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Jang Jin-eun, tour manager & CEO of Good People, runs the show behind K-pop’s rise on the global stage.

  • [등록일]2018-02-08
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Jang Jin-eun onstage while managing singer Shin Seung-hun’s Japanese tour (Source: Good People Travel Co.,Ltd)

 

Q: While the tour manager is involved organizing everything behind a large-scale concert, from planning to operations, many people are probably unfamiliar with it as it’s not very visible position.
A: Many people are actually unfamiliar with what a tour manager does. A lot of people equate us with tour guides. It was actually the US that first applied the term “tour manager.” As bands went on national or global tours while still releasing albums, they realized that their regular managers couldn’t control the expanded field of operations resulting from performing in a new region with an unfamiliar language and culture. That’s how the position of tour manager was born.

Overseas tours, specifically, are heavily impacted by logistical details such visa requirements, flight and ship schedules, and broadcast times, so the tour manager is a very important person when it comes to overseas tours and concerts. The tour manager needs to have a good understanding of not only a concert location’s geography and culture, but also its immigration laws, not to mention flight schedules, hotel bookings, restaurants, and local transportation. Koreans are more familiar with the term “guide” or “tour conductor [TC].” Travel agencies used to advertise that they use professional TCs to distinguish themselves from competitors. There are even TC certificates; they’re not government-recognized but are issued from a private association. Back then, all you had to do was attend courses at an institution recognized by the association, and it wasn’t that hard to get a certificate. Of course these days, people prefer independent or self-guided tours, so tour guides are now restricted to group packages and are decreasing in prominence as people increasingly arrange their own trips.


Q: Did you originally set out to become a tour manager? What made you to decide to choose it as a career path?
A: Around 1997 I was working as a tour guide in Japan. I’d just finished my studies in Japan and was looking to establish a career in the country. But I needed money while job hunting, so I contacted an acquaintance who had started a travel agency. While working as a guide and helping out in the company, I naturally acquired an understanding of various regions throughout Japan. Just as I was about to devote myself wholly to being a tour guide, however, the 1997 Asian financial crisis went into full swing, and all the tour companies in Japan that targeted Korean travelers tanked. The situation left me in a bind, where neither going back to Korea nor staying in Japan seemed very
profitable.
Occasionally, however, filming crews and people who’d been selected for corporate promotion packages still came to Japan from Korea. But that was a completely separate line of work from being a tour guide. A tour guide selects among itineraries that the travel agency has prepared and guides each client according to the selected itinerary. But managing film shoots and concerts required me to find the right places and people depending on the client’s needs and solve any problems that occurred on site. Figuring out that sort of work naturally built up my resume as a tour manager. With President Kim Dae-jung’s declaration of a new brand of Korea-Japan relations, I was granted the opportunity to start working as a full-time tour manager. A Japanese pop group was scheduled to perform in Korea. You could say that was my first official project as a tour manager.


Q: What kind of companies do tour managers work for, and what is the scope of their duties? It seems like the tour manager’s role would overlap with that of the local coordinator.
A: Large entertainment agencies or firms that have a large focus on concert promotion, not only overseas but in Korea as well, now have established in-house tour manager positions. They’ve realized that it’s an essential position for concert tours. But as the industry changes, the positions change accordingly. For instance, although it’s not this way anymore, when I started out as a tour manager, it was nearly impossible to book a large number of flights and hotel rooms without going through a travel agency. Therefore, tour managers needed to have a professional relationship with travel agencies to do their jobs efficiently.

But now, taking part in concert or event production meetings, sharing information on each performance location with the entire staff beforehand, and working with the marketing team to determine promotional content organization and production is all much more important than flights, accommodation, and transportation. Obviously, once the tour starts you have to take care of the production team and staff throughout the entire process and solve any problems along the way. Although local coordinators may know more about the concert site, their understanding of the artist or production crew is limited. This varies depending on which country you’re in. There are some countries where the tour manager can manage without a local coordinator.

 

Q: Which concert tours have you managed recently? It must be hard to manage a lot of people working and living together for a long time in an unfamiliar place.
A: Looking back on the past year, the most recent was the Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) in Yokohama; and KCON took me through Mexico City, Tokyo, New York, and LA. I also helped with scheduling overseas broadcasts for the K-pop groups Wanna One and JBJ. If you count the members and dance crew, one group is around 25 members, so if I manage 20 groups in a single concert tour, that’s between 500 and 600 people, which bumps up to between 700 and 800 if you count event staff. Sometimes it’s as many as 1,000 people. It’s definitely not for the lighthearted. It takes a lot of energy and concentration at the same time.
Every company is different, but some companies will only assign one tour manager for 200 to 300 people. Companies usually hire locals for each group’s support staff. They’re usually knowledgeable about the local surroundings, as opposed to professional experience in broadcasting, entertainment, or tourism. They look for people who have the personal capacity to cater to the needs of the performers.
When working in an unfamiliar country, I still experience this vague sense of haziness and fear, especially when in countries I’ve never been to. For last year’s tour in Mexico City, for example, I told the client firsthand that I’d never been there. I even suggested that they work with another travel agency. But the staff there wanted to work with me. So I went with an investigative team to scope out the scene in Mexico City and found a local firm that we saw as the best fit. I basically worked with that firm to help them adapt to the event. As I hinted earlier, it’s a job that requires you to help the local coordinators best understand the personality and peculiarities of each artist. Once the event begins, you have to view the local coordinators as part of the production crew.

 

Q: What’s the most appealing thing about being a tour manager? What gives you the drive to continue in your profession?
A: This was back in December 31, 2003, one day before the new policy on Korea-Japan relations. It was my first official job, managing a Japanese group’s concert in Korea. While working on that project I thought, “I’ll never do this again.” [laughs] It was me and two female coworkers, and we had to organize the schedule for a four-person Japanese group and their staff. All of a sudden, one of the singers demanded to eat samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng). After a string of stumbles, I finally found a samgyetang restaurant past midnight on New Year’s Eve, but he stood up after just one bite.
To make matters worse, the two female coworkers, who’d gone out for some reason, started crying once they got back. When I asked them what was wrong, they told me they felt humiliated for having to run around on New Year’s trying to buy men’s underwear when neither of them were even married. I asked them to stay patient just this one time and that we’d all quit together when it was over.

But then something happened that drew me back to this industry in the fall of 2004. I got a call from Korea; it was the manager of veteran Korean singer-songwriter Shin Seung-hun. I was told that Shin Seung-hun wanted to see me personally, and asked whether I was willing to meet him in Seoul. So a little while later, I was in Korea meeting Shin Seung-hun. He made an offer for me to work with him on a tour in Japan. And I was a tour manager once again. Because it’s a job of working with people, I realized then that sometimes the people you’re working with are a good fit, and sometimes they’re not. Of course, that was because Shin Seung-hun, his manager, and band staff were all good people. That’s why I decided to name my company Good People.
The most appealing part of being a tour manager is there’s nothing better than working with good people. It’s a great job to see employees and part-time workers who’ve vowed to never do this again show up at the next event. When I tell them, “I thought you were never doing this again?” they usually say, “It’s actually a lot of fun.” One thing they all have in common is they like people. They come back not because they enjoy working with celebrities you see on TV, but because they like the people they work with.

 

Q: Working as a tour manager probably gives you a good sense of how K-pop and Korean culture has developed to become a worldwide phenomenon. Would you share your thoughts on the merits of the Korean Wave and how it’s changed along the way?
A: There’s a sense that K-pop fans regard Korean music on a high level. But I think it’s dangerous to assume that the target consumers for mainstream culture are only young people, specifically teenagers and people in their 20s. It’s common for Korean concert promoters to limit their target audience to people in their teens and 20s, but I think they need to expand their viewpoint. Japan also used to produce most of its cultural content for consumption by people in their teens and 20s, but now their TV industry is dried up.
Today’s teenagers and 20-somethings aren’t a TV-watching audience; they’re a mobile audience. So no matter how terrific your broadcast is, your ratings are going to drop if you narrow your focus to teenagers and 20-somethings. Rather, if broadcasters had realized that today’s TV-watching audience mostly comprises people in their 30s and 40s, they could have maintained their fanbase by adjusting their content accordingly and growing along with their audiences. From now on, if television wants to survive, each channel needs to decide what its target audience is and tailor their cultural content to fit that specific audience.


Q: Do you think the role of the tour manager is going to expand or contract, and how?
A: We’re currently on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As we progress further, I think people are increasingly going to value people-to-people connections over jobs that are done by or alongside machines. Up until now, travel agencies made the bulk of their profits through flight bookings, hotel reservations and transportation arrangements, but with the development of the Internet and information, they’ve had to change their business model entirely. In that respect, I think tour managers will continue to have a career so long as they can read shifts in the cultural industry.

 

Written by Kim Min-jeong, contributing editor
Photos courtesy of Good People Travel Co.,Ltd.

 

Source: Hallyu Story, Issue February 2018