Market & Promtoe Music In Japan

JapanIf you’re looking to expand into the Asian market, the essential starting place is Japan.  Oddly, it’s difficult to find condensed information on the market, essentially instructing exactly what needs to be achieved in order to generate success.  Problem solved.  Here’s what you need to know:

What’s So Great About Japan?

Up until April 3rd 2014, Japan was the 2nd largest music market in the world.  Despite the slip into the bronze ranking (behind the United States and Germany), Japan still remains a highly sought after territory.  Population numbers exceed 126 million, and they have become a fashion, music and entertainment hotbed, coupled with being the 3rd largest economy in the world – all roads lead to disposable income among their 20 to 30 year old market.   Strangely, Japan has remained a top contender in the music world by implemented old school behavior.  Physical sales completely overpower, both digital sales and streaming (which is still in its infancy).

Music Trends

Sure Japan slide from 2nd to 3rd, but they still make up 1/5 of the world’s recorded music sales.  Japan should drastically increase their presence given the upcoming push to elevate digital sales, ringtones, smart phone bundle packages and streaming services.  Additionally, if you haven’t noticed, Japan (J-Pop) is lock step with Korea (K-Pop) in terms of increasing their musical tourism via the creation of genres and mainstream acts.  Evidence of the fact, at MIDEM 2014 (the world’s largest international music conference), Japanese related registration increased by 40%, while the amount of concert showcases paralleled the trend.  Japan wants to make an impact – and it appears their coordinate effort with industry, culture and politics is paying dividends.

What You Need To Know

To tackle the Japanese market as a non-Japanese artist, it’s important to manage expectations.  Toss the standard litmus test for success out the window because Japan is an anomaly.  Unlike the U.S. entertainment market, Japan does not operate in fragmentation.  Only 25% of the entire population has cable, which essentially means basic cable rules.  Further, even key consuming demographics (15 – 25 year olds) admit to discovering music on their TV set as opposed to YouTube and social media.   Despite our highly tech savvy world, only 6% of Japanese music consumers discover bands via music videos – so most of the bands being discovered have been consumed via sync opportunities or TV based interviews featured on basic cable.  Control the TV market and you win!  Digital consumption isn’t much better, as the Japanese digital music market dropped 20% between 2012 and 2013.  So, people must discover new acts via streaming services?  No. At the time of writing, streaming still isn’t in the country.  This trend will likely change in a BIG way, seeing Spotify and Rdio have been issuing job postings throughout the region for 2014.

Simply put, music is discovered on TV.  In a recent Billboard article, Japanese sited the primary outlets to get discovered being (i) a song used in a Japanese TV car commercial, (ii) a song being used in a Japanese brewery commercial , and (iii) TV interview spots on Fuji TV.  Did I mention that 80% of the artist on the Japanese Billboard chart, are Japanese – foreigners are rarely (if ever) embraced in the mainstream market of music consumption.  These all appear to be pretty damning statistics for non-Japanese musicians, so what on earth is the upswing?  It’s simple – (1) streaming is about to explode, and (2) syncs remain attainable for outside artists.  Many Japanese Publishers and Licensing companies are starving for non-Japanese content, so finding a partner isn’t farfetched.  What’s beautiful about the Japanese market is the fact, traditionally; you can fragment your territorial rights with Publishers so that it’s only specific to one Asian region.   This is mostly unheard of within other regions.  Once you get “discovered” in Japan, you’ll likely have longevity, as many non-Japanese acts that have penetrated mainstream (or niche) success, continuously move product decades later.

What You Need To Avoid

Unless you’ve got a big time sponsor (which most don’t), touring should be out of the question.  Non-Japanese artists must navigate too much governmental red tape in order to perform in Japan, and the payoff will likely not be profitable.  Avoid attempting to get noticed via music videos – people don’t consume music in this format (see the exception(s) below).  Lastly, avoid territorial specific digital releases in Japan – nobody cares.

Final Tips

  • Assure you’re affiliated with a streaming services prior to any launch in Japan.  It’s about to explore in the region.
  • Focus on obtaining a Japanese Publisher or Licensing partner.  More so, attempt to negotiate territorial rights in just Japan.  You’ll want to ultimately fragment territorial partners China, Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, etc.
  • Don’t worry about finding a distributor and attempting to tour.  It’s not the primary focus.
  • Always attempt to align with Japanese artist or songwriters.  They’re starving to collaborate with outside artist, they’re highly talented, plus they can assist in generating  immediate cross-cultural objectives (Exception #1).
  • If you do want to focus on video projects, make the projects Japanese specific and potentially use a Japanese videographer or creative director.  So many cultural elements can be completely lost by trying to interpret what you think will be embraced by the Japanese market.  (Exception #2)
  • If all fails, focus everything you’ve got on aligning with a Japanese brewing company, both creatively for music releases, and from an advertising perspective.  They have a big impact on the Japanese music consuming market and you’re more likely to generate a creative partnership with a brewery as opposed to one of the Japanese automotive juggernauts.

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