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Music Market in Japan

Updated on August 27, 2011

Japan has a population of 126,804,433 people, the 10th most populous country in the world. The Japanese spend more money on music than anyone in the world. According to the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), in 2009 there were a total of 11,225 million domestic music sales and 7,435 million international music sales. 90% of the music is digitally downloaded by mobile phones and 10% is downloaded via computer. The genres of music range between everything from pop, rock, classical, and even traditional.

Japan is often described as the home of innovation due to its advances in technology, jumps in fashion trends, and creative influences. Even in the music business, Japan has developed new styles, sounds, and presentation. Foreign artists from many different countries are starting to display these trends, such as Lady Gaga, of whom is greatly know in the US for her wacky dress style. Her dress style is called ‘Visual Kei’, which was originally developed and made popular in the late 70s in Japan.

Japan is incredibly strong in the music market because the Japanese spend more money on music than any other country in the world. The continuous use of promotional videos in everyday television and specialized programs give an advantage to artists in Japan. Not only that, but new artists looking to hit it big collect in Harujuku to perform free mini-concerts in the streets. This generates a constant flow of new label signings.

Although the Japanese spend more money on music than anyone else, they have just as many problems with piracy as anywhere else. Many Japanese do not have personal computers in their households, so most piracy is done through free download websites for cellular phones. Music is expensive in Japan and free download sites encourage piracy. The problem with this, as it is in all music markets, is that if the company distributing the songs do not make money, they are not able to produce as much product.

As mentioned before, Harujuku offers many opportunities for people wanting to become big artists. It is common for talent scouts to wander around here in search of new faces for the music business. This, in turn, creates more business for record labels and more influence for a culture which is always seeking something “fresh and exciting”.

As more companies find new ways for consumers to listen to music (iPods™, internet radio stations such as™, YouTube™, and other sources), the demand for music increases. Artists rise to meet this rise in demand by producing and distributing their music into the market. Japan is prime for artists, new and old, to distribute their music.

Music is promoted through the use of the visual media. Promotional Videos (PVs) are shown occasionally during commercial breaks or before music channel interviews. Television programs such as “Music Station”, “Hey Hey Hey”, and “MTV Japan” show PVs in hopes of attracting the target market to purchase the new album or support the artist.

The average price of digital downloads is 300 yen (approximately $3) per track. For physical albums, the average price ranges between 2,500 – 3,000 yen ($25 - $30). Due to these high prices, pirated downloads are becoming more frequent. The RIAJ is combating the mobile phone piracy problem by monitoring cell phone music downloads. According to Yomiuri Online, if the download is from an illegal site, the downloader will receive a text message saying, “You are killing the Japanese music industry.” However, consumers feel that the prices to legally download music are unfair.

The Japanese have a cultural perspective on what is “cool” and “not cool”. Because the target market is a collective society, once a fad starts, it spreads like rapid fire. The Japanese are not prejudice about where the new fad starts. This means that any new music trend is more likely to succeed in Japan than anywhere else in the world, whether it be domestic or international. Even outdated music is more likely to receive modern attention. If it’s cool, it’s cool. Also, because the Japanese are culturally eager to participate in the genre of music or artists that they enjoy, they can help raise artists’ fanbases by up to 47%.

The target market are loyal fans that demand more music. Making it big in Japan is a big deal to both international and domestic musicians. The more artists that are able to produce in Japan, the happier the fans will be.

According to the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), in 2009 there were a total of 11,225 million domestic music sales and 7,435 million international music sales in Japan alone. It holds 22% of the global share of recorded music, second only to the USA which holds 25.4% of the global share of recorded music.

The global economy has been doing poorly in recent years, and Japan was recently hit with a massive earthquake and tsunami. Businesses all over the country were affected negatively and stocks in the Japanese markets have steadily been falling. Although the market is still large enough to introduce more new music, the point of affordability is a crucial matter at the moment.* On average, Japanese people pay 300 yen per track and between 2,500 – 3,000 yen per album. That is about $3.67 US dollars per track and $30.59 - $36.71 per album in US dollars. Before the fall in economy, consumers felt these prices were too high, and now they are definitely too high.

Again, given the circumstances in Japan, the target market’s wants and needs have drastically changed. The ‘need’ for music is inevitable as artists across Japan use their musical influence to raise money for relief efforts. Artists such as Gackt, who founded the “SHOW YOUR HEART” charity for emergency relief funds, reach out to fans in other countries. ( The ‘want’ for music is less for entertainment, but more for distraction and comfort.

Some forms of modern entertainment include television, and the constant use of internet and mobile devices. Though these may be considered competition to the music industry, music is easily integrated into each of these. Consider the music used in television dramas and game shows for instance. The most noticeable is the theme song. Beyond that is the background music to help set the mood of the scene or area. The internet has become the number one source for purchasing music, and most cellular phones come with built in mp3 players.

CDs are fast becoming greatly outdated, much as cassette tapes have become almost non-existent in the past 10 years. This is especially the case in Japan, where most music is purchased and downloaded via internet and stored on cell phones. Even so, CD presentation is important. Despite the rarity of CDs, cover art is still showcased on websites where the albums can be bought. While playing on iPods and mp3 players, if the song is a legal copy, will display the cover art on the screens.

The cover art differs greatly per genre and artist. Many pop artists in Japan use an image of themselves, posed and altered to give a fresh feeling. BoA’s album titled ‘OUTGROW’ displays the singer with a Baywatch windblown look, surrounded by gentle sunset colors. In the Visual Kei genre, the bands theme tends to show predominantly on the CD covers. A couple fine examples come from the band Versailles –the Philharmonic Quintet- and artist Kaya. Versailles shows off their elegant, aristocratic vampire themed costumes on the cover of ‘Destiny’, while Kaya also shows off his theme of various female personas on the covers of ‘Madame Rosa’ and ‘Ophelia’. Rock artists in Japan generally tend to not display themselves at all on there covers, instead opting for designs or photos that represent the feel of there album. The GazettE cover for ‘[DIM]’ depicts a block of ice in the middle of a landscape void of anything but dark sky and bare trees.

The music industry is the most flexible and creative of the entertainment industries. It is also huge. So standing out through the use of modern technology and product displays are important. The ability for the product to stand out depends greatly on the artist/band and the style and look they want to present to their audiences.


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    • iviskei profile image

      Kyou Capps 6 years ago from In your computer, stealing your internet.

      @Phil: Probably crazier fans. Lol!

      @seicheprey: Thanks!

      Thanks for reading you two!

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 6 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      I wonder what it will take for the music scene in North America to rank up there with Japan's.

    • seicheprey profile image

      seicheprey 6 years ago

      Nicely done piece, keep it up.:)