One of MBW’s most talked about stories of the summer has been the signing of ‘virtual artist’ FN Meka to Capitol Records in the US.
But the phenomenon of un-human (or part-human) artists gaining traction certainly isn’t limited to the States.
The trend is well known in Korea and China, for example – where acts like Aespa and Ha Jiang have thrust the idea of the “virtual artist” firmly into mainstream pop.
And over in Japan, things are moving to the next level: Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) is working on two major virtual talent projects right now – one of which it calls “the largest virtual talent development and management project in history”.
Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) recently launched a global talent audition for real-life creators to work as virtual characters via the Tokyo-based ‘PRISM Project’, described in a press release as a “member of the Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. family of virtual talent brands”.
On PRISM Project’s website, it’s referred to as “a multinational VTuber agency from the future”.
According to SMEJ, PRISM Project is “backed by Sony Music’s industry-leading expertise in talent management, voice acting, music production, event production, and digital technology”, and aims to “push the boundaries of the virtual talent space by providing growth and development opportunities unrivaled in the industry today”.
Officially launched in January 2021, the PRISM Project agency currently works with 12 so-called “virtual talents”, including Iku Hoshifuri, Aoi Tokimori, Meno Ibuki, Rita Kamishiro, Luto Araka, Shiki Miyoshino, Nia Suzune, Yura Rikudou, Pina Pengin, Naki Kamizuki, Sara Nagare, and Non Anon.
Primarily active on YouTube, and known as ‘VTubers‘, these PRISM-‘signed’ talents, virtual characters voiced and presented by real people, stream a variety of content fronted by their avatars including, but not limited to, singing, karaoke, gaming, art, and more.
The Prism Project audition announcement adds that “applicants should have a strong desire to further their careers as professional virtual talents, wish to pursue streaming as virtual YouTubers (VTubers), and have interest in pursuing other related talent activities under a professional management team with industry-leading experience”.
In May, PRISM announced that it inked a “partnership” with SMEJ. PRISM Project’s producer, named ‘Shogun’, told MBW over email that the partnership “included the transfer of the currently-active 12 PRISM Project talents to Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.’s management and production”.
“Rather than an ‘acquisition’ of a part of the former management company’s business, this was a change in each talent’s affiliated management agency, while maintaining the same branding,” they added.
Alongside the PRISM Project, Sony Music Entertainment Japan also operates a virtual talent agency called VEE Virtual Entertainment (see above).
The division was launched last summer with its own audition program. According to the VEE website, via this division, Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. “is launching the largest virtual talent development and management project in history”.
The website says that “more than 50 virtual talents are expected to debut from this project, and in addition to distribution and video production, they will be involved in music, voice acting, creative work, and other activities to make their ‘dreams’ come true”.
The first five of these so-called “virtual talents” were launched in May.
It also states on the VEE website that, “Sony Music Group (Japan), which has developed a wide range of entertainment businesses, will support the activities of the virtual talents by making the most of its know-how and solutions.”
MBW is told, by PRISM Project’s producer, that the PRISM Project operates as a separate brand alongside the VEE project.
“As we’re part of the same department, our staff shares information and assists each other with projects from time to time, but in general each brand has its own management and administrative teams,” they said.
“Virtual talents have gone from niche to mainstream in the blink of an eye, and will only continue to be more and more accepted and integrated into our modern entertainment landscape going forward.”
Shogun, Prism Project
Commenting on the PRISM Project and Sony Music Entertainment Japan’s ambitions for the virtual talent space, PRISM Project’s producer told MBW over email that, “our number one goal and ambition is to ensure that we are able to realize the dreams and ambitions of our talents, first and foremost”.
They added: “Second to that, we’re excited to connect the virtual talent space closer to the physical entertainment space, using the deep resources and global expertise of Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
“We hope to create an environment where virtual talents are seen as just as “real” as talents in the physical entertainment space, and to break down barriers between the virtual and the “real” entertainment industries.
Looking to the future of the virtual talent space, Prism Project’s producer, said: “Virtual talents have gone from niche to mainstream in the blink of an eye, and will only continue to be more and more accepted and integrated into our modern entertainment landscape going forward.
“Not only will advancements in 3D and VR technology allow for more freedom of expression and audience interactivity with virtual talents in virtual spaces, but it’s my belief that virtual talents will find themselves more and more involved in more “traditional” forms of entertainment, such as television, theater, and the arts.”Music Business Worldwide