This month I’ve been exploring Tokyo. The neon city is more different from London, New York or LA than I ever could have imagined. The language, the customs, the music industry.
Wandering the streets of Shibuya in the west of the city I came across a glowing monument to CDs. Long since the preserve of ASDA and the Shell petrol station back home, the Shibuya branch of Tower Records boasts 8 floors selling CDs, merchandise and more CDs. In Japan these shiny plastic coasters make up over 85 percent of sales.
At the same time the faces that adorn the glowing LED billboards above the famous crosswalks would be unrecognisable outside of the country. Only 20 percent of music sold in Japan is from foreign artists.
And this strong local music culture translates to the electronic music scene as well. Even though is was illegal to dance after midnight in a lot of clubs until this year, bass lines hum from bars and clubs as you walk around town. Across the road from the glowing Tower Records sign I found Lighthouse Records. An enclave of Japanese techno and deep house vinyl.
And online brands like Dommune have long been established sharing the local sound with the world. With Red Bull Music Academy and Boilerroom also setting up spaces and shows here in recent years.
A big factor in CDs being preferred over streaming is the rights organisation for Japan. JASRAC asserts a strong influence in the country over policy and holds a wider range or rights and a larger amount of catalogue than some comparable organisations overseas. Enforcement of harsh anti-piracy punishments and government set minimum prices for CDs has lead to a good profit margin for the industry here.
But is there room for a startup culture in such a controlled rights market? And is that a good or bad thing for the consumer and for the industry?