Unlike the press conferences for Momoi and Ito, I had the fortune Saturday morning to interview Columbia Records (ed. note: Nippon Columbia—not directly affiliated with the perhaps more familiar American Columbia Records label) music producer Shotaro Kaizuka solo. This led to a rather insightful and lovely conversation lasting just under an hour. He speaks fluent English and we conversed in said language for a good part of the interview. He looked thoughtful throughout and would often pause to allow me to take notes
Kaizuka would like to remind readers that the following interview reflects his opinions and does not represent the position of Columbia Records.
The Paper: What led you to your current position?
Shotaro Kaizuka: I really wanted to study music. Towards that end, I enrolled in Berklee College of Music in May of 2008 and graduated Dec of 2010. I moved back to Japan in May of 2011 and did an internship with EMI at their Tokyo branch. Then I moved over to Nippon Columbia. They wanted someone to export Japanese music, their music, to the world.
I studied film scoring, I am a composer, I play the guitar, I am a businessman…everything related to music so it was a match. [He pauses.] I think I was just lucky. There are many good musicians at Berklee. There’s a Music Business major. Those students would know more about copyright, negotiation than I…
TP: But not about composition.
SH: Well, maybe…you’re right. I think I was just lucky and I met a good company.
TP: Now that you’re at Columbia, what are some of your current projects?
SH: Columbia is one part of Faith Group. [Recently] we acquired FaRao. It’s a music webcasting station like Pandora. If you want to listen to Japanese music on Pandora, it’s kind of hard so we offer FaRao. It introduces Japanese music to the world.
TP: So it’s entirely Japanese music?
SH: No, not only Japanese because Japanese people want to listen to foreign music as well. It has music from anime, video games…[In Japanese:] In Japan, the fiscal year starts in April. So I am not sure exactly what projects they will have for me until I fly back but I will continue to export Japanese music to the world. [In English.] Actually, I had to learn the Japanese music industry first. Columbia has enka, anime, video games, soundtracks, visual kei, idol, JPop, JRock, all music. I studied American music so there was a culture shock I had to go through… even though I am Japanese. Now I feel I am ready.
TP: I have a question about the US and Japanese music market but since you mentioned culture shock, let’s talk a bit about that now. How are the two markets different?
SH: The huge difference is that in US, it’s incredibly hard to find record shops, CD shops. In Boston, we have Newbury, Best Buy… but in Japan, there’s many, many, many record shops.
TP: When you say many many, how many is that? How would you describe it?
SH: Hmm… thousands… and they do rentals. You can rent CDs. They sell and rent CDs.
TP: Oh wow. So you can rent it for a week and bring it back?
SH: You can choose. One day rental, three days, one week…depends on the store.
TP: Why do you think that Japan has CD rentals but not the US? I mean, in the US, we can rent video games…
SH: In Japan, video game rentals are not popular but CDs are. The reason… [He pauses then continues in Japanese.] In Japan, there’s a culture that appreciates the CDs themselves, the cases. They often have little books with pictures so it’s important to hold the CDs [I nod with understanding.] And in Japan there are events connected to CDs so you have to buy CDs to go to those events. And because it’s a lottery system to determine those that attend such events, you have motivation to buy multiple CDs. And at certain events, you can shake hands with the musician. So if you buy one CD, you can shake hands once, but twice if you buy two and so on. Of course no one wants to buy multiple copies of the same CD so record companies make different CDs with different covers, artwork…
TP: Ah yes, I know from buying Ayumi Hamasaki CDs that they come in different versions.
SH: Right. And cases come in different types. Some have two CDs, others have funny covers… [He changes to Japanese.] paper covers, not plastic. Japanese people consider CD covers very important. People would place them on shelves as display, something to admire while drinking whiskey or something. [We all chuckle slightly.]
TP: Why is it hard for Japanese music to penetrate the US market?
SH: [He answers in Japanese.] One reason is that, of course, Japan is an island. It’s isolated. People don’t think about foreigners. It’s the same for musicians. When they make music, they only make them for Japanese people. That’s what I am trying to change. To export Japanese music. But it’s difficult if musicians don’t think about other countries and that’s something I like to change.
Another reason is that Japanese record companies focus on selling CDs. Japan is the number one consumer of CDs worldwide. But other countries don’t consume as much. We need to sell music by targeting countries specifically. There needs to be a strategy, a system, to target music geographically. And it really helps if the record company can install a native at each country who is intimately familiar with the local culture that can pinpoint exactly how music is consumed and the best channel to deliver it.
TP: That kind of touches upon a hurdle for a band to succeed overseas so let’s talk about the label. What role or roles should a label play? There’s been a move towards bands going independent… distributing their own music, marketing it themselves.
SH: [He begins in English.] Basically the same. Major label, indie label, it’s music… [He starts in Japanese.]
TP: What’s something a large label can bring to a band that the band won’t have going about it alone?
SH: [In Japanese:] One issue is budget. Say one band wants to make a cool music video, they might not have the money… or they want to commission the cover art. Expertise is another thing. A major label has experience in advertising. The label wants to help the band. The roles of a label is changing. The industry is changing. Instead of focusing on CD sales, maybe labels should consider streaming music. In this current climate of rapid changes, a new system should be put in place….What’s most important is to ensure that musicians have their rights, their intellectual property. They should provide an environment where the musician can focus solely on music.
TP: That’s definitely a huge benefit. I agree that musicians should be able to just focus on making music. So, my last question, and you just touched upon it, is with regards to intellectual property and distribution. Thoughts?
SH: In Japan, when a label enters into a contract with a band, the amount might not be much but the band is ok with it. It’s a case by case scenario. In the US, the system for making contracts is better established. In Japan, there are three parties involved: the musician, the label and the management office. The management office speaks on behalf of the musician and sometimes that might create misunderstandings. In Japan, a label is mainly focused on making and selling music, not negotiating with management. I think labels should cultivate relations with management so that musicians may benefit in having a more inducive environment to make music.
I started with just playing guitar then moved on to producing music so I’ve given thought to the whole process. Currently, the Japanese market is closed, but I want to change that. I want to prove that I can sell Japanese music in other countries. Then other people, other musicians will follow. In Japan, Korean music is getting more popular, like K-pop. That’s already leading some to think that the reverse could be possible. Koreans make music with the global market in mind and that’s something Japan should emulate [but] because the domestic market is so big, there’s no need to think outside the border. I want to change that. I think musicians should first target Asian countries, then Europe and finally North America.
[At this point, he talks about the earthquake while he was in Ibaraki and how it prompted him to decide to work in Japan. He wonders about what might have happened had he stayed in the US but such is life. We all chuckle.]
SH: I like to throw in a short announcement if I may…
TP: Sure, of course.
TP: Oh ok. I LOVED her concert last night…
SH: Oh yeah? [He starts to sing one of her songs.]
TP: Awesome! [He's all smiles.] Thank you so much. It was very informative.
SH: You’re very welcome.
Afterwards, Kaizuka was more than happy to pose for a photo.