So, as many of you know, I frequent a number of K-Pop forums and a commonly occurring theme (especially for those new to K-Pop) is “How do I get K-Pop?”.
Now we all know there are ways to get hold of music, even if you can’t buy it, but many K-Pop fans actually want to support the artists – especially when this may make the difference between an artist visiting your country or not! The aim of this post is to cover the main areas people mean when they say ‘Where do you get your K-Pop from?’ and hopefully provide some useful answers.
I obviously don’t use all of these methods myself, so cannot 100% guarantee the quality of all the sources, but I have done my best to trawl through the research so as to be as informative as possible. If you have any other locations to recommend (such as physical stores in your country or websites) then please fill out the form at the bottom of the post. We will update this post with as many of the suggestions as we can!
Streaming does not require you to download tracks to view. Some streaming services are free and supported by ads, others charge a recurring fee to cover costs. Streaming has come under a lot of fire for how little artists are paid via a number of these platforms, however they remain an increasingly popular choice – especially for those who consume large amounts of music. The main downside to streaming services is that they require an internet connection for you to listen to music: No connection = no music.
Probably the one fans already know as, for many of the people asking this question, this was where they first encountered K-Pop. Unlike J-Pop, K-pop has a pretty big presence on YouTube, with all the major labels having channels, as well as most of the minor ones too. As well as the labels, the big distributors like 1theK (Loent) and CJ E&M have channels too and the vast majority of K-Pop music videos are uploaded to YouTube with many of the videos also having English Subs.
Obviously YouTube is not just a music streaming service, so music videos can be buried amongst other clips. In addition, album tracks are rarely available through official channels, meaning money isn’t going back to the makers of the music if you do find album tracks to watch/listen to. Naming conventions vary from video to video and it is worth having a quick learn of Hangul (it doesn’t take long) if you are looking for anything a bit more obscure than big 3 artists on YouTube. YouTube is currently ad-supported, but has begun the roll-out of its ad-free subscription-based service that may be an option for users in future.
Pros: Free to use (with ads), English language, large volume of music available, smaller artists represented, videos available, some subtitling, easy to make and share playlists, ad-free, paid version available.
Cons: Not all subtitled, may not financially support artists, ads can be excessive in the free version, album tracks not usually ‘officially’ present, have to find music amongst other content.
Melon is a Korean-based music site which includes not just K-Pop, but all sorts of music. They also have their own music player. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, you need to be Korean (or have a Korean address) to access it. If you are keen on using Melon, there is a guide to enable you to do so (unofficially), however we cannot vouch for the suitability of the method other than to say that at the time of publish, this method did work. Melon is both a digital music store and streaming site.
To use it as a pure download store, you need a Korean phone number or social security number. If you don’t have either of these, you can still use the site as a streaming service and can download tracks using the guide we linked. You can purchase a variety of subscriptions from within the iTunes app’s in-app purchases and these entitle you to unlimited streaming of songs and music videos for the month, as well as a fixed amount of DRM-free downloads for the month. If you do not use these downloads, they expire at the end of your month. Any tracks you download during this time are yours to keep forever, even if you cease subscribing.
At the time of writing, the largest package you can purchase in-app is 100 tracks/month. Not all tracks on Melon are included in the package, however all K-Pop tracks I have ever encountered have been. 19+ rated tracks cannot be downloaded without a Korean phone number/social security number.
The streaming element of the service is pretty simple to use, however I find that even with my enviable internet connection it lags too much for me to use as a streaming service (understandable as they aren’t expecting to cater for anyone outside Korea).
Pros: Cheap, allows for purchasing tracks, very large selection of K-Pop available, reasonable amount of J-Pop available, videos available, financially supports artists.
Cons: Interface in Korean, requires work around to get, not really useful for western music, streaming may be poor, depending on your connection and location.
Spotify has begun to house an increasing amount of content. Being an already familiar platform to many in the west, this is an attractive streaming option. Spotify is a music streaming service that is legal and pays the artists involved, however it has faced some controversy over how much it pays the artists. The service offers a free ad-supported service that suffers from some restrictions and a paid subscription model. Spotify itself hosts a lot of music, making it great for high-volume music listeners with a broad listening taste, as they are less likely to be able to take advantage of niche subscription services.
Whilst K-Pop is on the rise on Spotify, with new tracks added weekly, it is still very much limited to major artists and new tracks can be slow to appear.
Pros: Easy to use, English language, cheap, can access western music too.
Cons: Limited selection, no videos.
Daily Motion is much like YouTube in that it allows you to stream music videos. Daily Motion is free and supported by ads and only offers video streaming. Most of the K-Pop related material you find here has not been uploaded by the copyright holder and so the artist isn’t going to see a penny from you watching it here. Due to the lack of automatic copyright features, you will however see lots of live performances and reaction videos that cannot be hosted on YouTube.
Pros: Free, easy to use, English language, may have material not available elsewhere to western viewers, videos.
Cons: Artist may not see revenue, content is patchy.
8tracks is a radio streaming service, similar to early years LastFM. If you live outside the US and Canada (where it has royalty arrangements) you can only listen to music via YouTube playback, meaning some music is not available to you (although this doesn’t seem to greatly affect K-Pop). The interface is clean and pleasant, but obviously searching for things can be slightly cluttered due to the nature of the site.
As it is licensing itself as a radio, if you are based in the US or Canada you will limited to 6 skips per session. At the moment, this does not seem to apply outside of those locations although the message implying it does still pops up. This option is probably good for people who want music selected for them as background.
Pros: Free, easy to use, English language, clean interface, large selection.
Cons: When running off of YouTube, cannot be sure the money is going to the right person, limited skips.
Soundcloud is a music sharing service that has become popular amongst some K-Pop fans in the west. Most K-Pop on Soundcloud is not uploaded by the rights holders and is subject to removal, however some artists use Soundcloud to share their personal side projects.
There is actually a pretty good selection available and in many cases whole albums are available. Unfortunately, most of these uploads are not legal and you are definitely not financially supporting the artist by streaming here.
Pros: Free, easy to use, allows playlist building, English language.
Cons: Uploads often not legal, artist receives no money, quality of audio varies.
Not forgetting of course, the HallyuNoona.com simulcasts. With a variety of channels available to suit your tastes that are updated weekly to include the newest tracks, there is something for everyone here. The playlists are in the form of simulcasts, which means everyone viewing them sees the same videos. This means you chat in our chat (or your own) with your friends and discuss the tracks you watch.
Pros: Free, simulcast, supports this site, genre options, streams from Youtube (using official videos where possible to support artists), includes video, English language.
Cons: Can’t skip tracks, can’t select tracks.
Purchasing music digitally is usually cheaper than physical purchases and, unlike the streaming options, is more flexible and allows you to listen offline!
iTunes is a familiar service to many in the west and has a reasonable number of K-Pop tracks available to purchase. iTunes and me do not have the best track record and I do not personally use it myself, although many people do and I can see the advantages to your music all being able to be sourced in one place.
Not all K-Pop is available on iTunes and even where it is, there can often be a long wait before it arrives.
Pros: Familiar service, English language, financially supports artists.
Cons: Not all music available.
This one is mostly for the UK readers. HMV may not be the first place you think of K-Pop (although they did experiment with it in the Oxford street store), however their digital service does contain a noticeable amount of K-Pop. This means that by setting up an account, you can purchase digital tracks and albums as and when you want them.
The site has a clean, attractive layout and is easy to use. Unfortunately the K-Pop selection is somewhat limited to major artists, so if you are a Nugu stan you may be disappointed.
Pros: Easy to use, English language, reputable site, other music also available, financially supports artists.
Cons: Currently limited to major artists, cost.
Retail giants Amazon actually have a surprisingly good selection of K-Pop on their digital music store, which might make it an easy option for western music fans, particularly if they use Amazon for other services. Like HMV, it is more expensive than going through a Melon package, however if you only purchase K-Pop sporadically then it allows you to purchase by the track which, as we mentioned, is an issue if you are using the workaround to get Melon. There is also the consideration that you are paying for the convenience.
Pros: English language, artists paid, large selection.
Cons: Cumbersome interface, cost.
Physical purchase (Online)
I have actually never made an online physical purchase, so for now I will just link to the options I see people most commonly using. I will try and use all of these ASAP to review them. In the meantime, if you can provide a review for any of these, please use the contact form to let me know below! Physical CDs can run quite costly, but usually come with photobooks, photocards and other accoutrements to make them more appealing.
Some key things to take into account when purchasing online are: Reputation of the site, postage costs, possible customs/tax costs to yourself, postage speed.
Physical purchase (In-store)
Hmart in London (particularly the larger, New Malden branch) stocks a reasonable selection of K-Pop CDs, although not all new releases make it in and it can take a couple of weeks for things to come in. The CDs are actually pretty competitively priced with online stores, especially considering you won’t have to wait for the CD. They also sell very cheap posters. Certainly wouldn’t say to go out of your way just to buy CDs, but if you live nearby or visit for other things then it is worth a scout!
Some of you want to hear discussion, or have content curated for you and this is where radio and podcasts come in!
Mixcloud is a podcast/radio streaming service and is chock full of K-Pop podcasts and recorded radio broadcasts. You can find all the notable shows uploaded here, as well as some amazing amateur mixes. Great if you want to whack on some background sound and be on your way.
Tunein is a pretty famous online radio platform and, as such, has attracted a fair few K-Pop shows to it. Search for ‘K-Pop’ and you can be well on your way to listening to curated content with the added advantage of an app allowing you to listen on the go!
SeoulFM is a K-Pop station that broadcasts from Korea 24/7. Unfortunately, at this time their stream seems to be down, but they promise to be back soon!