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News October 19, 2020

Australian songwriter Tushar Apte talks BTS, Blackpink and how K-pop came calling

Senior Journalist, B2B
Australian songwriter Tushar Apte talks BTS, Blackpink and how K-pop came calling

With a few moments of desktop research, you could build a strong case for K-pop as the hottest genre on the planet right now.

And BTS, with their four U.S. No. 1 albums arriving in breezy succession, the most popular group.

The top girl-group? Take a bow Blackpink, the record-smashing foursome who are the first all-female group to lead Billboard’s Artist 100 chart, which measures artist action across key metrics of music consumption.

Tushar Apte is across all of it.

The Los Angeles-based Australian record producer and songwriter has his fingerprints on some of the biggest pop records of the past decade, from Demi Lovato’s ‘Sober’ and Starley’s ‘Signs’ to songs recorded by Zayn Malik, Steve Aoki, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Adam Levine and many more.

As K-pop has caught fire, Apte has been at the coalface, working alongside some of the genre’s top acts.

TIO caught up with the APRA Ambassador for a wide-angle look at his work and how the doors opened-up to the pop galaxies of BTS and Blackpink.

Watch BTS perform ‘HOME’:

What does your typical day look like? 

There’s no real consistency in terms of the day schedules, and that’s just the way I like it to be honest.

Maybe the only constant thing I have right now is, I always wake up and do deep breathing exercises to find my focus and calm at the top of the day — along with obvious health benefits — followed by a cup of coffee.

The rest of the day is fair game.

I always try to keep a bit of slack in my day in case I need to drop everything for the right opportunity or a cool hang. So many of my favorite songs have just come from friends, managers, artists and label A&Rs calling me in for sessions an hour before they want to start.

That is certainly one of the advantages of living in L.A., which for now is still the global epicenter of the songwriter and producer world.

I think of my schedule more in blocks of weeks – I tend to do about two to three new writing sessions each week, and take the other days to dig into production, learn new things, do business and life admin stuff, and make time for the necessary evil of the ‘general hustle,’ which includes phone calls and meetings.

I mostly love that stuff actually.

Most days I’m working out of my own studio or my home setup but for bigger artist sessions sometimes we’ll be at any number of the fancier studios around town. There are certain waves of months where if I’m in a really creative flow. I’ll work seven days — four-to-five new sessions a week — ’till I burn out. But trying to get better at finding a balance nowadays.

I’m friends with a few of the established Aussies here in L.A. who are really in the game. It’s nice because we have a pretty small but supportive group.

We’re normally so busy in our own worlds that we don’t hang out often, but I think in our own way we’re constantly inspired and motivated to be better by one another.

How did the move to L.A. come about? 

I moved to L.A. almost 10 years ago now, and at that time it still wasn’t very common for Aussie writers to fully commit to the move. It was a lot of people coming here for a few months and then going back to the comfort zone of Aus.

I never thought of it as a risky undertaking at the time, but a lot of things were converging in my life at that moment where I just knew I had to leave Australia to really give a career in music a proper shot.

I had never really worked in the music industry in any real capacity in Australia before moving so it was totally starting from the ground.

To be honest when I moved I didn’t even consider the songwriting path in particular – I just had a general goal to make creating music my main thing. Up ’till that point I’d only ever really dabbled in music, taking small gigs at bars and other things in Sydney that would come to me passively through friends, while working a full time job and finishing my uni degree.

The one thing that definitely made the move easier was that my cousin had already been living here for a couple of years. In hindsight, that was so key to easing me into the inevitable ‘struggle years’ in L.A. because even though I stayed on my cousins couch for a year — and change — I never felt alone or isolated. 

I had friends here pretty much as soon as I landed.

Tushar apte black and white

Tushar Apte

You’ve found a niche in K-pop. You’ve worked with the biggest pop band on the planet and the biggest all-girl band on the planet. How did K-pop come calling?

Getting involved in the K-pop universe has been one of the most unexpectedly rewarding experiences of my career.

While most of my year is spent working with U.S. acts, I’ve been working in the Asian pop world for almost six years now on and off, and have had some wins, including ‘Roleplay’ by Luhan from EXO and ‘Take It Out’ by MYTEEN, both big records  in China and Indonesia and elsewhere.

Stream LuHan’s ‘Roleplay’:

Then in late 2018, I got an email from BigHit to help work on ideas for BTS – I had no idea how big they were.

I wrote a bunch of ideas on some music they’d sent me, some of which ended up on ‘Home’ (currently at 110 million streams) and it was a game-changer not just in terms of how I’ve been received in the K-pop world, but also how I perceived it.

Even though it’s based in Seoul, it’s fair to say we’ve reached a point where it’s really a global phenomenon. And I think the publishing cheques speak for themselves on that (laughs).

A lot of my success in that world is also just luck and great timing. I was fortunate to work with BTS just before they truly exploded in the U.S. so it was easier to get a shot, and by then I’d spent a few years really getting to understand the K-pop style and sound.

So a lot of that converged and I think ended up being applied on the Blackpink record.

Tushar Apte

Blackpink’s album is hot right now and you had a big part in it. Most casual fans have no idea of the Aussie connection between yourself and Rosè.

Yes! Shoutout to Rosè. She sounds amazing on this record. And my friend Leah Haywood, an amazing Aussie writer who’s also a part of the Blackpink album (‘Lovesick Girls’).

Our song ‘Love To Hate Me’, which I’m told is a fan favorite on the album, wasn’t actually written to any particular brief.

The day we wrote the initial demo we just wanted to write an empowering and fun girl group record, but something with a little edge and a bit tongue-in-cheek.

Groups that are as astronomically successful as Blackpink also have to deal with the inevitable hate, so I think they really connected with the vibe of the record instantly.

Stream Blackpink’s ‘Love To Hate Me’:

What projects do you have on the boil?

I’m so grateful to be on the recorded side of the music industry particularly during this difficult year, and so fortunate to have had a pretty good run through the year so far.

Definitely a lot of projects going on here in the U.S. and also internationally – some of it with big artists, but actually a lot of my favorite music I’ve been working on has been with developing acts and new artists.

All will be revealed soon, I hope. 

I’m absolutely planning to be back in Australia as soon as the travel restrictions ease.

One of the hardest things during this year is not being able to plan travel to see family back home. Fingers crossed we get to visit soon.

I always make sure I get a little bit of work in whenever I’m back in Aus also, and I’m definitely tying to stay active and engaged with the writer and artist community there as well.

Tushar Apte

What advice do you have for other Aussie and Kiwi songwriters keen to make the move abroad?

I think so much of a successful move, particularly to any of the world’s music ‘hubs,’ is in the mental attitude you take towards the move.

Think of it as if you’re never going to move back.

A lot of these places like L.A. and London are such saturated and competitive places to do music in, that the only way is to fully commit to the journey and inevitable challenges you’ll face settling in these places.

Not just in an industry sense but also getting a handle on the energy of the city itself.

Beyond that I think what helps when you do move at least initially, is to just really take each day as it comes and work on the craft.

Try and surround yourself constantly with people who are better than you and embrace situations that make you uncomfortable or nervous.

That normally means you’re trying to challenge yourself, which is forever the goal no matter how many hits you have.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.

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