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Two foreign-led conferences try to shake up music industry

16 Comments
By Dan Grunebaum

The Japanese music industry has long looked on in envy at freewheeling festivals like America’s South by Southwest. Such events are essential meeting places for bands hoping to score contracts and for record companies scouting new talent, and they possess unmatched international cachet.

In Japan, with its highly centralized media industry, attempts at music conferences have failed to take hold, unable to find a meaningful role. But with the country’s music scene becoming increasingly internationalized, two new foreign-led events are hoping not only to provide musicians with the know-how to enter the Japanese market, but also to help Japanese find a toehold in their own music industry.

“I’m a drummer of 25 years [experience], and with the way live music is done in Japan, I would rather not play at all because there is little reward: small crowds, little or no money and usually a set of just 30 minutes,” explains Kansai Music Conference organizer Duane Levi. “After seeing evidence that pretty much any type of productive music scene in Japan is rapidly fading, I created an event that I think will be able to breathe new life into the scene.”

Over two days in September, KMC will bring together artists from over 13 countries at a convention hall in Osaka to participate in workshops with grand themes like “Building International Bridges With Music,” as well as more prosaic ones such as “Why Are There Only 10 People At Our Show?” The lineup includes U.S. hip-hop artist and educator Mic Crenshaw and R&B singer Tiff Barbour.

As with Japan Music Week later in the fall, participants choose from a range of tickets that grant varying levels of access to conference events and evening showcase concerts. Levi, who used to run a mobile music business in North Carolina before moving to Japan in 2004 and launching a tour management company, has great hopes.

“It’s amazing how artists with such talent are practicing and performing with almost no attention from the music industry,” he says. “It’s almost impossible for independent musicians in Japan to move up to the next level without help from a major company. KMC is my way of effecting change—a change to a better and more rewarding music scene in Japan.”

Coincidentally, while Levi was thinking up the Kansai Music Conference, a longtime music professional in Tokyo was busy conjuring the Japan Music Week, which takes place the second week of November. Jon Lynch is the founder of Juice, the widely distributed free music magazine, and had long harbored dreams of a South by Southwest-style event in Shibuya.

“Shibuya is a kind of regional pop culture capital for Asia, and hundreds of artists, DJs and other creators will perform at over 100 JMW events there during the week,” Lynch says. “We aim to provide a showcase for emerging artists, and to stimulate the local and international music industry to find strong new directions in the face of its many challenges.”

Some of the obstacles Lynch cites that will be taken up in JMW seminars include not only the well-documented freefall in sales of recorded music and digital piracy, but also declining interest in Western music and the problems that regional Japanese music artists face in breaking into a Tokyo-centric entertainment industry.

But for a foreign community that has recently produced authentic Japanese pop stars like enka singer Jero—and Japanese producers hoping to sight the next crossover sensation—it may be the foreign nature of KMC and JMW that offers the most promise.

One of the key events at Japan Music Week will be “Shake Forward!” which takes place on Nov 13 at Shibuya’s O-East. Hosted by Mixed Roots Japan, the show has drawn considerable attention for highlighting artists who either have mixed parentage or are non-Japanese residents of Japan. Performers include British expat Keith Gordon from Okinawa electronica duo Ryukyu Underground, who will be joined by Okinawan eisa drummers and members of hip-hop group Ainu Rebels.

“We feel that being part of JMW will be a great opportunity for the artists to express their art and also engage in social dialogue in the even more dynamic setting of a club,” says Mixed Roots’ Edward Sumoto. “And not just any club, but in Shibuya, a cultural hub of its own kind.”

“The resident foreigners’ music scene has always seemed too separated from the mainstream music scene here,” notes Lynch. “But at Japan Music Week, many of the core organizers and artists helping to create the genre and country events are non-Japanese. So hopefully this festival will show the great contribution that foreign residents are able to make.”

Buyers of wristbands will be able to participate in workshops and enter dozens of associated events in the live house nexuses of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi and Shimokitazawa. JMW kicks off with a big networking party at O-East on Nov 9, immediately followed by “Best of Japan,” a concert that aims to showcase Japanese artists that most deserve success overseas.

Kansai Music Conference, Sept 19-20. Info: www.kansaimusicconference.com Japan Music Week, Nov 9-15. Info: www.japanmusicweek.com

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


16 Comments
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Too much of the music industry is in the hands of the companies and not enough in the hands of the artists.

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no music industry in japan...just a pap industry trying to pretend it's music

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There is business, you just got to get your butts out of Shibuya. Venues! More local, and more open venues-not the council arts center- where performances could play, not necessarily huuuge crowds but substantial and fun. Then finding local performances to perform with is also avenues that could be taken up. Im NOT going to sucky Shibuya to watch some music, Im tellin ya! Rather sing then in the shower then.

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Yeah, there totally is music in Japan. Loads of it!

Just need to get out there, and find it.

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The first thing the music industry needs to do in Japan is change those the tunes at the train stations!

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Japan copied what America did in the 1990s hasn't updated its music since, there is a serious lack of innovation in Japanese music.

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if you go to Shibuya to find good Japanese music you are a lost cause already

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"The Japanese music industry has long looked on in envy at freewheeling festivals like America’s South by Southwest"

have they? is that common knowledge?

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if you go to Shibuya to find good Japanese music you are a lost cause already

Yeah, but the music of shibuya is the music of shibuya not the music of Japan

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there is a serious lack of innovation in Japanese music.

not if you know where to look

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if you go to Shibuya to find good Japanese music you are a lost cause already

Depends on the type of music, you will find some amazing clubs in Shibuya if you are into the electronic scene.

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"The Japanese music industry has long looked on in envy at freewheeling festivals like America’s South by Southwest"

Says who? I certainly don't.

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“It’s amazing how artists with such talent are practicing and performing with almost no attention from the music industry,” he says.

Amazing that they are performing despite commercial success?

“It’s almost impossible for independent musicians in Japan to move up to the next level without help from a major company. KMC is my way of effecting change—a change to a better and more rewarding music scene in Japan.”

Not clear to me at all how he intends "effecting a change" of the problem stated (music industry's lack of attention). Sounds like a series of workshops and concerts. Big deal.

Two foreign-led conferences try to shake up music industry

The music industry won't even bother to shrug.

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I guess he wants to turn J-pop into J- Hip Hop. No thanks.

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Japan copied what America did in the 1990s hasn't updated its music since, there is a serious lack of innovation in Japanese music.

I'm not sure about that. Look at all the top performers out there - SMAP, Mr.Children, Kinky Kids, Exile, Koda Kumi, all the Johnny's acts - they are all cutting edge, pushing the boundaries of modern music. Don't be so down on the innovative Japanese Music scene, everyone - it ROCKS!

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Look at all the top performers out there - SMAP, Mr.Children, Kinky Kids, Exile, Koda Kumi, all the Johnny's acts - they are all cutting edge, pushing the boundaries of modern music.

I laughed solidly for a good 20 seconds before I realised you were being sarcastic.

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