Minho couldn’t take his eyes off the video of the duet with Iseol on the cell phone.
“It came out well.”
It was a shaky handheld fan video, but Iseol’s appearance only shined. She made Minho himself look better, standing next to her absorbed in playing the harmonica.
‘Heh. I look like a real musician.’
Minho, briefly caught up in self-absorption, checked himself as he thought about how Manager Gong or President Sohee Im would react when they saw it. He could make up an excuse and say it was just a hobby, but there was a limit to how much they would believe that.
“The viewer count keeps going up.”
“What are you doing?”
Kyungmin Jung snatched the phone away as Minho touched the screen to refresh the video.
Minho leisurely admired the video and turned back to Kyungmin Jung. Then he carefully asked,
“So you’re a producer? Are you the guy that tried to produce ‘Sparkling Star’ this time and was rejected by Iseol?”
“Watch what you say!”
Minho was sure from his angry outburst.
Kyungmin Jung looked at Minho steadily. He been preparing a big band for Iseol since that morning, but then was soundly rejected. Since then, he’d been pacing back and forth all day and he couldn’t help but get angry as soon as he saw Minho.
“Please tell me clearly whether you will take your hands off her.”
“I don’t know why you’re asking me that.”
“Are you going to make some excuse after getting involved with ’Once Again’ and then with ‘Sparkling Star,’ which has been chosen as the album’s title song?”
Minho thought this seemed strange and asked,
“What I heard about the contract with HY Music was that the decision on working on the songs is entirely up to Iseol. Is it not? Didn’t the president promise to present Iseol the way she is as a singer songwriter?”
Kyungmin Jung’s lips quivered but he couldn’t say anything. Minho could guess the situation. Iseol had said the producing direction didn’t suit her and it was clear she hadn’t been able to work things out yet.
‘She probably gave him a vague rejection by saying maybe next time.’
Minho spoke in no uncertain terms.
“I think you’re misunderstanding. I didn’t get involved to screw you over. Iseol was the one who made the song so she can do what she wants with it. From what I see, maybe you should spend this time thinking about the direction Iseol wants to go rather than arguing with me.”
Experiencing Iseol’s music and the illusion at Once gave a vivid impression unlike any other music. That’s why Minho meant to help Iseol out any time she asked.
“Are you saying to quit scheming and win purely out of skill?”
Kyungmin’s fierce scowl relaxed and he let out a deep sigh.
“I understand. I’ll report exactly that to our president.”
“Handle it how you think best, since it’s your company’s business.”
“The policy when it comes to the distribution of profit is 20%, which is the average, will be given to the arranger and it will be fixed.”
“Sure, sure.” Minho nodded nonchalantly but then hesitated.
“What do you mean by distribution of profit?”
Kyungmin looked at Minho strangely this time.
“The single ‘Once Again’ will be released soon. Your name Minho Kang will be included as the arranger so of course we have to distribute the profit. Your company has already put in an official contract. Then we have to do the same with ‘Sparkling Star.’ Let us know ahead of time if you get involved in other songs. So it’s not a hassle for us.”
It was the first time Minho had heard this. Minho had told Iseol to take care of it herself the last time they talked on the phone, but did she give HY Music his name? She didn’t have to do that.
‘Ha! It’s a hassle because she’s so nice.’
Minho clicked his tongue thinking she would have definitely been swindled by companies if it weren’t for the Four Seasons Brothers. He would have to give her some firm direction after the performance.
Minho caught something Kyungmin Jung had said.
“Did you say that my company sent an official contract?”
Kyungmin stared at Minho, who seemed to have no concept of the music business, with an expression of complete bafflement.
“You must have arranged more than one or two songs. Why are you pretending to not know?”
It was because Minho really had arranged only one or two songs. So he waited for Kyungmin’s explanation without saying anything.
“When we released the single in your version, Ms. Iseol insisted the ratio be composer 50 and arranger 50 so we told her it was impossible. Our company generally divides songwriter 40, composer 40 and arranger 20 after taking out distribution costs. So for this song it would be 80 to 20 since Iseol wrote and composed the song.”
“So you’re saying I would receive 20% of Iseol’s profit after the soundtrack is sold?”
“About 18% after taxes.”
Kyungmin turned around as if he had finished talking. He was about to leave without saying goodbye but then turned around to say one thing.
“Don’t dream of putting your name up, since she’ll like my producing on the next song.”
Kyungmin glared at Minho as if to say ‘We’ll see,’ and disappeared. Minho gave him a brief wave and fell into new worries.
If a contract about the distribution of profit had gone back and forth between the companies, then President Sohee Im would definitely have heard about it. And it was certain that the view count was going to be as high as the video of him performing with Sanggun.
And what would surely come of it was the pressure to appear in a music program.
‘How do I get out of this?’
While Minho was contemplating, the stage truck opened and the first act started.
30 minutes after the beginning of the performance.
“Hello, My name is Iseol Yoon.”
Iseol went up on stage and as soon as she bowed a round of applause rang out. Among the crowd were the people who became fans after the surprise performance at the arcade. They shouted ‘Cheoltu goddess!’ loudly and cheered. Those that didn’t know much about her laughed.
Iseol finished setting up her guitar and looked at the audience. She seemed to be looking for someone, and it wasn’t these wild men crazily waving their hands in the air.
Iseol spotted one person standing with his arms crossed all the way on the other side of the crowd. Her face automatically broke into a smile. Minho pointed to the mic telling her to go on and sing.
“I apologize to those who were waiting for ‘Once Again,’ but today I’ve prepared a new song, ‘Sparkling Star.’”
“Anything is good!”
Someone called out from the group of men and the audience laughed. Iseol turned her head and gave the signal to the synthesizer and drums with her eyes.
Her fingers plucked the strings of the guitar. That sound by itself echoed the sweet melody that Minho had added with the harmonica. Even with just that, the audience was focused on the smooth motion of her fingertips.
Then the humming started.
The melody vibrated through the speakers and flowed into the audience’s ears. They were briefly caught up in the sense of ecstasy as if sparkling notes that couldn’t be seen were floating around in the air. Then Iseol began to sing the lyrics.
That voice tugged at something deep in their hearts and became like an instrument itself. The listeners held their breaths as they were drenched in the beauty that Iseol’s music gifted them.
Someone murmured as if enchanted by a spell. Others nearby agreed that any compliments other than this would just be useless words. They just nodded their heads and enjoyed the music.
The drum and synthesizer interlude went by in no time. The second verse that people wished wouldn’t end sadly passed as well.
In this moment the audience watching, and even people in the street passing by and wondering what event this was, couldn’t take their eyes off Iseol on the stage.
Iseol, completely absorbed in the song, poured her passion into the final chorus. As the last words rang out, the audience erupted in applause.
Their cheers were louder than for any of the previous artists.
Iseol caught her breath, stood up from her seat and bowed.
The senior HY Music artists flocked around Iseol as she came off the stage.
“Great job, Iseol!”
“You sure are a dark horse.”
In particular Hyoryung, who performed earlier, showed her admiration by putting both thumbs up.
“The song is awesome. You were having trouble with the arrangement but it’s totally great.”
“Heh heh, right?”
“Can I get some help from the arranger that helped you? I’ll pay handsome royalties.”
“Since it was Minho oppa I don’t think that’ll be possible. He’s very particular about things like that.”
“That’s too bad. Then you help me later at least. Producer Jung isn’t so sensible.”
Iseol just laughed as she saw Kyungmin Jung make a bitter expression behind Hyoryung.
Kyungmin walked over and stood next to Hyoryung. She flinched and quickly said goodbye as she left.
“This type of arrangement certainly does suit you. I’m furious but it seems better that Mr. Minho Kang take on the producing for your album.”
“Would the president allow it?”
“Once the president hears this song he’ll probably make a fuss about wanting to scout Mr. Minho.”
“That’ll be difficult. Minho oppa costs a lot.”
Iseol felt her cell phone vibrate while she was talking and took it out.
[Manager Gong is here so I have to go back to the company. I enjoyed your performance. You were splendid.]
Those words made her happier than any other cheer. Iseol beamed a smile and asked Kyungmin to excuse her and quickly stuck her head out the tent. But she couldn’t see Minho leaving because people recognized her and screamed as they waved their hands at her.
“Hmph. If it’s not on a day like this it’s hard to meet with him.”
There was another text message.
[And you. Didn’t I tell you I don’t need compensation for the arrangement? Then it looks like I helped you for money. I told you it’s because your music is good. I think I gotta definitely educate you soon. When do you have time?]
Iseol’s sad face broke into a smile.
Minho stood in front of the president’s office at the KG Entertainment company building and gave a dry cough.
Even the secretary hadn’t come into work since it was the weekend. What kind of permanent program must it be for Sohee Im to wait for Minho like this. Manager Gong was elated all the way here but Minho felt a hundred times overburdened.
Minho carefully opened the door and walked in. He flinched when he saw the video on the monitor on the wall. It was the video of his and Iseol’s duet at the arcade that was uploaded just today.
“Welcome, Mr. Minho.”
Sohee was sitting on the sofa, dressed in business attire as always. She turned towards him.
“I heard from my sister. She said you drove off with another car, not the one I gifted you with?”
“There was one I liked. Is that okay?”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s your reward for the T brand contract that you won yourself. I would’ve sent you somewhere else if I’d known you were interested in classic cars.”
“No, it’s fine.”
‘I wouldn’t have met my Bumpety Boo if I went somewhere else.’
As soon as Minho sat down Sohee pointed to the onscreen duet as if she’d been waiting for it.
“An interesting contract came in from HY Music.”
“If it’s about that, then it’s because I was helping out a dongsaeng* I know….”
Sohee cut him off before he could make a proper excuse.
“You can’t individually participate in outside events that haven’t been planned by the company. You have an exclusive contract with KG. And this contract with HY can be a violation against that contract. Luckily HY knew this and contacted the company and not you individually.”
Sohee paused the video and spoke.
“I’ll apologize first.”
Minho’s eyes grew wide as Sohee unexpectedly bowed her head.
“I underestimated your hidden talent. I didn’t expect you to have both the sensibility to produce a song to its full charm and the professional skill to play instruments. I heard you participated in arranging not only Iseol’s song but Sanggun’s song. Is that true?”
Sanggun’s song with Chulhwan’s headphones. Iseol’s songs at Once. He couldn’t call it a sense for arranging since he‘d gotten involved with both people by simply enjoying the music.
Minho made a sour face. Sohee didn’t stop asking difficult questions.
“The reaction to the interview on the celebrity program that aired yesterday was great as well. I heard the bulletin board was bombarded with comments from viewers asking for you to reappear on Youth Journal. Producer Na said he wants you to be a special guest star for the autumn harvest special. What you think about that?”
Minho quickly considered how to decline and make up an excuse. Then Sohee softly laughed and spoke.
“It’s rare for a person to achieve more than expected in a job they’re given. But you, Mr. Minho, do it every time. It’s fascinating.”
Sohee’s piercing gaze could make a person feel a sense of responsibility. It was much like Manager Gong’s constant “I believe in you!” expression.
It was certain that endless entrepreneurial calculations were running through Sohee’s head, just as Minho had experienced a few times. Now it was only to be hoped that there wouldn’t be any disadvantage caused by overestimating those calculations.
“There was something you asked me when we renewed our contract. Can you be like the people in the pictures hanging in the company hallway.”
Minho recalled Sohee at that time saying that he was worth investing in.
“Can you ask me that question again?”
“…Do you think I can be like the people who are hanging in the hallway of this company?”
Sohee stared right at Minho and shook her head back and forth.
Minho pricked up his ears at this unexpected answer.
“I can confidently say that you can become more popular than any other star that KG Entertainment has produced. Just keep doing as much as you’re doing now.”
Minho felt proud but overwhelmed at Sohee’s trusting words. He nodded.
“I’ll try my best.”
Then he poured out the excuses that he had worried over.
“Sense for arranging is an excessive compliment. It just suited the musical tendencies of Iseol and Sanggun hyung. So I wish you wouldn’t schedule work pertaining to music, just as I said before. Since it’s only a hobby.”
“Of course. I plan to just suggest and won’t insist on any appearance.”
“I’ll decline Youth Journal. I can get a flash of popularity through another highly recognized variety show. I don’t think I need to waste energy on the same image.”
“What you say is correct. I’ll give Producer Na a kind refusal.”
After Minho finished his speech he breathed a sigh of relief to himself. He felt like a load had been lightened, but then he remembered why he had come to the president’s office.
“Oh yeah. What was the permanent program?”
Sohee’s face filled with expectation at Minho’s question.
“It’s a reality program that’s planned seasonally by NTV. It’s also a show specialized around your profession as a gamer.”
Minho wasn’t quite following and was about to ask when Sohee picked up the remote and changed the channel. It was a list of potential cast members for the new program.
“Lawyer, brilliant student, anchor, singer, actor, gambler…. Impressive, isn’t it? These are the people who were appraised to have a genius skill level in their expertise. Only a select 10 are chosen from them. They will come together in a reality show and one person will be disqualified every week through a game. Until we have the final winner.”
“The production team is strictly keeping that secret. I expect they’ll have a wide range. Something you need to either use your head, or engage in a psychological battle, or quickly calculate things. Games that can be solved by everyday citizens but are more interesting if geniuses solve them. Aren’t these the virtues you need as a professional gamer?”
Sohee turned to the next page on the screen.
“We obtained the title of the program even though it’s a secret to outsiders.”
Minho turned his gaze to the screen and the title [The Smart Game] popped up along with gold-embellished dice.
“They say the award given to the final winner is over 1 billion won. It’s the largest scale show in the country.”
Ten formidable competitors coming together to play a whole different kind of game. Minho’s interest was roused and he asked,
“If you say it’s only the selected people, do you mean there’s a chance I won’t be chosen?”
“Don’t worry. You were number one to be casted since you won the quiz show from the same broadcast station.”
“So if I survive, then I’ll be a permanent cast member for 10 weeks.”
Sohee’s eyes sparkled and she asked,
“How about it? Are you confident?”
Minho shrugged his shoulders as he replied.
“Ask me again in ten weeks.”
Of course she wouldn’t ask if he got disqualified before that.
Dongsaeng – a Korean word describing a family or friendship relationship. It is used to refer to one’s younger sibling or a close friend that is younger than oneself.