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Japan’s leading int’l promoters form alliance

Ten leading Japanese concert promoters have officially announced the formation of the International Promoters Alliance Japan.

Led by Creativeman Productions head Naoki Shimizu, the alliance is hoping to establish unified guidelines for the safe resumption of events involving international artists.

The alliance – which includes Live Nation Japan, Udo Artists, Smash Corporation, Hayashi International Promotions and Kyodo Tokyo – will work closely with the Japanese government, as well as international embassies and consulates, to further the cause.

The International Promoters Alliance Japan is completed by Avex Entertainment, Hanshin Contents Link/Billboard Japan, M&I Company and Promax. The alliance will complement the work of existing music association ACPC, with which it shares members.

In a statement, the group says: “The history of music in Japan was changed forever in 1966 when the Beatles performed at the Nippon Budokan. Since then, musicians from around the world have come to Japan to perform, and the opportunity for fans to experience high quality international live entertainment has led to the growth of a rich and diversified Japanese music culture.

“The fact that Japan has been able to create a larger market for music than any other Asian country is a credit to the more than 60 years of work by member companies of the International Promoters Alliance Japan, who have also contributed to the overseas expansion of Japanese artists and content.”

“That Japan has been able to create a larger market for music than any other Asian country is a credit to IPAJ members”

It continues: “From club and theatre shows through to stadium tours, major festivals, and live restaurants, the breadth of the market is unique in the region, and hosting performances by international artists contributes to international economic exchange, the development of the Japanese music culture and economy, and the growth of employment.”

The International Promoters Alliance Japan was unofficially formed in December last year and in March 2021 the alliance succeeded in getting the Japanese government to amend its compensation scheme to include domestic shows by foreign artists.

The group’s next goal is to ease the business visa restrictions for foreign artists to enter Japan with no quarantines.

Once overseas artists have resumed their visits to Japan, the promoters will work together to “foster continued international cultural exchange in this most important of live entertainment markets”.

Read IQ’s Japan country report, which outlined the opportunities in the Japanese market pre-pandemic, here.

Land of the rise in fun: Why booming Japan is such a tough market to crack

 

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Love Supreme Jazz Festival Japan to debut in May

The UK’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival, the largest greenfield jazz, funk and soul festival in Europe, will hold its debut Japanese edition this May.

Launched in partnership with Vivendi stablemate Universal Music Japan (Love Supreme is co-promoted by Vivendi-owned U-Live), Love Supreme Jazz Festival Japan will take place in the 375-hectare Chichibu Muse Park, just outside Tokyo, on 15 and 16 May 2021. As a result of ongoing coronavirus restrictions, the debut festival will feature only Japanese artists, although an international line-up is planned for 2022, according to Love Supreme founder Ciro Romano.

“There’s an incredible jazz scene in Japan and it’s long been a plan of ours to launch a sister festival in Tokyo,” explains Romano, who launched Love Supreme (20,000-cap.) through his company Neapolitan Live in 2013. “The majority of the artists we book for the UK festival have huge fanbases across Japan, and so it made perfect sense to look at replicating the Love Supreme ethos over there.

“This year will focus on the rich pool of incredible Japanese artists, but the plan moving forward is definitely to draw on the full spectrum of international jazz, soul and R&B talent.”

“There’s an incredible jazz scene in Japan and it’s long been a plan of ours to launch a sister festival in Tokyo”

Love Supreme Japan was originally scheduled for May 2020 but, like its UK sister festival, was called off amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Love Supreme UK is scheduled for 2 to 4 July 2021.

In a statement, Universal Music Japan says it is committed to keeping all festivalgoers safe and urges all ticketholders to keep an eye on updates from the festival as it approaches. Among the “maximum infection countermeasures” already announced are a seated-only format, which the festival says is necessary to protect fans, staff and performers.

“What used to be normal may no longer be normal, and it may cause more trouble for everyone,” reads the statement from the festival. “However, the excitement that can only be experienced live should […] still be shared with everyone at the festival. Please feel such a loving musical experience at Love Supreme Jazz Festival Japan 2021, held for the first time in Japan.”

Tickets for Love Supreme Japan, headlined by Dreams Come True and Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, start at ¥11,000 (€85) for a single-day pass.

 


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Japan to remove capacity limits on events in August

The live music business in Japan, which has felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic since February, could be up and running without capacity restrictions from 1 August, although social distancing requirements will remain in place.

Japan ended its state of emergency at the end of May, laying out plans for the country’s gradual reopening, including those for “mass gatherings”.

According to an estimate by entertainment service provider Pia, by the time of lifting the state of emergency, around 150,000 concerts had been cancelled in Japan, with a loss of 330 billion yen (€2.7 bn).



Concerts are now allowed to take place with up to 100 attendees at indoor venues and up to 200 if held outdoors.

From 19 June, the capacity limit will be increased to 1,000, further expanding to 5,000 from 10 July.

The live music business in Japan, which has felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic since February, could be up and running without capacity restrictions from 1 August

If the virus has been kept under control by the start of August, the government may remove capacity limitations, effectively allowing shows of any size to take place.

However, in order to comply with social distancing rules, indoor venues should still operate at no more than 50% of usual capacity. Organisers of outdoor events are advised to ensure a distance of two metres is maintained between attendees and staff “if possible”.

In Tokyo, the government is asking smaller live music venues to remain closed until it has completed stage three of its reopening plan. Currently in phase two of reopening, the city is allowing events of up to 100 people take place in larger venues.

In March, dance music promoter Mindgames urged bars and nightclubs to shut their doors to prevent the spread of the virus as venues, particularly those in Tokyo, were identified as high-risk spaces.

 


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Land of the rise in fun: Why booming Japan is such a tough market to crack

Big in Japan’ was a term, in the 80s and 90s, for modestly successful American and European acts that found slightly unlikely mega-stardom in the Land of the Rising Sun.

It wasn’t an insult, exactly – who wouldn’t want to be big in Japan? – but it was often used sneeringly, whether directed at Mr Big, the early-90s rock supergroup who still hop up into the big leagues every time they touch down at Narita International Airport, or Scatman John, whose 1994 record Scatman’s World is, remarkably, Japan’s 17th biggest-selling international album of all time.

But the days when Japan might have been seen as an easily impressed bonus market for Western acts are long gone. Over the past 20 years or so, the balance has shifted dramatically, as Japanese domestic music output – as well as that of nearby frenemy South Korea – has surged in both quantity and quality. Today, international music takes, at most, a 10% share of the live market, with domestic on a commanding 85% and South Korea’s K-pop juggernaut accounting for about 5%.

Today, the Japanese music market is the second biggest in the world, behind the US and ahead of Germany. Its live sector has set new records in both of the past two years, hitting ¥332 billion in 2017 (around €2.7bn) and then rising again to ¥345bn (€2.8bn) in 2018 – a 3.7% uplift that came in spite of a small decline in the number of shows – according to the All-Japan Concert and Live Entertainment Promoters Conference (ACPC).

“The Japanese market in live entertainment has been on the upward trend since the middle of 2010,” says ACPC director Takao Kito. “That’s not only because of the increase in live shows caused by a drop-off in CD sales, but because of a change in users’ minds from consuming products to experiences.”

Clearly, Japan remains a highly appealing market for international promoters and artists, and the big ones are certainly chipping away at it. Live Nation has a Japanese office and, with local partners, has co-promoted plenty of recent arena shows. AEG, meanwhile, worked in partnership with Japanese giant Avex on its recent Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion concerts. But both global promoters know they face a stiff challenge to get much deeper into the Japanese business.

Korean stars record Japanese versions of their songs. In a country where little English is spoken, and even less Korean, such things make a difference

“It is a very mature, competitive market that Live Nation has had a hard time getting traction in,” concedes Live Nation Japan president John Boyle, who has headed the giant’s Japanese push since early 2018. He says Live Nation has big hopes for Japan but fully appreciates the challenge of bringing them to fruition. “I think it is more challenging than anywhere else in the world,” he says.

The fact is, for all its surging fortunes, Japan has numerous characteristics that fly in the face of Western music business orthodoxies and, in many cases, restrict access from outside. CDs remain dominant, claiming 80% of music sales, but though the physical market has certainly declined, streaming has not yet caught on, removing a vitally important channel for artists seeking to find exposure in a new market.

Record companies remain powerful but heavily domestically focused, with local majors – of which there are many, including titans such as Avex, Universal, Sony Music Entertainment Japan and JVC Kenwood – unlikely to take a punt on an unknown foreign act, however successful they may be elsewhere. Tour support, once commonplace, has fallen out of fashion.

Meanwhile, large venues, remarkably scarce in the immense sprawl of Tokyo, book up years in advance, with weekends often block-booked by domestic promoters working in groups. For international operators attempting to route world tours and finding only assorted weekday evenings available, locking down an appropriate venue at the right time becomes profoundly difficult.

Where smaller international bands are concerned, the situation is not much easier. There are no booking agents in Japan, and mixed festival bills are limited and hard to crack. While promoters are heavily engaged in scouting new talent, few are tempted by foreign artists with little following. So new indie artists looking to build an audience typically need to deal direct with Japan’s rai-bu houses – small, private venues that usually don’t pay – and organise their own promotion.

But of course, that 10% doesn’t come from nowhere. Sheeran, needless to say, does good business, selling out the Tokyo Dome and Osaka’s Kyocera Dome in April, supported – as he was across all of Asia – by Japanese rock heroes One OK Rock. Live Nation, too, has its own pipeline: recent arena shows include Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Maroon Five, with U2, Queen and Adam Lambert and the Backstreet Boys coming soon.

“The market for international artists – not counting K-pop – is now around a third of what it was 45 years ago”

Paul McCartney, who spent a memorable nine nights in a Tokyo jail in 1980, once again has the run of the place: he has played 19 shows and a dozen VIP soundchecks in Japan since 2013 – at the Tokyo Dome, the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall and the Nippon Budokan in the capital, plus trips out to arenas in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.

What is very clear though, is that, Western rock and pop sensations aside, Japan’s growth is very much coming from within. “I have been in this business for nearly 45 years,” says Yoshito Yamazaki of long-serving music, sport and musical theatre promoter Kyodo Tokyo, which promotes Korean sensations BTS in Japan, “and I’d say the market for international artists – not counting K-pop – is now around one third of what it was 45 years ago.”

Japan’s own J-pop is a broad and varied thing, nominally encompassing everything from singer-songwriters such as Kenshi Yonezu and Gen Hoshino, to multiplatinum pop-rockers Mr Children, to J-pop/metal fusion Babymetal, although its most prominent category is idol groups – manufactured pop bands assembled by all-powerful, notoriously controlling management agencies. Many of Japan’s major pop stars are made this way, including boy bands Arashi, KAT-TUN, Exile, Suchmos and others, and girl bands such as AKB48, Morning Musume, Momoiro Clover Z, Keyakizaka46 and Nogizaka46, who inspire obsessive cults and make most of their income through live work and, more to the point, relentless merchandising.

Homegrown rock is booming in Japan, too, led by Babymetal but also One OK Rock, Band-Maid, Scandal and Man With a Mission. And, of course, the nation has long supplied intriguing cult artists to the rest of the world, from the Yellow Magic Orchestra and its lynchpins Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto to Shonen Knife, Cornelius, the Boredoms and Boris.

K-pop, meanwhile, has made a big impression in Japan, even as diplomatic relations between the two countries have soured in recent years. But unlike Western artists, Korean stars such as BTS, Blackpink and Twice record Japanese versions of their songs. In a country where little English is spoken – and even less Korean – such things make a difference.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 84, or subscribe to the magazine here

 


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