‘J-Pop is now gaining popularity on a global scale.’

MBW’s World Leaders is a regular series in which we turn the spotlight toward some of the most influential industry figures overseeing key international markets. In this edition, we speak to Japan-based music executive Keiko Ishikawa, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) at Sony Music Entertainment Japan, who oversees Human Resources, General Affairs, Public Relations, Sustainability, Risk Management, and Compliance at the Tokyo-headquartered music giant. World Leaders is supported by PPL.

A stand-out trend highlighted by Luminate’s 2023 Year End report last month was the shrinking market share of English language music on streaming services globally in 2023.

Last year, non-English-language music claimed 45.1% of streams of 2023’s Top 10,000 on-demand streaming tracks globally.

That was up from 37.9% in 2022 and 33% in 2021.

Interestingly, only two languages saw their share of the world’s Top 10,000 on-demand streaming tracks increase in 2023: Hindi and Japanese.

Hindi language music was the biggest growth story statistically with its market share of the world’s Top 10,000 streaming tracks (on-demand streams, inclusive of audio + video) more than doubling between 2021 (3.8%) and 2023 (7.8%).

Japanese language music, meanwhile, also saw its market share of the world’s Top 10,000 streaming tracks increase – from 1.3% in 2022 to 2.1% in 2023.

The growing market share of Japanese-language music such as J-Pop offers a unique insight into the shifting global streaming landscape, the multilingual tastes of music fans, and the growth of the streaming format in Japan itself, the world’s second-largest recorded music market.

Although the CD has thrived as the No.1 format in Japan for four decades, streaming is growing significantly in the market.

According to Luminate, Japan saw the sixth biggest YoY increase in total annual on-demand music streams of any nation last year, with its 2023 total stream haul up by 54.7 billion plays vs. 2022.

“In the future, J-Pop will be embraced by even more markets and achieve international success,” says Keiko Ishikawa, Chief Administrative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment Japan (SMEJ), commenting on her prediction for the impact that Japanese language music will have globally,

Ishikawa also points to the rising popularity of Japanese City Pop and Anime in recent years as a reason behind the global growth of Japanese-language music.

“City Pop, which is part of J-Pop’s long history, has been revisited as part of the J-Pop catalog and is now gaining popularity on a global scale,” added Ishikawa.

SMEJ is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japan-headquartered technology and entertainment giant Sony Group Corporation. It was originally founded as CBS Sony Records in Tokyo in 1968 as a JV between Sony and Columbia Broadcasting System Inc. (CBS Inc.).

Today, SMEJ, led by CEO Shunsuke Muramatsu, is split into three business units: the Artist & Music Business Group, the Visual & Character Business Group and Entertainment Solution Business Group.

Keiko Ishikawa sits on the SMEJ leadership team and oversees Human Resources, General Affairs, Public Relations, Sustainability, Risk Management, and Compliance at the Tokyo-headquartered music company.

Ishikawa originally worked in the sales office at CBS/SONY in Osaka for seven years after joining the company in the early 1980s.

“City Pop, which is part of J-Pop’s long history, has been revisited as part of the J-Pop catalog and is now gaining popularity on a global scale.”

Keiko Ishikawa, Sony Music Entertainment Japan

Looking back at the start of her career, Ishikawa explains that there were originally few opportunities for women to advance as executives in the Japanese music business.

“There were no female managers [at SMEJ] at that time, and I could not envision a career advancement for myself,” says Ishikawa.

“To break through, I thought about studying abroad. Then, I was transferred to Tokyo. I was the first female employee to get a transfer.”

Ishikawa worked her way up to her first managerial position by age 32, and by 34, became the General Manager of that sales office.

After that, the exec transferred to Corporate Planning, where she was charged with tasks such as increasing capital for SMEJ’s animation production division Aniplex, then to Human Resources, where she became involved in recruitment and personnel system design.

Pushing for more gender diversity amongst the executive ranks at SMEJ has been a key part of Ishikawa’s focus since the exec took charge of Human Resources at the company.

In a market where women represented only 11.4% of executives at companies on the Prime Market of the Japanese Stock Exchange in 2022, Ishikawa points out that, at Sony Music Entertainment Japan, the female management rate is 25.6%, which, she notes, is “high among Japanese companies”.

“We are advancing diversity,” adds Ishikawa. “We believe this is because we have created an environment where female employees can continue working without giving up their jobs after marriage and childbirth.

“While the efforts of our female employees themselves are certainly a factor, I believe that the numbers show the results of our efforts to actively support the balance between work and parenting.”

Here, Keiko Ishikawa tells us about her career and current work at Sony Music Entertainment Japan, and how the global interest in anime is providing a platform for J-Pop artists to reach audiences worldwide…

How did you first get into the music business?

I have loved entertainment, especially movies, since my student days, and I have always hoped to work in the entertainment industry. When I was job hunting, job opportunities for women with a four-year college degree were really scarce. Even if there were jobs available, it was common for college-graduate women to be paid less than college-graduate men.

In 1983, three years before the enactment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, I joined CBS/Sony (at that time) as a new graduate. Our company was a joint venture between CBS, a U.S. broadcasting company, and Sony, and college-graduate men and women in the same positions were paid the same wage.

I think this was unusual at the time. Therefore, my main motivation for joining the company was that, ‘women might be treated equally at this company’.

What have been some of your biggest highlights during your time at the company?

Early in my career, I witnessed the growth of artists performing in live [venues] with a capacity for 100-200 people, to performing in halls for 1,000-2,000 people, going on to performing at arenas the size for 10,000 people such as the Budokan, achieving million-seller CDs, and becoming a huge success, all through the sweat and toil of the A&R and sales team.

Later in my career, when I was involved in the anime business, I was most impressed when I saw fans at overseas’ anime events cheering in Japanese for the content on stage and felt firsthand the greatness of a global content.

SMEJ’s operations span anime. Where are the biggest opportunities in this area for the music business in Japan currently, and what are your predictions for this side of the business in years to come?

The anime industry in Japan has a broad ecosystem that includes manga, the source material for many works, anime studios producing TV anime and theatrical movies based on original stories or manga adaptations, voice actors, and connections with the music industry through background music and theme songs.

“We have seen the popularity of Japanese anime expand globally. As this momentum accelerates, we believe Japanese anime will move closer to mainstream entertainment.”

The quality of the works has been conveyed through the efforts of predecessors over the years, establishing a solid fan base even overseas. Animation has the advantage of being able to develop a 360-degree business, and the expansion of the character business offers even greater business opportunities.

Recently, anime streaming platforms such as Crunchyroll have made a variety of anime available to fans around the world, and we have seen the popularity of Japanese anime expand globally. As this momentum accelerates, we believe Japanese anime will move closer to mainstream entertainment.

What are some of the key trends in Japan’s music industry that we should be aware of?

Japanese anime is gaining great popularity overseas, and J-POP artists contribute to this success by creating opening (OP) and ending (ED) theme songs from scratch, infusing their own interpretations that align with the anime’s content enhancing the appeal of the anime, creating a win-win relationship.

Music distribution on Crunchyroll has also begun, the charm of artists who sing anime songs (anison) is becoming known among oversea anime fans, leading to an increase in the overall popularity of these artists due to the popularity of their anison. We believe this trend will continue to grow.

Tell us about your views around promoting more gender diversity in the music industry in Japan?

Four years ago, when I assumed the position of director in charge of human resources, I felt that the company did not provide enough support for women working while raising children.

After childbirth there are still not many women who can work in the same way as before. As a nationwide trend in Japan, men tend to spend less time for housework and childcare. When interviewing our female employees, we found that many of them are single-handedly handling childcare responsibilities.

The entertainment industry is prone to long working hours, making it difficult for women to build careers. I was reminded that it is difficult for women to establish their careers without first addressing the correction of long working hours and creating an environment that allows them to balance work and family life.

We held meetings to listen to the needs of our female employees and held seminars for employees expecting childbirth, providing an opportunity to receive advice from senior colleagues.

As a new initiative, we introduced a service on a trial basis to support the promotion of corporate DE&I, allowing employees to receive support for infertility treatments and related matters. In addition to the existing childcare leave system, we established a childcare leave program (up to 20 days) in 2021 with the aim of increasing male participation in childcare.

Could you tell us about SMEJ’s key initiatives in the area of mental health support, for example the B-side Project?

Artists are increasingly exposed to various information on social networking sites (SNS) and social media platforms, leading to a heightened environment of stress. B-side project provides access to professional counseling services at any time, and conducts regular annual check-ups. We also extend the same services to our staff, creating a conducive environment for collaboration with artists. In instances when artists themselves are unaware of their ailments or are unable to discuss them because they do not want to worry people around them, those can encourage the artists to seek counseling.

The project is gaining recognition and counseling services are being used more frequently. We believe that by creating a space where individuals can seek advice for even small concerns before resorting to visiting a psychiatrist or similar professionals, we are preventing mental health issues in advance.

The project also uses podcasts and YouTube to share information with audiences outside of the company about the importance of mental health. Our goal is to expand this initiative across the entire music industry, so that support for artists and creators evolves from just an individual effort but also to become a fundamental aspect of the industry’s structure.

Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about Sony Music Entertainment Japan in 2024?

Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. is promoting sustainable business operations with the goal of making sustainability a standard. In addition to supporting artists in various social activities and messages related to the environment and diversity that draw on the uniqueness of the intellectual properties (IP), we are also fulfilling our environmental and social responsibility by developing packages that uses materials with a low environmental impact and promoting it in the entertainment industry.

SME will continue to aspire to take a leadership role in initiatives aimed at making business in the entertainment industry more sustainable.

World Leaders is supported by PPL, a leading international neighbouring rights collector, with best-in-class operations that help performers and recording rightsholders around the world maximise their royalties. Founded in 1934, PPL collects money from across Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. It has collected over £500 million internationally for its members since 2006.

 Music Business Worldwide

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