Sound Decision
Interview: Shaun Iwase

by Jonathan Mays,
To Japanese music fans, the promise of digital music is endless. Instead of settling for the five or six albums your local record store might have, or paying outrageous prices for the privilege of waiting two weeks for your import CD to arrive, you could have instant access to millions of songs for a fraction of the cost.

And now, finally, it's beginning to happen. But you'll never guess who's leading the way: a small company called Rightsscale. While the rest of the industry moves like molasses, Rightsscale has already thrown major artists like Bonnie Pink and underrated indies like PE'Z into the digital ring.

So how did they do it, and when will everybody else catch up? Shaun Iwase, Rightsscale's Director of International Relations, is here to share some insight.

How did you manage to get J-Pop on iTunes so far ahead of the big guys like Sony and Avex?

Major labels like Avex and Sony have a large infrastructure, so it takes a long time for something to be put into action. Rightsscale is much smaller in scale. We can act immediately after making a decision. We've been thinking about entering the digital world for years and acted quickly when the time was right. As a result we became the first company to directly put songs on iTunes from Japan—even before the opening of iTunes Japan.

Has the response been about what you expected?

Yes. Sales are not that great, and it has yet to cause a huge reaction in the states. However, people are gradually realizing that Japanese music is now available on iTunes, and the interest in it is gradually rising. I hope this trend would continue as we upload more songs.

So who's up next for Rightsscale?

We are planning to upload tracks by ELLEGARDEN, who are currently one of the top 3 Indies bands in Japan. We've already uploaded albums of PE'Z and The Rodeo Carburettor, bands that were extremely popular at the Japan showcase during In The City 2005 at Manchester. TsuShiMaMiRe is an all-girl band we are handling. They performed for this year's Suicide Girls Live Burlesque Tour and have been immensely popular.

Can you give a quick rundown of In The City?

We were given the opportunity by several organizations in UK - the event itself was a joint effort between Rightsscale, British Underground, UKTI and BPI.

These organizations coordinated the British Showcase in Japan, and since they've been promoting British music in Japan, they offered us the opportunity to promote Japanese artists in the UK through In The City.

In The City is an International Music Convention that is held every year in the UK. It offers up-and-coming bands the opportunity to perform in front of a large crowd of music industry figures, as well as offering valuable grounds for business talks and socialization, both of which are vital to thriving in this industry.

Although many European countries send over bands to ITC, Asian bands were not present until 2005 when we held the first-ever Japanese music showcase. I also spoke with members of the UK music industry in a panel called "Access Japan" that offered the listeners a chance to ask questions about the music situation in Japan.

Although Japan is the world's second largest music market, not much information is attainable out of Japan, especially when it comes to Japanese artists. We wanted to use this event to further strengthen the trade ties with the UK and to also show the British music fans the true capabilities of Japanese bands.

How did your company get started? Did someone at your parent company, Taisuke, just conclude that they needed to take digital music seriously?

The members of Taisuke always had the dream of spreading Japanese music to the world and we saw the digital media market as a great opportunity to show the world the music our country has. Digital music has no boundaries - a truly international market.

Previously interest in Japanese music was limited due to obstacles like language and the import price. Now that people can buy such music without the expensive price tag, along with the recent surge in anime and manga popularity, Japan itself has become more familiar around the world. This opens up a way for us to promote music worldwide. It's also true that we have been interested in the digital market. The market boasts so much opportunity that we just had to take part in it.

I 've been told anime and J-pop are two different audiences. Do you buy that?

Anime and J-pop are intimately tied but remain as different entities. The origins of the two are completely different. J-pop is simply pop music that is adjusted to meet the taste of the younger pop-loving generation in Japan. Anime became related to J-pop ever since anime series began using J-pop in their opening and ending clips. Although the practice has now become common, a decade ago it was normal for anime to have their original theme songs rather than actual commercial songs.

In recent years many anime series have been exported in forms of DVD and video files, in to the hands of anime fans worldwide. When the fans see such anime, it contains some J-pop tracks, and thus the relationship between the two are born. Therefore some overlap may occur (anime fans buying J-pop CD's that were featured) but overall I believe that the audience is separate.

Do you know how it "became" common to have J-Pop in anime?

I guess one factor is that anime has become more socially accepted over the years. Artists now have no problem in granting their song use, whereas before they'd have to be careful that it wouldn't bring on the reputation of being an "Otaku Artist". The increase in popularity and the wider age-range of anime audiences also resulted in anime feature-songs becoming a precious source of promotion. (If you see the current Oricon hit charts, you can notice how dominant anime-feature songs and anime-original songs are in sales). But anime still prefers younger and more-youth-oriented artists so it hasn't completely infiltrated the music scene yet.

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