This is an open-letter to music and concert promoters in Japan. I'm writing this for me, but you can be sure that there's lots of industry insiders who feel the same way I do (if they don't, they were brought up under rocks and households that didn't teach them any manners either, so forget 'em.)
Promoters of Japan, I want to discuss a BS issue. I think it is BS how you handle "Guests" to your shows. I used to go to concerts all the time. But I stopped in 2005 or so. It doesn't seem that any promoters have the sense to think about why (or they don't care... But that's fine too!)
This post will be hard to understand for most people. But try, OK? This isn't completely and uniquely about the music business in Japan and concerts, per se, it's mostly about manners and common sense.
I have been in the music industry since 1978. A so-called "professional" for over 30 years. I have always produced and created alternative and underground music shows. When new artists come out and need a break, I always play them first in Japan. It's what I do. It's been this way since the mid-80's.
When artists needed a break and needed airplay, I gave it to them. Sometimes, rarely, these artists struggle and "make it." Most just fade away.
When these artists come to Japan, I usually always get invited. I always get put on the "Guest List." I haven't paid to go to see a "Rock" concert in over 30 years. The last time I remember paying to see a concert was a Jazz performance.
I don't play Jazz music generally on my shows, so it is understandable that Jazz promoters would not treat me special. I don't "help" them or their artists.
But rock or punk or alternative artists? That's different. In my most possibly confused thinking, I do help them and can help them a lot.
Just off the top of my head, artists I played first in Japan (and pushed heavily waaaaay before they became famous) were White Stripes, Amy Winehouse, Guns & Roses, Rancid, NOFX, Bawdies, Su Ko D Koi.... And a lot of others I can't recall at the moment. Maybe radio airplay doesn't mean what it used to. I get that. But it is still an awesome rush and bragging rights when one of the 5 FM stations in all of Tokyo plays your tunes for the first time.
But I digress....
Back to guest lists... It used to be that "Guest List" meant that you were a guest. Like in the word, "Guest" like G-U-E-S-T. That meant I could get into the concerts for free. I'd walk up to the door, say my name, and they'd let me in. I didn't have to pay any money.
About ten years ago, the venues and cheap-assed producers changed the rules. Now, when they ask me to come to a show, and tell me that I'm on the "Guest List" it costs me money.
Contradiction? Yeah. And that's why it's BS. And that's why I rarely go to concerts anymore. Let me explain more.
Even though your name is put on the Guest List, in Japan, in the last 10 years or so, the claim is that the venue still charges for one drink. That one drink is usually ¥500 (about $6.00 USD). If you don't pay this ¥500 at the door, they won't let you in.
Get that? You are on the guest list, which means you are a guest but you don't get in free, but if you don't pay the fricking ¥500, upfront at the door, you can't get in. I don't get it. How could having to pay ¥500 be free? That's like having a barbecue and inviting friends over and hitting them up for money when they come to your house!
So much for being on the "Guest List." (Oh, there are still a few promoters and bands who are thinking and they don't make people who are helping them pay for drinks at the door - You know who you are! Thanks.)
It didn't used to be that way in Japan. I'll bet the foreign artists don't know this or they've been told, "It's the way things are done in Japan." Well, maybe it is, nowadays. But it didn't used to be that way.
The first time I was "welcomed" to a concert this way was about 9 years ago at Ebisu Liquid Room. I walked up to the venue and said I was on the Guest List. They checked and I was. I walked in. Soon the door attendants stopped me and said that I had to pay ¥500
I said, "I'm on the Guest List!" They said that it didn't matter. I still had to pay ¥500 for one drink. I insisted that I wouldn't. I had never heard of such a thing. They insisted that I had to or I wouldn't be allowed entry.
What!? Here's an artist whose music I played heavily for a few years and these clowns invite me as a guest, yet they want me to pay to enter!? No.
I turned around and walked out.
The ridiculous part is that I like to drink and usually spend at least $30 ~ $50 on drinks at a show anyway.... But it was the principle of the thing: I was a guest but was being asked to pay money. Can't accept that.
¥500 (about $6 USD) is a paltry sum for sure. But this isn't about the money. It's about the principle. ¥500? ¥5000? ¥50,000 it doesn't matter; it's the principle of the thing that matters. And that principle means means that "Guests" don't pay (unless, of course, you are running a hotel).
I didn't ask for any tickets to any shows. If I wanted them, I'd buy them. The promoters asked me to come, "as a guest" to a show. They asked me. I didn't ask them! Then they want me to pay money at the door? With the BS excuse that "it's the venue's rules"? No thanks.
Think about that for a moment.
How about if the shoe were on the other foot? Say, your artist comes to the radio station and is a guest on my show. Can I charge you all ¥500 to get in at the door? No? Why not?
Oh, but I know that "your artist" is important to you - much more than I am of course and that's natural... As they make money for you... (OK. So let's even the tables: I don't play them anymore. You don't make money from their airplay or from my help selling their albums or their concert tickets anymore, agreed?)
Or I start charging ¥500 at the door of the radio station to let you and your artist in... But! Aha! You can't trick me! You'll try to secretly pay for them at the door in order not to have the artist insulted (of course, who wouldn't be insulted?) But I will make that against the rules. Your artist will have to pay in person, from their own pocket, or they won't be allowed in. That's fair.
So, this set-up, using the typical promoter's rationale and lack of common sense, seems a good deal. No? Why not?
You sure are hard to please!
How about this option, then: If I have to pay ¥500 to get in to your show that you asked me to attend, then let's make it fair? How about I don't go to any shows at all and I don't play your label's music anymore... That's fair. (And, actually, probably better for music in general and for everyone else.) Then, if I want to go see your artist, you sell me a ticket. If I want a drink, I'll buy one.
For my radio show that you guys always ask for support, on air plugs for your artist's shows, and for allowing your artist to be a guest on air (trust that there's lots of artists and labels who ask to be guests and we politely say, "No!") I can't charge you a measly ¥500 each to get in? Why not?
It's only ¥500 yen. No big deal, right?
At least, in the case of my radio show, I generally don't ask your artist to be a guest on my show (it's a music show. Not an interview show. I don't really want any artists on it at all actually). If and when I do ask you a favor to have your artist be a guest on my show, you can bet that your artist will treated as a guest and not be charged anything for entry... In fact, I always buy guests drinks. Any guest to my show will attest to that!
My mother was a good woman and taught me manners and a little bit of common sense.
Treating guests as if they were special?! My, what a quaint and out-dated, old-fashioned notion!
It seems doing favors for labels and promoters in Japan and being a "Guest" isn't a two-way street.
So that's why I rarely go to concerts anymore. I do go to concerts run by promoters who either have some manners and common sense, or they've read this blog post! Chuckle!
NOTE: This is not an attack on any artists. I like the music of all artists I play. This is a complete attack on promoters.... On top of pissing me off about this pay at the door BS, they give me pressure to show up at the shows or give me grief after the show when I don't show up.
PS: AND ANOTHER THING! I also think it's total bullshit that the fans - the ticket-buyers, who buy tickets for entry - should have to be charged again when they arrive at the venue. People already pay exorbitant sums to go to concerts in Japan; sometimes paying $80 ~$150 (USD) or more for a show to see ONE artist and then the get hit for a ¥500 ~ ¥1000 drink charge at the door? Nonsense!
No wonder the music business in Japan is doing so poorly. It's run by people who don't know how to treat other people (as in people with money who they need to make a living) properly. If they thought about it for half-a-second they'd realize that people don't like being treated like this. THAT'S one big reason why concert ticket sales are down!
UPDATE: Working at radio and promoting music (especially alternative music) is a low-paying crappy job (in spite of how cool people think it is)... So getting treated with the cheap-assed trick at a venue door is just like being kicked. My wife was just making fun of me about this article and saying that I might be perceived as acting like a bratty kid... If so, I don't intend that and I'm sorry for being, well, for being a bratty kid.
2ND UPDATE: Bands! Managers! Artists! The only way to screw this up even worse is sending out a blanket invitation to everyone on Facebook! Gee... Makes all your "friends" feel important and wanted! NOT!
NOTE: Hey! I hope you guys don't think I'm being a conceited douchebag.... This morning an artist "invited" me to a show and told me they'd arrange a "Discount Ticket" at the door.... That's a first.