While often overlooked, OSTs are so important to the piece: the same exact scene can cause viewers to feel drastically different emotions based on the background music. The opposite is also true—listening to the tracks later on will bring back memories of the piece and the emotions felt at the time. In particular, the K-drama OST market has grown over the years, becoming a competitive market with the most notable chart-topping favorite being ballad singer Baek Ji Young. Amidst the top stars and idol singers, however, is a new group of OST favorites that has steadily been on the rise: indie artists.

OST Collection

One of the first dramas that brought indie artist OST fame is 2005’s My Lovely Samsoon. As the drama was a ratings hit (reaching nearly 50% viewer ratings), My Lovely Samsoon also brought fame to Clazziquai, who sang “She Is” and “Be My Love” for its soundtrack. Although Clazziquai had already been recognized within the indie scene, My Lovely Samsoon shot them to greater mainstream popularity, and they received several awards for their OST as well as their own music that year. Even now, after 6 full-length albums and various EP, OST, single, and solo releases, the trademark Clazziquai song for the public remains to be “She Is.”

Since then, there has been and continues to be significant indie artist involvement in K-drama OSTs. A notable player in the game is indie artist Tearliner, who also works as a music director (also called music supervisor) for Korean dramas and movies. While Tearliner has worked on various dramas and films, his most notable work was on 2007’s hit drama Coffee Prince (a.k.a. The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince). Coffee Prince’s OST featured an array of indie artists, including but not limited to Low-end Project, Humming Urban Stereo, Casker, and Tearliner himself.

A personal favorite of Tearliner’s OST work, however, is on currently running drama Heart to Heart. While the drama itself as well as the soundtrack isn’t as much of a mainstream hit as those previously mentioned, the soundtrack is phenomenal. With soft, emotional tracks that fit the drama’s tone perfectly, Tearliner shows once again the magic that can happen when k-drama meets k-indie. Regardless of whether one has watched Heart to Heart or not, the OST album is of supreme quality.

So what, exactly, has brought this increase of indie artist participation in the OST market? One obvious answer is money. With the OST market getting increasingly competitive, it’s much more cost-effective and hassle-free to hire indie artists than to hire top stars and idol singers. The situation is also a win-win for indie artists, as OSTs are an easier way to get their name known. However, despite the benefit of low costs, many producers still seek top stars because of their star power and the competitiveness of the OST market.

What other incentives are there, then, for producers to look for indie artists? While somewhat ironic, certain producers may seek indie artists for exactly that reason: the lack of star power. Indie artists, to the general public, are like a clean slate: not much is known about them, so their participation in a project does not change or create any sort of image/bias that may tag along with top stars.

Further, the cases of indie artist success in the OST market give many producers and music directors a greater trust in the public’s taste – the trust that viewers and listeners will listen to the music and watch the drama for their quality, and not simply because of top stars. This is not to say that mainstream artists are always inferior to indie artists, but that the increased trust in the public lessens the pressure that producers feel to have to use top stars for their OSTs. If producers have a trust in the public, it shouldn’t matter who sings the soundtrack, as long as it gives the right emotions and fits the drama’s tone. Indie artists, who can create soft, emotional music at a lower price, therefore are a great fit.

In addition, to the drama OSTs mentioned above, there are numerous more great OSTs by K-indie artists. Some notable dramas that have OSTs made up of mostly K-indie artists are Que Sera Sera, Discovery of Romance, Soulmate, Plus Nine Boys and the I Need Romance drama series. I Need Romance 2 in particular involves a lot of music, as the drama’s female lead plays a movie music director. I Need Romance 2 and Soulmate both have OSTs sung by Swedish singer Lasse Lindh in addition to Korean indie artists.

As someone who loves both Korean indie and Korean dramas, I love when the two come together to create something amazing. While the increase of indie artists in the OST market also brings concerns about “selling out” to the mainstream, I believe the situation right now brings more hope than fears of selling out. The fact that the public’s tastes are evolving and producers feel less pressure to look towards mainstream artists but rather to look at the quality of music is a great change.

Though the synergy between K-drama and K-indie doesn’t always work out—there are disappointing times when a great track is used in a sub-par drama, or when a great drama could’ve been even greater if it had used better music – when the right drama meets the right music, the result is truly unlike any other.