The Talent Behind Some of Your Favorite Songs

From Park Bom to Victon, NCT, and WayV, French producer Alawn has racked up several gems in the K-Pop world lately and rightfully so. His work has landed him on the Billboard charts and has impressed both K-Pop executives and fans alike. EnVi spoke with the multi-talented producer about his experiences working in Seoul and his inspiring drive to create.

EnVi: How were you introduced to SM Entertainment and what was your first writing camp experience like in Seoul?

Alawn: I have the chance to be managed by, who is to me, one of the best management teams in the world, The Hello Group. They connected me to the amazing Korean publishing team Marcan last year to work on the MBC Under Nineteen’s theme song, which led to building a great relationship between us all. They organized the first writing camp last summer with SM and invited me and my manager, Taylor Jones, who’s also an amazing writer. Jones and Alawn wrote WayV’s “After Midnight” together. I have done two writing camps since then (the last one pushed back because of COVID-19) and it has been such an incredible experience every single time. From the way they treat us, to being immersed in the Korean culture, it’s honestly so inspiring. Seoul is such an amazing place and the people are so warm, I could definitely see myself living there someday. 

EnVi: When you first found out that you’d be working on a song for NCT 127, what was the first step in your creative process? Were there any specific notes from SM on what they were looking for?

Alawn: This particular song, “Punch”, was started during our last SM Camp in Seoul, by producer Dem Jointz and writers KC and Kenzie. I was already familiar with the demo before coming in on the record and already loved the vibe, so it made it even easier for me to get creative. For me, it was all about adding a lot of sound layers, production ideas, new chords and creating brand new parts that didn’t exist before, such as the bridge and the breakdown. SM is always very precise with their notes, they know what they’re looking for, which is great, but at the same time, they always leave us room for creative freedom and try out whatever idea we may have, which I particularly love. 

EnVi: Since NCT and WayV are connected, how would you describe each group’s musical style? Is there a different approach for both units when you’re producing for them?

Alawn: I like to think that both groups have a very different sound from other K-Pop bands, being very innovative and edgy. Of course, when writing for a specific group you have to acknowledge and take into consideration each member’s style of singing, vocal range and how many of them there are. So the approach is always a bit different depending on who I’m writing for. As long as the song is good and has an interesting texture, it will find a home. It happens very often that a song gets placed with a completely different act than the one it was written for. 

EnVi: How would you describe NCT 127’s “Punch” to someone who’s never heard it?

Alawn: “Like something you’ve never heard before…” haha! “Punch” is definitely super different from any other K-Pop record and I think it’s very innovative. From the very first synth lead that starts the track, which will remind you of the sound of a video game, to the whispered rap flows, these are things that haven’t really been done in the past and will set a new trend. “Punch” is the perfect blend between hip-hop, electro and neo soul, with very defined different sections that, although sound completely different, connect with each other seamlessly. 

EnVi: There’s a dreamy synth part in the “After Midnight” chorus that resembles the soft piano in the “Punch” pre-chorus. Was that intentional or coincidental? Which one did you start working on first?

Alawn: “After Midnight” was actually written back in August 2018, we definitely had no idea it would land on such a massive album then. We submitted the song to SM sometime last year, they loved it right away and thought WayV was a perfect fit for it, which came out so amazing in my opinion! Probably a coincidence but as a producer, having a very defined style, there’s always going to be little hints here and there in different records that will make you go like “Oh, Alawn probably produced this…”

EnVi: You mentioned that you fell in love with K-Pop over time, so what was the first K-Pop group or song you listened to and what did you like about it?

Alawn: It’s funny because I flew to my first SM camp not knowing much about K-Pop at all! It’s only while being in the center of Seoul—in these beautiful SM studios, creating brand new songs for them—that I completely fell in love with this genre. I fell in love with the culture, the music, the creative freedom that goes with it, the chord changes, vocal harmonies, different sections…everything about it was so appealing to me. I remember before getting started on my first day playing EXO’s “Monster” and NCT 127’s “Superhuman” for the first time, and being completely blown away. I think these are the two records that made me completely fall in love with K-Pop.

After the first camp I couldn’t stop listening to K-Pop every single day, discovering all of these new artists and groups, learning about the song formats, chords, and sound. When I flew back to Seoul five months later for my second SM camp, I was more ready than ever and finally had a real understanding of this whole new world that is K-Pop.

At the end of the camp, my Korean publishers and SM’s international A&R were blown away by my evolution since the last camp and how K-Pop had become a part of me. I have been fully involved in the Asian market every day since then and seeing how all of these records do and how many people they touch is the best feeling ever!

EnVi: Was there a member of NCT or WayV who really impressed you, either with their vocal deliveries on the track or their stage presence?

Alawn: They are all so amazing, it’s impossible to just name one. They all have very different styles, vocal ranges and are so talented in their own way. I must say I am a big fan of Taeyong though, I love his energy and style. I hope the other members won’t get mad at me for saying this! (Joking!)

Envi: Would you say Taeyong is your bias? Do you have a bias?

Alawn: They’re all different and unique, but if I had to pick one bias I would probably say Taeyong!

EnVi: Do you have a favorite genre or one that bleeds into your music the most?

Alawn: I think what I love the most about K-Pop is how it blends so many genres together, most of the time within the same song. “Punch” is the perfect example. Going from a hip-hop verse, to a more melodic, soulful pre-chorus, then into a really energetic chorus! Then changing the vibe completely on the bridge with some really jazzy chords, leading into a crazy breakdown introducing new rhythms. I’m able to put all of my favorite genres, such as EDM, hip-hop, R&B, and merge all of these influences into the music I’m creating now—I am loving it. 

EnVi: How did you come to the conclusion that songwriting and music production was the path for you? What inspires you to challenge yourself in your work?

Alawn: I guess it’s more of a feeling than anything else. You know deep inside when something is meant for you—music was it for me. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else since I first got into producing and songwriting. We all come with a unique gift and if you are open enough it will come to you. No words will be able to explain the feeling when you find it, you just know.

I always try to push the boundaries when producing, by using new sounds I’ve never used before, trying new chords, progressions, or doing things differently by stepping out of my comfort zone. When you start to master something and begin to do it really well, no matter what it is, it’s easy to get caught up in that safety zone—since you know it works and people are responding to it—but in order to keep growing it’s important to never stop learning and trying new things.

Envi: Finally, how does it feel to be so quickly embraced and welcomed into the K-Pop community as a producer?

Alawn: It’s an amazing feeling! My Twitter and Instagram have been blowing up, since my first record with Park Bom came out, with messages and mentions from fans all over the world and I find it really incredible. I am so grateful to be able to connect with all of these people around the world and have the music that I create, touch so many of them. The K-Pop fans really go harder than any other genre!

Follow Alawn @alawnmusic