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Meet Pdogg, the musical dynamo helping shape BTS’s greatest hits

Pdogg (aka Kang Hyo-won), chief producer at Big Hit Entertainment, details how he acts as a personal music coach for all seven BTS members.

Meet Pdogg, the musical dynamo helping shape BTS’s greatest hits
[Photo: Shin Sun Hye/Big Hit Entertainment]
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As a producer, I think the most important thing is to highlight the strengths of each artist. We need to make sure that each voice strikes a balance in the context of the entire song. “Dynamite” was originally composed of vocals, so we had to find a way to make sure that all seven of our members in BTS could be reflected in a natural way.

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I try to make it a comfortable environment where I provide motivation for further exploration. If there are ideas from the artist that I feel need to be built up a bit more, then I try to explain it to them and provide some sort of guidance. All of this is based on absolute trust between the artist and the producers. Whether it’s BTS or [fellow Big Hit group] Tomorrow x Together or even our trainees, we communicate a lot with the artist before their debut, when they’re still training. This builds trust over time and motivates them from a very early period of their career.

BTS, when they were trainees, after their day was over and they were done with the work, they would still come into the studio and write songs. I thought it was because they were still starting out, but even [now] when they go on world tours, in their hotels or on the plane, they continue to work on their songs. They would send me an email or message [to] ask me for ideas, or send tracks in. And these are songs that eventually ended up on albums or on mixtapes.

For “Black Swan,” from Map of the Soul: 7, we wanted to reflect the emotions of what the artists felt at that time. I came up with the beat, and the members, the songwriters, and the other in-house producers worked from this beat and created the melody. We pieced these things together as they went on. The characteristic of BTS is that their own stories are contained in the music. So we talked to the artists, they wrote the lyrics, and there was this continuous process of exchange between the songwriters, the producers, and the artists as they continued to give their input.

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With BTS’s song “Fire,” the track was basically finished, we had about 90% of the songwriting done. But we still didn’t have the “불타오르네”—translated as “it’s on fire”—that little [spoken-word] line that’s the highlight of the song. We were discussing this together with Hitman Bang, myself, the artists, just brainstorming. And out of nowhere, Suga said those words, “불타오르네,” and we felt like, this is what’s going to really tie the song together and complete it smoothly. When we have these brainstorming sessions, we usually just have a really cheap mic that we use for recording guidelines. We used it to record Suga’s line so that we could use it as a reference later, but then later on when we were in the studio and we had our expensive equipment, we still couldn’t get that loose and edgy feel that Suga had. So we ended up using what we had recorded earlier during our brainstorming session—that’s what ended up on the album.

Sometimes after we finish the recording, the mixing and mastering process is easy and simple, but a lot of times it goes through a continuous process of revision. When we mix a song, we may go through seven or eight revisions, and we do the post-work until we’re satisfied with the outcome. One of the big strengths of Big Hit is, it’s [founder and co-CEO Bang Si-hyuk‘s] philosophy that the most important thing is high-quality content. We all share this philosophy.

[With BTS’s recent album BE, which came out Nov. 20], a lot more of the drive came from the artists, whereas with some other albums it was the producer who led it or drove the process. They were more eagerly and actively putting in their opinions, though BTS has also participated actively [in past albums]. The idea for BE is really to send out a message of consolation to people who were affected by COVID-19. The artists thought that was really important, to express their sincere feelings and tell their authentic stories, to put in more of their messages, their emotions.

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It’s unbelievable when [a song you work on takes on a bigger meaning for fans]. But, and maybe this is because I don’t do a lot of activities outside the studio, usually I’m going to be focused on the next project. I don’t have a tendency to bask in the results.

Time he gets up

Late afternoon.

First thing he does

“I’ll check news, the issues for the day, and then I’ll get right into work.”

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Philosophy

“This is what I tell a lot of the junior producers who ask for advice: For music you really need to love it and be crazy about what you’re doing.”

How he handles email

“When I’m awake and get messages from artists, I reply to them immediately. Our primary communication with artists is going to be about the music-making process, so they’ll ask me about an idea or ask me to listen to something.”

What’s in his work space that keeps him motivated

“I really like vintage synthesizers. When I’m just playing around with them, that gives me inspiration and energy.”

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Best habit

“Not stopping until I’m completely satisfied.”

Worst habit

“When I’m focused on a particular project, I sometimes forget what the priorities are and what other work needs to be addressed. I spend a lot of time on one thing that I’m immersed in. I try to use schedulers and memo functions on my phone to try to overcome that.”

One thing he’s done this year to try to improve himself

“This year, I wanted to learn DJing. That didn’t quite work out with the COVID-19 situation. But one thing that came out of this is I built a good home studio so that when I have an idea I can immediately put that into a song.”

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Last thing he does

“I go over what I did that day, and I’ll monitor some of the work. Then I’ll relax and listen to a little bit of music.”

Time he goes to bed

Between 7 and 9 a.m.