As with almost every other live music market around the world, the live entertainment sector has been seriously hit by the Corvid-19 epidemic, but promoters and venue operators are philosophical about the situation and deal with it as best they can. Lisa Henderson reports
Boasting the world’s third largest economy and 11th biggest population, Japan’s live music market has a particularly strong fan culture for certain international artistes.
Although the Coronavirus pandemic has caused massive disruption for the live entertainment sector, and the Tokyo Summer Olympics – now postponed to 2021 – had prompted a reshuffling of festival dates, promoters are optimistic about the future and confident Japan’s entertainment industry will bounce back.
One of the country’s two longest established promoters, Tokyo-based UDO Artists was founded in 1967 and promotes artistes such as Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Eagles, Maroon 5, Aerosmith, Norah Jones, Jackson Browne, Katy Perry and Charlie Puth.
Last year the company promoted five KISS dates, playing Xebio Arena Senadi (cap. 4,200), Tokyo Dome (55,000), Morioka Takaya Arena (5,058), Kyocera Dome Osaka (55,000), and Dolphins Arena (7,514) in Nagoya. Tickets ranged from 15,000–25,000 yen ($137–229).
It also presented Sting for five dates across Fukuoka Kokusai Center (10,000), Makuhari Messe (9,000) in Chiba, Xebio Arena Sendai, and Osaka Chuo Gymnasium (8,200). Tickets ranged from 17,000–18,000 yen ($165–155).
UDO president Eiji Ninomiya suggests that to bank on the zealous Japanese fan culture, artistes must deliver a show that feels inclusive and intimate.
“Live music is an interactive tool between the artistes and the fans, and shows are becoming more and more participatory. The artistes want to connect with the fans and the fans want to feel close to the artistes through the live concert,” says Ninomiya.
However, this is a particularly challenging task for international artistes who have to overcome the language barrier.
“One disadvantage in our market is that English is not our mother tongue so Japanese artistes can draw bigger crowds than international artistes,” says Ninomiya. “That said, the recent trend is that the younger generation can pick up English more easily compared to senior people.”
Though senior citizens may not be proficient in English, they’re a lucrative demographic in Japan and shouldn’t be disregarded, Ninomiya says.
“Senior people do go to concerts and they can spend more money and time on pleasure and enjoyment. As a promoter, we are always checking the trends to see how we can draw all kinds of people to concerts regardless of the artiste.”
Another UDO touring artiste is Diana Krall, who played six shows – three at Bunkamura Orchard Hall (2,150) in Tokyo, Hondanomori Hall (1,707) in Kanazawa, Ueno Gakuen Hall (1,730) in Hiroshima, and Festival Hall (2,700) in Osaka.
Fashion and music
Concert and festival promoter Smash Corporation, also based in Tokyo, was founded in 1983, and has offices in Osaka and London, UK.
The company promotes Fuji Rock (40,000), which is usually held on the last weekend of July at the Naeba ski resort in Niigata, but has been pushed back to 21–23 August this year to avoid conflicting with Tokyo Summer Olympics, although the latter has now been postponed. It also promotes Asagiri Jam (12,000).
This year’s Fuji Rock will feature artistes including The Strokes, Tame Impala and FKA twigs. First release general admission tickets cost between 18,000 yen ($160) for one day and 39,800 yen ($355) for three-day entry.
Among artistes Smash promoted last year were Tokyo shows with Aldous Harding at WWW X (600) and Metronomy at Liquidroom (900), and three nights with Feeder at Club Quattro venues in Nagoya, Umeda, Shibuya (all 650-capacity).
While the market has plenty of opportunities for international acts, Smash’s Johnnie Moylett says promoters would be wise to bring over artistes who can offer a little more than just music.
“Mainly because of the language barrier, Japanese audiences tend to take great interest in a western artiste that is a mix of fashion and music – and it’s important that those kinds of artistes come to Japan at the early, buzzy stage of their career,” says Moylett.
Founded in 1989, Creativeman Productions also promotes concert and festivals.
Led by president Naoki Shimizu, the company operates across cities such as Tokyo (where it is based), Osaka and Nagoya and promotes artistes such as Radiohead, Green Day, Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, Guns N’Roses, Babymetal, and The 1975.
Stand-out shows from 2019 include Carly Rae Jepsen, co-promoted with Live Nation Japan, at NHK Hall (3,800) in Tokyo, Zepp Nagoya (1,864), Zepp Fukuoka (2001), Zepp Namba (2,200) in Osaka and Sendai GIGS (1,560) in Sendai. Tickets ranged from 8,500–9,000 yen ($75–80).
The company also promoted Queen & Adam Lambert’s four dates across three venues – Saitama Super Arena (37,000), Kyocera Dome Osaka (55,000), and Nagoya Dome (49,000), with tickets ranging from 12,000–50,000 yen ($110–460).
Elsewhere, the company presented five dates with a-ha’s at Tokyo Dome City Hall (3,000), Fukuoka Civic Hall (2,316), Festival Hall (2,700) in Osaka, and NTK Hall Forest Hall (2,291) in Nagoya.
In terms of festivals, Creativeman celebrated the 20th anniversary of Summer Sonic, which takes place in Tokyo (site 60,000) and Osaka (40,000). It featured headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Chainsmokers and B’z, with both sold-out.
Tickets for the Tokyo event ranged from 15,000 yen ($142) for a one-day ticket to 25,000 yen ($236) for a platinum ticket. Osaka tickets were priced slightly lower.
This year’s Summer Sonic was been cancelled due to the Summer Olympics, which were set for 24 July to 9 August, and will resume in 2021 along with the rescheduled Olympics.
Creativeman’s other festival Greenroom, an outdoor music and arts event celebrating beach and surf culture, is due to take place on 23–24 May at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. Among the artistes on the bill are MGMT, Sigrid and Tasha Sultana. Tickets cost between 12,000 yen ($102) for one-day and 19,000 yen ($170) for two.
Creativeman also promotes in Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, China, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
New venues coming
Another veteran promoter, Hayashi International Promotion (HIP), was founded in 1981 and works with acts such as Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Mariah Carey, Fall Out Boy and The Weeknd.
Last year, along with Live Nation Japan, it delivered two nights for U2 at Saitama Super Arena (37,000), with tickets ranging from 16,800–60,000 yen ($154–552), one date for Buck Cherry at Liquidroom (900) and The Stranglers at WWW (400).
CEO Massy Hayashi says the live music market is on an upwards trajectory but some costs are spiking.
“The entertainment industry is good here but it’s still in a growing phase and will take time to fully mature,” he says. “Business has been good but venue rental fees are quite high.”
This year HIP was due to promote Slipknot’s Knotfest Japan at Makuhari Messe (9,000) in Chiba, but the event has been postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Hayashi says the company’s average annual revenue is usually around $280 million from approximately 1.77m tickets sold, but due to Coronavirus, it’s been forced to cancel imminent events resulting in a loss of around $20m in revenue so far.
Though it’s difficult to predict where business will be in two or three years time, Hayashi says that many new venues are under construction so there’s hope on the horizon for a stronger, more diverse live music market.
Founded in 1962, Kyodo Tokyo is the longest running promoters in the region and has presented artistes including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, the Eagles, Madonna and Taylor Swift.
More recently, the company has turned its focus to an “adult fanbase market”, promoting artistes including Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons at Showa Women’s University Hitomi Memorial Hall (2,800) and Englebert Humperdinck at International Forum Hall C (1,502) in Tokyo.
Kyodo Tokyo president Yoshito Yamazaki says one of the biggest challenges for Japanese promoters is dealing with high expectations for artiste fees.
“The market in Japan for successful tours has become narrow and it is very difficult to present shows in cities other than Tokyo, especially since a decade or so ago,” says Yamazaki. “Therefore there is a gap between the agent’s expectation for an ideal tour schedule/guarantee and what the promoter can actually offer within a safe range of risk.
“Because of this, and with the method that some major companies are taking by covering a worldwide deal, it is more and more difficult to promote foreign artists in Japan in a healthy situation.”
Live Nation Japan (LNJ) was established in 2014, is led by president John Boyle and promotes artistes including U2, Backstreet Boys, John Mayer, LANY, Kacey Musgraves and Troye Sivan.
Last year LNJ held 80 shows, including LANY at Zepp Divercity (2,500), Tokyo and Umeda Club Quattro (650) in Osaka, with tickets at 6,800–7,500 yen ($64–70) and Miguel in at Ex Theater Roppongi (1,746) in Tokyo, with ticket prices ranging from 9,500–18,000 yen ($89–169).
The Backstreet Boys concerts were at Saitama Super Arena (37,000) in Tokyo and Osaka’s Jo Hall (16,000), while U2 was at Saitama Super Arena (37,000), with tickets priced at 15,800–38,800 yen ($148–365).
In partnership with Creativeman, LNJ also launched the first edition of UK festival brand Download Japan (20,000), which took place at Makuhari Messe Event Hall in March 2019 and featured Anthrax, Sum 41, Slayer, Judas Priest and Halestorm.
This year’s edition, which was due to be headlined by My Chemical Romance, has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus.
The company’s upcoming shows include Billie Eilish at Yokohama Arena (17,000) in September, with tickets costing between 9,500–15,000 yen ($84–133).
LNJ will also present shows with Ms Lauryn Hill and Halsey each at Tokyo’s Garden Theater (8,000) – a new venue opening in Ariake in May.
Opened in 1989 and modelled on New York’s Madison Square Garden (18,600), Yokohama Arena (17,000) is an indoor arena located in, the city of the same name, south of Tokyo.
Excluding stadiums, it is the second biggest arena in Japan, after Saitama Super Arena (37,000).
Last year the venue hosted 162 live music events – the majority of which were domestic acts. One Ok Rock and Babymetal have each played two shows there.
Shawn Mendes is one of the only international artistes that played the arena last year, with tickets ranging between 11,000–20,000 yen ($97–178).
Yokohama Arena’s Masayuki Kitamura says the strength of Japan’s live industry lies in its homegrown talent, “particularly with J-POP and rock acts”.
Kitamura also says the market has been strong for a while and business has been good for the past several years, but there are still a few issues the venue has to contend with which mostly revolve around ticketing.
“The way we see it, there are three main issues: paper tickets still dominate, there is no dynamic ticketing yet and there are too many ticket agencies,” says Kitamura.
US music industry publication Billboard enjoys a naming rights deal with venues that were previously the old Blue Note clubs. It has Billboard Live Tokyo (300) and Billboard Live Osaka (300), with Billboard Live Yokohama (300), opening in April.
Ayaka Matsui from Billboard Live Tokyo, which opened in 2007, says the venue hosted around 220 music events in 310 days last year, averaging two shows a night.
Among the artistes that performed at the venue last year are Babyface (18,000 yen/ $165), George Clinton (17,800 yen/$165), Morris Day & The Time (12,800 yen/$117) and Aloe Blacc (8,000 yen/$73).
“Our sales in 2019 were a little lower than the previous year, but last year we were affected by natural disasters, such as typhoons, more than usual,” says Matsui.
Regardless of a slight decline in sales, business is usually quite steady Matsui says.
“The strength of the market lies in fan culture,” says Matsui. “It’s a very unique market compared to other countries – Japanese fans are faithful and very passionate. It’s easy for artistes to build a strong fanbase.”
Much like the rest of the live music industry, the main hurdle Billboard Live has to overcome is the Coronavirus epidemic . So far, both the Osaka and Tokyo venues have been forced to cancel around 35 events, between 28 February to 24 March.
However, Matsui is positive about the future and the opening of the new Yokohama venue. “Even though we are in this unexpected situation, we’ll keep doing our best to bring better music experiences for Japan’s live music market.”
Japan was one of the first Asian countries to be affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. At the time of going to print, the authorities had not imposed a lockdown or mass closures of public places and many venues have remained open.
Among the artistes who were due to play Japan, but have cancelled or postponed are Rick Astley, A-HA,
The National, Green Day, Foals, Ari Lennox, Tom Walker, Temples, Pixies and Stormzy.