Downtown launches new company in Japan, partners with Avex

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Music rights company Downtown has launched a new Tokyo-based company, Downtown Music Japan Inc.

The operation will focus on signing and developing Japanese songwriters, artists and producers, marketing and promoting Downtown’s substantial English-catalogue, and more efficiently collecting songwriting royalties from the world’s second largest music market.

The expansion adds to Downtown’s existing offices in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, London and Amsterdam.

Overseeing the expansion is Downtown’s International A&R Director, Taeko Saito (pictured), who joined the company in 2015 in Los Angeles, and will also serve as Creative Director of Downtown Music Japan.

The company has appointed Rika Yasumoto as Creative Manager at the company’s new office in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.

Yasumoto was previously a manager at Rising Productions where she was responsible for the creative direction of Japan’s biggest pop star, Namie Amuro.

“We’re thrilled about our new partnership with Avex and delighted to have such a talented creative executive like Rika joining our team.”

Justin Kalifowitz, Downtown

The expansion comes with news of Downtown Music Japan entering into a strategic partnership with Avex Music Publishing, a division of Avex Group Holdings Inc, the largest music company in Japan.

As a part of this agreement, Avex will collaborate on creative and administrative services with Downtown Japan.

Downtown’s CEO Justin Kalifowitz said “The Japanese music industry is going through an extraordinary transition and there’s never been a more exciting time to enter the market. We’re thrilled about our new partnership with Avex and delighted to have such a talented creative executive like Rika joining our team.”

President of Avex Music Publishing Inc., Mashiro Anan said “By synergizing Downtown’s capability of creating top notch music content, massive catalogue and insight of rights management based on advanced IT systems, together with Avex’s experience with nearly three decades in the Japanese entertainment business, is to achieve shared business goals and expand together.”

Downtown’s launch in Japan represents one of the first global music publishers to expand directly into the market in recent years.

Downtown and its technology platform, Songtrust, power royalty collection from over 100 countries and more than 20,000 unique income sources worldwide.

The business also runs a neighbouring rights division.


MBW caught up with Downtown founder and CEO Justin Kalifowitz to ask why his independent publishing company had made the uncommon leap to launch its own HQ in Japan…


Japan’s recorded music market is a little down this year, but streaming is mutating. How do you see that area developing?

It’s well-known that Japan’s recorded music market is still primarily a physical business. And it’s worth noting that from a practical perspective, it’s relatively early days for streaming. Unlike Sweden, where Spotify launched in 2008, streaming services in Japan were relatively scarce before 2015 and a download market never quite evolved.

“The powerful relationship that fans have with music in Japan is fundamentally different than what you’ll find in many other markets.”

Today, you have local offerings from LINE and AWA competing directly with international players including Amazon, Apple, Google Play and now Spotify which came online late last year.

The powerful relationship that fans have with music is fundamentally different than what you’ll find in many other markets – from how they purchase and listen to how they experience concerts and express their musical interests – and I would expect that how streaming platforms ultimately fit into that dynamic will be equally unique.


What about performance rights. Where are we and what do you hope will change?

While overall publishing revenues have been flat, performance income in Japan has grown steadily and is now up 30% over the past decade. It’s a combination of strong respect for IP that is ingrained within the culture as well as JASRAC’s expansive and coordinated licensing capabilities from businesses nationwide.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see performance income distributed more frequently, at lower fees and on a 100% census bases.”

Like all CMOs, I’m hopeful that we’ll see performance income distributed more frequently, at lower fees and on a 100% census bases – something that technology will enable us to do globally in the not-too-distant future.


The common knowledge about Japan is that it’s only interested in its own artists and songwriters. True? Either way, what does it mean for your opportunity out there?

There’s no question that Japanese language music dominates and it’s, frankly, something we’re very excited about participating in through signing and developing local songwriters, artists and writer/producers.

At the same time, there are many opportunities for international songwriters particularly in areas such as sync licensing, local collaborations and traditional song plugging that we’re excited to help our clients navigate.

We’ve just had a significant Suzuki advertising campaign for a song written by LA-based writer-producers Rock Mafia.


Why invest in Japan with local resource, rather than just via a sub-publisher?

It’s the second largest music market in the world and has been ignored by many Western publishers for decades.

We always ask ourselves how we can offer our songwriters the most compelling creative solutions on a global basis and the most efficient collection solutions worldwide. Taeko Saito and Rika Yasumoto are two extraordinary music executives with a strong vision for how Downtown can add real value in Japan.

“Japan is the second largest music market in the world and has been ignored by many Western publishers for decades.”

At the same time, through our Songtrust platform, we’re collecting royalties directly from virtually every society in the world which means faster payments, reduced fees and better data to our clients.

By partnering with Avex we’re able to execute on this dual strategy alongside one of the most important music companies in the market.Music Business Worldwide

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