2009/12/29

"Music" in Japan

** Musician Kazumasa Oda and Promise of Christmas **

Kazumasa Oda (小田和正) is one of my favorite Japanese musicians. Recently he was on a TV show for the 9th year of his Christmas special live concert program called "Promise of Christmas(クリスマスの約束) 2009". I'm a big fan of this program- I still have previous year's ones in my HD/DVD recorder.

Not only do I like Oda-san's music and vocal, but also the way he interacts and works with the young musicians. He's an old guy at the age of 62... but he invited young musicians in their twenties to create a new song together and join his concert to perform. He also invited other older musicians (oldest one in his sixties) to join the concert as well. They were trying to perform a 22.5 minute long medley with various musicians which was really intense because they are all very busy and yet they have to memorize so many songs and find time for rehearsals. The medley was amazing. The applause from the audience didn't stop for 4 or 5 minutes and Oda-san said it was the longest applause he had ever experienced.

** CD sales and other ranking "numbers" in Japan **

If you look at the singles sales ranking by Oricon, you can see that out of this year's top 10, 4 was by Arashi - "idols" of Johnny's Entertainment. KAT-TUN and Kan Jani ∞ are both Johnny's idols and Yusuke is originally a comedian. Where have the artists gone from the sales ranking...?

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Let's look at the album sales ranking by Oricon.

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It looks like we have more "musicians" here, but the problem is that half of the top 10 selling albums are so-called "best albums" which is not a collection of new songs but a collection of old hit songs.

Karaoke ranking indicates that ALL of top 10 songs that were sung at Karaoke were music that were released before 2009.

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Another problem I see here is that even the best selling single CD this year sold only 656,676 pieces (please refer to the spreadsheet at the top).

Following is the list of top 50 best selling singles and as you can see, most songs are released before 2000. With the exception of "Sekai de Hitotsu dake no Hana" by SMAP in 2003, all of the songs in the top 50 selling list are released on or before 2000.

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It is said that the taste of music has become varied compared to the past when everyone was listening to the same kind of music, and thus it is difficult to make mega hits.

** Music programs on TV shows **

One more thing I recognized about the music industry nowadays is that TV shows stopped featuring new songs and new artists- instead they are showing old rankings and old (and famous) musicians. In the past, there were TV programs like "Best10" and "Top10" which were featuring that weeks' best selling music, but those shows have disappeared. One of the music TV shows that survived- "Hey Hey Hey Music Champ" used to show newest music and artists a couple of years ago, but recently they started to focus on older music (they show ranking from older years, ranking with themes like Christmas songs or party songs or sad songs etc which end up showing older and famous songs). It's probably a chicken and egg problem- because they can get more people to watch the show by showing older songs than new ones, they started to focus on the older songs which would deprive new artists to be on TVs which (at least to me) seems to be creating a vicious cycle.

New artists are not seen in TVs and chances to be known by the audience decreased, therefore people don't buy new songs by new artists but buys stuff like "best albums" which is basically older songs and sings old and famous songs at karaokes.

But probably this logic applies only to the older generation which watches TVs, goes to karaoke and uses PC. Younger generation in Japan are said that they don't watch TVs, don't go to karaoke and use mobile phones.

It is said that younger people are not buying packages (except for the idol lovers who wants to show their love to the idols by purchasing their products) instead people are getting music by digital downloading, and many of them are using illegal music download / sharing system, also young people don't use PC but rather use mobile phones for their online activities.

** What kind of music young Japanese are listening to **

Let's look at data from Music.jp Chaku Uta (ringtone for mobile) Download ranking.

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So these are the music that the younger people are listening to- and they do have new singers and songs like GReeeeN, JUJU and Kana Nishino. It's clearly different from what people are buying at HMV online sales ranking as follows:

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OH and one more important metrics is USEN (cable broadcast) request ranking. USEN usually pops up new artists that are not yet well known.

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** Decline in music sales- in Japan and US **

The decline in the sales amount and sales revenue is not only in Japan- it looks like the tendency is bigger in U.S.

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Data source (JP production amount JP production value US shipment amount US shipment value via Takerunba blog)

** New music business models in Japan **

There are various new ways to inform, promote and sell music in Japan although they all still look experimental and not scalable yet.

1) Utilization of video sharing sites, allowing fans to remix and increase fan base that would pay

One is via websites especially video sharing sites such as NicoNicoDouga and YouTube. Susumu Hirasawa, an artists talks at an interview with ASCII [ja]. He focuses on internet for his promotions / sales and is increasing sales recently despite the decline of the industry as a whole. He doesn't do any of the standard promotions that other musicians do- he doesn't visit publishing companies or broadcast stations to get exposure. "I'm not well-known but I get more CD sales, more fans comes to my live performances than other musicians. I get request for live performances from overseas and you can find my name even in Pharsi Wikipedia."

People gets to know his music via sites like NicoNicoDouga and starts to create remix music and video and uploads to NicoNicoDouga again- and he doesn't delete them. He lets his fans remix. His DVDs does not have copy protection because he knows the listeners would copy it anyways. He is one of the rare musicians who knows how to interact with his fans and at the same time make a business model there.

It is very similar to what is happening in Hatsune Miku and other Vocaloid series where artists who created music using Miku would distribute MP3 files for free, and lets people create remix music/videos, does not register their music to JASRAC even after major music label debut so that the fans can still use those music for remix because they know that the reason why they became successful is because the fans made remixes and made them famous. Even if the music is available for free, fans still buys the CDs when they see them because they want to support the creators and they know the artist will not gain any revenue from the free MP3s files and yet they are making them available. When the artists start to lock up their music or withdraw the free versions and start charging them, backlash happens. This phenomena is called "kencho" meaning hatred towards business makers.

2) Collaborate with mobile websites that the young people are using

Another interesting promotion example is how Kana Nishino's song was collaborating with Cell phone novels. As I wrote in this post, teenagers nowadays reads cell phone novels a lot. The novel and Nishino's song both had long-distance love as the theme and the song became a big hit among the youngsters.

3) Animations are a great touching point with large audience

I also think it is interesting that Japanese animations that are popular worldwide might take a role in music industry too. When I was visiting Chile, I met a university student that told me she is a big fan of a Japanese singer called Hyde. She (and her friends) would have never known about Hyde or his band L'arc en Ciel if their music was not used as a theme song of a popular animation, but because of that she is now a big fan of Hyde and buys all the CDs, goodies that she can find. She can sing songs of L'arc in Japanese, she translated and made Spanish versions too. She became interested in J-POP ever since, and told me that she is going to a concert of Dir en Grey -another Japanese band- as they are visiting San Tiago for a concert tour. Should we say this is just a rare example or should we say this is tip of iceberg and there is a big potential...?

** Lack of megahit will impact Japanese culture? **

I think the lack of mega hit might impact culture to some extent- people will not have a common song that they all know and can sing together after years.

Music has a power to bind people together- I was travelling in Bolivia a couple of months ago with strangers - Slovenians, Bolivians, German, Spanish and me(Japanese). The first thing that bound us all together was when we had "Billy Jean" by Michael Jackson as BGM on a car and everyone started singing. I think the songs in the top 50 list above are sort of like that for the Japanese. But with the current situation where there is less music being sold, there is a generation gap in what music people listens to... it would be difficult to have such experience.

** Hoping for better artists and music to appear- that will last for years **

Getting back to Oda-san, I think the way he invited artists aged twenties through sixties, creating a music together and performing together with them would be a great experience for the young artists as well as the viewers of that TV program, and I am so happy he's doing that, and I am hoping that there will be more new and wonderful songs that would be a favorite of lots of people and would last for years to come :)


Update on 2012/12/30

Unfortunately, it's getting worse.

Oricon yearly CD sales ranking, literally dominated by AKB and its sister groups (red cells, girls idol groups) and Johnny's entertainment groups (yellow cells, boys idol groups).


One thing to note about this ranking is the "bonus" part- most CDs are accompanied by "shake hand ticket" with the artists (girl idols). This may seem funny, but it's important for young boys- my niece who was a junior high school student was one of those boys who bought the ticket and happily went to Makuhari Messe for the first time in his life, to shake hands with those girls. I have heard that some people who wants to shake hands buys multiple CDs and throws them away.









The other aspect about this is they sell several versions of same CDs (as you can see in the types column, all of the top20 CDs has multiple version).

2009/12/21

Entrepreneurship in Japan and Startup Weekend Tokyo

Startup Weekend is a 54 hour event that a group of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists get together to build communities, companies and projects,etc.

It started in 2007 and has spread to over 52 cities and 12 countries and growing. For the first time in Japan, mini-Startup Weekend (2 days version) was held in Tokyo this weekend.

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** Entrepreneurial Environment in Japan **

In Japan, entrepreneurial spirit is weak due to various social and cultural reasons. In general, we were educated not to stand out, many still believe working for a big company is more stable and better (I can tell because I used to work for a company with 190,000 employees, which split and I moved to 60,000 employee company, then to 30 employee company which grew to 100, then I joined to found a company and now I am freelanced. I've been facing many and various reactions.) They value "suffering" and some expect others to be "loyal" and stay in the same company until they retire. There is lack of acceptance of failure, so people try not to take risk.

All this is changing compared to several years ago, but those social / cultural aspects that are deep in people's mind still affects entrepreneurship to some extent.

According to InternationalEntrepreneurship.com, Total Japanese Entrepreneurial Activity Average (TEA) during 2001-2009 was 3.2%, which was one of the lowest rates amongst the world's leading nations. The TEA rate is the proportion of people aged 18-64 who are involved in entrepreneurial activity as a nascent entrepreneur or as an owner-manager of a new business. They continue: "Entrepreneurs (in Japan) face many difficulties when starting their own ventures. Some of these difficulties include receiving loans from banks, the pressures of deflation, weak domestic demand, and tough competition within the country."

The following chart presents TEA rates for the 43 countries surveyed in Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)'s 2008 report.

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This is a lot better than what we saw several years ago- in GEM report 2005, which reported that Japan had the lowest startup rate in the 34 countries that was surveyed- Japan marked only 1.5% whereas world average was 9.3%, US was 11.3%, and average of European nations was 5.3%... but it is still in the lower group.

- Japanese TEA -
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Japan's entrepreneurship potential was discussed during Red Herring Japan 2007 conference according to an article by Globis, and Nobuyuki Idei ( former CEO of Sony) said that Japan suffers from an “ABCD” syndrome, which stands for Aging, Bureaucracy, Closed and Domestic. The article continues: "Mr.Idei went on to say that Japan must not make culture-based or language-based excuses to resist integration on the world stage. Japan must instead be a catalyst for future change, and abandon its negative self-critical nature. Japan must be less afraid to take risks and develop a vision. Without the vision, said Mr. Idei, there is no chance to get attention from investors, either inside or outside Japan."

The conference's final panel came with the following advice:

-Globalize Japanese venture capital, venture capitalists inside Japan need to travel more and learn from other countries as to how to make venture capital more successful.
-Reform the Japanese financial system. Japan is sitting on savings amounting trillions of yen which had been going overseas in search of higher yields.
-Transform the image of the entrepreneur."According to panelists, the word 'entrepreneur' still has a vague connotation in Japanese society. The image of the Japanese entrepreneur needs to be remade into someone who cares about society, and uses his or her power to advance the country through their creativity and vision."
-Change the mindset inside companies.


Another article on Japanese entrepreneurship and venture capital by Forbes:

Statistics show Japanese entrepreneurship is bleak. Although the country is the world's second-largest economy, it has generated only $3 billion a year, on average, in venture funding, for about 3,000 investment deals annually. Venture funds here typically eke out internal returns of just 4%. Even the Japanese government, which traditionally bolsters industries until they can stand on their own, has not been able to spark a more welcoming environment for Japanese startups. "Up until now, policies to support ventures have not been that successful," says Kazuhiko Toyama, chief executive of Industrial Growth Platform.

In the U.S., by comparison, startups get funding to the tune of $30 billion a year over deal volume of about 4,000 investments. Silicon Valley's venture funds and their compatriots enjoy returns three to four times higher than Japanese funds.


Startup Weekend is just one small event, but I believe it is so important to hold these kind of events especially in Japan, due to those environments.

** Startup Weekend Tokyo **

The real 54 hour version Startup Weekend Tokyo will be held in February, but as a warm-up event, 2 day ver event was held this weekend.

The real great thing about Startup Tokyo is that you don't just talk - you DO and CREATE. You form real teams with other engineers, designers, marketers etc and start coding and create business plans that would be evaluated by people like Dave McClure (VC), CEO of KDDI web communications, head of TechCrunchJapan, etc. Some team actually created iphone apps, some already got the domain and created demo sites and other websites.

Another great thing was that it was a mixture of Japanese only + English only + bilingual people, helped with a bunch of staffs who can interpret, and the event was completely bilingual.

Not only were there the workshops, but Ari Awan, CTO of Flutterscape and Ki Yoyo, CEO of Lang-8 visited to make keynote speeches.

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** Dave McClure at Startup Weekend Tokyo and Half-baked dotcom **

Startup Weekend Tokyo attendees were fortunate enough to have Dave McClure - a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur, startup investor, and blogger - visiting Japan from Silicon Valley to be present at the event. He gave a speech, stayed in the room for advice most of the time during the event, and served as a judge for the final presentation.

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He emphasized the importance of projects solving a PROBLEM. Lots of people- especially engineers pitch solutions -like great technology they came up with; what they really should do is to pitch the PROBLEM, and share the problem. If the problem can be shared with the listeners it is a problem worth going ahead and solve with your solution, if not- you need to come up with a better problem. (BTW I totally agree with this... I've been interviewing various entrepreneurs and felt the exact same way. David Sifry made blog search engine Technorati because he couldn't find anything on Google when he ego-searched his name after he made a speech to see how the audience felt, Mina Trott made Movable Type because existing blog tools were just not good enough for her, Martin Varsavsky made wifi sharing service FON because he was uncomfortable travelling overseas and being unable to use wifi- or it was too expensive.)

Dave proposed to do an exercise called "Half-Baked dot Com". Everyone in the room can shout out words and when they reach 50, they break up into teams, each team picks 2 words from the list of 50 words and comes up with a name of a website using those 2 words (for example "corpse" + "Twitter" and make corpsetwitter.com, "subliminal" + "monkey" and make subliminalmonkey.com, etc.) Each team is expected to make a presentation about their website with the following:
1) tagline
2) logo
3) problem (that you are going to solve with your service)
4) business model
5) marketing plan

Therefore it is important to have a good mix of creators, designers, marketers, engineers etc for each team. The teams came up with the following 5 dotcoms:

-Realtimeaccesibility.com (dating service for handicapped people)
-Boobsfail.com (mobile app for breast-enhancement using vibrations)
-Freshyopparai.com (Yopparai means drunk. It's a NicoNicoDouga-like video-sharing site of drunk people in Tokyo. Yopparai conversation can be subtitled)
-Kusairobot.com (Kusai means stinky. It's a Roomba-like device that finds/follows stinky stuff & perfumes it away)
-Sexypropose.com (Uses Augmented Reality like Sekai Camera and suggests cool, stylish, sexy places for marriage proposals )

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There are 3 key factors to this exercise:
1) Japanese people are generally shy and don't speak out, so Dave making everyone shout out words at the beginning was a good icebreaker.
2) You are given a very limited time, so it's a good exercise to think quickly and prepare for the real project after this. According to Dave, ideally Half-Baked should take 30-40min total. 10 minutes to come up with words and split to teams, 5 minutes to decide which word they'd use, 10 minutes to prepare for the presentation and 15 minutes for the presentation - is the longest it should take.
3) Members get to know each other before they start the real project.

** Time for the REAL projects! **

Each person who wanted to make a proposal came up on front and made 2 minute pitch of the problems they wanted to solve.

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There were 17 people who presented, and each presenter wrote a tag line on a paper and started to pitch to each other.

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Project migration during this pitching time

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Then there was the voting time to decide which project will make it to the real project.

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There were 5 winners- so the 5 people were to examine what resource / who they need to make this company / project happen in 2 days. Others will huddle up in each of the project to help examine and decide which project they would be contributing to.

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There was a status reporting time to share where they are, what resource they lack, etc.

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Further working in teams- some started coding already.

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End of Day1 - status report.

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It looked like all of the teams were seeing progress, but I was amazed by the Yoga App team which already created a working iPhone App that would give you a "ding" sound if you can keep your pose for 5 seconds, and a "boo" sound if you move / fall, and demoed it for us.

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Day 2 starts with breakfast, some people are deadly tired :)

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Working hard to prepare for the presentation that starts in the afternoon- even working while eating lunch (look at the bento on his PC!)

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As for the final presentation, please check out the video recording of Ustream here:





The judges:
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The winner! "team Wubble" makes smartphone apps and games for Japanese women to understand how smartphones are fun; 1st app is Mobile Yoga Fitness.

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Presentation slides can be seen here:



A shot from the awarding ceremony- Dave joins them do the Yoga pose!

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The winner of TechCrunchJapan Award! "Team Nakano" will provide People-Powered Problem Solving Platform called "Wishcovery" for everyday problems,via crowd-sourced solutions.

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A shot from the awarding ceremony- Shinohara-san from TechCrunchJapan joins them with Yoga pose!

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"Team Cloud Compliance" provides workflow and compliance for the Cloud. They outlined why record management solutions are necessary, why hosted compliance workflow will accelerate use of Google Docs/Apps in enterprise.

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"Team themselves (no team name)" EnjoyBet provides social betting platform for making casual bets with your friends.

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"team DOOCANA" Doocana is a social media news & education site, a Mashable-like website in Japanese. Presentation slides can be seen here:

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It looks like they've already made web and mobile interface.
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Otsukare sama deshita!

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A big applause to Jonny Li the organizer, KDDI Web Communications for the venue and all the staffs:

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Many thanks to Dave McClure and Chris McCann from Geeks on the Plane, also Sano-san from Cookpad:

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My photos can be seen here:
Derek's awesome photos can be seen here:
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