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«The Role of YouTube in Accessing Popular Music in Japan Amanda GILLIS-FURUTAKA YouTube was launched in 2005 as a site for people to share their home ...»

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The Role of YouTube in Accessing Popular Music in Japan


YouTube was launched in 2005 as a site for people to share their home videos, but has

expanded to become an unprecedented archive of freely available sound and visual material,

as well as a platform for accessing the latest pop music releases. YouTube is also a major

social networking site and is facilitating the exchange and appreciation of creative work both

within and across national borders. These functions of YouTube will be discussed in relation to the findings of a two-stage research project with Japanese university undergraduates that investigated how and why they use YouTube to access pop music. An initial survey of over 2,000 first-year undergraduates was followed up by interviews with 51 students to find out the ways in which they use YouTube in their daily lives.

Popular music, music video, YouTube, audience studies, popular culture Since the launch of YouTube in 2005, the number of people accessing the site on a regular basis has increased phenomenally throughout the world (Snickars and Vonderau, 2009: 10). In Japan, mobile telephone services provide Internet access and people can watch and upload YouTube videos while on the move as well as on a computer screen at home, or in an office or classroom.

YouTube has grown from a site allowing people to share home videos to an unprecedent- ed archive of sound and visual material that the general public would not otherwise have been able to access. As such, it is a rich resource for teachers, students and researchers.

Moreover, it is a vital platform enabling independent professional and amateur musicians and video makers to reach a wider public.

Rather more contentiously, YouTube is also a free source of commercially produced music and video. Files can be downloaded and shared with no royalties reaching the creators of the music and video. For this reason, some see YouTube as a potential threat to the recording industry. Others see it as a challenge to be met and have started to re-think marketing strat- egies in the realization that YouTube or similar sites are already integrated into the fabric of daily life on a worldwide basis (Arewa, 2010).

52 Amanda GILLIS-FURUTAKA Furthermore, with its comments and recommendations functions, YouTube is a major so- cial networking site and is facilitating the exchange and appreciation of creative work both within and across national borders.

Burgess and Green (2009) argue that to understand YouTube’s cultural and social impact, it is necessary to place the audience at the centre and to take into account the ways people use media in their everyday lives. They explain that YouTube acts as a coordinating mechanism between individual and collective creativity and meaning production. At the same time, it is “a mediator between various competing industry-oriented discourses and ideologies and various audience- or user-oriented ones” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 37). For these reasons, the author has chosen to focus on university students, a section of the Japanese population that makes great use of YouTube, in order to explore the role it plays in providing access to popular music.

This two-part study aims to find out how YouTube is used by Japanese young people to access pop music, based on the daily experiences and activities of Japanese university undergraduates. It aims to provide insights and a rich description that will endorse the recognition by many social scientists that a globally shared technology “is not independent of a social and cultural setting” (Ito, 2005: 6). In other words, this study will demonstrate that many of the ways in which YouTube is used by Japanese young people may not differ from their counterparts elsewhere in Asia, Europe, or Anglophone countries, nevertheless some practices and attitudes are shaped by Japanese cultural influences as well as the actions and decisions of the government and music industry.

This paper has four sections. First, there is an overview of the Japanese popular music scene in order to show the context within which YouTube operates in Japan. This is followed by information about the spread of the Internet and YouTube in Japan and issues related to copyright. Next, is an outline of the research methods, based on both a survey of over 2,000 Japanese university undergraduates (aged 18-21) at a medium-sized private university, and on interviews with 51 students from the same university. In the fourth section, the findings are reported and discussed. The interview findings form the basis of this present discussion and will be followed up with future additional survey work to determine the statistics of the trends that they have revealed.

This section will give an overview of the Japanese pop industry and the way Japanese auThe Role of YouTube in Accessing Popular Music in Japan 53 diences purchase and access music in order to provide a context with which to discuss the author’s findings about the ways in which Japanese young people consume music through YouTube. The overview starts with recent data on the size and health of the Japanese music industry. It then discusses direct purchasing of music through CD sales, CD rental shops, and electronic music delivery. This is followed by a discussion of the influence on these sales of radio and TV, TV commercials, karaoke, live shows, and recording and management agencies. To sum up this section, the ways in which the Oricon charts measure record sales are explained.

According to the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), Japan is the second largest music market in the world following the USA. Sales reached US$4,422.0 million (442,376 million yen) in 2012 and accounted for 26.8% of worldwide sales. Japanese music clearly dominates with 81% of units sold of Japanese origin. (http://www.riaj.or.jp/e/information/faq/index.html).

In spite of the overall sluggishness of the Japanese economy, the Japanese music market is currently expanding. In 2012, the total production value of recorded music (including audio and music videos) achieved double-digit growth of 10% to 310.8 billion yen for the first time in 14 years and the total value of recorded music and digital music sales increased 3% to

365.1 billion yen for the first time in five years (ibid.). Teenagers and people in their twenties purchase the greatest number of records, but there has also been a growth of sales in recent years among the 30-59 years age group (ibid.).

Unlike many other capitalist economies, where CD prices can fluctuate considerably, there is a unique Japanese resale price maintenance system whereby prices are fixed by record companies and there has been no noticeable change in prices for over ten years. A full priced new CD album costs between 2,500 - 3,000 Japanese yen (US$25 - US$30).

Many consumers, however, choose to rent CDs rather than buy. The rental system began in 1980 when college students in Tokyo set up their first shop and the idea was enormously successful (Hosokawa, 1991: 25). It costs only 250 Japanese yen to rent a CD. “Lending rights” in Japan were established in 1984, in response to the proliferation of rental record and CD shops in that period and the need for copyright protection. The length of record protection, since 1990, is thirty years; record copying is permitted for personal use in Japan (Stevens, 2008: 117).

54 Amanda GILLIS-FURUTAKA To offset CD sales losses for recording companies, new releases cannot be rented for a fixed period (usually one month after release). This system provides consumers who are prepared to wait with a more economical alternative to purchasing CDs. It also discourages widespread illegal file sharing, along with public information campaigns that raise awareness of the losses incurred by artists and recording companies when copyright is infringed (Stevens, 2008: 119).

There are about 2,760 record rental shops in Japan and more than 85% of these rent CDs along with film DVDs and game software. The shops pay a use fee to recording companies in accordance with their contracts and, according to the RIAJ, the system is working smoothly (http://www.riaj.or.jp/e/information/faq/index.html).

Interestingly, CDs with promotion videos (music videos) included are not rented. DVDs with video clips can only be purchased from record stores and are expensive to buy. This means that for many young people the free alternative of watching on YouTube is the only viable alternative.

There has been a steady increase in downloading music from the Internet to both computers and smartphones. RIAJ notes a double-digit growth of 26% on a unit basis and 43% on a value basis (http://www.riaj.or.jp/e/information/faq/index.html). There is also a growing trend to download from the Internet rather than mobile phones. This tendency can be seen in the percentage of sales of Internet downloads and mobile which was 34% and 66% in 2012 compared with 18% and 82% in 2011 (ibid.).

“Arguably, since the 1980s, television has replaced radio as the most far-reaching mediator and conveyor of popular music culture in Japan” (Stevens, 2008: 93). Manabe explains that this low radio listenership is related to the lifestyle of Japanese young people who mostly use public transportation and rarely drive to their campus or workplace (Manabe, 2008: 84). Portable music devices, such as Walkmans, iPods and mobile phones, with their personalized play lists, are the preferred music platform for young Japanese on the move, and listening to the radio is not part of their daily routine (De Launey, 1995: 214). For young people living alone, television provides company. They also have complete freedom to choose what programmes to watch and when. This includes late-night music shows that they may not have access to when sharing the TV set with other family members.

The Role of YouTube in Accessing Popular Music in Japan 55 Television has a very great influence on record sales in Japan not only through specialized music programmes, but also through prime-time viewing. According to Stevens (2008: 91), a survey conducted in Tokyo by the RIAJ in early 2005 found that television dominated the list of channels influencing music purchases. About 51.5 per cent said they were influenced by music television programs, 39.4 per cent by theme songs for dramas, 35.8 per cent by television commercial themes, and 33.8 per cent by commercials promoting musical products (Haw, 2005 quoted in Stevens, 2008: 91). The use of music in TV commercials is unique in Japan. As opposed to an anonymously composed and performed jingle, an image song used for a TV commercial is performed (often by an established singer) and this credit appears in the corner of the screen during the commercial. The performer frequently appears in the commercials as the main actor. Similarly, theme songs for television dramas are usually credited on the screen. This high level of integration between the pop music industry and the television industry in Japan explains, to a large extent, why the Japanese music market is so large.

It is because proportionally more people watch TV in Japan than in other countries (Stevens, 2008: 93).

The most important music show on Japanese television is the annual Kōhaku Utagassen (Red and White Song Contest) broadcast live by NHK every December 31st since 1951. This family-oriented show provides a broad overview of current and classic tastes because it targets both young and older audiences. For artists, being asked to perform is a mark of success (50 Years of NHK Television Website http://www.nhk.or.jp/digitalmuseum/nhk50years_ en/categories/p54/).

Japanese hit charts change frequently, largely due to promotion through tie-ups with television, as explained above. This shortens the sales life of a CD, but is offset by the extensive networks of karaoke establishments which purchase the rights to broadcast music as karaoke. A composer can make more money on karaoke royalties than CD sales royalties, especially if the song is considered a “classic” and has staying power. This has to be taken into consideration when analysing a new recording’s overall income potential. Karaoke is very popular as a pastime for a wide age range of groups of friends, work colleagues, or school and college classmates.

Live shows are expensive, with tickets often costing more than the price of a CD. However, they are extremely popular and represent a significant proportion of Japanese music consumption. The “idol phenomenon”, which started in the 1970s, is one reason for the popularity 56 Amanda GILLIS-FURUTAKA of live performances. The word “idol” in Japan refers to “highly produced and promoted singers, models, and media personalities” (Galbraith and Karlin, 2012: 2). Idol groups such as the Tokyo-based AKB48 and its partner groups in different major cities put on daily shows (http://www.akb48.co.jp/about/schedule/). Foreign artists also attract sell-out shows, such as the November 2013 concerts in Osaka, Tokyo and Fukuoka by Paul McCartney (http://www.


At present, most mainstream Japanese popular music is firmly enmeshed in the chain of human relationships between male artist management companies like Johnny and Associates (usually called simply Johnny’s), or female artist management agencies such as Nabe Puro, Oscar Promotion Inc., Yellow Cab, and record companies, rental stores and record retailers (Aoyagi, 2005, Stevens, 2008).

There are several music charts published in Japan, but the best-known Japanese music charts are those published by Oricon magazine. (“Charted Waters - Getting a Handle on the Japanese Charts” 2005.06.04). “Oricon” is an abbreviation of “Original Confidence”. Oricon’s role in the Japanese music industry is similar to that played by Billboard in the United States. Oricon publishes various types of charts, as well as news stories about the Japanese music industry. Unlike its American counterpart, however, Oricon also publishes a weekly magazine called Oricon Style, which is aimed at music fans rather than at music business professionals.

Most of the sales data used in collating Oricon’s charts come from point-of-sales sources.

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