Metropolis music survey 2004
iPods and ringtones scored big. Look for full song mobile
phone downloads in 2005.
Much like in the rest of the world, Japan's music industry
was wracked by continued convulsions in 2004. The major labels,
in particular, were slammed by forces including-but not limited
to-rampant digital downloading and CD burning. Two events
illustrated their declining power.
The first was when ultra-idoru Ayumi Hamasaki engineered a
virtual coup d'etat at record company Avex, arranging the
promotion of her manager, Masato "Max" Matsuura
to president, after senior management had tried to force her
out. Japan's top entertainment taxpayer for two years running,
Hamasaki reportedly produces 30 percent of her label's profits.
The second event illustrating the dire straits of the music
biz was Parliament's passage, after intense lobbying by the
majors, of a law banning reverse imports of cheap J-pop CDs
produced in low-cost Asian countries.
Metropolis surveyed a cross section of readers and music industry
professionals about 2004 in music and came up with some intriguing
Readers and industry insiders alike put forth as tops in the
domestic market big names like No. 1 seller R&B diva Hikaru
Utada, pop duo Tackey & Tsubasa, the aforementioned Hamasaki,
omnipresent crooner Ken Hirai, and youthful indie-flavored
rockers Orange Range and Asian Kung Fu Generation.
Both commercially and critically successful, Scottish rockers
Franz Ferdinand and their song "Take Me Out" were
a favorite, although many also cited Beyonce, Alicia Keys
and actual No. 1-selling foreign act, Canadian pop-punkette
In terms of the worst artist or song, many Japanese were unwilling
to single anyone out. Avex's Toshie Hagiwara was an exception,
citing "Center Guy: Buchiage Trance" as the worst
song. Foreigners were more forthcoming, with one naming Hikaru
Utada's "Easy Breezy" because of "the lyrics
and the fact that it was overplayed," another, DJ/producer
Gio of Dakini Records, choosing the "singer from Creed
singing the national anthem at the last Red Sox/Yankees playoff
game," and reader Hari Tahil from England, simply "any
The obvious music biz trend of 2004 was, as one nameless reader
put it, "iPods everywhere." But when it came to
music itself, opinions diverged wildly. Steven Coterill of
England cited the "death of progressive house,"
while American Dan Stifler cited "cafe music."
Industry insiders' views broke down mainly by what sector
of the music industry respondents hailed from. Record company
people cited the phenomenal growth of iPods and downloadable
ringtones as the most important trend in music in 2004, while
those on the concert promotion side such as Johnnie Fingers
of Smash chose "the onslaught of too many music festivals
over the summer months."
Perhaps the most culturally significant music trend of 2004
was the K-boom, in which Kasia Wojtkowski of promoter Kyodo
Tokyo observed, "The success of a TV drama allowed an
introduction to Korean musicians...great, considering the
history that Japan and Korea have [and] interesting to consider
how music can make a difference in history."
Music marketing and promotion professional Aska Mizogaki also
noted the trend of boy idoru factory "Johnnie's kind
of fading out and lots of girl idoru groups coming to the
market," while another humorously offered "improved
lip-synching skills among J-pop stars."
Next year's directions followed on this year's. One music
industry consultant, for example, called the progression from
ringtones to full song mobile phone downloads the "hands-down"
trend of 2005, projecting it would wipe Japan's current download
services and Apple's planned launch of a Japanese version
of the iTunes store off the map.
Others cited the continuing emergence of "one-hit wonder"
indie bands like the aforementioned Orange Range, which would
make it difficult for established bands to survive. Still
another, Tom Bojko, author of a forthcoming autobiography
of Bill Laswell, offered the intriguing possibility of "promoters
getting gigs together for and assuming some of the risk of
overseas acts not yet proven in Japan."
When it came to the music itself, respondents came forth with
a range of obscure, as yet unknown musical styles. One reader,
for instance, said "low-fi math rock" would be next
year's hip sound, while dance music promoter Yoichi Oyama
of Brand New Made said this year's "electro" wave
would be supplanted next year by the sound of "grime."
On the question of the Internet's influence on music, readers
were unanimous. "Hurting the industry, helping the punter,"
was a typical comment. The pros were decidedly more ambiguous
than consumers. Label head Gio noted the cruel fact that downloading
probably "lopped off at least a third of expected sales
for most releases" with the result of "less time/care
put into album releases."
But the positives were also numerous. Clubbing promoter Luciano
Uchizono noted that the Internet has "made our job easy
as we are now able to book artists in minutes" while
DJ Mike McKenna hailed the Net, saying, "Information
is power! The Internet allows people to access music and information
they do not get through Japan's mass media."
Either way, the consensus was that the music industry will
have to learn to live with it. "As with any new technology,
there has to be a time for experimentation to see what works,"
said Kyodo's Wojtkowski. "The Internet is waking up the
music industry," added Smash's Fingers. "Particularly
record companies that milked buyers when CDs came out. Now
it's the buyers' turn."
"The Internet is becoming the place where the music industry
does business. Helping or hurting? I don't know, but it is
causing the industry to evolve, and with evolution there can
be improvement for all," said writer Bojko, adding, "for
consumers the Internet is great...they can discover new music
they find satisfying and quit whining about being bombarded
with the same old commercial shit."
The consensus on last year's best concert seems to have been
American alt-rockers the Pixies reunion show at the Fuji Rock
Festival. Bands who readers and pros want to see tour Japan
next year, finally, ranged from hot Canadian rockers Arcade
Fire, to R&B heartthrob Usher, with U2 getting the most
To conclude, this writer has one musical wish for 2005. Commercial
establishments across Japan: Please stop haranguing us with
endless cheesy Christmas music! Doesn't this qualify as cruel
and unusual punishment under the auditory abuse section of
the Geneva Convention?
credit: Dan Grunebaum
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Metropolis 2004 Music Survey
with METROPOLIS readers at http://forum.japantoday.com