Japan has hosted a major music conference with significant international players for the first time in recent memory. The Big Parade, held September 12th-15th, was packed with line-up of live showcases (of strictly Japanese bands) buttressing three days of talks, speeches and panels.
The conference organizers dubbed the proceedings “a new-age festival for the new digital era,” with most of the discussions centered on the merger of music business with digital technologies and social media. International observers couldn’t help but see some irony in this theme, as the Japanese music business has been slow to adopt current digital means, particularly the subscription-based model, to sell music.
Rob Wells, president of global digital business, Universal Music Group, was slated to give the keynote address, but withdrew at the last minute. He was replaced by Simon Watt, global head of technology with UMG. However, it was famed super-producer Steve Lillywhite, and a panel with Billboard’s director of charts Silvio Pietroluongo, that garnered the most buzz.
The conference is the brainchild of Akinori Makino, vice president, digital media at MTV Networks Japan, and Takayuki Suzuki, executive general manager, digital business development, at Universal Music Japan. Notes Suzuki, “I have been thinking the music business should engage more with technology, [especially the] startup area, to have fresh and new idea to adopt digital device, media and music fans. The original idea [for the conference] came up in a meeting by the two co-founders with the above idea then other people and companies who have same vision joined.”
As is the case with most mainstream festivals and conferences in Japan, the event was put together by a group of heavyweight companies. Suzuki explains, “Universal Music, MTV Networks Japan, Culture Convenience Club, Dentsu, Hakuhodo Casting & Entertainment, and Asobisystem are the core members of the [organizing] committee.”
Seiji Isozaki, deputy manager at Hanshin Contents Link, a company that is a major player in the music intelligence business in Japan [and partner in the Billboard Japan joint venture], thinks the conference can serve a crucial purpose. He suggests, “It is highly important as an event conscious of connecting the Japanese music business with that of the world. Businesses and artists are all aware of this and I feel the event itself will carry that message to the world.”
The room was packed for five-time Grammy winner Lillywhite, who has produced for everyone from The Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, U2 and Talking Heads to Thirty Seconds to Mars, Travis, Morrissey, The Pogues, The Killers and Beady Eye. He stressed that artists and producers should concentrate on the art of any recording they are doing and not let the desire for commercial success color their effort. He related that his most successful records have been ones where he paid the least attention to what is thought to be commercially important.
The panel, “What is a Hit Chart in the Digital Era?” with Silvio Pietroluongo and Akira Nemoto, licensing and label relations director at Spotify Japan, was moderated by music blogger Jay Kogami, offering direct insights into how the digital revolution is affecting the global industry. Pietroluongo explained that in the US, Billboard has always tried to stay ahead of the music consumption curve and track things based on how people are experiencing music.
Pietroluongo captured the recent changes in the industry in the US, outlining the evolution of Billboard’s charts. He noted digital sales have reached their peak in the US and that streaming model is replacing them. So, he explained, Billboard has been at the forefront of including data from streaming services like Spotify, YouTube, Rdio, Slacker and others. This information is incorporated into Billboard’s Hot 100, which uses many types of data. Billboard has always included airplay and sales. Pietroluongo said that digital sales were added in the 2000s and, a few years ago, streaming was also included. Most recently, YouTube streaming was added, which he noted is interesting because it includes not only official content but content uploaded by users. He went further in noting Billboard now also has singular streaming charts, and most recently launched a slew of social charts. The Social 50 chart is based on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Nemoto pointed out that each market is the world is unique and their charts reflect that. He pointed to Spotify’s German experience. There they use a monetary base for their streaming charts, not a volume-based system. They convert the streams into monetary data and base the charts on those units.
Drawing Japan into the discussion, Pietroluongo described how he has been working with Billboard Japan to build chart offerings for that market. He noted Japan is a unique music landscape and the Billboard Japan Hot 100 is based on a model that brings in all types of data sets including airplay, sales, digital downloads, and is the first in the country to incorporate twitter mentions and Gracenote lookups. These are included to represent the rental market, which he observed is unique to Japan. Pietroluongo suggested the next step is to expand the Japanese charts further, to include streaming, especially youtube Japan and Spotify Japan, when it launches.
Canadian-born Sebastian Mair, founder and president of the Tokyo-based consultancy Music Solutions, observed that “the conference itself was well put together, especially for a first-time effort. It was an interesting mix of music and tech which really attracted a unique crowd. The panels and showcases were well attended and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next year.” He added, “I’m hoping it will reach more of an international audience in the future.”