How to Revive the Covid-struck Music Industry – What Should Be Done from an Independent Standpoint
A Dialogue with KIYOHARU (Musician) × Masahiro Kami (Medical Doctor, President of the Medical Governance Research Institute, a non-profit organization)
The music industry lost many opportunities due to the Coronavirus. Restrictions on activities, such as the Japanese government's request to avoid the three C’s , have narrowed the scope of expression at every turn. These restrictions have forced some artists to retire. On the other hand, there were also artists who sought new activities on their own. What separates the two may be "independence".
With this in mind, online publication "KIMINITOU" conducted an interview with two musicians who are running their activities as independents without belonging to a major firm or other organization. KIYOHARU, a musician, and Masahiro Kami, a physician and chairman of the Medical Governance Research Institute. Joe Yokomizo, editor-in-chief of this media outlet, moderated the conversation, which took place on August 9, 2022.
The year 2022 marks the first summer in two years without semi-emergency coronavirus measures or other restrictions, but the music live industry is still hunkering down. With outdoor gigs continuing to prohibit crowds from shouting, some artists continue struggling to bring back fans who left because of the Coronavirus. According to Dr. Masahiro Kami, the only way to restore the former vitality is for independent artists to break through, rather than wait for major companies to start moving.
The Coronavirus restrictions for live events began in February 2020 when then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked for restraint from large-scale events at a press conference. In direct response, the band “Perfume” canceled their Tokyo Dome performance on the day of the event. Major companies took the opportunity to assess the situation and one by one they began to refrain from large-scale events. It seems as if everyone is still waiting for the major companies to return to normal operations.
It is said that even if the coronavirus eventually comes to an end, new epidemics are likely to emerge. At that time, will we have to endure a long period of self-restraint and sacrifice in accordance with national decisions and major trends? Or will artists create new rules and protect opportunities for their own expression and for those who love their expression? It all depends on how much they explore during the Coronavirus restrictions period.
Who will wind down the trends created in the past two years, and who will remove the fear that has been instilled in people?
- Posted on
- 16 Sep 2022
“We thought we could just do what we wanted. “. – KIYOHARU
KIYOHARU, why have you not been a part of a major agency until now?
KIYOHARU: “I formed “Kuroyume” when I was 22, came to Tokyo at the when I was 24, and made my major label debut at the age of 25. I was still young, but I was from the countryside so I had the illusion that I would be able to change things if I went to Tokyo. It was what you might call a “Tokyo Story.” At that time I talked with various people, including my record company and my agency, and they said, “Let’s have a proper meeting every time, hold meetings, absorb opinions, listen to what you want to do, discuss and decide.” I didn’t like it at that point. I was like, “What do you mean by ‘discuss’?
KIYOHARU: “From the beginning, we only did what we decided, or rather, we did what came to mind immediately and it was very speedy. We didn’t have a solid plan but we thought we could just do what we wanted.. When we were starting we didn’t like to have discussions. So we decided to turn down the idea of joining a big agency and just signed with a record company on our own.
We had never belonged to an agency before, we didn’t know what agencies were like, and we declined offers. It wasn’t that we were edgy.”
Conversely, since you had no experience with agencies, you had no way to compare.
KIYOHARU: “Yes, there was no way to compare. Because it’s not like I said I didn’t like it while belonging to an agency. Even my friends who were active with me in the beginning, I was able to contact them and meet them normally. But once they joined an agency I couldn’t see them anymore. I didn’t like that either. In the end, we didn’t want to for to work for so we decided to do it on our own.
I see. How about you, Dr. Kami?
Kami: “My story is not that big of a deal, but I felt like an outcast.
My generation was right around the time when the traditional career path was breaking down. When I was a university student in the 80s and early 90s, more than half of the top 10 companies in the world were Japanese companies. Now, almost all of the companies are no longer in their original form.
I was born in Kobe, raised in Kakogawa in Harima until I was 10 years old, and lived in the Hanshin area until I was 18. I came to Tokyo for university, and that is when I felt something was off. I entered the University of Tokyo, but it was strangely authoritarian. Everyone thought they were supporting the country. I really didn’t like that.
Now that I am older, I realize that since the Edo period Japanese education has been oriented toward large corporations with a good sense of balance and respect for others. But in the Hanshin area where I grew up, there were few public schools that drew on the tradition of clan schools(schools run by former Japanese clans) and most of the famous schools were either Christian, Buddhist, or were founded by sake brewers. This is because the area had no feudal lords during the Edo period at the behest of Tokugawa Ieyasu. In Hyogo Prefecture, for example, I graduated from Nada High School.But that school is owned by the Kano family, who also own liquor stores Kiku-Masamune and Hakutsuru were the owners. Ichimatsu Oe, the founder of Houtoku Gakuen,famous for a strong baseball team, was also a sake brewer. Both came from Mikage in Kobe. In that area, there is a phrase, “Are you making a lot of profit?” and they teach “As long as you and I are okay, that’s all that matters.” Other than that, anything goes. The culture of the Hanshin area is totally different from that of Tokyo, so it doesn’t suit people who are used to it. It’s hard to put into words, but it just didn’t feel right.”
An indescribable feeling of discomfort…
Kami: “Yes. So one day I couldn’t take it anymore, and I blustered about it to my boss and he told me to leave. Later, when I was over 40 years old, I began to understand what my job was all about. We are the patient’s servants, so to speak. We are classical professionals, dating back to Greek and Roman times, and we are in the business of information asymmetry. I know what the patient does not know. So do lawyers and clergies. We do it with self-discipline. If we keep this spirit of “I will be self-disciplined and won’t cause trouble. ” and work to meet the needs of each individual client, I won’t make too many mistakes. But I didn’t realize this until I was in my mid-40s. When I thought about it, it is true that this kind of work is not suitable or possible for office workers. Working doctors are salary men.They have to listen to what their bosses say rather than what their patients say. If you work with this kind of mentality, as in Japan’s anti-COVID measures directing, “Don’t go to the hospital because the public health center will become overwhelmed”, it’ll be impossible to say such things. We have to listen to people’s anxious hearts.”
Kami: “So, when I was about 40 years old, large companies were going under and most of the hospitals and large general hospitals in Tokyo went down in flames. They were like department stores because they were doing everything. I thought I better get out of there as soon as possible because if I live to be 90 years old I won’t be able to make a living. I looked at my seniors who were professors at universities and those who had worked only for large companies, and I knew that after retirement it would be really difficult financially for them to live a good life.
I had been in a laboratory at the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo until then.When I was in my 40s, I became independent. Shortly before that, when I was in my mid-30s, I had started up a clinic called Navitas Clinic in a train station with my colleagues, but I thought that if I did not use my own money to some extent I would become someone else’s slave. Unlike people with talents like yours, I don’t have any such thing. My work helps the people in front of me.”
”You are all surviving because you are self-producing” -Masahiro Kami
I have interviewed many artists, and I have the impression that those who are affiliated with major agencies are not able to focus their own works and be with their audiences. As Mr. KIYOHARU mentioned earlier, they spend their time on other things, such as meetings. By nature, an artist’s work is all about what he or she produces, but I feel that everyone’s time is worn out because it is taken up by other things.
Kami: “I think there are some people who went independent with the intention of freelancing, but many of them must have been ruined. What I coach young people is that the abilities required at a young age are probably different from those required of people who are independent like Mr. KIYOHARU. In professional baseball, players, coaches, and managers all have different abilities. People like you survive because you are self-producing. People who have both the ability to be a player and a producer, the latter of which will gradually come along, are extremely rare.Most of them are good players but not good leaders. In that sense, those who have not yet developed the ability to be self-reliant would be better off going to a company, where they would be regulated.”
KIYOHARU: “Originally, us rock musicians are socially useless. That’s why I didn’t feel like I could get a job or anything from the early stage of my career. Once, I went to train to take over my father’s construction business. Even then I was thinking it was probably a bad idea but, I did it for a few years. When I was helping my dad during the day with his work, I played in a band in the evenings. I was already thinking, “My dad is amazing”, “Adults are amazing”, “This is what they do every day”. I felt so useless that I even looked up to him like that. So I guess I was like “I’m going to do my best in music, so my mother and father should give up on me,” now that I think about it.
I see. In the world of doctors, is there a big difference between a practicing doctor and a working doctor at a university hospital?
Kami: “Working doctors are salaried workers, so as soon as they leave their jobs, their clients don’t follow them. There are some who become independent, but most of them can’t. The range of activities differs between those who are financially independent and those who are not. If you are not financially independent, you work your schedule and try not to get into it with your boss. In the case of artists, it is like trying not to make the record company mad at you.
So financially dependent doctors are all too busy fighting for positions and trying not to get in trouble for doing unnecessary things, so they don’t face the patients at all. When that happens, they are sometimes forced to say things that are not the best option, out of self-preservation.
Kami: “But this is the same thing that we have been doing since the Greek and Roman times. I can make a living by consulting with the patient in front of me according to my position and education while receiving a certain fee. Because of this I am free to do other things. I can criticize the system or sing rock ‘n’ roll. That is why doctors have historically been revolutionaries. Che Guevara and Sun Yat-sen were also doctors. Doctors can make an independent living and are not dependent on the state system. If you have your own fans in your field, you are not dependent on the state. You can see why the powers don’t like businesses that have fans and fixed customers, such as rock ‘n’ rollers and doctors.
“There is no reason not to do normal live shows now.” – Masahiro Kami
To talk a little about Corona, while some musicians have retired due to this Coronavirus, KIYOHARU has rather expanded his activities by launching his own streaming live show called “A NEW MY TERRITORY”. Additionally, this year he performed at FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL for the first time. Looking back, many people from major firms were really restricted in their activities by this Coronavirus and could not do what they wanted. Since everyone was operating within the safe and secure limits created by the “don’t do this” regulations, there were people who could hardly perform any musical activities and had no choice but to engage in activities that were not their true passion. In such a situation, I think it was quite outstanding that they sought their own original activities and expanded the scope of their activities.
KIYOHARU: “The fans of musicians of our generation are usually in their 40s, or at the youngest, in their mid to late 30s, and many of them are from a generation that has come to trust television. I was the same way. If the news says it is this way, they believe it is this way, and their thinking is influenced by what they hear from the various professors who are on hand to explain the new Coronavirus situation. I did a lot of research on alternative media and asked people about the truth during my research, but many of them only watched TV. There were people who felt that certain things were being exaggerated on TV, but there were also fans who were still overly fearful.
When they talked about refraining from events, I pretty much resisted until the very end. I think it was 2020… The first time I went crazy. I was on tour at the time, and I told my manager, “We’re doing it. I’m not going to stop touring.” But the event organizers, production people, and people at certain live houses and venues said, “Even if you come, we can’t hold the show.” Record companies were closed, TV stations were closed, event organizers and large production companies were closed, and it became physically impossible. It was no longer a matter of choice for the artist because nobody was able to act. Some of the artists became ill, and others quit. Some agencies took measures to deal with the situation, while others insisted that everything had to be perfect. Eventually, it became as bad for artists to speak out about Corona as it was for politics. The more the band talked about the coronavirus restrictions, the harder it was on the band, so to avoid any repercussions the band said less. It became necessary to do things based on the common sense of the agencies. And when I saw that, the fans started to do the same. In a way, fans and artists are like mirrors. That is why the fans also decided to limit their participation in live performances.
After two years the restrictions were gradually lifted, and although we were campaigning to protect live concert houses, thefans decided to skip the concert houses and attend festivals. So we are back in the era when festivals are in full swing, and concert houses are poor so it is the same thing as before Corona all over again.
Yes. By the way, how did you see the music industry’s response to the Coronavirus restrictions, Dr. Kami?
Kami: “In the early spring of 2020, we didn’t know what was best. But now we know quite a bit. Especially since the end of the Delta strain epidemic, the percentage of seriously ill people has decreased significantly. So in terms of the music industry there is no reason not to hold normal live concerts now. There are ways to do it safely, such as measuring the carbon dioxide concentration in the venue and ventilating it or administering vaccines. For example, high school baseball games nowadays are unlikely to be affected if children are vaccinated. Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture has a citywide vaccination program and when junior high and high school students are vaccinated three times, the infection rate drops to less than one-tenth than of those who are vaccinated twice. If all high school students had been vaccinated, there would not have been such an outbreak in high school baseball. It means they are not doing it scientifically and rationally.
Through our actions we are not putting the people around us first. In these difficult times, you don’t know what the right thing to do is, so you have to educate yourself and do what is best for yourself and those around you. In the music world, too, there are people who want to take risks to go see the show.If this works out, that’s the way to go.
At this time (early August) the infection has exploded and I think Tokyo has already peaked.But I think Japan as a whole will probably peak by the end of August, and it will be calm from September to December or so. Bands should be able to play full time during this period. Except for the peak season. In Japan, the epidemic is roughly a month later than in Western Europe, so July-August and the end of December-January, these two periods are somewhat more prevalent. Then again, Western Europe also had an outbreak this summer, but they didn’t have any restrictions on travel except in the UK, US, and Canada. I think it was Denmark in January this year that lifted the restrictions when the number of infected people was at its peak. The reason for that was because they could see the seasonality of the epidemic and thought it would go down in the future. When Japan survives this summer, there is a possibility that they will not restrict travel in the winter either.”
I see. As for live performances, until now we have basically followed the government’s request for self-restraint, and the situation of “keeping distance” and “no shouting” has continued for a long time. However, it is very difficult not to shout when emotions are running high at a live concert. In order to get rid of this situation of self-restraint, do you think it would be better to make our own rules and build up a track record?
Kami: “I think so. Basically, the government’s request is only about quarantine, isn’t it? They tell you to stop the three Cs, stay at home, and don’t go to the hospital. If an independent person doesn’t do it, I don’t think a big company will do it out of the blue. It would affect the stock price.”
KIYOHARU: “Recently, several live houses have asked me to do a full performance for the first time. 100% without any restrictions. But now we have the problem that even if we take the risk of doing it, it won’t make much news.”
If KIYOHARU were to make up his own rules, what kind of rules should he come up with as a way to proceed, or what kind of rules, for example, would be acceptable to his fans?
Kami: “It has to be scientifically proven safe by experts. A scientific explanation will be the most convincing. And then they have to announce that the infection has not increased as a result. Corona is no longer a droplet infection, it’s an airborne infection, so ventilation is important.
If the venue is indoors, that is where measures such as measuring carbon dioxide levels can be considered. For live music venues, it depends largely on the capacity of the building, so if the CO2 level exceeds 1,000 ppm, ventilation is all that is needed.”
What kind of environment should we imagine when you talk about a CO2 concentration of 1000ppm?
Kami: “For example, the carbon dioxide concentration in a crowded train is about 1000 ppm. The reason why mass infections have not occurred on crowded trains is because we have a better understanding of coronavirus infections and have strengthened ventilation. In airplanes, the air is changed within a few minutes, so airborne infection is unlikely to occur. Poor ventilation is found in older buildings. Modern buildings are required by the Building Standard Law to have ventilation systems, but older buildings do not. The risk of infection is greater in these places. It depends on the building more than on the type of business, such as restaurants. Even in such places, by installing air purifiers with filters virus particles are adsorbed and the risk of infection is greatly reduced. The bottom line is how you do it.”
Kami: “In short, it should be done on a case-by-case basis depending on the capacity of the building, the clientele, and other factors. As for specific measures, I think it is ventilation and vaccines.”
For example, KIYOHARU’s upcoming concert is on October 30.
Kami: “In late October, the infection should be at the bottom, and that’s as safe as it gets. Because last year around that time it was calm.”
“The question ‘Who planted that feeling?’ is only a matter of ‘Who will reverse it?'” – KIYOHARU
In the case of Japan, regulations are particularly strict for live houses, and these regulations have not been lifted. The reason is that the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has a specialist organization that advises on measures against the new strain of coronavirus, and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has been following the opinion of that organization. It has been binding the music industry like a curse for a long time.
KIYOHARU: “Nowadays, when tickets go on sale, there is always an infection control notice along with the notice of the live concert on Twitter, etc. Generally, it is a warning, an icon that says to keep a certain distance away, or an icon that says to wear a mask or no shouting, etc., are drawn on it. Instead, I think it would have a stronger impact if the doctor wrote a statement on the right side of the ticket that says, ‘It’s OK.'”
Kami: “I will say what I think is scientifically correct. In the beginning, there was a mass outbreak of infection. I think that had a strong impact, but things have completely changed now. At that time, there was no vaccine and it was not known whether the infection was airborne or not, so things are different now than they were then. And live concert houses are really completely different depending on the building. People who have been vaccinated are different, and of course there are young people who are willing to accept the possibility of contracting the disease. But you will contract corona at some point. Some people may not mind getting it because they have acquired immunity through the vaccine or by contracting the disease.
At the time of the Delta strain, the mortality rate was 5% on high days in Japan, and one out of every 20 people died. 5% is a tough rate. But now, since January of this year, the rate is 0.1%, or 1 in 1,000. The world hasn’t any COVID restictionssince this year’s outbreak of Omicron strains.”
KIYOHARU: “So many people are still not up-to-date with the latest information and are stuck with information from two years ago.”
There still seems to be a taboo against speaking out about the Corona regulations. Even the MCs at live concerts say the same things when it comes to Corona, saying things like, “Even if you can’t speak, we can still feel the emotion.” However, it is only some people, such as KIYOHARU and Taiji Sato, who say, “Let’s do something about this situation.” Mr. Taiji says that it is safe to perform outdoors, so let’s loosen the restrictions and have live outdoor concerts, but most people don’t say that. I think it would be better if everyone made more rational decisions. Japanese people make emotional decisions rather than rational ones. I hope that this kind of dialogue will help make rational judgment the standard.
KIYOHARU: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to know what is right. People say “It’s what’s right for me” but that’s becoming “what is right for the herd.” In the case of the Coronavirus , it is like “I want to do the right thing, so I wear a mask.” For the past two years I have been wondering “what is the right thing to do” and “what is the mature thing to do.” In a way, this two years made me think about these questions deeply.
For example, stealing someone’s wallet is a matter of right or wrong. What about opening the door and closing it quietly when leaving? Some people think this is right from the standpoint of good manners, while others think it is fine to close the door with a loud bang when they have to leave early. I think that the time has come, through Corona, when it is becoming difficult to tell the difference. Well, it’s the same with cigarettes; they used to be cool, but they have become inappropriate and are now evil. Some people say, “You still smoke?” Something that is not so bad on a global level takes a long time for it to be recognized in Japan, so I’m guessing it will take a while. It is strange and sad that paying customers are so concerned about the dangers of live performances and event management.”
Kami: “Our industry is committed to doing the best we can for our patients. That has been the case since before the creation of the modern state, but this concept has become a consensus after numerous trials. For example, a German Nazi military doctor in World War II followed his superiors’ orders to experiment on human subjects. But was then executed at the Nuremberg Trials after the war. He did what he was ordered to do, but he was told, “You are a doctor,” and “You swore to God that you will save your patients.” Then after that, the Declaration of Helsinki said that the patient comes first.
The interests of the state, the interests of society, and the interests of the customer are often in conflict. This conflict occurs everywhere in the world, but as I mentioned earlier, the consensus of modern nations is that doctors must think only of their patients.
The same thing can be said of artists, for example, who do they look to? They are looking at the fans. On the other hand, some may take a different stance. But after discussion on all sides, a consensus should eventually be reached.
Artists like you have fans, in other words, clients, so when it comes to how to receive fees from them, it depends on the client. The world is discussing this. They don’t just throw it to the government. Galileo Galilei mentioned scientific correctness cannot be guaranteed by authority. What is right is on a case-by-case basis, and power and authority cannot guarantee it, so we have to do it individually.”
KIYOHARU: “Ah, that’s a great quote. “Authority cannot guarantee it.” That’s really true.”
I would like to have Dr. Kami write a statement for the October concert, and then send out a message after the concert that the concert was safe, and build up the results with that. The Japanese music industry is about three laps behind the rest of the world, and if we don’t work on this, we will probably fall further behind. However, I don’t want you to carry that burden alone, KIYOHARU.
KIYOHARU: “No, no, I am not alone in carrying the burden (laughs). Well, I guess the question ‘Who planted that feeling?’ is only a matter of ‘Who will reverse it?'”
Kami: “I think that the media, which is hanging on to the government, may have instilled that sense, but I think that the only way to solve that is for independent people like you to work out individual solutions and make individual breakthroughs.”
2022.10.31 LIVE AT Shinjuku LOFT 25TH
October 31 (Mon) Shinjuku LOFT
OPEN 18:00 START 19:00
Born in Gifu Prefecture in 1968. Debuted as Kuroyume in 1994. In 1999, after the de facto dissolution, re-debuted as “sads” in the same year. In 2003, he stopped band activities and made his third debuted as KIYOHARU. Active as singer andsongwriter. https://kiyoharu.tokyo/
Masahiro Kami (M.D., Chairman of a non-profit organization “Medical Governance Research Institute”
Born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1968. Graduated from the University of Tokyo, School of Medicine, and completed the Graduate School of Medicine at the same university. Since October 2005, he has been leading the Institute for Advanced Medical and Social Communication Systems at the Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo, where he conducts research on medical governance. He actively disseminates information as editor-in-chief of MRIC (Medical Research Infomration Center), an online magazine to which about 50,000 people, including medical professionals, are subscribed.https://www.megri.or.jp/