Ronnie Icon is a multi-platinum certified songwriter who began his Kpop production journey by writing for top Kpop groups, including NCT and VICTON. Whether or not you’ve heard of Ronnie, you’ll certainly have heard his music, as he is the mastermind behind TWICE’s “Breakthrough”, which soared to the top of Japan Hot 100 in 2019 and was reframed into a Korean version later that year.
Congratulations on the release of “Dear Sputnik”! What was the inspiration behind the song?
Thank you so much! I’m super proud to have been able to contribute to TXT’s latest album. For “Dear Sputnik”, just as most of the other songs I write, I mostly let the track inspire my melodies. For this particular song, I discovered that I could play around with different key signatures in the pre-chorus. So, I opted to switch the mood by going for a melody that was a bit more ”out there” and mysterious, which also was surprisingly in line with the themes of chaotic youth.
You started writing music when you were young, which eventually led to an interest in producing pop music. What led you to produce for Kpop and how has that impacted the way in which you now produce/write music?
I remember writing music around that time when my mom owned a keyboard for practice, which sat in the living room, but I think I probably ended up using it more. That’s when I learned about the basics of chords, but I was also a big fan of this videogame for PlayStation called “Music” and later “Music 2000”, which was similar to something like “Magix Music Maker”. Pretty much a very dumbed down and accessible version of the DAW software I use today, but it taught me about track structure, loops etc. Besides all that, I was religiously watching “TMF” (aka The Music Factory on Dutch TV) to keep up with the latest pop music, and I had subscriptions to weekly pop music magazines and plastered my bedroom walls with posters of any and all artists.
Fast forward some 15 years and I’m in music college, trying to find a career path in music. A teacher of mine, who happened to also own a publishing company, showed me an example of a professional Kpop “lead” after I expressed a newfound fascination with the genre. This was around 2013. One thing led to the next and after college, I met people that had a shared passion for both songwriting and Kpop. Rajan Muse, Jan Baars and I spent about two years of our sweet beginnings of our Kpop careers together, learning and writing many songs, some of which have gone on to be performed by big artists.
It’s been a few years since you began to professionally produce for Kpop. How did it feel knowing your first few Kpop songs were going to be released by two top Kpop groups, TWICE and NCT 127?
NCT 127 was the first ‘cut’ that I found out was confirmed, ever. That was obviously an insane feeling! We’d been trying to perfect our craft for the better part of a year and suddenly we made the cut. After that, more cuts started getting confirmed and I was on some kind of high.
I remember “Breakthrough” was actually a song we recorded with my own vocals, to be pitched for a boy group first. It set on the shelf for a couple of months until we found out TWICE was looking for their next single. I figured this might be a good opportunity to revisit this song, so we transposed it, invited the amazing Nathalie Blue to come to sing the new demo and it felt like an instant smash. I remember telling the other guys that I was SURE this was going to make the cut – and it did! That experience, I think, probably skewed my expectations a bit, because I’ve exclaimed the same thing about certain songs after that, convinced they would make it! That didn’t always happen, and it made me realise after the fact how special that situation with Breakthrough was.
As a topliner, you write your lyrics in English before it’s translated. How do you ensure your intended meaning is portrayed when it’s translated in Korean?
You can’t always, really. I’ve learned that not every lyric in itself matters. What matters is how pleasing the thing is to the ears and whether it flows well. You have to find a good concept and a title that feels like a title. The rest of the emotions should be carried by the mood, track and melodies more so than the individual words. I realise this is different from writing demos intended for English releases. It doesn’t mean there’s no room to be clever with lyrics, because you do want to wow yourself still, and be proud of the end result. However, being more attached to the overall feeling of the song, sound and concept is also freeing and allows for a different approach.
What inspires you when you write music?
It starts with the track for me. Does the track put me in a particular place? Inspiration can come from anywhere, and it often strikes later in the process. Non-musicians often ask me, “What if you have no inspiration? How do you find inspiration every day?”. To me, these questions don’t make a lot of sense, because you wouldn’t ask a builder if they’d forget how to lay down the bricks. You always have your experience to lean on.
At this point, I must have written about 300 songs professionally, many more if you add whatever I wrote when I was younger and in college. After a while, you figure out what works and it’s within that mode that you try to bend the rules here and there to find a new and interesting angle. It also helps to refer to other songs every once in a while, if you get stuck, as a sort of a ‘palette cleanser’.
What is your favourite released or unreleased Kpop song that you’ve written, and why does it stand out to you?
There are so many! Many of my favourite songs are ones I wrote over the last couple of months, so I won’t know which one will see the light of day eventually. Some that always stand out to me are the ones that I also made the track for. There’s something especially satisfying when you’ve built the whole song from the ground up and you were able to uncompromisingly lay down your vision from start to end. But the vast majority of the songs I write are collaborations in one way or another, which enables you to make things you would never create if it were just you by yourself.
It’s often the case in the Kpop industry that songs aren’t chosen for albums, for whatever reason. Do you have an unreleased Kpop song that you wish had been picked?
That is very often the case indeed. Of course, you try to create something that will get picked, but there is plenty of competition from other amazing writers out there. Sometimes a song you write for one artist ends up somewhere else, you never know, and you have no control over this as a writer. The only thing you can do is try to write something that is of top quality every day, and let the puzzle pieces fall into place, wherever they may land.
What is the biggest piece of advice you’ve been given that’s helped you in your career?
I remember someone told me; don’t sign any of the first three contracts you’re offered! I think it’s very solid advice and helps avoid getting stuck in a contract you might have been eager to sign at the start of your career that you would never have touched later down the line. It’s not the most creative or inspiring advice, I realise, but very useful!
What are your goals for the remainder of 2021?
Nothing too specific – just write a lot of great songs and keep walking down the road that I have been on for the past year or so. The only thing I’m really planning is returning to Seoul, after over a year of being tied down in my home country, The Netherlands. Travelling and writing with other people in camps and sessions is something I’ve missed so much!
What can Kpop fans expect next from you? I’m sure that you’ve got plenty of music on the way!
Yes, there is more on the way! Of course, I can’t say for which artists, but definitely keep an eye out for the next couple of months!
Lastly, do you have a message for our readers?
Thanks for reading and thank you to UnitedKpop for always giving writers a platform. I know the artists that perform our music should be the centre of attention, but it’s nice to sometimes be able to show our side of the process, too!