The “indie middle class” is emerging in South Korea’s music industry. This group refers to those who make over two million won per month from the sales of digital sound sources. Some of them earn over three million won and up to 10 million won, including royalty. They are the “alpha generation” of the sound source market, which was hard to find in the previous music scene.
Such rise of the indie middle class is attributed to changes in how people enjoy music. In the last two to three years, people are increasingly listening to what’s beyond songs on top charts. More and more people are listening to two or three-hour YouTube playlists like a radio. Playlists with titles such as “soothing music for a café” or “emotional indie music” became popular along with a more transparent profit calculation system. A few songs introduced to a YouTube channel with tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers can bring a steady income.
The low production cost of indie music is an advantage. While a famous K-pop singer’s album production costs hundreds of millions of won, an indie song would normally cost less than two million won, which makes the latter easier to reach the break-even point. The indie middle class is also not hung up on appearing on TV or radio. They promote new songs through their personal Instagram accounts and occasionally appear on YouTube videos, rather than having a designated management company. Such DIY-type musicians can bring in most of the profits after about 15 percent of retail fees for themselves.
The indie middle class is likely to further grow in the future. Not only YouTube but also traditional music platforms with millions of subscribers are strengthening their playlist functions. Global streaming service provider Spotify, which is leading the music market with its personalized recommendations and playlists, also recently entered the South Korean market.