International acts go big in Japan
While Japan’s dominant domestic acts are enduring a slow return to touring, Hayashi International Promotions (HIP) CEO, Kaori Hayashi, says the recovery for international tours “has been spectacular,” providing big opportunities for artists and their representatives to target the island nation.
Speaking to Music Business Worldwide (MBW), Los Angeles-based Hayashi acknowledges that the country’s live music scene remains principally a homegrown market, but that her company is gradually helping to transform the habits of the ticket-buying public.
“In Japan, there are two categories of fans – international fans and domestic (Japanese music) fans,” she says, explaining that HIP has been instrumental in changing that status quo. “Ozzfest Japan [in 2013 and 2015] was really a breakthrough festival for all rock genres.
“Ozzfest became the first rock festival to integrate both categories of fans together under one roof by providing a line-up of prominent Japanese bands and western rock bands playing on two separate stages side-by-side alternating.”
“Japanese acts account for nearly 90% of all tickets sold for live music events in Japan”
Providing her insight on Japan’s post-pandemic comeback, Hayashi tells MBW, “The recovery for domestic artists has been [slow], but we expect next year to see a full return to 2019 levels.” She says that while Japanese bands and artists take up the vast majority of dates in events calendars, shows involving international acts have enjoyed a much stronger comeback than homegrown talent.
No surprise then that Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino recently talked about his company’s desire to gain a bigger foothold in Japan, which he described as the world’s second largest market for live entertainment.
“Japanese acts account for nearly 90% of all tickets sold for live music events in Japan,” reports Hayashi, while noting ways in which international stars can grow their fanbase in her native country.
“The biggest opportunity for an international artist is to fully cross over to the fans of domestic music,” Hayashi advises, citing Bruno Mars as the perfect example, after HIP promoted five stadium shows at the Tokyo Dome for him last year, selling more than 200,000 tickets despite there being only four weeks between the announcement and show days. “He cleverly [integrated] Japanese music on stage, [and spoke] some Japanese to be one with the fans. I thought that really hit Japanese people’s hearts and they appreciate him for it. He makes the effort.”
Among the other acts HIP has brought to Japan in recent years are Maroon 5, U2, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd among many others, while in addition to the Ozzfest gatherings, Hayashi has also partnered with Slipknot for the band’s Knotfest in 2014, 2016 and earlier this year.
“For some global tours, the Asian dates are tagged on at the end whereas the importance of the region warrants a greater focus in mapping out tour itineraries”
Despite the opportunities that exist for HIP to expand its business with international acts – where she says the company only really competes with Live Nation for tours – Hayashi also underlines a need for more investment in Japan’s infrastructure.
“One of the biggest challenges is in securing venues for international artists,” she states. “Japan has a vibrant local music industry where shows can be booked up to two years in advance. With international acts we often have a six-month period or less to secure a venue.
“Our biggest venue, the Tokyo Dome, is the home of the Tokyo Giants baseball team which limits the dates available for shows. The situation is improving with more venues becoming available such as the K Arena opening later this year with a 20,000 capacity.”
Nevertheless, since 1998 Sony Music division, Zepp, has been opening a network of purpose-built venues throughout the country and now boasts no fewer than nine Zepp-branded clubs with capacities ranging from 1,500-3,000, that are heavily used by visiting international acts, with further Zepp venues in Taipei and Kuala Lumpur.
Hayashi says, “With venues, we are now seeing the encouragement of private ownership with recent tenders soliciting bids from local and international property developers. However, many of the well-known venues in Japan are still owned or partly owned by local governments.”
“You may need to scale down your expectations for Japan in the beginning, instead of an arena show as elsewhere you may need to play in a theatre or even a club”
With a growing interest among local music fans to discover international talent, Hayashi’s desire for Japan and Asia to be elevated in priority on the global tour circuit seems reasonable, although entering the market with reasonable expectations would be prudent.
“For some global tours, the Asian dates are tagged on at the end whereas the importance of the region warrants a greater focus in mapping out tour itineraries,” she states.
“One major challenge is to realise that your popularity overseas does not automatically transfer to Japan. Therefore, you may need to scale down your expectations for Japan in the beginning, instead of an arena show as elsewhere you may need to play in a theatre or even a club.”
Hayashi concludes, “You are competing in a market dominated by Japanese artists. You need to accept requests to appear in local TV shows and other media with a positive and easy-going attitude which is a challenge if, as can happen, you have no idea of what is going on around you.”
IQ Magazine will be running a market report on Japan in its August 2023 edition.
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