A Country a Week: Japan

In France I looked at a music industry based on protecting local art and music and ensuring that the French culture is preserved for years to come. The Japanese music industry is doing this flawlessly, without government assistance. According to the RIAJ(Recording Industry Association of Japan),  84% of recorded music is domestic and only 16% is international. The amount of domestic music that is recorded and consumed is growing every year.

There is a strong relationship between youth and music in Japan, as can be seen in many other countries. But in Japan, this relationship is much stronger and much more broad. Most young teens harbor fantasies of becoming rockstars and practice long and hard to fulfill those dreams. Music and instrument stores are abundant in most cities and you can see millions of indie band videos on Youtube of young, practicing musicians. These dreams fade as these teens enter college and then the workforce, but many move to Tokyo to play in nightclubs and pursue their dreams.

A record deal is much different in Japan and is often not negotiated at all. If you are signed by a major label, you become an employee and receive a salary. This is a standardized system that occurs in all of Japan in order to support musicians and make life in general, run more smoothly. The price of CDs and DVDs is also standardized.

Japan’s music industry has risen from second place this year to become first in the world. One of the reasons for this is that most companies agree to price fixing and offer CDs and DVDs for one agreed upon price. CDs therefore, are much more expensive in Japan than in other parts of the world. An album sells for about $30. Although, people may not be buying more, they are spending more.

The most important aspect of Japan’s music industry, and the main reason for it’s elusive “Number 1” status is a  phenomenon known as J-Pop. J-Pop is short for Japanese Popular Music and it has been an ongoing obsession for the Japanese public for years. Young, bubblegum stars, mostly girls in groups of 10-15 sing bright-eyed pop songs dressed in colorful outfits. The line-up for these groups is constantly changing mostly based on demand. Fans can vote for their favorite girl or for the next lead singer on a single. They are encouraged to come to live shows, buy photos of the girls, and come to “handshake sessions” where they can meet their favorite singer.

It seems like the regular American music industry, but it has a significant twist. Fans are embroiled in the lives of the stars. They follow their favorite girl closely. And the key is album sales. In order to gain a vote, you must buy an album. Fans often buy a hundred albums in order to vote for their favorite girl a hundred times. Albums are also tickets to the “handshake sessions.” Some fans purchase 10 or 15 of the same exact album, in order to go through the line 10 times. Not only this, but the producers often release three or four versions of a single album with different music videos or photo booklets in order to promote purchasing.

This fandom universe may change and evolve in the coming years to include digital growth, but Japan is continuing to see a slump in digital sales and revenues. The next foreseeable move for the Japanese music industry is to expand and export the Japanese music that is so prevalent there. They have seen some expansion in South Korea and other Asian countries but their goal is to create a worldwide fan base.

The number one song in Japan this week.

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