MMW-118 -- Japan's Music Media Publishers

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's music technology news

Issue No. 118

------Metropolis Magazine Valentine`s Glitterball-------

Glitterball is back!
Tokyo's favorite party makes its triumphant return on
February 14, 2008-Valentine's Day.
An institution for nearly a decade, the Metropolis-hosted
Glitterball was on hiatus this year due to the closing of
Velfarre nightclub, but 2008's version promises to be better
than ever.

Roppongi hotspot Alife will host over 1,000 V-Day revelers
for a night of eating, drinking, dancing, making friends-and
who knows what else.
Prize drawings, swag bags, and Tokyo's funnest crowd will make
the reborn Glitterball the highlight of the Tokyo social calendar.





++ FEATURE: The Roots of Guitar Hero


** KDDI to broadcast concert live on all FM radio stations in
** Yamaha starts Y-TV service to promote products and events
** Roland to debut new products at Sound Spark 2008 event
** Sony's NetJuke software to work with KDDI's LISMO service
** NTT DoCoMo makes Melody Call trial previews available for

++ FEATURE: The Roots of Guitar Hero

On a recent trip back to the US in January, I was somewhat
surprised and impressed to see just how big the 'Guitar Hero'
phenomenon has become. Friends, relatives - almost everyone I
knew it seemed - had bought at least one of the three versions
of this console game and/or its new full-band counterpart,
'Rock Band'. I also had the chance to play the game myself for
the first time, and experience firsthand why it is so addictive.

Guitar Hero is a rhythm game in which players strap on a plastic
toy-like guitar controller with different colored buttons that
must be pressed in time with the music. The first version of the
game was developed by Harmonix and released in the US by Red
Octane (later sold to Activision) in 2005. It became a surprise
hit that year, and has since spawned two subsequent versions,
as well as the 'Rock Band' game, which includes controllers for
bass, drums and vocals. On January 21, Activision announced that
sales from the Guitar Hero series in North America had exceeded
US$1 billion, with over 14 million units sold.

The game has also attracted quite a bit of attention in Japan,
albeit for a different reason. Guitar Hero is very similar to a
much earlier rhythm game released by Konami in 1998 called
GuitarFreaks, which also features a plastic guitar controller.
GuitarFreaks is primarily known in Japan as an arcade game,
although several console versions have also been released for
the Sony PlayStation 2. As part of Konami's popular Bemani
(shorthand Japanese for 'Beat Mania') series of rhythm games,
GuitarFreaks has had modest sales in Japan, but nothing on the
order of Guitar Hero in the US.

Indeed, as far back as six years ago, the whole rhythm game
genre was considered to have peaked in Japan, and it seemed
unlikely that anyone would try to export a game like
GuitarFreaks to the US. In addition to GuitarFreaks, another
Japanese guitar-based rhythm game called 'Guitaroo Man' had been
released by Koei in 2001, and experienced similarly lackluster
sales. In 2002, a programmer at iNiS (which developed Gitaroo
Man for Koei) remarked to me that 'nobody is interested in music
or rhythm games anymore, and publishers don't think they can
sell much at all outside Japan.'

Apparently, Harmonix and Red Octane didn't get that message, and
proceeded to create a game that was in most respects identical
to GuitarFreaks, but with an element of humor and an attention
to visual detail that was missing from the earlier Japanese
games. Now the Japanese companies who pioneered the music game
genre are scrambling to play catch-up in the US market. Konami
is rumored to be hard at work on a new game to rival Rock Band,
while iNiS resurfaced in 2006 with 'Gitaroo Man Lives!' for the
PS2. Indeed, it seems that without adding much in the way of new
ideas, Guitar Hero has nonetheless managed to breathe new life
into a genre of games that was believed to be in decline here.

A large part of Guitar Hero's success can be attributed to its
simplicity and accessibility. Anyone can get started on the
'easy' level and within minutes feel like they're playing a
guitar (or at least something shaped like a guitar). It is also
packed with music that's recognizable to the over-40 crowd,
making it interesting for the parents as well as the kids. And
then there's the addictiveness factor - as soon as you complete
one song, you immediately want to try another one. It's very
hard to put down once you get going.

Some proponents of the game have also suggested that it helps
players with basic rhythm skills and the kind of finger
dexterity needed for real guitar playing. However, the direct
music training/education benefits appear to be fairly minimal,
especially after the first few days or so. What the game has
done instead, though, is to revive interest in guitar-oriented
music and inspire a new legion of young people to try their hand
at playing a real guitar. Again, I was able to witness an
example of this firsthand on my trip to the US, meeting a
talented and enthusiastic 11-year old who was drawn to guitar
lessons (and making extremely fast progress) after playing
Guitar Hero. Real guitar makers have also benefited from the
game's popularity - Fender is now selling its Squier 'starter
guitar' under the slogan 'Stop pretending and start playing!'.

It seems just a matter of time, though, before there are more
games on the market that not only foster an interest in music
but also help train people to understand and play it. One of the
major complaints about most music- and instrument-learning
software today is that it is not sufficiently interactive or
interesting. Now that Harmonix have shown that music games can
have worldwide mass-market appeal, we are likely to see a
renewed effort on the part of Japanese game makers like Konami
to introduce new and innovative games to the genre - hopefully
with even more emphasis on the music component.


** KDDI to broadcast concert live on all FM radio stations in
In brief: As part of its 'Meet the Music 2008' initiative to
promote mobile FM radio in Japan, KDDI announced that it will
broadcast a special concert on all 53 FM radio stations in Japan.
The concert will be held on March 23, and will feature Keisuke
Kuwata, leader of the Southern Allstars.

** Yamaha starts Y-TV service to promote products and events
In brief: On January 30, Yamaha Corporation launched a new
website to promote its instruments, live events and other
products/service. The new site is called Y-TV, and consists of a
library of videos pertaining to various products and events.

** Roland to debut new products at Sound Spark 2008 event
In brief: On Feb. 6 in Osaka and Feb. 9 in Tokyo, Roland will
hold 'Roland Sound Spark 2008', a 5-hour event in which
attendees can try out products that have been announced but not
yet released. The event will also feature seminars and live
performances by artists using the new Roland instruments.

** Sony's NetJuke software to work with KDDI's LISMO service
In brief: On January 28, Sony announced an upgrade to the
software for its NetJuke series of music players that will work
with KDDI's LISMO service for mobile music. With the new
software, users can transfer songs downloaded to au phones via
the LISMO service and store them on the NetJuke player.

** NTT DoCoMo makes Melody Call trial previews available for
In brief: Earlier this month, NTT DoCoMo announced that it would
make free previews (trial listening samples) for all the songs
on its Melody Call ringbacktone service available to all users,
even those who are not subscribed to the service.

Written by: Steve Myers (
Steve Myers is president and chief enthusiast of Theta Music
Technologies, which specializes in the development of
music-related software applications.

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(C) Copyright 2008 Japan Inc Communications KK.
All Rights Reserved.

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Date: Thursday, Feb 21, 2008
Time: 6:30 Doors open includes open bar (sponsored by Skillhouse)
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Open to all - venue is The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan