Strange Boutique (August 2012)

Way waaaaay behind on posting up some of my Japan Times stuff from the past couple of months, so here’s a start on my Strange Boutique columns. July’s column was a return to something I’ve written about before, relating to the pay-to-play system in Japanese live venues. In one of my columns last year, I went into some of the reasons about why it’s going to be difficult to change. This time, I’m talking more about the negative effect it can have on bands themselves. Musicians can be very self-centred, egocentric people — you have to be a bit of an egotist to be any kind of artist, musician, writer, whatever: it’s what motivates you to get up in the morning. The problem is that by getting musicians used to the kind of high end equipment and service they provide, live houses are pandering to musicians’ egos and in the end, that might make it difficult for them to accept the drop in service that would likely accompany any change to the pay-to-play system. To be honest, this is partly a gripe from personal experience I’ve had running events and a label, where I occasionally get the impression that some bands are expecting a degree of professionalism from me that I’m really not in a position to provide given that (A) I’m making no money whatsoever from any of my activities, and (B) the bands themselves have no audience whatsoever worth speaking of. In addition to making a point, however, I’m also eager to hear ideas about how we can get around pay-to-play in Tokyo. A lot of people have suggested that ticket prices are too expensive and that that keeps audience away. I’m not sure about this. You definitely get bigger audiences by reducing prices from 2000yen to 1000yen, but you don’t double them. It’s definitely something I’d like to see more of though, perhaps in combination with some other ways of making shows more welcoming. Getting people to treat gigs as a casual form of recreation is definitely a way to go, and I think re-organising the venue experience away from bands and towards audience would benefit everyone in the long run.

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