Universal poaches Spotify’s head in Japan to run Digital Strategy in market

The importance of Japan to the world’s recorded music industry requires little explanation: according to IFPI data, it was the second largest market in the world in 2018 behind the USA, generating $2.87bn for artists and record labels. (The No.3 market, the United Kingdom, was less than half this size, at $1.4bn.)

Industry revenues out of Japan grew 3.4% in 2018, according to IFPI, thanks to streaming revenues bounding up 32.6% to $356.5m. Physical formats still dominate the market – with 71.5% of industry sales in 2018 – but streaming is becoming increasingly significant, says IFPI, claiming 12.4%.

Now, one of the leading architects of streaming’s growth in Japan has quit a major digital service in order to join Universal Music Group.

Ichiro Tamaki has been named as Corporate Executive responsible for Digital Strategy, data analytics and platform partnerships at Universal Music Japan, effective February 15.

Tamaki (pictured) joins UMJ from Spotify Japan, which he led as General Manager & President. Tamaki joined Spotify in 2016, when the platform launched in the market.

Prior to Spotify, Tamaki served as VP at Amazon, driving and expanding Amazon’s hardware and Kindle content businesses in Japan.

Credit: Masakazu Yoshiba

“Mr. Tamaki’s skills, experience and advanced knowledge will bring us game-changing strategy and help drive UMJ towards the next phase of our rapidly evolving music market in Japan.”

Naoshi Fujikura, Universal Music Japan

You can get a sense of Spotify’s current size in Japan from the company’s Spotify Charts data: for example, the Top 200 tracks in Sweden on Tuesday – January 14 – racked up a total of 8.7m plays, according to MBW research; Japan wasn’t too far behind, on 6.2m plays.

As a core member of Universal Music Japan’s executive team, Tamaki will oversee the firm’s Data & Analytics and Platform Partnerships teams, and will be responsible for leading and developing UMJ’s digital and streaming strategy for Japan, working directly with the company’s leadership, international divisions and with its platform partners.

He will be based in Tokyo and report to Naoshi Fujikura, CEO, Universal Music Japan.

Fujikura said, “We are delighted to welcome Mr. Tamaki to our team. His skills, experience and advanced knowledge will bring us game-changing strategy and help drive UMJ towards the next phase of our rapidly evolving music market in Japan.

“We are committed to delivering the value of music for Japanese music fans and to expanding the universe of opportunities for our artists. We strongly believe that Mr. Tamaki’s leadership will help us ensure and accelerate long-term digital growth, whilst helping our artist talent to reach new audiences around the world.”

Universal Music Japan’s highlights in the past year include its work with King & Prince and back number – who were UMG’s fourth and fifth biggest revenue-generating global artists, respectively, in the first half of 2019.

The company has also enjoyed commercial success with BTS, whose Japanese-language releases it handles in partnership with Big Hit Entertainment. (BTS’s non-Japanese releases go through Sony and The Orchard.)

Speaking exclusively to MBW in 2017, Fujikura explained of UMJ: “Our long-term goal is to become Japan’s leading full-service music entertainment company. We understand our unique local market, and we are taking important steps to evolve our business and embrace new opportunities and challenges. Our core strength has always been our ability to discover artists, help develop their careers and ultimately make ‘hits’.”

Universal’s hire of Tamaki comes after UMG, led by Sir Lucian Grainge, notably poached two senior US-based Spotify execs in the past two years: Dave Rocco (now EVP, Creative at Universal) and Mike Biggane (now EVP, Music Strategies & Tactics).Music Business Worldwide

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