Friday, October 29, 2010

So, You Want to Work in Japan's Music Industry?

If you really want to be a famous musician or work in the music industry, and you need advice, great! You've come to the right place. I've worked in the music business since 1978. So I have a pretty good idea as to what's going on.

Might as well start of at the beginning with having your dreams crushed like a grape, right? 

Let me tell you aspiring musician that there is absolutely no way. You have zero chance of making it without a hugely one-in-a-trillion lucky break. You have a better chance of winning the lottery. But, on the other hand, this article might be your lucky break!... Then again, you'd probably do well to get a job at a convenience store.

Trust that, by the time you finish reading this article you'll realize that, if you want to work in the music business in Japan, you really might as well get a job at a convenience store. It's really that simple.

But, if you really believe you can "make it," then good for you... Read on...

Yesterday, I had lunch with Aki Morishita the vice president of Fuji Pacific Music Publishing, the biggest music publisher in the world. Aki also has a very high ranking position at EMI Music Publishing too.

Both Aki and I were joined by a young friend who is a musician and song-writer named Andre Dimuzio. Andre, like many other young musicians, is looking for a break into the music industry.

I think he was very surprised by what both Aki and I had to say.

I think many people know that the old way of the music business is dead; record labels are collapsing all around us and the traditional methods of distributing music have also been turned on their heads. 

I've also written before about what these changes mean for TV and radio in Japan  here, here, and here.

CD retail is dying, and along with it the labels and TV and radio are dying a slow death too... 

Both Aki and I joked about how no one can sell any physical product anymore (CDs, etc.) excepting vinyl for club DJ's, but it looks like I could be wrong about that too as Panasonic has announced that they will discontinue production and sales of Technics turn tables.

Fans of analog music were dealt another blow when consumer electronics company Panasonic announced earlier this month that it would be discontinuing the audio products within its Technics brand, most notably the legendary line of analog turntables. On October 20, the company said that it was winding down production of the Technics SL-1200MK6 analog turntable, the SH-EX1200 analog audio mixer and the RP-DH1200 and RP-DJ1200 stereo headphones due to challenges in the marketplace. "Panasonic decided to end production mainly due to a decline in demand for these analog products and also the growing difficulty of procuring key analog components necessary to sustain production," the company said in statement. 

Here, all this time, I had thought that DJ specialty record shops in Tokyo, like Manhattan Records, were doing a good business selling vinyl records. Maybe not.

Like I said, the music business is falling apart in Japan and the old order has definitely shot itself in the foot. Aki said that there are rumors that Tower Records Shibuya won't last to summer 2011. I wrote about that before too. And, after the bankruptcy of a radio station in Nagoya, there are the rumblings of another great upheaval in two big FM stations in Kyushu. 

I thought it was interesting that, during the conversation, I mentioned that the only hope for radio stations in Japan was automation - something they do not want to do as people will lose their jobs... But this morning's news also adds another surprise to the mix.

I had pointed out to my friends that Lawson's Convenience store runs their own in-store radio station. It is called, "Lawson's Hot Station" and while it is total and complete pablum, it does the job that Lawson's needs - and it is a fully automated "radio station."

Lawson's = Smart.

Now, Lawson's takes it one step further as they have taken over HMV records in Japan!

Lawson Inc. intends to use its takeover of HMV Japan KK to attract young consumers, the biggest users of convenience stores, by tapping the major music and movie retailer's online sales expertise and roughly 4.7 million members. HMV Japan -- which rings up half its annual sales of some 30 billion yen online -- sends out e-mail showcasing new products to customers based on their purchasing histories. The convenience store operator's attention was drawn to the passion of HMV Japan customers toward certain genres of music and movies.

Now, young musician with stars in your eyes, here's a test. Let's see if you can put two and two together... 

Question: If you want a job in the music industry in Japan, you should try to get a job at:

a) a record shop
b) a record label
c) a radio station
d) a convenience store

The correct answer is d.


Ira Hata said...

All great points, Mike!

I'm not sure if you were aware of this but Manhattan Records made a HUGE fortune over the years screwing local DJs and buyers by selling them promotional vinyl records from the labels. They did this by aggregating a lot of copies of promotional vinyl records from various sources (for free naturally). Besides the cost of shipping (from the US), they had no other cost of goods. Did the artist get paid a royalty from the sales of promotional records (that were free and intended to be given to DJs who would play them on air)? Hell no!

I used to manage a hip hop radio show who's DJ had a record pool that actively went out to the various labels in the US and paid for their vinyl record copies. The members of the record pool paid a monthly fee to receive the latest records and everyone made out including the artists.

My personal opinion is that, if an artist really wants to succeed, he/she should make the break for him/herself. Just post a really good track (just one) online for free on your own website and, if it's really good, watch the market snap it up. Then, offer your album online and collect your royalties directly. Remember Afroman's "Because I Got High"? That's exactly how he did it.

Naturally, you can't eat while creating great music and waiting for people to download free tracks so working at a convenience store still makes a whole lot of sense. Unfortunately, an artist still has to make a living...


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike
some obvious good points about the industry.
that said. tokyo and japan in general is unique, very unique.

as a musician, producer for 35 years one can make a good living here, or, shall is ay, used to until recent say...past 10 years the MTV factor has struck the brain dead non thinking listen with eyes only japanese clones. if its jazz, its just be a black man, if its rnb must be a brother. i get calls daily for TV, asking white or black if they do not know me. some non white folk could not work at a combini back "home"... i mean des moines would be rough let alone LA,NY.
I see DAILY so many pretenders here and suckering in cash from the fools that book them.

i have NO issue with color or race.. i do find an abundance of fakers currently in tokyo, living in the past, can hear the year they left stateside and not grown past that.

Many of my closest friends are non white...

One more up on this, even a great vocalist that is a friend that lived in tokyo after spending many years with luther vandross and voice coached many, left this town because of the behavior of her bros and sisters. you know what i mean?

i can tell you what is going on here;
Avex is close to death.
the B`z could not get a local club gig in North America..
i have NEVER heard a groove drop on this island ever from the locals...! never
it wil not ever happen i can see in near future

and the "production" companies here and filled with brain dead talentless all eyes ( see MTV theory) and NO ears...

BTW - what was the last movement in BLACK music that the japanese believe to be the truth?
1975 is at latest when it ended?

i suggest to GET OUT of japan and back to reality as hard as it is stateside, at least one can be real... venues are what keep the musicians and singers here - money as a result of feer of back home where they A) would likely not compete (90% could not get a gig man!) B) keep baffling them with the sounds of _____.

there is LOT of money here still in music -- there is , for me, too much crap lies and bull **** to deal with this, so as many are doing packing up, going back to NY-LA-London-Sydney-Toronto and creating... and it will drop!
Cannot DROP here. only drops here when THEY pay for ____ to tour.

the price?
Lies... fake... generation(s) of mystical fear based for I am not a brother /sister. Cannot have "soul" brothers...hey, lets hire them to dance it up for a party, wedding, tv commercial, hail up the taxi gang then the japanese really think now and only now, we have the real- deal! 40 million people in kanto... why do i never ever hear someone drop a serious pocket? strings here = great = classical.
non classical with exception of DJ`s ( if considered musicians) could NOT compete with any town north america...

More Avex...... more J slop.... more jazzy ( bought names to play with the locals ) sony lies, another reggae band, afrika sounds here!?
no, its fraudulent.


Best regards
tokyo is a great city -- she has a zero gravity towards musical truth.

the bread here IS ok, the music sucks!

Anonymous said...


if one wants to "make it" whatever that means. do it abroad, then tour japan. its very different touring japan ( have done) and being a domestic
come to japan only when you have a name, a paper trail in said business to throw down.

besides, they do not want US here, do they?


Anonymous said...

ok -- it was a lot longer than one more above :)
also a few typos...

best to you- great blog , thank you.

mikeintokyorogers said...

Thanks to Anonymous for the brutal truth. I can't say that anything he/she's written is wrong. Especially about the foreigner fakes and the sorry state of the music scene.

Anonymous said...

Fakes in Tokyo? Did someone say Jett Edwards? Thought so....

Anonymous said...

Jett Edwards.... no not said above. not need to be said...
Your thoughts on spot-on....!

Anonymous said...


do agree the indie scene in tokyo /japan is healthy and wonderfilled to dee these creative souls not try to be "american" "uk" "berlin" it`s about time, time is king... do agree with you if in fact that is the general point of what you did not agree with me above.

point well taken...

indie tokyo is filled with uber cool.

industry ( avex - j slop - the 13 kiddy bands is as dark s it gets.
is there a musical Anti-CHRIST? I keep seeing it on NHK!
i am sure this could , maybe just may be IT!

Great reply you have made above...

Thank you for a great blog.

StoneOcean said...

I know i can make it in Japan. I don't do vocal music. I produce a new style of instrumental music. Music that can make you happy, creative or give you inspiration. I'm now trying to get some contact in Japan. I'm from Sweden.
Check out my music on YouTube

If you can give be any tip on record labels i can contact i would be happy :)