Merlin Highlights Growth, Global Indie Trends at 15th Tokyo Music Market

Charles Caldas
Courtesy of Merlin

Charles Caldas

The 15th Tokyo International Music Market was held Oct. 22-24 at the Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu in the bustling Shibuya district of Tokyo and the crystal edition proved to be one of the most successful yet.

The event is put together by Japanese music industry body PROMIC and is the only industry-wide market in Japan, the world's second-biggest music economy. There were 35 main speakers and presenters, 16 smaller-room seminar panels or presentations and 39 showcase artists with the total number of attendees surpassing 5,200. The presenters pulled of the neat trick of putting forth new information that was both relevant to artists wanting to expand their market and insightful in inventive ways. The three themes of the presentations were new markets, technology and music, and creating opportunities for emerging creators.

The event was more accessible than in the past and Tak Furuichi, director of PROMIC and architect of the conference, explained to Billboard, "To give new, young, independent creators an opportunity to learn about current international music markets and trends and to connect with international music professionals, we created a new, slightly more affordable participation plan to attend TIMM as they are the future of music."  He added, "The number of attendees have been growing every year and the number of our showcase stages have also been increasing which is allowing us to showcase more artists looking to take their careers international."

Charles Caldas CEO of the Merlin Network, presented the main keynote. The agency is hailing its 10th anniversary and the presentation served as a celebration of that milestone as well as a definitive look into the indie side of the industry. The beginning of Caldas' speech highlighted Merlin's phenomenal growth. He noted it took the agency nine years to distribute its first $1 billion to members, but only 12 months to share a further $500 million. He touted the fact that Merlin has grown into formidable force that can help indie artists compete with the majors in every aspect of the industry as well as the growth in streaming of its members in Japan. Caldas pointed out that Merlin members represent 12 percent of all digital consumption of music worldwide, making it the fourth biggest player in that realm after the three majors.

In his presentation Caldas identified five key trends in the contemporary music industry based on numerous surveys they had sent out to Merlin members as well as Caldas' own observations. They are: 1. New market dynamics have benefitted indie music; 2. Growth is from the heart, not the head; 3. Independents are making real money from markets that were of almost zero value before; 4. High value repertoire attracts high value customers; and 5. In the midst of market change, most Merlin members have grown their overall business.

This highly optimistic take on the business contrasts with the pessimism, or very guarded optimism, that has dominated in the industry for the last few years. Caldas cited multiple examples of his five points and the idea that indies are in a better position now that when one could sell a CD for around $15 is something of a revelation. A vital part in this overall argument was the third point, where Caldas outlined how indie bands could realize significant and continuous revenue from markets that previously were impossible to access. He gave the example of an Australian band whose label considered it a very domestic artist. But, because of playlist curation on a local Mexican site, Mexico quickly became their second biggest earning market. The overall point is that access to any market has become tremendously easier with the right online tools and strategy.

Caldas noted that Merlin members' repertoire is significantly over-indexed on paid-for subscription tiers on streaming sites. This bodes extremely well for Merlin and its members and shows indies have more a chance of competing with the majors in the current music market than previously.

Caldas' insights were amplified by an incisive presentation from Steve Mayall, founding director of the digital consultant Music Ally. Mayall's presentation convincingly argued that with exact and astute use of digital tools, an artist can build a following and realize revenue reasonably quickly. Mayall offered numerous examples of shrewd use of these tools. He highlighted the band Gorillaz and their use of Instagram. In addition to an extremely active group Instagram, which links to the band's Spotify streams and official sites, each individual member (who are of course fictitious) curated playlists to up-and-coming bands they like, and other taste-making devices on their Spotify profiles. This drives new subscribers and develops a feedback loop where fans of those bands will be attracted to Gorillaz and vice-versa.

Another illustration of the astute use of digital tools Mayall gave is the competition. He gave several cases of artists that used platforms from Facebook and Messenger to Whatsapp and other messaging services to promote competitions where the public would somehow interact with the artists' work. Whether it was putting forth a cover of a song by the artist, creating an image with the artists' designs or logo, or other creative projects, the key is engage your followers fans to interact with your platform. These techniques prove extremely powerful in selling merchandise, increasing visibility and driving streams.

The assembled Japan music industry reps were enthusiastic about the presentations and the booths at the market were more crowded than ever. Furuichi summed up, "In the four TIMM's that I have been involved in from the producer side, we have moved from Odaiba to Shibuya which was positively received by most exhibitors and delegates. The number of attendees has been growing every year and the number of our showcase stages have also been increasing which is allowing us to showcase more artists looking to take their careers international."