Berklee Valencia Benny RubinStudents Ryan O’Leary, Danel Illarramendi, and Fernanda Gomez from the global entertainment and music business master’s program reflect upon the ninth of the Music Business Seminars, where they had the chance to learn more about the Japanese music industry with guest speaker Benny Rubin.

Japan has established itself as the world’s second largest music market. Despite its evident power, the Japanese market remains predominantly domestic. A dismal 20% of the music consumed in Japan comes from outside markets. To a foreign musician, the cultural and societal differences of Japan can be intriguing and intimidating. Regardless of these inevitable obstacles, countless musicians continue to take their talent to Japan. The evolution of Japan’s music industry has been punctuated by trends of foreigners gaining success and esteem. Launching a successful career in Japan is far more complicated than simply being popular in your home country or having a unique sound. Instead, there are identifiable patterns and methods that are congruent to surviving in Japan. The three demands that must be met by a foreign trying to infiltrate the Japanese music scene are: pre-existing demand, overspill demand, and satiated demand.

Pre Existing demand: When an artist has a momentum in their home country or some kind of event has escalated their career, Japanese market might have heard of it. This makes the foreign artist create some demand for a market and style that hadn’t existed before.

Spillover demand: Lady Gaga, One Direction, Madonna, Katy Perry…These are A-list artists that have acquired a massive global demand. Their popularity will inevitably spread to
Japan. The spread of their popularity will be intrinsic upon Japan’s rapidly progressive culture of technology.

Satiated demand: Japanese music consumers are constantly exposed to a diverse and eclectic music scene. In Japan, only 20% of the music consumed is foreign. This allows the Western musician to maintain a sense of novelty and mystique in an otherwise domestic market.

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Japanese record labels have historically struggled to adhere to a business model that properly creates a demand for new talent. However, this is a music industry that thrives in its ability to expand its popularity of an already popular artist, relying on the early adopters, the trend setters and opening the artist from there.

Japanese record labels have historically struggled to adopt a business model that embraces foreign talent. However, this by no means signifies that there is no hope for foreign artists. Japanese music market thrives in its ability to a musician into a celebrity, and a celebrity into an icon.

All this is due of the nature of Japanese culture as a trend-centric society. The culprit of success is often popularity. Consequently, a substantial amount of music sales are intrinsic upon what is “cool” at the moment. An artist trying to break into the Japanese music scene must adhere to the principles of this trendsetting society. Doing so, the artist can reach listeners that would never have reached without that cultural affiliation.

All of the above discussed, is focused on mainstream artists with record deals. But how do you account for the independent artists trying to make it in Japan? What path does an indie artist need to set forth? The indie artists should direct their attention toward niche markets and sub genres. The demographics and geography of Japan provides hope for the indie artists. Japan is a small country with an extremely dense and urbanized population. These factors mean that an indie artists can garner attention from a large population that easily accessible.