Labels Delay Releases In Japan Amid Production, Marketing Disruptions

Record labels in Japan are pushing back music releases slated for March as they contend with a myriad of logistical challenges following the recent earthquake and tsunami.

Sony Music Entertainment Japan has delayed the release of several hundred albums, singles and DVDs originally due out between March 23 and March 30 to April or dates to be determined later, according to SMEJ senior VP Yoshikazu Takahashi.

Among the delayed releases are albums by female hard-rock band Chatmonchy and techno-pop act Denki Groove, as well as J-pop singer Yuki's new single, "Himitsu." All three will be released April 6, two weeks after their originally planned street dates.

"We decided that delays in releases were unavoidable due to the extensive effects of the March 11 earthquake on manufacturing, distribution, retail and logistics," Takahashi says.

Warner Music Japan has delayed the release of new titles and reissues by international artists expected out in March. The Streets' "Computers and Blue" and Green Day's new live album "Awesome As Fuck," both originally scheduled for March 23 releases, will now come out April 6 and 13, respectively. Warner has also postponed the planned March 23 reissue of Grateful Dead and ZZ Top catalog titles to April 6.

Universal Music Japan will delay the release of at least 29 titles, including a live DVD from J-pop star Seiko Matsuda and the single "Jet Coaster Love" by Korean girl group Kara. Delaying the music releases will "reduce the volume of products being distributed domestically so that the delivery of relief goods to the devastated areas would be done more smoothly," says Kazutoyo Yamana, Universal Japan senior manager of corporate planning.

Tokyo emerged relatively unscathed from the earthquake and lay beyond the reach of the subsequent tsunami. But public-transit disruptions and rolling blackouts to conserve electricity prompted many businesses, including record labels like Avex Group Holdings and all four majors, to ask their employees to stay home for part of the week following the quake.

Train schedules are now almost back to normal in Tokyo. And while potential radiation contamination of water and food remains a concern, reports of some progress in staving off full reactor meltdowns at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant have helped alleviate jitters in the capital city.

Still, the momentary disruption of music releases is still expected to have a chain-reaction effect on other aspects of the business.

"Promotion plans need to be adjusted accordingly," SMEJ's Takahashi says. "Live tours are scheduled to coincide with album releases, so release delays significantly affect these plans as well."

Takahashi notes that many regularly scheduled TV programs, including music shows, "were replaced by news programs about quake-related issues during the 10 days since March 11," although they've since eased back to normal schedules.

While Universal's Yamana says that the areas most devastated by the quake and tsunami account for only about 8% of annual physical music sales in Japan, he notes that production challenges remain daunting.

"CD manufacturing factories have recovered their physical production ratio to around 60% so far," Yamana says. "But due to the planned blackouts by the electric companies, the actual production proceeds with around 30% availability."