishing company–8PEX COMPANY. Founded in 2019, 8PEX Company is a publishing and music production house that develops and manages other writers and producers under them. Producing records for artists such as GOT7’s Jackson Wang, Alexa, and Kard’s BM, 8PEX COMPANY also worked on developing music for film scores. “Whether it is film, TV dramas, and, yeah we just try to work with a very diverse–you know BGMS, commercials, and all of that. Doing what we can. Whatever’s on the music spectrum we try to say that we create content for any of these spectrums of music.”
The exploration of the music production business came naturally to Isaac, as he described always leaning towards business as a child. It was easier to venture off into building a music production company and building up his team. Primarily focusing on the K-pop industry, the producer expressed wanting to explore different markets within Asia. Having already been fortunate enough to work in China and Japan, they hope to venture into these markets more heavily.
EVER-CHANGING IDEAS IN THE STUDIO: NOT BY THE MOON
When working in a studio, being surrounded by artists and producers with different personalities and styles of music is always constant, especially in this era of modern music. The exchange of ideas between creatives can be both exciting and overwhelming, yet the pleasure of creating a work of art that speaks to others is just as thrilling. Isaac detailed this feeling when talking about his experience working on GOT7’s 2019 track “Not By The Moon,” along with JYP Entertainment’s founder J.Y.P.
“It’s amazing, actually the first demo that we came up with was not anywhere near Not By The Moon, and did not even have any concept close to what it was when we worked on Not By The Moon,” he told EnVi. With the original demo–titled paranoid–being based around heartbreak, one wonders just how many versions existed before the final version of Not By The Moon.
From the demo to the final product, Isaac explained going through 20 different idea changes to the production, and once the producers were satisfied, Isaac and his team had the chance to collaborate with J.Y.P. “We were in the booth, in the studio chopping it up, and man that man is so talented he came in he’s like ‘okay I know what this needs, give me this sound, let me change this, this, and this.’ There were only a few things he touched but his flavor was so strong in the record that I was like ‘wow I see why he’s one of the top PD’s in Korea.’ ”
Isaac praised J.Y.P, admiring his work ethic when producing. He described his way of approaching production as being similar to JYP’s, always ensuring he leaves his own touch on the records he makes.
UNLIMITED CREATIVITY: GOING BEYOND THE MUSIC
The multitalented producer’s vision goes beyond music, having had the opportunity to further explore his creative direction through visual production, along with his team. Isaac detailed the process behind BM’s music video “Broken Me.” What began as an OST for a film evolved into an entire visual production in collaboration with Vive Studios. “I was originally supposed to just do the musical direction for a side project, but as time went along and I started getting more hands-on the actual OST–like the soundtrack of a short film and that’s where it segued into this whole music video,” Han said. “That kind of evolved into producing a whole music video for BM.”
Isaac served as one of the producers who brought the project to life, “I brought a small deck and a project of how I feel this music video should go and the kind of story I wanted to tell. I partnered with Vive Studios’ Jerry Park at the time, and he got it. I sent him a deck and he was like ‘yo this is really good.’ ” Once the treatment was finalized and the team was built, production began resulting in a visual masterpiece that touched the hearts of its viewers.
LOOKING BACK: THE EVOLUTION OF ISAAC HAN
As an artist, one’s always evolving, constantly improving, and exploring different parts of their craft. Though it may be embarrassing to revisit a past work, past work serves as a door to understanding the person of the past, and to appreciate the future self. A feeling Isaac conveys as he revisits his past self through his older works.
“There’s a lot in there that I’m really embarrassed about, but there’s a lot in there that I’m also jealous about as well. Because there are certain things that I was able to convey when I was younger, in my writing and my producing and beat making,” the producer tells EnVi. “There’s something much more pure that I was able to do when I was younger because it’s so unrefined and almost like there were no rules back then to me when it came to music.”
Reflecting on his past self, he expressed having been able to write songs in their rawest form, in a way that his present self questions just how he was able to develop them, is an act he’s jealous of today. “There are some ideas that I’m like, man how did I come up with that back then. Not that it would work but it does, not that it would work then and not that it would work now but it’s like how did I think of that?”
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From reflection to acceptance, the producer expressed realizing the significance of the experiences of his younger self as a stepping stone into becoming a better version of himself; not just as a person but also as a creator. Isaac is at a stage in his life where he’s able to fully understand and grasp his vision, a tool that makes working with artists and other producers easier, establishing a bond between those around him through music.
“I’ll love to just keep moving forward and call where I am an evolution. Because now I’m at a place where I’m able to. Back then what separated me from then and now it’s where—when I imagined something or envisioned something it was much harder to portray that cause I didn’t have the know-how. I didn’t have the experiences, you know, I was limited in my personal experiences as well. So my writing was so narrow, but now I’m much more wider, I have much more experience. I have a deeper grasp and a deeper depth of know-hows, of this whole producing game and songwriting.”
Be sure to follow Isaac on Instagram and listen to his latest music production!
Want more? Read more about Isaac and “Broken Me” here.
Thumbnail courtesy of Isaac Han’s Instagrams.