MMW-125 -- New English site to bring Japanese music to the masses

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

Issue No. 125



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++ FEATURE: HearJapan Brings Japanese Music to the Masses

** Labels seek nullification of ruling by Fair Trade
** New experimental handsets from KDDI double as musical
** Apple Japan to replace faulty nano batteries
** Dwango starts full-song mobile video karaoke service
** Hokkaido man arrested on music piracy charges

++ FEATURE: HearJapan Brings Japanese Music to the Masses

It's been a while since we've profiled an interesting
Japanese music service on MMW, so we're pleased this month to
feature HearJapan, an English-language online music store
dedicated to selling Japanese music. HearJapan was founded in
2007 by Nathan Reaven, a US expat living in Japan who noticed
a growing international demand for Japanese music that wasn't
being met by any of the existing digital services. HearJapan
officially launched its store in February of this year and
currently offers a catalog of over 4,000 tracks in DRM-free
MP3 format, primarily from independent Japanese labels and

One of the key selling points of HearJapan over competing
Japanese services is that all of the information about the
artists and their music is in English. The store is particularly
well-suited to foreign fans whose musical tastes tend toward one
of the many micro-niches and sub-cultures that make up so much of
Japanese music. Arguably the largest of these is the 'visual-kei'
genre, in which heavy make-up and flamboyant costumes often
comprise a large part of an artist's appeal. Reaven reports that
HearJapan's best-selling artist is a visual-kei band called
D'espairRay, which has built a sizable following outside of
Japan through extensive tours in the US and Europe. Other
popular acts on the site include experimental dance artist DJ
Baku and the ambient electronic duo Otograph.

Despite starting with a relatively small catalog from just a
handful of labels, sales on HearJapan have been impressive so
far, averaging 400 to 800 tracks per day at a price of 150 to
200 yen per track (US$1.40-$1.80). This in turn has helped the
company to attract new licensing deals from other Japanese
labels. Reaven says that obtaining licenses from the labels
has been much more difficult than he had anticipated, due in
part to the fact that HearJapan sells MP3 files with no DRM
restrictions. "While almost all digital music
stores outside of Japan do not use copy protection, that trend
hasn't caught on in Japan," he says. "Before we had even
started, most labels had rejected us."

Although it has taken some time, HearJapan has managed to bring
some of these labels back to the bargaining table. In addition
to its successful start, the company can also point to the fact
that it is registered with JASRAC and other Japanese copyright
agencies, ensuring that publishing royalties eventually make
their way back to the songwriters and composers (at least in
theory). Also, simply by being based in Japan with Japanese-speaking
staff, HearJapan is likely to appear more attractive to Japanese
labels than foreign-based digital music services.

Reaven comments that his company provides a unique gateway for
those labels who want to sell outside of Japan, but lack the
necessary resources and connections. In addition to the chance
to sell their music without having to worry about swaying
exchange rates and international payment fees, HearJapan is
able to offer another attractive service to the labels: free
promotion in English. "We translate the information about all
the artists and albums on our site," notes Reaven, "so even by
the slim chance their music doesn't sell, the music is still
translated in English so millions of people can be exposed to
it, at no cost to the label."

While HearJapan is providing a useful service by offering free
information and features about these artists in English, one may
very well wonder what's to stop people from using the site to
find the music they want, then downloading it via a P2P service.
Reaven admits that this is a "very difficult problem," especially
given the fact that the popularity of Japanese music abroad
overseas was founded on P2P file-sharing. "The massive fan base
for Japanese music found out about it through P2P services and
built up the movement," he explains. "On one hand, P2P is creating
thousands of new fans of Japanese music weekly. On the other hand,
many of the fans have become accustomed to downloading their music
for free and are resistant to change."

For now, HearJapan is countering this problem by offering exclusive
'extras' to entice users to make a purchase, such as translated lyrics,
downloadable DVDs and live photographs. In addition, the company actively
targets the die-hard fans who simply can't wait for new releases and are
willing to pre-order or buy new tracks and albums immediately upon their
release. Simply by virtue of the fact that the service is physically in
Japan, they get a slight jump on the competition as they are able to offer
the track for sale on
midnight of the release date, at least ten hours ahead of
retail stores.

Only time will tell if HearJapan is able to parley its unique
service offering into a long-term sustainable business, but the
company appears to have a lot going for it at this point. At the
very least, Reaven is clearly fulfilling his ambition of promoting Japanese
music to the rest of the world. When asked about his
motivation for starting HearJapan, he replied that a huge fan of
Japanese music himself, he found it "incredibly odd that all
this great music from the world's second largest music market
wasn't available outside Japan in any official capacity."
Fortunately for other Japanese music fans living in other
countries, that's no longer the case.



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** Labels seek nullification of ruling by Fair Trade Commission
In brief: On August 25, Sony Music Entertainment, Avex Networks,
Victor Entertainment and Universal Music Japan each filed separate lawsuits
seeking nullification of a ruling by the Japanese Fair
Trade Commission (JFTC) that the labels conspired to keep other companies
from licensing their catalogs for master ringtone use.
As featured in last month's MMW, the JFTC issued its ruling on
July 24 following a four-year investigation.

** New experimental handsets from KDDI double as musical
In brief: KDDI has teamed with Yamaha for the latest series
of handsets developed through its au Design Project. Under
the banner 'au Design Project x Yamaha', foreign and Japanese
designers worked together to create phones that can double as
musical instruments, including keyboards, harmonica, trumpet
and others.

** Apple Japan to replace faulty nano batteries
In brief: On August 20, Apple Japan announced it would replace
batteries from first-generation iPod nanos. The announcement
came amid reports of batteries overheating on some
first-generation nanos, rendering them unusable. In its press
release, Apple acknowledged the problem, attributing it to a
single supplier and noting that the problem occurs on 'less
than 0.001 percent' of the first-generation nano players.

** Dwango starts full-song mobile video karaoke service
In brief: On September 8, Dwango started a full-song karaoke
service for NTT DoCoMo and SoftBank handsets that features
full-video backgrounds for the song lyrics. The new service,
called 'Karaoke Movie Full' is subscription-based and costs
315 yen (US$3.00) per month.

** Hokkaido man arrested on music piracy charges
In brief: On August 21, the Hokkaido police arrested a
47-year old man for copyright infringement. According to the
police, the man had illegally uploaded over 20,000 songs to a
server in Japan in January 2006, which he made available for
free downloading. From February 2006 to April 2008, police
report that there were over 115,000 downloads from his site.

ν Steve Myers
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