As Japan reels from the lethal aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, recording artists and other members of the international music industry are rallying to lend their support.
The devastating 9.0 quake, and the ferocious tsunami it triggered in northeastern Japan, claimed thousands of lives and wrought a path of destruction from which it will take the country years to recover.
And the escalating risk of a catastrophic release of radiation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant (160 miles northeast of Tokyo) continues to raise concerns about public safety.
As Japan struggles to absorb the staggering human cost of the crisis, the impact on the local music business is already being felt. International acts ranging from Iron Maiden and Slash to Jack Johnson, the National and Travis frontman Fran Healy called off or postponed shows that had been scheduled in March (Billboard.biz, March 14).
Meanwhile, rolling blackouts to conserve electricity have prompted businesses to voluntarily limit their operations. Tokyo-based Tower Records temporarily shuttered some of its 90 stores. Sony Corp. suspended production at its CD, DVD and Blu-ray disc manufacturing plants in Japan. And record labels like Avex Group Holdings, EMI Music Japan and Warner Music Japan asked or allowed their employees to work from home this week.
Still uncertain is the potential impact that the crisis will have on recorded-music sales in Japan, the world’s second-largest market after the United States, according to the IFPI.
The stimulus impact of government spending on reconstruction work later this year should help lend a boost to the Japanese economy, Credit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank economist Susumu Kato projected in a March 16 research note.
But Kato also warned that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami will push the Japanese economy into a short-term recession.
“As consumers become even more careful and increase precautionary saving for rainy days,” Kato said, “that will sharply weigh on private consumption.”
It’s a point of view that’s shared by Masato Kitaguchi, executive director/COO of Hanshin Contents Link, the operator of Billboard Japan.
“I can’t tell you how much the change will be in the first half of 2011 but I think the music industry will suffer a severe blow,” he says, pointing out that “currently Japanese can’t bring themselves to enjoy entertainment. Their hearts are heavy.”
Keith Cahoon, the former head of Tower Records Japan and now CEO of Tokyo music publisher Hotwire Publishing, observes that “people have been relatively calm despite the magnitude of the disaster,” adding however that “the issue of leaking radiation is huge, very frightening and could have worldwide impact.”
Japanese musicians scheduled to attend this week’s South by Southwest festival found themselves in the position of having to decide whether to travel to Austin at a time of enormous uncertainty back home. SXSW Music Asia representative Audrey Kimura, owner of Tokyo indie label Benten, acknowledges that she was concerned that Japanese acts would drop out of this year’s SXSW.
“But they all said, ‘No, we’re definitely coming-we can’t do as much in Japan as we can there,’ ” she says. “Absolutely nobody canceled.”
The biggest concern from a business standpoint is the cumulative impact of the crisis on Japan’s touring industry, Kimura says.
“All the entertainment and shows are canceled in Japan now, and musicians coming to Japan have all canceled,” she says. “Some of the clubs will probably go out of business; we’re not sure.”
At press time, a previously scheduled SXSW Japan Nite on March 18, including bands White White Sisters, Oh Sunshine and Mo’Some Tonebender, was to become a benefit concert. But Kimura notes that it will have a different focus than the SXSW Cares campaign for the American Red Cross, which has already raised more than $65,000 for tsunami victims.
“We’re talking about which organizations to donate to, but the money will go to musician’s families and to the clubs,” she says. “The clubs need money; they need to be rebuilt.”
Kimura says that Japanese musicians back home haven’t wasted any time in coming together for their country.
“The bands . . . they’re all talking, saying, ‘We’re going to do something,’ ” she says. “The promoters are not doing anything officially yet because they’re afraid-maybe they’ll have a big show and then there will be an aftershock, [then] another one. But the bands, the musicians, they’ve already started, saying, ‘Let’s get together, let’s do something big.’ They already have individual benefit shows planned this week in Tokyo and Osaka.”
A flurry of domestic and international artists have organized themselves to contribute to Japanese relief efforts.
Indie rocker Gakt announced that he would organize a charity benefit called “Show Your Heart” at which he and other musicians would perform. The money raised will be donated to disaster relief funds.
Members of Japanese girl band AKB48, and affiliated teen-idol girl groups SKE48, NMB48 and SDN48, have collectively pledged ¥500 million ($6.2 million) toward ongoing relief efforts. The bands also asked their fans to donate to the Japanese Red Cross.
Johnny & Associates, a leading Japanese artist management agency, announced that it has canceled all domestic concerts by its artists in March to provide buses and power generators to disaster-stricken areas. The cancellations total 18 shows by six acts including Tokio, Tackey & Tsubasa, Hey! Say! JUMP and Tomohisa Yamashita.
Since the crisis started Japanese superstar Ayumi Hamasaki has been constantly retweeting useful information for people affected by the disaster, and with 400,000 followers her dispatches could be very useful.
Support also came from neighboring South Korea, home of K-pop acts that have huge fan bases in Japan. One of the biggest donations came from record label/management firm SM Entertainment, which announced that it donated 1 billion won ($882,276) to the Japanese Red Cross. SM, whose roster includes acts like BoA, Super Junior and Girls’ Generation, said in a statement, “Our artists and staffs will cheer for all the people in Japan with one heart so that they don’t lose strength and hope.”
Former “American Idol” judge and Syco chief Simon Cowell, who organized a star-studded recording last year of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” to benefit earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, announced on Twitter that he’s organizing a similar charity effort for Japanese quake victims. He tweeted that Katy Perry and Justin Bieber are among the artists who’ll participate.
Columbia University’s Miller Theatre in New York will host a “Concert to Benefit Japan Earthquake Relief” on March 27. Hosted by John Zorn, the show will feature performances by Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Cibo Matto and other artists. According to the Miller Theatre website, tickets are already sold out.
“It’s a very tough situation for all people in Japan right now,” Warner Music Japan acting CEO Hiro Tanaka says. “We are grateful for all the expressions of support we have received from our artists and partners around the world.”