About this time of year, the MBC College Musicians Festival, which is the best known musicians’ festival is held every year. It is no exaggeration to say that the fame of Han-chul Lee, who graduated from YU in 1991, began by winning the grand prize at the MBC College Musicians Festival. However, this College Musicians Festival will disappear into the mists of history after this year’s event. The news that this festival will become defunct is being met with frustration and confusion. We will take a look at this festival’s 36 years of history and try to understand how it lost its cultural footing.
The history of the MBC College Musicians Festival
The MBC College Musicians Festival started for the purpose of making a cheerful university climate and showcasing new songs created by university students on September 3rd, 1977. In the 1970s, the Park Chung Hee government was in power and the College Musicians Festival was seen by some to be a distraction for students who might otherwise become interested in anti-government demonstrations. However, students threw themselves heart and soul into the pro-democracy movement and also enjoyed the culture of the College Musicians Festival.
The Glory days
Until the mid-1980s, students who participated in the College Musicians Festival itself could become stars in their respective universities. Many singers like Sa-yeon Noh, Chul-su Bae, Hae-chul Shin, and Su-bong Shim became stars through the College Musicians Festival, and it was viewed as a gateway for new artists. Previous winners who have moved into various professions like doctors, executive members of banks, and ministers could confirm their love of university life and the memories they have.
By the 1990s, the College Musicians Festival was beginning to lose its influence and experienced a drop in its standard for many reasons including excessive commercialization. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the only group that has attracted attention at the College Musicians Festival was Ex who was awarded 1st prize with the song “My Service to You” in 2005. However, Sang-mi Lee who is Ex’s leader did not have an overwhelming response to her 1st album, so she changed her direction and became a reporter.
In 2006, “A Wave of Musegrain” was not awarded any prizes despite being tremendously popular with viewers. Therefore, criticism was raised about the judges' qualifications. In 2007 and 2009, B2 and Women who were from Ewha Women’s University caused trouble due to a plagiarism controversy regarding the grand prize song. In 2012, MBC introduced an audition format as a frantic last-ditch effort to save the festival and hosted it at Ilsan Dream Center. For the first time in 36 years the festival was not held on a university campus. However, its viewing figures were only 1% overall. Finally, MBC reported that they decided to end the MBC College Musicians Festival on July 2nd, 2013. Concerned people said that they thought about a change in format, but in the end they came to the decision that there were too many fundamental issues that needed to be dealt with.
Pop culture trends that the College Musicians Festival could not overcome
The current monopoly of talent that the large management groups have is difficult to deal with. In the late 1990s, idol groups like HOT, SES, Sechskies and Fin.KL opened the golden age of K-pop and it stood high in estimation that many huge entertainment management companies largely contributed to the development of the music market with stable capital and strong planning ability.
There was also a limit to producing stars. Promising newcomers generally debut through big entertainment management companies in their teens, so there are no more undiscovered stars among university students. Therefore, the College Musicians Festival remained a festival for amateurs who just enjoyed their music as a hobby and not as specialists. As a result, public interest withered away.
Lastly, there is the advent of audition programs. M-net’s “Superstar K” which is similar to FOX’s “American Idol,” MBC’s “The Great Birth” which focuses on benchmarking successful performers, “Superstar K” and SBS’s “K-POP STAR” are run and cast by entertainment management companies, and have been running well for several years. These programs reflect consumers’ tastes. Audition programs and the survival system they promote are what viewers want to see.
The College Musicians Festival has created many great memories, and it is painful for those who have supported it over the years to realize that it will end due to poor viewer ratings. There are many reasons for this situation, but the most important one is that the festival could not adapt to reflect changes in social mood and entertainment consumption trends. Finding and promoting unknown talent has become big business and the College Musicians Festival simply couldn’t keep up.